Wednesday, August 13, 2014



Atheists don’t deny being human or having emotions and all the baggage that comes with being human either. What we don’t do is expect our entertainment to be true to life. We might enjoy a morally grey area or a villain protagonist being successful sometimes, but we never expect our reality to be indistinguishable from stories. 

Actually, true stories, no matter how accurate, always have holes or bias and slant often leaving little room for an interpretation other than what the author intends – unless they are really inexperienced with story-telling. What? You think I’m calling people liars? Well if the shoe fits. . . (Rashomon!) The components, the ingredients for crafting a good story are well known and satisfaction from hearing a well presented story has been documented too, but some people are better at presenting them than others. The fundamental thing that gives a story power though, is how it grabs the reader emotionally, how it inspires our empathy and of course, if you like a character who is suffering because of something a villain did, it’s not surprising you’ll want them to get justice in some way. That’s not just Karma, that’s our sense of right and wrong, or our morals in action.

And of course Karmic stories feel good! The villain gets punished, the hero exalted. To not have it go that way invariably creates the “it’s not fair!” disappointment in the audience but, who said life was fair? - that is just as much a part of our culture, an acknowledged difference between reality and fiction, the very definition in fact. If there weren’t tons of evidence against the existence of God already, just the fact of people indulging in that feel good Karma about their God, would be enough to raise red flags for those of us who accept that life is a gamble, and not fair.

Truly! We non-religious are wondering why every random bright spot or mishap has to have some deep meaning for the religious! A horrible natural disaster causes tons of suffering, and you’re sitting there thanking God that he spared you and your loved ones. What the hell!? Why do you have to make it all about you?!
Arrogant ugly American’s spout political nonsense with the tag line of “God Bless America!” really? Why should God favor one nation over another? (or your team over the other sports team?) Calling on God for his blessings or thanking him for what is really luck or just results from earnest hard work speaks to a very egotistical and ignorant view of the world. A view that ignores just how many other people are suffering, and how equally worthy they all are of blessings and good fortune that the religious egotists think God is conferring, when in reality it’s all just luck, skill and for nations, levels of societal economic success. And this view, this religious pomposity shows religion for what it is: rationalized nationalism and rationalized racism.

So yes, Atheists as human beings, have brains which encourage certain behaviors, urges, including an inclination to look for patterns, to want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and to believe in something bigger than ourselves. However, none of this precludes an Atheist’s ability to be in awe, or to have feelings of spirituality and connection with something bigger or greater than themselves and yet we do not feel the need to worship it or call it “God”. Because, guess what, we are a part of something bigger than ourselves and we do feel connected to it and purposefully aware of it too. All of humanity is a part of this world, a part of this biosphere we call Earth. There’s a lot about this world that we’ve already learned, quite enough to be in awe with, quite enough to feel connected to, and no worship or faith is required to feel this awe.

So to say Atheists can’t exist if they can feel awe or spiritual about anything, to quote polls that hang their results on a couple of leading questions, to point to a few aspects of the study of the brain and consciousness to support your argument belittling what the anti-religious stand for – this all says to me that what we have here, is sensationalist religious pandering, and someone who completely misses the point of what we mean when we say we are Atheist.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson quote

Words, words, Words!
The facts are yes, Atheist, and Atheism are just words. Words we use to describe a point of view, and an opinion about the nature of the universe that we still have questions about, we still have questions, while many of the religious’ claim to have all the answers. Words are useful for communication but if you’re going to doggedly refuse to learn what they mean and just hitch them to whatever misconception matches the particular case you’re trying to make, then maybe Human’s
are doomed to always be at each other’s throats over these opinions about who or what made us how we are today. If we can’t even agree on our terms of reference, then yes, we have a big problem.

Some of the words bandied about in this article are: “Spirit”; “Unseen Realities”; “Belief”; “Existential Dread” and “internal monologues”

The English word spirit (from Latin spiritus "breath") has many differing meanings and connotations, most of them relating to a non-corporeal substance contrasted with the material body. The word spirit is often used metaphysically to refer to the consciousness or personality. The notions of a person's spirit and soul often also overlap, as both contrast with body and both are understood as surviving the bodily death in religion and occultism,[1] and "spirit" can also have the sense of "ghost", i.e. a manifestation of the spirit of a deceased person.

I rather hope the author is using it in this sense because otherwise I don’t think their article makes any sense. So why is it that someone believing in the existence of spirits or the soul is not an Atheist? If they don’t believe that another supernatural being such as a God or Gods also exists? then that just means they have chosen not to believe in a god or gods. And if they don’t attend any particular religious services or identify themselves as religious otherwise, then they are right to identify as a non-believer or non-religious. So why does this belief in spirits suddenly make them a “believer” in the grander sense and not really an Atheist? All that’s required to be an Atheist is to not believe in one or more Gods, which means, most Christians are Atheistic in their lack of belief in say Zeus, or Ptahotep, or Isis, or Horus, or Thor, or Odin, or Gaia, etc. etc. etc.

This article’s point I think is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the definitions of Atheism and Atheistic types, or the author is coyly ignoring those definitions in support of his catchy headline as he cherry picks the science to support his puff piece with a final non-point, a duh conclusion.

Now, as to the matter of souls and or spirits? I think they’re probably hogwash much like religion. I’ve yet to hear of any confirmed evidence in support of the existence of either a soul or disembodied spirits. It would be nice in some ways to believe in some ineffable quality of each of us that is able to survive our deaths, but what exactly do you imagine that “survival” would be like? A disembodied spirit? how is that fun?

I work with people who’ve witnessed death, - traumatic death and misery too. These things are not easily dismissed from the mind, and I think that’s possibly a good thing, such experiences shouldn’t be dismissed, but one thing remains clear no matter how the dying happens, brain death leaves a husk of a formerly vital being and there’s no evidence that the personality, or if you wish to call it a soul, has any existence outside of that person’s brain. Witnessing brain death is like seeing a computer slowly wind down, and fail. Now the medical sciences in their pursuit of ways to extend the golden hour have found a way to shut the body and brain down and boot it back up, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve ever seen any evidence of a spirit being yanked back into the body when they do this.

So how could we see a disembodied spirit? what are it’s defining attributes? How would we measure its presence, using real science not some stupid pseudo-science. See that’s the problem. Aside from how we perceive a soul inside of someone, there aren’t any words or numbers to define it apart from the body, so where do we start to really prove its existence? If we could point to some subatomic particle and see it do something around a dying person to indicate the presence of something . . . If we could do that then could we create a disembodied spirit using science? Well anyway, I’m holding out for real evidence. But guess what, if we can explain the existence of the soul or “Ghosts” using science? If we can make it a part of the natural world, then it has ceased to be supernatural

There is one way that I can think of where it might become possible for disembodied people to exist, but I’ll talk about that in another post. (because this one is already huge enough!)

Unseen Realities
Here’s an unseen reality for you: the person sitting on the bus next to you is going to die. They also have their own personal problems that may or may not be something you can relate to, but they have them and they’re considerably more important to them, then your problems are to them, but the opposite is true too, isn’t it?! Your problems are more important to you and always will be more important to you than anyone else’s problems. 

The point is there are lots of unseen realities, and just because it hasn’t been seen yet doesn’t mean it’s mystical in its source but if you want to use a magnifying lens or microscope you can see more formerly unseen realities. Science today is still striving to see things and to improve equipment for making observations, so who knows what we’ll discover next. Seeing isn’t the whole story though, there’s understanding, and there’s interpretation too. That person sitting next to you may have a problem they can relate to you verbally, show you pictures of, but you may have no visceral understanding of what they’re going through. You could guess, you could speculate, but no matter how close to understanding them, you will still not be them, or feel exactly what they feel.

Now you may believe you can relate to that person and certainly if you can express compassion and empathize with them it can’t hurt, and certainly might help them feel better, if only for a moment, but no matter how strongly you believe in your understanding of them, or in your God or your belief in his ability to help them, it still doesn’t mean you’re right. Beliefs are not facts, or truths.

I may believe that there’s a God named Yukkapuk who lives in the clouds and wants people to pray to him and eat yucca to show respect to him. I may claim endless things about him and even only mean it in jest, but if I’m intense about it and seemingly sincere, there may just be a few people who will take me seriously and then I’ll have a religion and a religious following. I’ll then be a prophet of Yukkapuk. It doesn’t make a damn bit of it true! What it does show though, is that Humans have evolved to be social and to place value on repetition of claims, no matter if there’s any truth to those claims. This is the secret behind the “Zombie Lies” as Bill Maher likes to call them. The lies that keep cropping up because, if you’d rather not bother to question what someone tells you, then with enough repetition, sooner or later you’ll accept what you’re told as truth, even if it isn’t.

It doesn’t even have to be zombie lies about political things, it could just be a damn rumor about your neighbor. Yes a rumor, and it got passed on telephone style even. Where’s the truth? To the lazy brain, it doesn’t matter. Belief is easier and really who has time to chase down every lie and lay eyes on the truth instead?

Everyone has beliefs. Yes everyone has them. I believe that I’ll be having supper tonight. I base this on the fact that I can afford the food and have the time to make supper, and I usually am hungry for it about 6 o’clock so based on my habits and capabilities I believe it will happen. This belief is sincere, and certainly reasonable, but it doesn’t mean I’m right. A meteor could strike my house and kill me dead before I get to eat a bit of it or before I even get to cooking the food. Anything could happen to change that predicted future. Now that’s belief about the future which is particularly questionable, but how different really is my sincerity from the Christian who’s sincere in their belief that when they die they’ll go to heaven?

The only difference as far as I’m concerned is tomorrow you can ask me if I had supper last night and well, after that Christian dies, we have absolutely no way to check on the validity of their beliefs’ claim. Of course for some, they believe they do have a way to validate that claim.  That gets into the whole area of what is validation, or proof? That is the rub isn’t it? For the Atheist to believe in God, they want evidence, but for the religious, they already have all the evidence they feel they’ll ever need in their faith – a pretty synonym for belief.

Existential Dread
It’s in the repeated use of this phrase that the author reveals their intention the most. Existentialism and the philosophy or body of thought that phrase points to is huge, too huge for such a tiny and insignificant point as made by this article, and yet the author uses it anyway without any qualifying statements about what exactly he means by using this term. He uses it to add weight, a certain spice of pretentiousness that otherwise would be absent if he just said anxiety about death and the meaning of life.

So when you search Existential Dread in Wikipedia what comes up?    


I find this interesting because English is such a sponge of a language which is sometimes good, other times it leads to misunderstandings. So if you’ve faced death in your life and you’ve had a moment of dealing with and understanding that you will die or someone you love will die, then I suspect you have felt fear, and you have felt helpless about the fact of death. If you’ve had these thoughts then you’ve experienced half of Existential Dread, and if you then tried to find meaning and value in your life as a result of this loss of a loved one? then you have experienced both halves of this concept. Doesn’t sound as impressive now does it? That’s the value of a fifty cent word to writing.

So why is facing this fear such a problem? Acknowledging mortality can be a good thing. It might not be easy, but if you accept that you cannot change the reality of death, then it can provide real focus, giving an appreciation for what you have right here in the present, instead of putting off things that otherwise you would regret not doing on the brink of death. Speaking of regret, what’s wrong with regret? There’s always going to be something you regret not doing or saying, there’s always more you could do, if you have the time and energy. These are human experiences, human feelings, and they’re not without their value. People need to stop pretending that feelings aren’t important, or are bad, or that having them somehow makes you less.

If you want to find meaning in your life, look to your ancestors who strove to improve their lives from day to day so that you could have the life you have now, one which allows you enough free time to dwell on these subjects of death and why you are here, and what it all means. Without the efforts of all your predecessors and all of our species efforts you would still be struggling to find food and shelter from the elements, like animals. Do you value the fact that you are able to think, and do you feel glad that you’re not just some dumb animal, relying on instincts and the drive to survive?

Do you value the fact that your lifespan has been expanded by progress in the medical sciences? Or that you can choose to focus your thinking on deciding what to wear tomorrow or what to watch next on television instead of focusing on these heavier subjects? Or you could choose to focus on what you can’t control about your life, your death. You could choose to think of your life as supposedly more important than other’s lives, just simply because you believe in God and his love for you. Do you value your ability to think and choose what you will do and believe?

Then I suggest you have already found meaning in your life. By just thinking about the meaning of life you have added value to your life. We are life appreciating itself because by observing our universe we reflect its value and that value includes all life, even human life.

Take a moment while you’re having your coffee one morning, and go outside and look down at the ground, look into the grass or under the bushes, sooner or later you’re going to lay eyes on a living thing (hint: grass, -plants are alive) maybe you’ll find an insect you’ve never seen before, or maybe you’ll see the slime trails of a pair of slugs who had a huge sex fest on a tree the night before. Whatever you find, is currently sharing this biosphere with you. Whether you find it icky, or stunningly beautiful, one day the molecules, the atoms that make up your body and its body may be comingled. When that happens you won’t be aware of it, but you can appreciate the fact of it now.

This is what Science has shown us is coming, the inevitable death of our world when our sun becomes a red giant, when all the life that was, is just dust, molecules - when all will just be motes obeying the laws of physics in space. We came from dust, and that’s where we’re going back to, eventually. (This is by the way what we’re referring to when we Atheists say things like: We’re 98 % Chimp, 100% stardust.)

Why is this important? Well it’s a belief based on evidence, on scientific observations. Unfortunately no one we know today will be alive to confirm any of it, and billions of years from now? That is too far off in the future to predict what humanity will look like, much less if we’ll even exist. Extinction is a real possibility for our species too, but even if we all die, if there’s no witness to these cosmic events? Scientists are certain our sun will still end. Does a tree falling in the forest make a sound if you’re not there to hear it?
(Welcome to Metaphysics:
(Here’s another wonderful video that explains this life/death thing: )

Internal Monologues
So if you’ve embraced belief in a God or Gods, you might have thought you have received messages from him, as if he’s talking to you in your head. Or maybe you heard someone else say something and it resonated so much you felt it was God speaking to you through that person?

Welcome to the wonder that is your mind. Remember how you learned that talking aloud to yourself was considered evidence of being crazy? Well your parents didn’t want to have to apologize constantly to people for your childself expressing every little thought that came into your mind. It’s one of the many ways that we socialize children. So that internal dialog develops and grows just as we all do, with the habits of thought changing and redefining as children learn and grow into adults. So the internal dialog you might credit to your God is just part of how you process your thoughts. If you’re aware of different voices, it just means you have developed a habit of thought that allows that to happen. By the way you’re reading an internal monologue right now. Writing is one of the ways I put my thoughts in order, I just happen to use a word processing program to help me sort them into a cohesive form. 

Using writing to sort my thoughts works for me, but even while I’m in the process of doing that I’m well aware of other internal monologues going on in my head also: a pinging awareness of a bladder filling, the sounds of others or the TV, and these things are all there for me to focus on, when I’m ready.
When you listen to someone in a lecture, sermon or even just in conversation, are you always paying close attention? Or does your mind sometimes wander, maybe to think on something inspired by what they say, but it’s thinking in your language right? When I was in high school I learned about what Foreign Exchange students experience when their immersion in our culture has them starting to think in our language instead of their native tongue. How weird it must be to experience that mental shift where the internal dialog is suddenly multi-lingual. It must make one extremely self-aware of the internal conversations!
These students explained to me that it was a little frightening and so they enjoyed talking with each other in their native tongue. For them it was reassuring because if felt as if they were making sure that they wouldn’t lose their own language.

Internal dialogs and monologues happen to us all, it’s just part of being human. How you choose to interpret your mind’s thought processes, well that’s a real choice, though it might not be easy to change once set.
If the author of this article is to be believed, he seems to think it’s not possible. I urge everyone to seek out the many de-conversion stories of Atheists who were once religious, before assigning impossibility to the idea people can’t choose to change a belief system, but remember it’s not easy. And changing those systems, even contemplating changing can be too traumatic, that’s the real existential crisis, or a crisis of belief. Resistance to change is unavoidable in most religious people for many reasons, which I’ve touched on elsewhere.

Watch this video and you’ll understand why even just the existence of non-believers makes a believer mad:

So why is this article making a non-point, duh conclusion? He’s basically saying we’re all human and humans have this thing that we do with our brains, and we all do it much the same way. No shit! He made much of his point with multiple arguments from authority, cherry picked science and all this while ignoring the vast amount of material discussing the Atheist point of view. While pulling back the lens of his analysis to say the differences between believers and non-believers is so small as if to be non-existent, so by doing that he basically devalued all that defines and makes the differences between Atheists and Religious so important to think about. A negation of the value of our differences is just handing a blank cheque to the religious to go on being the non-thinkers that they’ve habitually been.

Atheists, Humanists, and other non-religious have said for years that human beings are fighting over religious differences, for whose version of the ridiculous sky fairy tales is right, when in reality what these religions all have in common is that they’re bullshit. Religion to the non-believer, Atheist or Humanist is a tradition of nonsense that all too often leads to unnecessary violence and death. So though it might seem like a good idea to have a ra ra session to make us all feel like we’re exactly the same, it’s unfortunate that the author forgot that some insecure religious folks will never set aside their desire to force others to conform to their beliefs, and that’s reason enough to point out the unhealthy differences of their state of mind, minds poisoned by intemperate belief. It’s especially sad because this author could have mitigated his pandering with just a few sentences, or said effectively what I’ve just said here.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson Quote with An Atheist Response

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