blueollie

The irrelevancy of the Bible to “Is there a God” question….

I am drinking coffee to get ready for my morning workout.

I’ve revisited some of the old discussion about “belief” vs. atheism and noticed how much of the argument, at least in the United States, is about the Bible and the deity of the Bible.

I want to be clear: I think that the Bible is highly relevant in terms of Western history, literature and social studies. I think that an educated western person should read it or at least become familiar with parts of it, including the silly and noxious parts:

Joshua 8:22-25New International Version (NIV)

22 Those in the ambush also came out of the city against them, so that they were caught in the middle, with Israelites on both sides. Israel cut them down, leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives. 23 But they took the king of Ai alive and brought him to Joshua.

24 When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the wilderness where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword, all the Israelites returned to Ai and killed those who were in it. 25 Twelve thousand men and women fell that day—all the people of Ai.

Numbers 22:28

27When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam was angry and struck the donkey with his stick. 28And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29Then Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.”…

New Testament: Acts 5: 8-9

…8And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” 9Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” 10And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.…

So we have mass murder (slaughters), talking donkeys and the death penalty for lying about how much money you gave to church.

So, yes, it is hard to take the Bible seriously, at least in terms of it being a source of truth or a source of morality.
But what is its relevance in terms of the existence of a deity?

I really don’t think it has any. Why should it? Any discussion about a deity’s existence or non-existence has to deal with reams and reams of facts about our universe, almost all of which were completely unknown to the primitive writers of the Bible (and other holy texts as well).

Things like the utter vastness of our universe, the “not even large enough to be microscopic” size of the world inhabited by humans and the laws of science would be relevant to this question.

April 21, 2015 Posted by | atheism, religion | | 1 Comment

Some stark reality: academia and otherwise

This is from College Misery and discusses the lament of someone teaching an astronomy course to, well, less than talented and less than motivated students:

Each semester, I usually teach a large section of general-ed astronomy for non-majors. I also teach a large section of physics for engineers and scientists.

I also teach a smaller, upper-level theoretical astrophysics course for physics majors and grad students. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? We’re supposed to be delving into the secrets of the Universe.

Well, THIS semester’s astrophysics class has convinced me that American university education is without question in its death spiral.
[…]

The large, general-ed astronomy class is packed with freshpersons. Sniveling, patently unprofessional, childish behavior is common. I hate it, but it’s like the smell you get living near a slaughterhouse: you get used to it.

Similar childish behavior is rarer in the physics class for engineers. This is because it’s more advanced, with at least three other prerequisite classes. When childish behavior does raise its ugly head there, it hurts.

This semester, for the first time, I am encountering childish behavior from most of the upper-level astrophysics class, and it REALLY HURTS. More than once I have reminded them that astrophysics isn’t an immediately commercially applicable subject: people do it mainly because it’s interesting.

So WHY do these students treat the wonders of the Universe as such a dreadful CHORE? Probably because even the simplest wonders are quite beyond them. Most of the grad students don’t understand significant digits, despite my TRYING to explain what they should have learned on their FIRST DAY of college. If they think they are going to GET A JOB doing this, they’ll be going up against people from Caltech and MIT, ALL of whom funnily enough DO understand significant digits.

I think that we are seeing “regression to the mean” effects: we are sending higher percentages of people to college. So: this means more jobs for professors at “teaching oriented” institutions but also…a less talented student body. None of the lament surprises me at all.

We even see this in the humanities:

I recently left a teaching position in a master of fine arts creative-writing program. I had a handful of students whose work changed my life. The vast majority of my students were hardworking, thoughtful people devoted to improving their craft despite having nothing interesting to express and no interesting way to express it. My hope for them was that they would become better readers. And then there were students whose work was so awful that it literally put me to sleep. Here are some things I learned from these experiences.

Writers are born with talent.

Either you have a propensity for creative expression or you don’t. Some people have more talent than others. That’s not to say that someone with minimal talent can’t work her ass off and maximize it and write something great, or that a writer born with great talent can’t squander it. It’s simply that writers are not all born equal. The MFA student who is the Real Deal is exceedingly rare, and nothing excites a faculty adviser more than discovering one. I can count my Real Deal students on one hand, with fingers to spare.

There is more in the article. But yeah, what is said there counters many popular but hare brained ideas:

1. “You can do anything you want to do if you want to do it badly enough.” Anyone who believes this has never accomplished anything of significance.

2. “It is never too late to start”. Wrong. It is probably not to late to learn something new, but if you start from scratch late in life, you are all but guaranteed to not be good at it (there are isolated exceptions, of course). And by “good at it” I mean “good compared to the stronger people in the profession”, not good compared to “the other average old geezers”.

As you get older, it becomes more difficult to pick up brand new material, though if one is still active in an area one can often compensate by having a broader perspective and by having a larger tool box of knowledge to draw from (just from learning for so long).

Extrapolation from the local
Yes, it may have been cold where you live…but:

Screen shot 2015-03-21 at 3.03.17 PM

Yes, I live in the dark blue area.

Being certain…even if the facts are against you. Zealots are very good at doing this:

The Times has an interesting headline here: Richard Fisher, Often Wrong but Seldom Boring, Leaves the Fed. Because entertainment value is what we want from central bankers, right? I mean, Janet Yellen is such a drag — she just keeps being right about the economy, and that gets old really fast, you know?

OK, never mind. What is remarkable is Fisher’s complete confidence in his own wisdom despite an awesome track record of error. What’s even more remarkable is that his unshaken certainty is the norm among inflationistas and anti-Keynesians in general. So wrong for so long — and the other side has been right, again and again — yet not a hint of self-doubt.

And check out this anti-new atheist article.

This is supposed to come from a “sophisticated believer”, but never once does he even make the case that the existence of any deity of any kind is even a reasonable conjecture, much less a belief in their deity of choice.

Really. We live in one average galaxy and orbit one of billions of stars in said galaxies ….among billions of other galaxies. And somehow, the scribblings of profoundly ignorant groups of humans made are supposed to be taken seriously as a guide to knowledge of how things work now? Oh boy…if the old blue hair says so… :-)

What is comical is that these sort of writers expect to be taken seriously.

March 21, 2015 Posted by | astronomy, atheism, economics, education, religion, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Knowing what might not be so….

No, not everyone’s opinion is of equal value on every subject; I think that this is especially true in subjects that require specialized knowledge (e. g. science issues).

But I think that, at times, even smart people can fail to account for factors that may be foreign to them.

First we have this:

Okay, if the Cable News Network (CNN) is really an unbiased and objective news source, they’ll have to counter this program with another. According to MediaIte, the unctuous apologist and atheist-basher Reza Aslan is going to get his very own show. I can’t bear to describe it, so I’ll just copy the announcement:

One day after CNN announced its Kevin Spacey-led campaign docu-series, the cable channel announced two more original series, part of anetwork reorientation away from breaking news coverage and commentary. [..]

But where’s the “Unbeliever” series to counter Aslan’s apologetics?

Bottom line: commercial television is about ratings and money from sponsors, and secular atheists just aren’t a large market segment and I’d bet (don’t have the data) that the more intellectual atheists don’t watch a lot of television.

Of course, I am merely making a conjecture; giving a possible reason why this might be so.

I’ll be even more speculative here: remember the racist chant from a University of Oklahoma frat that was in the news? It turns out that a couple of students were expelled over this. Personally, I think that there are free speech issues here; I don’t think it is a good idea to kick someone out of school because they expressed ideas that you don’t like. And there may be some legal problems here as well, as Randazza explains. But where I part ways with Randazza is over the “why” of the expulsion. I really don’t think it was over PC-ness. After all, I was teaching at a university that graduated a well known racist activist.

But at Oklahoma…well, sports are a big business and we have stories of football recruits changing their minds. The cynic in me thinks that this played a big part in the decision to expel.

And, if I haven’t touched on enough sensitive topics yet, we have rape. A Democratic State Representative was quoted:

At a New Mexico House Judiciary Committee hearing last week state Rep. Ken Martinez (D) said “rape is defined in many ways and some of it is just drunken college sex.”

Republicans are hammering the state lawmaker over his comments, while Martinez is denying that his remarks were dismissive of the seriousness of rape.

At the hearing Wednesday Martinez, the former state House Speaker, said “rape is defined in many ways and some of it is just drunken college sex.” His remarks were concerning a bill that would remove parental rights for rapists, according to The Santa Fe New Mexican.

Republicans have aggressively criticized Martinez for the comments, with Rep. Kelly Fajardo calling for an apology.

“It is simply inexcusable that Rep. Kenny Martinez dismissed a serious crime as nothing more than a night of ‘drunken college sex,'” Farjado said in a statement. “His comments are belittling to anyone who has ever been a victim and survivor of sexual abuse, and I hope that he will apologize.”

Uh…like it or not, there is some truth in what he said. On college campuses, there is an ongoing debate about what should be done when BOTH sexual partners are too drunk to consent, or what constitutes being too drunk to consent, and if there should be a double standard between men and women.

But a good way to draw the ire of some “feminists” is to point out that sometimes, some nuance is involved.

March 11, 2015 Posted by | atheism, civil liberties, human sexuality, politics, politics/social, religion, social/political | , , , | Leave a comment

Liberals, atheists and George Will?

My goodness, Mr. Climate Change Denying George Will is an atheist? I suppose so.

Liberals Islam poses a challenge for liberals. Sam Harris explains. Basically, the tenants of Islam are highly illiberal and many of the Muslim theocracies are highly oppressive.

But I should be clear about a few things:

1. Saying that a religion contains a lot of noxious and bad ideas is a condemnation of those ideas and not of the people who might belong to a said religion. As Harris explains: condemning communism for being a very bad idea is NOT a condemnation of Chinese or Russian people.

2. Nothing in this criticism justifies denying Americans religious freedom; an American Muslim should have the same religious rights that, say, Christians, Jews and Hindus have. The same goes for places of worship. The same goes for world events; no US Muslim should have to apologize for, say, the Saudi terrorists who attacked us on 9-11. True, the 9-11 attackers were, in part, motivated by religion. But, abortion clinic bombers are also motivated by religion and I don’t expect Christians to apologize for them.

3. Still, huge numbers of Muslims around the world have some very backward, noxious ideas. To pretend otherwise is to be blatantly dishonest.

4. I am tempted to say that people like this do not belong in the United States.

videospeech

But are these people really any worse than those who want, say, campus speech codes?

It pains me to say this, but at times, conservatives stick up for free speech better than liberals do. For more on the United States and free speech, go here.

Of course, there are plenty of Americans who, at the core, really don’t like free speech unless they agree with it; many are my relatives (I am sorry to say).

October 8, 2014 Posted by | atheism, free speech, religion, social/political | , , | Leave a comment

An atheist at a religious memorial (or other service)

This post is based on a comment made to me at a “after the memorial service” lunch.

A cousin remarked that she unfriended me on Facebook (some time ago) as she didn’t care for some of my atheist related posts. I was fine with that; I like discussing ideas and that, to me, involves critiquing religious ideas (if they are put out there).

But she (and another cousin who hasn’t unfriended me) said that, during Mom’s memorial service, they looked to me to see how I’d react to the religious parts of the service.

So here goes: This service was supposed to conformed to MOM’S religious beliefs and NOT to mine. I expect Christianity to be involved in the memorial service for a Christian, just as I’d expect a service for a Muslim to have Islam, or a service for a Jew to be a Jewish service, or a service for a Hindu to be a Hindu service.

My only issue would be if someone tried to lie about what my mom believed (e. g. if the brand of religion presented was not what my mom actually practiced in real life) and that was NOT the case here. Mom would have approved of the type of religion and the amount of religion in the ceremony. My sister did well.

Now when Dad died, there was no religion in the service as dad was not religious (though he was NOT an atheist either; his deity was a generic “God”..of some sort).

If it were a wedding service, I wouldn’t worry about the type of service but instead be grateful that someone invited me to begin with.

Sorry to disappoint but to this atheist: religious ceremony is offensive to me only to the degree that our government attempts to hold people as a captive audience to someone’s particular brand of religion. At private events: no problem.

Now if you want people to take offense to a religious service, you’d be better off finding a believer of another religion. Example: some Jews find Christian beliefs “blasphemy” as Christians believe in the divinity of Jesus. Some Christians might take offense to statements made at a pagan service.

Because I am an atheist(*), theological concerns don’t bother me at all; pray how you wish.

(*) I suppose that I am really a type of agnostic as I remain open to the possibility that:

There could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding.

Yes: that quote was said by Richard Dawkins. It is possible that some sentient beings somewhere in the universe got it right, or perhaps that NO sentient beings got it right but it “exists” anyway. However, I don’t find any of the deities that I’ve been introduced to or that *I* can conjure up to be credible enough to warrant serious thought or contemplation.

May 28, 2014 Posted by | atheism, social/political | | Leave a comment

Different types of atheists …..

A couple of years ago, I was having a discussion with a friend and we disagreed on something. I said “oh come on, we are both atheists”. She said: “yes, but I am a Jewish atheist and you are a Christian atheist” and …well…I got what she meant.

It wasn’t merely the “cultural Jew” thing either.

In our case, her atheism is more of a “there is no god that is going to save your bacon” sort of thing. Mine is more of a philosophical/intellectual conclusion: I see no evidence of a deity and no compelling reason to hypothesize the existence of one.

Then, there was another recent discussion. Several of us had lunch after an NPR show (“What do you know”) aired near Peoria. One of the friends is an atheist; his reason: “evil in the world”. My reason: what I just said. To me: “evil” is a human construct (and a useful one, though one gets into sticky questions: “is nature evil” and, if our conjecture about Neanderthal males impregnating homosapien females is true, were the Neanderthals acting in an evil manner?

That is what lead to this little ramble.

Types of atheists I have encountered:

I Not raised religiously and never thought about it.
There are some who weren’t raised in a religious household and have simply not thought much about religion one way or the other. They don’t care about such questions.

II Rejection of the God of a given culture
There are different types of this category of atheist.

One is the “reading the Bible” made me an atheist type. In this case, the reader of the holy text is dismayed by, say, the gross immorality in the text itself or perhaps the ridiculousness of the “miracle” stories in it.

Others say that their disbelief is linked to evil in the world, e. g. wars, diseases, crimes, and genocides.
Some are upset that THEIR group wasn’t protected (e. g. the holocaust) and some are upset that there was no divine intervention on the behalf of a friend or loved one.

III Rejection of deities due to science or philosophy (intellectual rejection)

These are the people who see no evidence that would suggest that the hypothesis of a supernatural agent should even be entertained. Or one might wonder why there is an intellectual reason to make our species the center of anything, given that we orbit just one star among 400 billion in our own galaxy, which is one of 100’s of billions of galaxies in the observable universe.

I am sure that there are other types; I know that some think that atheists are merely rebelling against any authority above their own whims. But I’ve yet to meet an atheist that thinks in this manner.

So where am I?

I see no evidence of a deity in the workings of this world, and the “one solar system among billions of billions” fact makes me think that human ideas about deities are mostly wishful thinking.

But in some sense, I am sort of a “rejection of the deities that I’ve heard of” and acknowledge that my underpowered brain might not to be able to conceive everything that is “out there” and there might be a concept of deity that I’ve never heard of that might be “true”; for all I know it might be the deity/spirit/whatever of some other sentient beings in some other part of the universe.

I remain open to evidence and open to the thought that the instruments that humans have access to might be incapable of detecting the existence of a deity.

I don’t say that much, because some people think that this means that I haven’t made up my mind about, say, the Abrahamic God. I have: I see it as an artifact of our more primitive past and unworthy of being taken any more seriously than, say, the old Greek Gods.

So I remain an atheist (I don’t believe) agnostic (I do NOT claim to KNOW) and remain undecided about concepts of deities that I might not have heard of.

May 9, 2014 Posted by | atheism, religion | , , | Leave a comment

Interesting meme: read from top to bottom then bottom to top

atheitischrist

April 10, 2014 Posted by | atheism, religion | | Leave a comment

Be Still and Know…..

bestillknowiamgoat

:-)

March 22, 2014 Posted by | atheism, religion | | Leave a comment

The good and bad of cherry picking

cherrypick

This meme made me chuckle; when it comes to the social debates of our day, the liberal religious types cherry pick the “feel good, love thy neighbor, judge not” verses from the Bible, whereas the religious conservatives cherry pick the verses that stress rebuke and stress adherence to rules. Missing in this debate: the fact that “my holy text says X is moral” means absolutely nothing, except to those who “believe in that holy text”. It is not some universal authority.

So in one sense, it makes sense to “cherry pick”: go with good advice no matter where you find it, and discard bad advice no matter where you find it. It is bad to cherry pick if you are trying to get at some larger truth (e. g., pick the data you like, ignore the data that you don’t want to see).

Now we have atheism. Here it is argued that things like a wider access to healthcare will lead to more atheism. The main idea: more health security means less reliance on superstition. You see some of that argued here:

The critics of the new atheists like Terry Eagleton and Karen Armstrong keep arguing that the true function of religion is not to state facts about the world, but to structure our lives through rituals and to open our eyes to the transcendent dimension. I beg to differ: while a small minority look for spiritual experience and ritual without buying into the factual assertions of religion, in the end most religious people just have certain beliefs about the world that are comforting, and that’s why they stick to their faiths.

So why, at the onset of the 21st century, is it so difficult to say in this ongoing discussion that religion is psychologically comforting and that this is the reason it has such a strong hold on the human mind? I think it is primarily because of the cultural imperative of political correctness not to offend the religious, and the mistaken belief that such pseudo-respect will prevent unrest and strife – even though appeasement has often been counterproductive, as in the case of the fatwa against Rushdie, the relentless fight of the Bible-belt against liberals and evolution in the US, and the ruthlessness of messianic right-wingers in Israel in colonising the West Bank.

While some critics of the “new atheists” have made valid arguments, primarily that their optimistic humanism is far from realistic, they are missing out on a simple point: adhering to a scientific worldview requires discipline; it requires giving up on the certainties of childhood and the belief in ultimate protection. I don’t know whether doing so turns us into better human beings, but it certainly makes us intellectually more responsible.

But….there is another aspect. If one looks at the correlation belief in a deity by education, college educated people are actually slightly more likely to believe a deity than those without college educations. Sometimes there is a “God is good because He blessed me” effect.

It is true that those with graduate degrees are less likely to believe in a deity and that scientists are far less likely to believe; in fact, atheism is the norm among scientists; about one third of US scientists believe in a god, and about 7 percent of National Academy of Science caliber scientists are believers. But these people are outliers and unlikely to be affected by things like the Affordable Care Act.

Hence while I find this conjecture “more available health insurance will lead to more atheism” to be interesting, I find it unconvincing.

December 20, 2013 Posted by | atheism, religion, social/political | Leave a comment

No, the Bible did NOT turn me into an atheist ….nor could it have.

Sometimes it is claimed that “reading the Bible will make you an atheist.”

Yes, I am an atheist and yes, I read the Bible (all of it, including the so-called Catholic books). Yes, I was disgusted by the gross immorality that was divinely ordained (e. g. the wholesale slaughters) and disgusted by the backwardness (animal sacrifice, talking animals) and superstition.

But that didn’t make me an atheist; it turned me against Biblical literalism. For a long time I bought into the idea that the Bible was the result of human hands (I still believe that) and only part of humanity’s journey to discovering something called “God”.

However, rejecting the Jewish/Christian deity doesn’t make one an atheist; there are literally thousands of other human inspired gods out there, and how many gods are worshiped by other sentient beings on other planets in other solar systems in other parts of our galaxy or in other galaxies?

So, you might call me a “closet agnostic” in that I remain open to evidence of deities/concepts of deities that I haven’t considered as yet. And I am agnostic in the classical sense: I claim “I don’t know” and I remain an atheist in the classical sense in that “I do not believe in a deity” though I do not see the existence of a deity/spirit of the universe/creative force as impossible.

December 20, 2013 Posted by | atheism, religion | Leave a comment

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