My journey from lay pastor to atheist…

The religion I used to preach about relied upon a singular book, the bible.  I spent almost nine years as a lay pastor, and only in the last three did I read the bible critically.  As I did, more and more contradictions within it created more and more questions.  I became ever more curious how that could be, so I researched the history of the bible, and in so doing I found it to be completely unreliable for anything more than kindling.  It contradicted itself, its authorship was shrouded in mystery and ongoing debate, its origin at the Council of Nicaea under Charlamagne, and its obvious theft of older regional myths all pointed to an obvious conclusion for me:  it was, in short, not the inspired word of God, but a complete and utter fraud.

 

I left the church and Christianity, annoyed I had not only wasted so much of my young life, but had also led so many others to believe such utter nonsense.

 

I read philosophy, finding fascination with the Tao Te Ching, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Frankl, and the like.  I studied other mythologies, so as to fully grasp the true origins of the bible I once held dear.  I studied biology, cosmology, agnosticism, and atheistic thought.  And I came to the solid conclusion that there is no deity.  Science informed me that “god” is a “god of the gaps”, and those gaps have closed.  The people who claim to follow God are a mixed bag.  Many are on a spiritual path in their belief; others are dogmatically religious.  Whether Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, I’ve encountered those who walk their faith with humility and those whose hubris is stunning.  

 

I admit that my coming out as gay had much to do with my questioning, but not my methodology.  As the evidence for there NOT being a god mounted, I simultaneously encountered those who freely expressed their religious disdain for my sexuality, which I did not trumpet, but I am what some might call open and apparent, if not obvious.  As I consider how those same religions claim to “change the hearts and minds” of their followers, I can’t help but notice how they also FAIL a good 99% of the time.  Christians are especially quick to invoke hell and damnation upon non-believers, gays, and liberated women.  It made my decision to leave the church much easier, and that decision came long before I ceased believing in God.

 

What is the difference between atheism and religion?  Religion requires the suspension of critical thought, the ignoring of proven facts, and devotion to a maladroit deity.  Atheism, on the other hand, is the born-this-way default position, requiring only curiosity about the world around us, in all its amazing glory — no god or faith required.  

 

And, to be totally frank, the world would be so much better without religion.

Science red flags

Science red flags.

The ‘scientifically proven’ subterfuge.Scammers and deniers use two forms of  this tactic:

  • they claim that their idea/discovery/product is valid because it has been ‘scientifically proven’
  • they refuse to accept someone else’s claim unless it can be ‘scientifically proven’

Persecuted prophets and maligned mavericks: The Galileo Gambit. Users of this tactic will try to persuade you that they belong to a tradition of maverick scientists who have been responsible for great advances despite being persecuted by mainstream science. Empty edicts – absence of empirical evidence This tactic shows up when people make claims in the form of bald statements – “this is the way it is” or “this is true” or “I know/believe this” or “everybody knows this” – without any reference to supporting evidence.Anecdotes, testimonials and urban legends Those who use this tactic try to present stories about specific cases or events as supporting evidence. The stories range from personal testimonials, to anecdotes about acquaintances, to tales about unidentifiable subjects.
Charges of conspiracy, collusion and connivance Conspiracy theorists usually start by targeting weaknesses in an accepted model, then propose a conspiracy that explains why their ‘better’ model has been suppressed. Although there can be overwhelming evidence favouring the accepted model, they claim that this simply means the conspiracy has been successful.
Stressing status and appealing to authorityPeople who use this tactic try to convince you by quoting some ‘authority’ who agrees with their claims and pointing to that person’s status, position or qualifications, instead of producing real-world evidence. The tactic is known as the argument from authority.
Devious deception in displaying data: Cherry pickingIn cherry-picking, people use legitimate evidence, but not all of the evidence. They select segments of evidence that appear to support their argument and hide or ignore the rest of the evidence which tends to refute it.
Repetition of discredited arguments – parroting PRATTIn this tactic, people persist in repeating claims that have been shown over and over to have no foundation. Look for slogans, sweeping statements or claims that look as though they could easily be refuted.
Duplicity and distraction – false dichotomyIn this tactic, people assert that there are only two possible (and usually opposite) positions to choose from, when in fact there are more. They try to argue that if one position is shown to be false, then the other must be correct.
Wishful thinking – favouring fantasy over factWe all fall victim to this tactic because we use it on ourselves. We like to believe things that conform with our wishes or desires, even to the extent of ignoring evidence to the contrary.
Appeals to ancient wisdom – trusting traditional trickeryPeople who use this tactic try to persuade you that a certain explanation, treatment or model must be correct because it’s been around for a long time.
Technobabble and tenuous terminology: the use of pseudo scientific languageIn this tactic, people use invented terms that sound “sciencey” or co-opt real science terms and apply them incorrectly.
Confusing correlation with causation: rooster syndromeThis is the natural human tendency to assume that, if two events or phenomena consistently occur at about the same time, then one is the cause of the other. Hence “rooster syndrome”, from the rooster who believed that his crowing caused the sun to rise.
Straw man: crushing concocted canardsWhen this tactic is used, it’s always in response to an argument put up by an opponent. Unable to come up with a reasoned response, the perpetrator constructs a distorted, incorrect version (the “straw man”) of the opponent’s argument, and then proceeds to tear it to shreds.
Indelible initial impressions: the anchoring effectAnchoring is the human tendency to rely almost entirely on one piece of evidence or study, usually one that we encountered early, when making a decision.
Perceiving phoney patterns: apopheniaThis happens when you convince yourself, or someone tries to convince you, that some data reveal a significant pattern when really the data are random or meaningless.
Esoteric energy and fanciful forces.This tactic is easy to pick because people who use it try to convince you that some kind of elusive energy or power or force is responsible for whatever effect they are promoting.
Banishing boundaries and pushing panaceas – applying models where they don’t belongThose who use this tactic take a model that works under certain conditions and try to apply it more widely to circumstances beyond its scope, where it does not work. Look for jargon, sweeping statements and vague, rambling “explanations” that try to sound scientific.
Averting anxiety with cosmic connectivity: magical thinkingMagical thinking is present when anyone argues that everything is connected: thoughts, symbols and rituals can have distant physical and mental effects; inanimate objects can have intentions and mystical influences. Often, the connectivity is supposedly mediated by some mysterious energy, force or vibration and there is much talk of holism, resonance, balance, essences and higher states.
Single study syndrome – clutching at convenient confirmationThis tactic shows up when a person who has a vested interest in a particular point of view pounces on some new finding which seems to either support or threaten that point of view. It’s usually used in a context where the weight of evidence is against the perpetrator’s view.
Appeal to nature – the authenticity axiomYou are expected to accept without question that anything ‘natural’ is good, and anything ‘artificial’, ‘synthetic’ or ‘man-made’ is bad.
The reversed responsibility response – switching the burden of proofThis tactic is usually used by someone who’s made a claim and then been asked for evidence to support it. Their response is to demand that you show that the claim is wrong and if you can’t, to insist that this means their claim is true.
The scary science scenario – science portrayed as evil.The perpetrators try to convince you that scientific knowledge has resulted in overwhelmingly more harm than good. They identify environmental disasters, accidents, human tragedies, hazards, weapons and uncomfortable ideas that have some link to scientific discoveries and claim that science must be blamed for the any damage they cause. They may even go so far as claiming that scientists themselves are generally cold, unfeeling people who enjoy causing harm.
False balance – cultivating counterfeit controversy to create confusion This tactic is promoted by peddlers of bad science and pseudoscience and is often taken up by journalists and politicians. In discussing an issue, they insist that “both sides” be presented.  Many journalists routinely look for a representative of each “side” to include in their stories, even though it might be inappropriate. Groups or individuals who are pushing nonsense or marginal ideas like to exploit this tendency so that their point of view gains undeserved publicity.Confirmation bias – ferreting favourable findings while overlooking opposing observations This is a cognitive bias that we all use. We go out of our way to look for evidence that confirms our ideas and avoid evidence that would contradict them..

 

 

It’s all about love.

Yet so many people don’t “get” that.  All utopias rely on it, though.  Being human, we have chosen over the millennia to fear each other and hate each other rather than acknowledge how much better the world would be if we only allowed love for one another to rule our hearts and minds.  

 

Most religions lay claim to leading followers to a path of enlightenment, presumably one of love for others in the form of basic human caring.  Why, then, are religious people so bent on hating those who disagree with them?  Seriously, how much sense does it make for a religion to claim the likeness of an all-loving god while making non-believers conform to their beliefs with no regard for free-will?  Without free-will, what’s the point of being human?  

 

Ah, the questions no one dares to ask!

 

The other dilemma is that many religions believe it is the absolute and only right path to eternal life.  The problem is that too many people are so busy looking to their next life that they’re totally missing the point of this life.

 

What are we really here for?  To wage wars against one another?  To put despots into power over us for the sake of feeling protected from “the enemy”?  Why have we given up our sovereign right to rule ourselves?  Have we forgotten what “government of, by, and for the people” means?

 

We the human race have such tremendous potential if only we could stop fighting ourselves.

 

Ask yourself basic questions, and all of this ranting makes sense.  Why would anyone treat a stranger differently from a loved family member?  Can you think of anything positive with which that question can be answered?  We are so quick to be suspicious and distrustful when given no reason other than fear.  Love cannot be born out of fear.  Approaching all people with an open mind and an open heart is how we begin to heal the human race.  We are ultimately all reliant on one another for survival.  It is only the predators among us, within our own species, which keep us from realizing our full potential as a species and a race.  It is those who divide us with words and actions designed to prey upon our fear of dangers and death, which only cause irrational reactions to threats we permit to exist because we allow our “leaders” to create them.

 

Anything that divides us is inherently a false idea.  A false idea is one which relies upon the perpetuation of certain myths.  Racism, sexism, nationalism, and – to be honest – many religions are examples of things we humans allow to divide us, and are themselves false ideas.  

 

I know this notion will offend many people, and I can only plead that I am being open and honest, and am sincerely in pursuit of such dialogue as I type this.  If my calling out of false ideas offends you, I encourage you, as a member of your tribe, to take some time to reflect on why you’re offended.  Dig deep.  Keep in mind, most responses will probably come from religious people or someone coming to their defense.  I respect this.  I encourage it.  Also remember, dear reader, that I am also a former lay pastor in both the Seventh Day Adventist Church and an Independent Baptist Church in conservative small-town New England.

 

Human history has entered a cyclical pattern.  It wasn’t always so.  Before “civilization”, we humans lived in tribes.  Tribal living requires a different approach to life.  It is communal because the tribe relies upon each other and cares for one another as a huge extended family.  As agriculture took hold some 7500 -10000 years ago, tribes gave way to smaller familial units at the same time that the idea of local commerce took shape.  Agriculture is required for shopping in a town market, otherwise there is no market.  That said, agriculture allowed for such mass food production that people who didn’t farm had time to develop specialty work, such as jewelry making, art creation. and musical instruments.  Such specialization was the spark that started a market economy, not entirely different from capitalism today at its roots.

 

This market economy represents the force which would create the social stratification we live with even today.  Some will say that the free-market economy that started 10,000 years ago works just fine.  Tell that to the millions of people starving to death.  The idea that there are not enough resources to feed every last person has been thoroughly debunked:

 

“Earth produces enough food for the nearly 6 billion people alive today. In fact, if everyone adopted a vegetarian diet and no food were wasted, current production would theoretically feed 10 billion people, more than the projected population for the year 2050.” (Population Reference Bureau, Washington, DC. Copyright 1997.)

 

We can produce enough everything for the world.  Electricity through Tesla Coils.  Tesla wanted to give the human race electricity for free.  Instead, his ideas were squashed for a model that could make money for investors, something Tesla wasn’t interested in.  Capitalism kicked in, and we’re paying for it.

 

Without Tesla’s free electricity, people around the globe continue to go without the very technology that would bring them rapidly into first-world status.  Without free electricity, water pumps don’t turn on for people in remote places around the globe — because there’s no profit to be had in bringing electricity to them — and so irrigation for many such places is an impossibility.

The myth of scarcity is what drives the world financial markets, and companies and corporations know this.  The more scarce or rare an item is, the more it is monetarily worth.  That is why diamonds supposedly cost so much – they’re mythologically rare.  That’s why people shell out thousands upon thousands of dollars for “the” diamond for whatever occasion.  But then there are the facts:

 

How large is the diamond industry?

Diamonds are one of the world’s, and specifically Africa’s, major natural resources. An estimated US$13 billion worth of rough diamonds are produced per year, of which approximately US$8.5 billion are from Africa (approximately 65%). The diamond industry employs approximately ten million people around the world, both directly and indirectly, across a wide spectrum of roles from mining to retail. Global diamond jewellery sales continue to grow, increasing three-fold in the past 25 years, and are currently worth in excess of US$72 billion every year.  (World Diamond Council, “The Diamond Industry Fact Sheet”, diamondfacts.org)

 

This myth of scarcity applied to everything.  And rest assured, it is a carefully crafted and cared-for myth foisted upon the human race through historical reiteration after reiteration and constant indoctrination that “this is just the way it is”.  Yes, it is that way.  And we are a race divided against itself because of it.  Of course, there are plenty of other things that divide us, and those myths — those false ideas — need to be exposed and replaced with the reality we can have if we just love each other as one tribe — the tribe of humanity –  and one race — human race.  

 

And we still don’t see the vicious circle.  We humans must be remarkably stupid.  How disappointing for us!  We can create the most destructive devices our race has ever seen – blow up entire countries! – but we cannot seem to lift ourselves out of the madness of fighting amongst ourselves when there truly is no reason for any of it.  What is ultimately the motivator that keeps us divided?  Religion– something no one can prove, yet so many people have died for. 

 

Is it any wonder, then, why Karl Marx suggested a world without religion would be a better world from a purely pragmatic standpoint?  What he failed to recognize is the good that can come with religion so long as no one religion dictates to everyone else.  It is religion’s too-frequent need to dominate that creates upheavals.

 

It makes sense why the American Constitution promises freedom of religion.  Only by making all religions equal could any one religion be kept from dominating the politics of America.  By so enshrining the “wall of separation between Church and State” — as Thomas Jefferson called it –, the Constitution encourages Americans to remember why so many of our ancestors came to the U.S.  They didn’t come to suffer the torments of a divided nation.  They came to make a stronger, united people who shared the value of basic human dignity.  That dignity can be achieved if we stop expecting others to believe as we believe, and instead move wholly (and, for many believers “Holy”) in the direction of love as most paths of belief call for.  

 

That means we must mature as a species.  We must, for our own sake, mature to meet the demands our changing environments thrust upon us in response to our growing population, impacting the biodiversity of our ecosystems, dumping pollution as if it doesn’t matter…  The denials must end, and we must grow up to meet the demands our new environments thrust upon is, abandoning all myths to meet the technological and natural changes we face.

 

Just posted to my Facebook:

It is not my intention to “offend” anyone, but I had this frank and strong thought as I replied to an op-ed comment, and I’m going to post it here. If you’re “offended” by this, take a breath and be honest about the real reason for why you’re “offended”:

As a former lay pastor and now atheist, I will submit that the Bible is bulls**t, and that anyone who reads it with frank skepticism, cannot help but walk away with the same conclusion. It requires a special kind of delusion for millions of people to buy into an obvious and often ridiculous bronze-age myths that were re-packaged stories from even older, stone-age myths.
When one considers that there have been over 300,000 documented deities in human history, the notion that their particular deity is “the right one, and even the ONLY ‘true’ god” is simply devoid of any critical thinking.

And yes, I am a vocal anti-theist.

Occam’s Razor — There is no “soul”

Occam’s Razor Soul

Here’s a rhetorical question for you:

On which side of Occam’s Razor does your notion of ‘Soul’ fall?

think about it for a couple of seconds.

Let me clarify:

The purpose of this little thought experiment is simple, yet shocking, to some, at its conclusion. I know it was to me.

1. Let ‘soul’, ‘consciousness’, ‘mind’, ‘self’, etc. be defined as any nonphysical phenomena containing the essence of one’s personality. (I used the first two terms interchangeably here.)

2. According to Occam’s Razor, “among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected.” This is really just human common sense simplified: sure, it is definitely possible that every time an apple drops to the ground, pink unicorns from Mars shoot invisible laser beams to push the apple down; then again, it’s much likelier that Earth’s mass simply bends the space-time continuum around Earth, thus exerting a force we call gravity.

3. Take the following situation; somebody snaps their fingers; the air gets compressed in waves until it reaches your outer ear; those compressed waves pass through your ear canal, and then hit the eardrum. These vibrations, via the Malleus, Incus, and Cochlea (in a perfectly understood physiological-mechanical-electrical process which we can easily emulate nowadays – look for “cochlear implants”) are in turn translated into electrical pulses.

Electrical.

Pulses.

From here on, there is nothing but electricity and chemistry.

These electrical pulses travel to the brain via the auditory nerve.

Now. The brain is a quiet place; it doesn’t have any pictures, nor any sounds or smells.

All that we are are pattern processing machines that have learned, through extensive trial and error – mostly during our formative years – to interpret external stimuli, in this case, particular electrical pulses as somebody snapping their fingers.

If you don’t believe me, simply look at a six month old baby trying to reach a toy right in front of him. look at how he twitches every muscle in his body and face. The child simply does not know yet to associate specific external stimuli (sight, pressure on specific patches of skin, causing a specific set of exquisitely timed electrical pulses, etc.) with specific desirable results (flexing the proper muscles in a series of actions that will result in him grabbing the toy).

4. Increase the level of “white noise” in the physical brain via simple chemicals (e.g. Propofol), and you will induce lack of consciousness, i.e. anesthesia. Use a specific “deep brain stimulation” probe you can also increase the noise so as to drown out Parkinson’s.

Eliminate pin-sized regions in the brain associated with short term memory processing and attention span, and you will be faced with a mere shell of a man.

If such simple physical, chemical, electrical, measures can have such a profound – even negating – effect on our so-called consciousness, what makes anyone think that consciousness is anything but the product of a physical, chemical, electrical brain is beyond me.

We don’t need anything more than the physical brain in order to generate consciousness.

The conclusion: you are a bio chemical electrical machine!

There is no nonphysical soul, nor consciousness.

I am a complete, proud atheist, but to my atheist friends who disagree with me, I should mention that being a critical thinker requires that you stop believing in fairies of all kinds – inside and out – God especially, but also your ethereal, out of body consciousness.

The mind is merely a mechanism designed by blind evolutionary forces to increase the likelihood of survival. If you can interpret patterns, you would know, for example, that that rustle in the grass is indicative of a beast ready to pounce; you would know that next year, 2 moon cycles after the days have stopped shortening, there should be enough rain to sustain your newly sown seeds.

Isn’t it time we all grew up?

There is no need for the added complication stemming from the existence of an ethereal soul; the concept of Soul falls on the side of superfluous assumptions, and thus should not be selected. Thus, according to Occam’s Razor, indeed, according to human common sense, there is no soul.

– Yaniv Chen

Originally posted in the Facebook Group “Atheists Unite”

Vestigial anomalies – Evidence of common descent

No More Mythology:

What an interesting and informative piece.

keepvid

Originally posted on aperi mentis:

Recently, I read one of the funniest articles I’ve ever read in my life about vestigial organs and why they don’t exist according to a creationist. It was funny, not because of the author’s intention, but because of the blatant ignorance that kept repeating itself over and over again in its paragraphs.

But, what are vestigeal organs, and why do they show evidence of evolution? Does the vestigeality of an organ mean that it cannot have been “roped in” to serve another function?

For centuries we have had questions about strange things on our bodies:

  • Why do we have appendices?
  • Why do we have wisdom teeth?
  • What is that tiny pink spot in the inside corner of our eye?
  • Why are there muscles in our ears that don’t move?
  • Why do we get goosebumps when we’re cold?
  • Why do babies grab anything that their tiny hands touch?
  • Why do men…

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Ending the debate with the Muslim

  • Mus:  And when we say that Quran said this 1400 years back, you cal it a fairy tales book.. Why?

    Doesnt this make more sense that whatever lawrence is saying today, is written in a book that is 1400 years old. Does that not make you think that HOW??

  • Me:

    Why do I call the Quran a book of mythology? Let me take a moment to pull that thought together into a cogent explanation.

    Firstly, the foundational claim is that God spoke to Mohammed, is itself an unsupportable claim.

    isn’t it odd that God hasn’t said boo since then? With all this new advancement, it is reasonable to conclude that God would once more reveal himself with some fresh advice.
    after all, God revealed himself to the Jews 6000 – 4000 years ago; through jesus 2000 years ago, and then Mohammed 1400 years ago. Seems He’s overdue for a conference

    What do we do today with people who say “God told me to do it. I heard him!”?

    Besides, no matter how you cut it, I take severe issue with the claim that “god” spoke to anyone. In mental health circles, that’s referred to as delusion. and no one, not John the Revelator, not Jesus, and not even Mohammed get a pass on that.

    And then, no reply.  :-P