Sparrows and Prayers

by James Wallace Harris, Friday, July 14, 2017

Even as an atheist I’ve always loved the sentiment that God knows every sparrow that falls from a tree. It’s a comforting feeling to know that we’re watched by someone who loves us. A 2008 poll showed 60% of Americans believe in a personal God. But according to one estimate, there are ten times as many stars in the universe than all the grains of sand on Earth. The next time you’re at the beach, contemplate the sand and imagine that each grain contains as many humans as Earth, and then imagine what it would be like to hear all their prayers, and then remember you’d need to listen to all the beings on all the other grains of sand too. Can any mind no matter how vast discern so many voices?

There are over 7 billion humans on this planet and between 200-400 billion birds. How can God know every sparrow that falls from the sky or listens to every prayer we make? Now imagine multiplying 407 billion times every planet in the universe. Now multiply that times every universe in the multiverse.

sparrows and prayers

The only person that hears our prayers are ourselves, and maybe a few people who love us if we tell them. The idea that there’s a loving being that listens to all our wants, desires, and fears is a story primitive people told themselves. How can we believe it when we know so much more? Our reality is even larger than what we can see with the Hubble telescope. There’s no reason not to assume it’s infinite.

We need to individually listen to our own prayers and answer them ourselves. We need to collectively listen to each other’s prayers and work together to answer them as species. Humans need to note each sparrow that falls from the trees and care for them.

We should all want universal health care, we all get sick. Why should the rich get their prayers answered, and not the poor? Why should the rich be the sparrows that get noticed?

JWH

33 Reasons Climate Deniers Can’t Give In

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Yesterday, I read a moving article in the New York Times, “Climate Science Meets a Stubborn Obstacle: Students,” about a student, Gwen Beatty, waging an emotional war of words with her science teacher, James Sutter, over climate change. Gwen’s passion for defending her beliefs made me feel for her, but I agreed with her teacher. For years I’ve wondered why climate change deniers tenaciously cling to their beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence they are wrong.

Gwen Beatty’s unmovable emotional stance is a clue to why deniers can’t give in. At first, I thought deniers were being pugnacious for political reasons, and then I realized there was a religious dimension to their stance. Here are 33 reasons why some climate deniers probably can’t give in.

Creation of Adam by Michelangelo_700

  1. To accept climate science means accepting science.
  2. Accepting science means accepting an indifferent random reality.
  3. Science shows reality is explained by evolution and not theology.
  4. There is no room for God if evolution is true.
  5. Without God, there is no need for Jesus.
  6. Without Jesus, there is no salvation.
  7. Without salvation, there is no heaven, hell, or eternal life.
  8. Without all of the above, there is no need of The Bible.
  9. If these things are true then liberals might be right about other things.
  10. If humans are the cause of climate change then we should fix it.
  11. Fixing climate change requires rethinking capitalism.
  12. To fix capitalism requires more regulations and control.
  13. More control requires a larger government.
  14. A larger government requires paying more taxes.
  15. Solving climate change means abandoning old sources of wealth.
  16. Solving climate change means telling businesses how to operate.
  17. Solving climate change means telling people how to live differently.
  18. If science if right about climate change it’s probably right about other issues.
  19. Humans are causing mass extinctions.
  20. Humans are polluting the planet and destroying the ecosystem.
  21. Humans are overfishing the oceans.
  22. Humans raise too many animals for meat consumption.
  23. Humans mistreat animals.
  24. Humans are ethically responsible for the balance of life on Earth.
  25. Humans, not God, decide what’s right and wrong.
  26. All people are equal regardless of their color, gender identity, or sexual preferences.
  27. That we have to think globally and not locally when it comes to human rights.
  28. That the soul might not come into existence at conception, or even exist.
  29. That it is unethical to let people live in poverty.
  30. That everyone deserves an equal education.
  31. That any kind of discrimination is wrong.
  32. That borders are arbitrary.
  33. That theocracy is evil.

I could go on. I wonder if accepting climate change is an uncrossable line some conservatives have drawn because they know crossing it means toppling the first domino that leads to the 33 beliefs above.

JWH

 

I Was Wrong

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, May 8, 2017

Yesterday I wrote, “Are Republicans the Party of Darwin?” accusing conservatives of applying their understanding of Darwin’s observations on nature to justify the laws they were creating. Their laws always seem to back the strong against the weak. But I had a revelation in the middle of the night.

Everyone acts on their instincts, and those instincts are Darwinian by nature. Duh! Darwin’s theory is the most widely accepted explanation for our behavior. I was crediting Republicans for consciously using Darwin’s ideas in the formulation of their political philosophy, and this is where I’m wrong. It wasn’t a conscious decision. My essay was based on the irony that conservatives profess to be Christians but enact laws that reflect Darwin’s theory rather than Jesus’ teachings.

heaven and earth

My point being there’s no compassion in nature or Darwin’s observations about how nature works, and there’s no compassion in the laws Republicans want to support. You’d think people who follow a personal philosophy based on compassion would enact compassionate laws. This conflict of action and belief troubles me and I keep trying to figure out what causes it.

My revelation last night is everyone acts Darwinianly, despite what they profess philosophically. I am an atheist, but I give Christianity credit for inventing many compassionate philosophical concepts. I attribute those ideas to Jesus like we attribute other philosophical ideas to Plato or Aristotle, but I’m not sure they came from the man we historical think of as Jesus. Many of the ideas were developed by his followers and attributed to him in the first few centuries after his death.

Organized compassion for the weak is a relatively new idea in history. Limited forms of compassion have been around in evolutionary terms for a very long time, even in plants and lower animals, but to develop a religion, philosophy, or political system to protect the weak wholesale is relatively new.

I just think it’s ironic that the political party that claims to be the most Christian reflects it least in their laws, and the party that folks general assume is least Christian reflects compassion the most in their laws.

Our political divide really comes down to how much we want to support the common welfare over the freedom of the individual. The more socialistic we are, the more we want everyone to contribute to improving society, the less socialistic we are, the more we want to give the maximum freedom to individuals and ignore the suffering of the masses. Such socialism counters Darwin’s observations on animal behavior.

Thus Christianity is inherently anti-Darwinian. For twenty centuries it seemed like Christianity was catching on, especially in the Western world. But that’s probably an illusion. What really caught on was a belief in life after death via easy salvation. The idea of heaven on Earth hasn’t.

In other words, conservatives are Darwinian on Earth, but Christian in their hopes about an afterlife. Which might explain why liberals are more socialistic. Many of them doubt the afterlife, and thus they’d want to create heaven on Earth. The conservatives are more pragmatically Darwinian, they want all they can get while living, and then assume things will magically go great after they die despite what they do while living. Liberals evidently feel this is all there is so we better make the best of it.

This is a huge problem for liberals. To get more people to vote for social welfare might require convincing people to think less about an afterlife. In other words, the concept of heaven has corrupted people’s attitude towards Earth. This might also explain climate change deniers. They might unconsciously realize to think more about Earth means to think less about an afterlife.

JWH

 

 

Are Republicans the Party of Darwin?

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, May 7, 2017

As a lifelong atheist, I find most of my political convictions comes from the words printed in red in The New Testament. Shouldn’t unbelievers use Charles Darwin’s scientific insights to model how society should be governed? Yet, as I study Republicans, the party I oppose, I wonder why they act the way the do. I can only conclude they base their philosophy on the survival of the fittest.

Darwin-Jesus

I hate Republicans for not carrying about suffering, whether it’s the suffering of people, animals, plants, or the biosphere. If you study Darwin’s observations you realize that nature ignores suffering too. The Republicans work with all their might to create a political system that helps the strong while ignoring the weak. In fact, Republicans are the strong feeding off the weak. Yet, publically Republicans claim to be Christians. Shouldn’t a Christian political party promote the way of life Jesus taught? And wouldn’t that be anti-Darwinian?

If you study the Sermon on the Mount, you know it’s impossible for a Christian to own an AR-15. The meek will not be carrying Glocks when they inherited the Earth. Darwin’s red tooth and claw philosophy would embrace such weapons. Darwin would be pro-gun, but not Jesus. Yet, typically Republicans express a hatred for Darwin and a love of Christ.

The Democratic party which wants to feed the poor and heal the sick is labeled the Godless party. However, if the beliefs in The New Testament were converted into a political system it would be socialistic, and look much like the political goals of the DNC.

Is it possible to create a political system that reduces suffering while still encouraging all its citizens to become stronger? If Republicans were honest they’d admit they believe far more in Darwin than Christ. Yes, helping people can make them weak, but ignoring their suffering also makes you heartless.

Isn’t there some kind of compromise we could make? Can’t we start the competition for survival on an equal playing ground? Wealth inequality shows the competition isn’t equal like what Darwin saw in nature. Human intelligence allows us to multiply and horde our strengths, which is why we’re destroying all the other species, and why those humans on the receiving end of wealth inequality can so easily destroy those on the losing end.

Republicans appear to totally embrace Darwinism, including ignoring suffering. Democrats want to create a political system that eliminates some sufferings. I would think any political system that ethically allows for some members to become billionaires should allow for universal healthcare. How can any system that allows for some players to have everything and others nothing be Christian?

Isn’t Christianity about compassion? I can understand why conservatives embrace Darwinian actions. Republican ideals are very close to nature. And don’t Christian beliefs defy the natural? Isn’t The New Testament all about protecting the weak?

JWH

What If Science Fiction Is Wrong About Space Travel?

Science fiction is about speculation and the topic it has speculated on most is space travel. What if science fiction is wrong? What if it turns out that humans aren’t suited for living in space or colonizing other worlds? What if homo sapiens need to live on Earth? How will such knowledge affect your philosophy?

Decades ago I realized that science fiction was my substitute for religion. I didn’t believe in God, heaven, or an afterlife, but I did believe in humanity spreading across the galaxy. I don’t know why that brought meaning to my life, but it did. I grew up reading and watching science fiction during the Project Mercury, Gemini and Apollo year of the 1960s. As I covered in my last essay at Worlds Without End, “A Distance Too Far,” new research is showing the biological limitations of humans living in space. Space scientists hope to overcome those limitations but what if they can’t? What if humanity is condemned to living on Earth until we go extinct? What if we have to watch robots and AI machines live out our Star Trek dreams?

I assume most science fiction fans will react the same way the faithful react when they encounter an atheist. It’s really hard to give up a core value which gives our minds meaning. I have no idea how adaptable humans are to space but I’m wondering what it will mean if we can’t. If you’re a hardcore science fiction fan could you give up your faith in the final frontier?

What happens to us when we no longer believe in getting to heaven or other planets? Will we find meaning living vicariously through the eyes of our robots who leave Earth and become immortal among the stars? What kind of science fiction will be written in fifty years if we have tried to colonize Mars and failed? If we discover galactic radiation fries our brains and it requires 1-G to reproduce normally – will we give up on human space travel?

Or think about this. What if we do colonize Mars and adapt but discover everyone hates living there? There are thousands of people who would volunteer for a one-way mission to Mars. Have you ever wondered why? What motivates people to want to live on a barren rock, that’s bathed in solar and galactic radiation, that’s colder than anyplace on Earth, and its atmosphere is unbreathable? Is it a powerful fantasy implanted in childhood like theology? Is it a deep drive to spread our genes to new worlds? Or is it a psychological desire to escape an unhappy life here?

What if we discover that many of the hopes of science fiction won’t come true for us? Think a moment about our other science fiction dreams. What if we can only push our bodies so far before longevity research peters out and we realize immortality is impossible? What if we can’t download our minds into machines or clones? What happens when we discover that being homo sapiens comes with limits that can’t be surpassed? I’m sure we’re far from discovering those limits but what if someday we know those limits with certainty?

Science fiction has always given us hope for unlimited potential. Yet, reality suggests we’ll eventually bang into the glass walls of our aquarium. I wonder what science fiction will speculate on then.

JWH

A Personal God of My Own

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Sometimes I wish I had a personal God for amicable chats when I have insomnia in the wee hours. Lying in the darkness, I often wish I had someone to share philosophical thoughts. I picture this personal God like a kid’s imaginary friend, or even a big pooka rabbit, like the one Jimmy Stewart conversed with in Harvey. I imagine my imaginary deity as a mashup of Mark Twain, Robert Sheckley, and Kurt Vonnegut. Maybe this God should look like Clarence the guardian angel, clueless and hapless. (Again, a Jimmy Stewart reference.) I suppose my guardian angel could look like the suave Dudley (who looked like Cary Grant), but that wouldn’t be as funny. Loretta Young would make a sexy guardian angel, and I can picture her being very insightful.

(I wonder how many people under 60 get my angelic movie references?)

female-god1

I once dreamed I had sex with God and was shocked (in the dream) to discover God was a woman. She was a stout matronly female in her sixties, with big soft bosoms, who looked somewhat like an older Sophia Loren. In this dream, I’m having very pleasurable sex with this zaftig lady, and my reaction was fucking an older woman was a lot of fun, especially one so jolly – but then I realize she was God. Seeing my shock she laughed at me with a deep throaty laugh, like the laugh my father’s mother had. I’ve always wondered what Freud would have made of that dream.

I was in my forties at the time. When I woke I was a little embarrassed to be enjoying a sex dream with a grandmotherly woman. (It didn’t bother me she was God.) I’ve had some very strange dreams over the years, and I’ve run into God before – but not as this woman.

So I suppose my personal God could be a she. I might even prefer that. When I first thought of having a personal God the name Fred popped into my mind. A good, no-nonsense name. I could have some great conversations with a God named Fred. But I sort of like God being a woman. Probably, I’ll call her Gladys or Gloria.

I’ve been an atheist since I was eleven years old. I remember my mother making me go to church as a kid, and me trying hard to believe. I even asked to be baptized thinking it would let me see what everyone claim to see. But after nothing was revealed, I took the path of unbelieving. I’ve never been the kind of atheist that advocates disbelief. I know too many people who find great comfort in theism to ever want to take it away.

And when I say I’m an atheist, I mean I have no doubts. God does not exist for me. When I talk with God, I know I’m pretending. It’s better than talking to myself, but not by much.

I believe we are all bubbles of consciousness that have accidently emerged into this infinite sea of random reality. I use the word reality because I don’t believe the universe is everything. I believe reality is quite indifferent to us and infinite in all directions and dimensions. People want a God because they want a father figure. They want their lives to mean something. When I think of my imaginary personal God, I’m really pretending I’m talking to reality. I know reality isn’t listening and doesn’t give a shit, but I like to pretend otherwise.

Many of my atheist friends would like to talk to God too, to curse the creator for all the suffering they see and experience. I’m not that way. I’d like to thank God for my existence. I used to have a lot of questions, but I’m satisfied now with what I know and don’t know. There are some things I’d like to kid ole Gladys about, though.

Like last night, I had friends over to watch A Man Called Ove, and at one point in the film, I glanced to my left and noticed my friend’s foot. It was beautiful. And I don’t mean in a sexual fetish way, but in an existential existence way. Gladys, why is one portion of reality more beautiful than another? Why are we here and not nothing? Why is the foot more aesthetically appealing than other objects in the den? You can be very weird at times. Your sense humor can be so trying – I can understand how I got old, fat, and bald – but why not shut off the sex drive as we age? Very funny, Gladys.

I accept the random nature of existence. I even accept what I fear and don’t want. So I’m content without God, but bantering with a personal God could be satisfying. It would be fun to have Gladys to chat about the beauty and absurdity of this existence.

“By the way Gladys, can you explain Donald Trump? That’s really going too damn far!”

JWH

Rejecting Some Science Fictional Ideas

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, October 14, 2016

The job of science fiction writers is to imagine things we haven’t imagine before. To speculate about the future, distant worlds, alternate histories, extrapolated trends, artificial life, machine intelligences, the future evolution of our species and so on. The territory of science fiction is quite large. As readers we are entertained by these feats of creativity, and all too often we are enchanted by the ideas that science fiction writers have given us. We want travel to distant worlds to be possible. We want to meet intelligent beings from other worlds, or build sentient machines. But I also think we should think carefully about science fictional speculation and reject ideas that aren’t rational.

ChildhoodsEnd(1stEd)ChildhoodsEnd(1stEd) (1)

I’m currently rereading 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke proposes several ideas in this book, some of which I don’t like, and some of which I hope are wrong. In Clarke’s two most famous works: 2001: A Space Odyssey and Childhood’s End, he theorizes that advanced aliens have or will uplifted our species. I don’t know why this idea is so appealing to him. What’s really a strange is 2001: A Space Odyssey was published in 1968, coincidentally, the same year as Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Däniken, which proposed a rather similar idea.

I find the theory that we needed aliens to uplift us, or accelerate our evolution, or explain some of our accomplishments, to be insulting. And these ideas have a strange kinship with religion. Powerful aliens are very much like how our ancestors imagined their gods. And as much as I dislike von Däniken, he spotted the religious angle. I wonder if Clarke knew what he was doing?

Both 2001: A Space Odyssey and Childhood’s End even appear to want transcendence through alien intervention. Isn’t Clarke just wishing to be reborn into a higher form and live in heaven? Isn’t he rejecting our current existence and state of being? Which is what most religions do too, by their claims the physical world is imperfect, full of sin and suffering. I prefer science fiction that is full of hubris, and humans pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

The second speculation Clarke pursues in 2001: A Space Odyssey is the fear of artificial intelligence. This is more logical, and maybe even practical. But it’s rather oddly religious too. Isn’t Clarke rejecting our ability to create and conceive our own evolutionary replacements? Isn’t Clarke’s warnings against HAL much like the Bible’s warnings against the Tower of Babel? Isn’t it saying God and aliens can create intelligent beings, but we can’t? Are they both saying, don’t aim too high because we don’t have the abilities.

What if we substituted crosses for monoliths in this story, and God for aliens. Wouldn’t it still work? Aren’t both of Clarke’s most famous stories about salvation by high powers? Aren’t their parallels between the beginning of 2001 and the Garden of Eden story? These two novels are very popular. Yet, isn’t that easily explainable? Even today most people seek salvation via high powers. Look at the current election. Isn’t Donald Trump actual claiming he can save us, that he knows more, that he can work magic, and people believe him. But isn’t that also a rejection of our own abilities and accomplishments?

Sometimes when we read a science fiction story we need to reject its ideas. Even though both of Clarke’s masterpieces are compelling stories, I wouldn’t want them to be true. I’d rather believe we’re here alone in the universe, and we evolved through random events. Then again, I’m an atheist.

JWH