Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fooling Ourselves and Critical Thinking

I've been devouring science lectures and audiobooks for weeks, and it doesn't seem to be letting up.  I've been re-watching/listening to Cosmos, I've started watching 'Wonders of the Solar System' with Prof. Brian Cox, and I'm currently listening to 'The Demon Haunted World' by Carl Sagan.

Why should this matter to anyone else?  It probably doesn't, though I certainly recommend all of the above to virtually anyone.  The idea that I want to get across, though, is one that Carl Sagan spent years arguing for - that we all are capable of thinking scientifically and skeptically; we can all be scientists.

If you watch a great deal of television, you tend to find more and more characters which are portrayed as complete morons.  Of course, we have all felt this way from time to time, but I think that all of us are perfectly capable of critical thinking skills.  In fact, I argue that everyone thinks skeptically at least some of the time, but most people seem to 'leave their brain at the door' when it comes to certain aspects of their lives.

For instance, I have always been skeptical about God and religion in general (though I've certainly had my lapses in judgement), but for most of my life I believed in ghosts, as well as a host of minor newage beliefs, like astral projection and whatnot.  Also, I'm skeptical (even cynical at times) when it comes to television commercials and other marketing campaigns, and I suspect that many other people are as well.

Why, then, are we so good at fooling ourselves?

I can't guess as to how other people's minds work, but I can offer my own perspective.  When I watch something like Cosmos, or when I look at high-resolution panorama photos from the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, I get a distinct feeling of wanting - wanting to be there, to see these things firsthand, to be able to touch Martian rocks which may have never been touched by any other living being.  I really, really want to be able to do that, so the ideas of 'astral projection' and 'remote viewing' are extremely appealing.

What it really boils down to, though, is a rejection of reality, and it can have unexpected consequences.  For instance, if I accept that I can visit Mars without ever leaving my own home, why should I bother supporting scientists' endeavors to get there?  More interestingly, it may actually keep me from working towards actually trying to reach that lofty goal.  Regardless of the likelihood of my being any part of a manned mission to Mars being extraordinarily slim - it's still higher than my being able to project my consciousness outside of the body which produces it.

Ultimately, I think that most of us are in doubt about our pet beliefs, and it is unfortunate that so many people have been conditioned to ignore that doubt, or else to simply attribute it to an outside source and call it 'evil'.  Our ability to doubt and to question is absolutely crucial, both for the future of scientific inquiry and, I suspect, for the future of the human race.

Friday, December 10, 2010

"Christians abolished slavery, therefore God is not a douche."

I can't even count how many times I have heard Christians use the argument 'Christians were responsible for the Abolition of slavery in the U.S.'  I have been contemplating this claim, and have several points that I want to touch on.

First, who do you think started slavery in the first place?  In order for a human being to bend another to his will in this way (and for the slave to accept it), one or both must accept the belief that some humans are superior to others, and also have the right to own another human.  Where do we see this belief echoed time and time again?  Religion, of course - the oldest holy books on this planet advocate slavery time and time again.

The Old Testament is ripe for the picking when it comes to this idea, but Christians are always very quick to reject anything from the Old Testament which they don't like, while keeping the bits they DO like - homosexuality is wrong, follow the 10 Commandments, alleged 'prophecies' for Jesus, etc.  In keeping with the spirit of these bigots, I've completely bypassed the Old Testament.

In Ephesians, Paul offers the following 'words of wisdom':
Ephesians 6:5-9: "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him."

Also, Timothy seems to actually condemn those who reject slavery:

1 Timothy 6: "
1 All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. 2 Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare[a] of their slaves.    These are the things you are to teach and insist on. 3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 they are conceited and understand nothing."

If Christians helped to abolish slavery, it was in spite of their faith in the Bible, not because of it.  They would have had to embrace a 'secular morality' above and beyond their 'biblical morality'.

Thus, I contend that this argument from Christians actually proves the superiority of secular morality.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Future of Seattle's 'Ask an Atheist'

Hey everyone, just wanted to help get the word out for my friends in Seattle at the 'Ask an Atheist' call-in show. They have been on public access television, but the broadcasting organization has lost it's funding, and they are moving to radio - KLAY 1180 AM to be specific.  The thing is, the move costs money - they are trying to raise the money through donations and through a benefit show.  More information and how you can help is found at .

Please do what you can to support this show - there are a precious few atheist voices out there as it is.