Saturday, March 15, 2008

My New Scarlet Letter

If you're a regular reader you may have noticed the big red letter A at the right of the page, signifying that I have officially joined the Out Campaign. It is a public awareness initiative for freethought and atheism endorsed by prominent atheist Richard Dawkins (or The Great Dawkins, as the otters call him).

The campaign is an attempt to create a more positive image about atheism by providing a means by which atheists can identify themselves to others by the use of the Scarlet A. It encourages those who wish to be part of the campaign to come out, reach out, speak out, keep out, and stand out. Whilest the campaign is based on the gay rights movement, people are encouraged to only "out" themselves and not others who do not wish to do so.

So to all of my atheist (and agnostic for you middle of the fence types) readers, welcome! And to all of my non-atheist readers, welcome as well! This is an equal opportunity blog, in that I want to give everyone an opportunity to enjoy and be offended by my views regardless of your belief system (or lack thereof).


Anonymous said...

In November you were a professed agnostic, as you saw it "foolish" to close the door. What changed?

JBW said...

I'd say what changed is my understanding of atheism. I had thought that atheists were unbending nonbelievers who were as dogmatic as those who do believe in a god (as they are usually portrayed in popular culture) but I've come to realize that you can think that there is no god and still leave yourself open to any scientific evidence to the contrary. Absent that evidence however there is no other conclusion I can come to, which is how I've always felt. The probability that there is no god is vastly larger than the probability that there is, so it seems "foolish" to give them both the same credence. The door still isn't closed, I'm just not standing in the doorway waiting for someone who will almost certainly not show up.

Anonymous said...

Well scientifically proving, or calculating, that there's a god seems to be the most ultimate in foolishness if you ask me. You're going to have better luck proving that Roger Clemens didn't take steroids. (I don't mean any of this to sound combative, which I think you know.) The only proof I think could ever be offered would be God coming down here and telling you, "hey, it's me. here's a miracle. you want some wine? Party." You know? But if you ask me, that's still nowhere near enough proof for anybody who's skeptical.

(The odds of the rapture happening in our tiny lifetimes seem pretty slim.)

I don't know, it seems to me that the odds on there being a god, or not being a god, should still be set at even. I don't think the probabilities are as slanted as you do. When you take it all back to the beginning, you have one question to ask. Was stuff sitting around and there was a big bang? Or was stuff created and a big bang set off? Maybe I'm missing something, and feel free to point it out, but it still seems to me that a belief in god could still work hand-in-hand with your evolutionary ideas.

I googled and found this little blog on proving God's existence with science. He seemed to make some good points.
Proving God's Existence

I hope you get email notifications for posts or you may never see this.

Anonymous said...

ps. I'll try to start using my web savvy-ness to send my links to new pages, so people aren't redirected from your blog.

Doug"e" said...

Whaz zat? Atheists coming OUT. Oh my GOD! (Oopps, like I totally didn't mean that last comment.) What's next getting organised? Which poses some interesting questions like:
What will the buildings be called where we "congregate"?( and please don't reply "bars".)
Which day of the week will we "revere" the most?
Will there be some kind of secret handshake?
Would it be required that the "high priests" of non-belief wear some kind of ridiculous outfit at the meetings?
And in regards to donations to help further the cause would they refuse to accept bills plastered with "In GOD we trust" on them?
And lastly if "GOD" is the only omniscent and omnipotent being, what exactly are "closet atheists" afraid of?

Anonymous said...

"I don't know, it seems to me that the odds on there being a god, or not being a god, should still be set at even." - sterling

In response to this I agree in the broad sense that there is still a reasonable likelihood that some sort of abstract being exists. However, 'god' in the religious sense is defined as an entity with specific characteristics (such as intervening, and communicative)
There is no reliable or valid evidence of any such a god of this description, just as there is none for the tooth fairy, or santa clause. So even though in some parallel universe all these things could exist, their presence in the material world that humans belong to is FAR less likely than not existing.

If there were no form of supernatural being, the world would be exactly how it is now; as predicted by science.

As for that initial creation question, it's always open to exploration and there are some solid philosophical theories. But to claim a particular god that has complete focus on humans is quite unlikely.

JBW said...

This an old thread of comments but our friend from down under just found the blog so they can be forgiven for their late arrival.

I agree, Anon. My point about the existence of a god, or any other supposedly supernatural creatures or phenomenon, is one of probabilities, not possibility. Could gods exist? Yes. Do they? Highly unlikely.

Matt said...

A man sees what he wants to see. If you want to find God you will. If you do not want to find God, you won't. It's as simple as that. If you ask God to show himself to you, he will. But he gets to choose the time, place, and form that he shows up(He's God. He makes the rules. Same deal applies if you had an appointment with Bill Gates or the Dalai Lama).

JBW said...

What you are saying might be true but the entire statement is predicated on the assumption that your god is real and actually exists. Yes, a man sees what he wants to see and I know that many people think they see a god. But whether you see something or not, want to believe something or not, you can not change the immutable laws of the universe; gods either exist or they do not. Whether you are looking for them or not doesn't change that reality.

I can see see the Dalai Lama and Bill Gates and I can prove, using empirical date, that they are real and exist physically within the reality of the universe. That universe does indeed have rules that have been proven over hundreds of years with scientific research and experimentation. But again, it's highly suspect that a god made those rules; there is no proof that this ever happened, and no proof of the existence or works of any god-like beings for that matter, so the odds that a god made up the rules that our physical reality operates by are extraordinarily low.

Which brings me back to my original statement about possibility vs. probability...

Anonymous said...

Like a hamster on his wheel...

The irony is that you live by the data, and yet nothing about the data reflects what you say (odds being "extraordinarily" low). There are unexplained medical phenomena all the time. For one example, I've got a friend whose Crohn's Disease disappeared after 20 years. Is it possible there's a unknown scientific reason for this? Sure. Could it be a miracle? In my eyes, sure. Could it be an unknown scientific reason as provided/designed by a creator? Sure.

Matt makes a good point - that I'm glad you acknowledge - though I'm not sure why you even bother mentioning the "immutable laws of the universe" since it still does not change the different types of acceptable proof, work or evidence that could possibly be presented to you.

Actually, I would prefer to know what kind of proof would undoubtedly force you to believe in a higher being. Not one being in particular... doesn't have to be Christian, Hindu, Mayan, whatever. Just any sort of higher being. I would venture to guess that a rapture would do it... but beyond that, I can't think of any other form of evidence that couldn't be written off. Please let me know if there's something I'm not thinking about though.

So if there's only one form of acceptable proof - and it's only supposed to happen in the end times - then I think your statement of the "immutable laws" is pointless and Matt's point is worthwhile. If you start looking around for a god in nature, you may find enough justification to determine that having some faith is reasonable. You've observed the same things I have and come to different conclusions. However, it often comes across as though you have a black/white mental block against a creator based on the wrong reasons (organized religion, etc) and fall back on the "hard evidence" line, despite knowing in your heart that the game's not played that way.

There's a reason why we, as humans, prefer to play with dogs than with barbie dolls.

JBW said...

First off, "Like a hamster on his wheel" and "There's a reason why we, as humans, prefer to play with dogs than with barbie dolls"; maybe I'm just waking up but I have no idea what you're trying to communicate with these similes/examples.

Secondly, I don't dispute the existence of unexplained data; this would be a pretty boring universe without it. My contentions arise from the attribution of these unexplained phenomena to a conscious and involved creator.

I'm happy to hear of your friend's recovery but if you're saying that the odds that he recovered are evenly spread between natural causes and natural causes instigated by magic, I have to laugh.

Now, is it possible that unknown scientific reasons/a miracle/unknown scientific reasons provided or designed by a creator are responsible? Of course, I readily admit the possibility of anything in this universe. But look at the history of humanity attributing magic/miracles/a creator god to natural phenomena over the course of thousands of years and what do we find? In every instance where an explanation was eventually arrived at (ie. the vast majority), it was of a scientific nature. Gods were not bowling or throwing thunder bolts for personal revenge; there was an imbalance of charged ions in the air and the resulting reaction caused thunderous explosions.

The difference between magic (religion, faith, miracles, whatever) and science is that accepted proof through science can be duplicated in a laboratory and verified. Will we some day have proof of how your friend's disease dissipated? Most likely. Will that proof be duplicatable and able to be proven in a lab? Yes, because that is the very definition of proof.

You'll notice that I don't refer to your "God" in my comments but rather to a generic "god" or "gods" because I don't distinguish between the Christian, Mayan, Hindu, whatever varieties; I find them all equally lacking in any sort of scientific proof whatsoever. So, what kind of proof would I require to believe? A rapture? Please. My intelligence is insulted by the very idea. Now, I'm not saying that it's impossible but I'll wager everything I now own (admittedly, not a huge wager) that the rapture will absolutely not happen before I die. I'd also make the same bet on me not winning the Super Bowl/NBA championships/World Cup, etc. I also have absolutely no fear that I'll wind up in a lake of fire someday; that's a completely irrational fear, by all intelligent measures. And I'd wager that you yourself wouldn't bet your house or every possession against David Blaine's card tricks being actual magic rather than just slight of hand; I know for a fact that you're too intelligent to be taken like that.

You want me to believe? Have Jesus come back and cure the sick/dead in a hospital setting where the doctors can't possibly attribute his works to anything but divine intervention. I don't require the rapture or the "end times" or anything that theatrical; he can go back to shooting hoops in Heaven or walking on a beach as soon as he's done. Or better yet, have your God turn people into pillars of salt/make burning bushes speak/part a large body of water in front of a bank of video cameras so that the evidence can be studied for the next 100 years.

Of course, the predictable reaction to this line of reason is, "Well, even with that kind of 'proof', you probably would still not believe." Yeah? Then provide it, and then talk some shit. I just find it almost impossible to believe that hundreds/thousands of so-called miracles all happened before we had digital video and yet now that we do, not one happens in front of the millions of cameras scattered across the globe. It seems that convenience and lack of proof for religious miracles have gone hand in hand throughout human history.

My "black/white mental block" (again, an insulting term) exists because I've spent my entire life hearing about miracles and gods without ever seeing any kind of verifiable proof to convince me that they are anything but a dodge to allow certain people/organizations to acquire money/power/control from the vast majority of humanity. I recognize human nature; I see it acted out before me everyday. Magic, I see a lot less of. And I'm pretty sure I know how the game is played; I guess the difference between us is that I prefer to use my brain, rather than my heart, when it comes to determining the rules. And the vast history of scientific inquiry and verifiable proof backs me up on this.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why you laughed off the notion of the rapture as being convincing evidence. I can understand not believing it's going to happen, but wouldn't it be fairly convincing if you woke up one day and 1/4 of the nation's population had disappeared? Or were you laughing at how far past the line of "reasonable proof" the rapture is?

I guess I don't understand how you can say, in one breath, that my friend's missing Crohn's will likely be explained/duplicated one day, but if some guy started inexplicably curing the sick/dead that you'd automatically believe. These two notions do not seem distinctly different. I know that I would need more.

I didn't mean to be insulting in regards to the mental block. I apologize for that. I don't think that you would see the odds as being so slanted if that bias wasn't there though.

I agree, I wish that we had video evidence of those OT miracles. Even if we did, though, I'm not convinced it would matter. (I hate to get religion-specific with someone who doubts the authenticity in the first place, I really do, but it seems too relevant...) Allegedly, Jesus performed all these miracles that people saw, yet many chose not to believe anyway. It seems that I would trust something seen with my own eyes above all.

With that said, though, even having video evidence (certainly in the days of ILM/Pixar), sadly, is not enough proof to be considered "without a doubt". Look at the R. Kelly acquittal. I know this is basically the response you predicted, but I think it's legitimate.

There's a guy at our church riddled with some physical affliction. Lou Gehrig's, I think. He once told us of the first night that he woke up, realized he was freezing and couldn't reach down to pull up the blanket. Without saying a word to his wife, she reached over and pulled up his blanket for him. The next morning he thanked her for doing that but she said she didn't even know she had. Supposedly she's done this just about every night for a few years now. There are plenty of logical reasons why she continues to unknowingly pull up his covers for him when he wakes up in the middle of the night. Maybe she feels him shivering, I don't know.

Then there's the time I had a flat tire on the I-45 shoulder at dusk, and no sooner had I pulled over than some people in a truck with massive KC lights had pulled over behind me and changed my tire for me. I'm willing to leave my mind open to some minor intervention here and don't think I'm crazy for it. Are these "miracles" why I believe? No. Not at all. I'm willing to give some credit/thanks though.

JBW said...

Of course the rapture would be reasonable proof for me; while I'm not worried about ever going to Hell, I assume that the experience would indeed be quite visceral. I was just laughing at the plausibility of it's ever happening. People have been proselytizing the end of times for thousands of years, with specific dates highlighted every few decades, and again, I'll put every possession I own on the line against it for whatever time period you want, and I'll give you very good odds.

The comparison between your friend's Crohn's and Jesus' raising the dead was simply one of attribution. When we finally discover the reason for his remission, I assume (I know nothing of Crohn's disease or it's possible cures) that it will have been caused by cellular regeneration or antibodies or something else explainable by medical science. On the other hand, seeing documented proof that a man just waved a magic wand or twitched his nose over a cold, dead body and reanimated it is a different story (unless said wand or nose proved to contain instantaneously acting antibodies or whatever, then we're back to medical science again).

This mental block you assign to me is merely my understanding of the odds; numbers are completely objective and they don't lie. Most doctors, scientists and statisticians will tell you the same thing in regards to magical occurences and their subsequent lack of proof.

The OT miracles and Jesus' machinations are just that: alleged. Allegedly, the bible is the unchanged, transcripted words of God but historical records and works prove that it has undergone numerous mistranslations and blatant, nefarious editing since it's creation. Religious people to this day are still distorting the beliefs and words of the Founding Fathers, when we have overwhelming written and historical proof of their beliefs. Those men lived a few hundred years ago; the events of the bible are older by a magnitude. Any accounts of first hand witnesses are extraordinarily suspect, at best. I hate to beleager the point but the church and other religious organizations have wielded enormous power over societies throughout history and human nature being what it is, there is a very material reason to try to make supposed supernatural events in the distant past seem real, and that includes changing and forging supposedly sacrosanct documents.

My prediction of your response about video proof is true in that you are only considering the video itself (and yeah, R. Kelly did that shit). When combined with first hand accounts and testimonials from medical professionals, coupled with verifiable scientific testing by many different laboratories and many different research teams, this video evidence would hold significant weight with myself and other skeptics. It's not that we don't necessarily want to believe, we just absolutely don't want to be fooled or lied to.

I must however attribute these "miracles" you cite as everyday coincidence or subconscious thought on the part of your friend's wife; again, there is no proof to directly attribute them to anything but that. And I realize that they aren't the sole reason for your beliefs; your faith is a result of your journey through life, a quest for reason and purpose in a wonderous universe too vast for little beings like ourselves to fully grasp at this point in our evolution. I'm on the same journey and I have a similar quest, with my mind open to any and all possibilities; the parameters of my search and my threshold of proof are both simply significantly different.