JWH – 6/26/12
How Would Life on Earth Be Different if Everyone Was an Atheist?
Belief in God and an afterlife affects how people see reality. What if one day we all woke up without any superstitious beliefs in the metaphysical? What if science caught on and everyone began thinking in the same way about how reality works – would that change the social fabric of Earth? Does religion help or hurt when it comes to doing good?
Think about what John Lennon suggested in his song “Imagine”
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace
You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world
If religion and metaphysical ideas disappeared would we come together as one? I doubt it, but I think we could start working on the real problems we face. I can’t help but believe that if people didn’t think a better life awaits them after death they would take this world more seriously.
I think religious divides us, but I think something else divides us more: politics. But politics are just the outward manifestation of our inner beliefs which are tangled up in religious beliefs. The litmus test for that division is how we treat the poor.
Some people hate giving to the poor. They feel the poor should work. They feel the poor are undeserving of charity. Welfare makes their heads explode with anger. Paying taxes for public schools galls them no end. Foreign aid and food stamps just annoy the hell out them. Their resentment knows no bounds when it comes to paying taxes.
Other people want to divvy up the wealth and make life on Earth decent for all.
What’s strange the first group tend to be Christians and the second tend to be secular or spiritual rather than religious. To the first group, socialism is a dirty word, even though their God was known for dividing the fishes and loaves so everyone could eat.
So, I’m not sure if religion disappeared life on Earth would be any different.
We are going through transformative times. Communism failed. But capitalism cannot provide enough jobs for all. There will always be a certain percentage of the population that are idle. We have incorporated many socialistic solutions into our economy, and many people hate that. If we revert to a complete free market, where it’s dog eat dog capitalism, we will have a world where the rich lived in armed enclaves and the rest struggle to survive in a cruel uncontrolled Darwinian conflict. The early Christians saw Jesus’ teachings as a solution to this problem, but modern Christians have moved away from those socialistic beliefs.
I tend to wonder if modern Christians haven’t jettison all the Christian philosophy and just hung onto the belief of heaven. They want to be rich on Earth, and rich in Heaven. If these people turned atheists one night I doubt anything about the world would change.
Religion is a distraction like watching TV. Believing in vampires or angels, it doesn’t matter, it’s all fiction. To get the world that John Lennon imagined doesn’t come from giving up religion. What we need is for everyone to stop thinking about themselves and resenting others.
The real solution is to think global but act locally. We have to solve the problem of creating a healthy Earth, and how to create an economy that provides the basics of a decent life for all seven billion people that live on Earth. Our problem is the 10% want everything for themselves and expect the 90% to go fuck themselves. As far as I can see religion is irrelevant to this problem.
Like I said, we’re going through a transformative age that people in the future will name and analyze. Will the Earth survive? The rich want to ignore that issue. They want to get as much as they can for themselves. They do not care what happens to the Earth. They do not care what happens to future generations. They do not care about the rest of the people living on the Earth now.
Humans are a cancer consuming this world. Unless we get our greed under control we will consume everything, including ourselves.
To answer my title question: Unless becoming atheist means becoming liberal and socialist, the disappearance of religion would mean nothing to life on Earth. The real issues to how we live on Earth lies elsewhere. I don’t think greed is a belief. It’s genetic, conditioned and animalistic. Religion neither helps nor hurts in solving greed.
I think people who want to help the world do so because they just want to help the world. But those people aren’t enough. Unless the greedy are brought under control, and we’re all greedy, we can’t save ourselves. Christians want to be saved, but the plight of the Earth is another kind of salvation. Unless we’re all saved, then we’re all lost. Whether a God is watching us or not, it does not matter, because we can only save ourselves.
JWH – 5/16/12
I am a Scientist
I am a scientist. Now that’s hard to explain since I don’t have a Ph.D. in a scientific discipline and work doing science experiments.
When most people say they are something, they are referring to a religion. I’m not religious. I’m an atheist, but I don’t like of thinking of myself in terms of what I’m not. I am a person that believes science is the best cognitive system for explaining reality. Period. I’m not sure if there are any other contenders. I’ve written off religion, so what is there? Philosophy and art? Scientists used to be called natural philosophers because they studied nature. It wasn’t until the 1800s that they began to be called scientists.
For years now I’ve been wondering if philosophy had much to contribute towards our knowledge of reality. I argue about this with my friend Bill who says no, and I defend philosophy with a maybe. Now The Atlantic has a wonderful article on this very subject, “Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?”
People claim they want to know the truth. As far as I can tell, science is the only system that has any justification for providing the truth, all other intellectual systems fail in comparison to science. That’s why I say I’m a scientist. I believe in science. I put my faith in science. However, science isn’t a philosophy or religion. It’s a system for testing reality and developing a consensus about the results.
Currently, I don’t think science can answer all our questions. Aesthetics and ethics are two such areas outside of the domain of science, at least for now. Mathematics is the tool of science, and its own discipline. Mathematics is the only abstract cognitive system that works well with reality, and thus provides a tool to science.
Religion has no relationship with reality. It’s purely based on abstract ideas, all theoretical. Many religious people attack science, or refuse to believe or accept what science has learned about reality. Philosophers try to embrace science and keep their favorite abstractions. They hope to connect ideal forms with reality, but that is very hard to do. Justice is a philosophical concept, as well as a religious concept. People naturally want justice. It’s a deep seated desire. But there is no justice in reality. If a gamma ray burst hits the Earth and life on this planet is sterilized, does that reflect some kind of justice? The best we can do is create ethics and laws based on what the consensus of the population wants.
Right now philosophy can claim some value in logic, rhetoric, aesthetics and ethics.
There are two kinds of people on this Earth. Those who recognize reality, and those who live in fantasy. But even the fantasy believers accept science to a degree. How can you get on an airplane or go in for brain surgery without accepting science? Our houses, cars and gadgets are all products of science. The food we eat exists because of science, as does the medicine we take, the clothes we wear, and most everything else we come into contact with in our daily lives.
Science won a long time ago when it came to explaining reality, it’s just most people haven’t realized it yet.
When it comes to explaining how things work, science is the only legitimate tool we have.
JWH – 4/24/12
Should We Preach Science to the Faithful?
Now there are two ways to interpret my question: Should we preach science to the faithful? First, the religious right in America already believe atheists are trying to convert them through liberal education, so the question becomes: Should we not teach science to protect people’s faith? The second way to look at that question is to assume the faithful have a war on science which turns the question into: Should we teach science so everyone will understand that faith is fantasy?
Evangelical America already knows secular American has declared war on them. Liberals say, “Oh no, not us,” but I think they are avoiding the issue. Most liberals are not atheists, or even agnostics, and cling to bits of religion, mysticism and theism. They want to be modern, educated and embrace science, but deep down they want God and heaven to exist. They want everything science can give them, like brain surgery, GPS, television, computers, cell phones, antibiotics, and so on, but they don’t want to let go of God. The conservative religious right have always known deep down that science invalidates religion. That’s why they want to do away with The Department of Education, change goals for higher education and rewrite K-12 textbooks.
For decades liberals have embraced the idea that all we need to do is embrace the separation of church and state and the religious will be protected and the liberals can keep science and education. They see this as fair, ethical, legal and most of all high minded. Sadly, this is completely clueless as to what the faithful want. They want America to be a Christian nation. Liberals have no idea what this means, or what it implies.
It would be fantastic if religion was a personal belief that was never political and always personal, but that’s not the case. For decades the religious have wanted to take over politics to get what they want. They are pushing their agenda so I’m asking should liberals push back? Of course, the faithful will claim we’ve been pushing them for decades and they are only defending themselves. It’s a complicated issue.
Nevertheless, we have to ask: How hard should we teach science, skeptical thinking, and evidence based reasoning? Essentially, the faithful are saying, “God says things are like this…” and we’re saying “There’s no God, but science tells us this….” As much as some people want to believe that God and Science can coexist that’s just not true. Early humans embraced metaphysical fantasies long ago and it’s taken millennia for some people to break out of those fantasies. Our choice is accept the fantasies or accept the truth about reality – there is no sitting on the fence.
I’ve never liked proselytizing. I’ve always thought the idea of missionaries traveling to other cultures to convert those people away from their own religion as offensive. I’ve always been a skeptic, an unbeliever, an atheist, and I’ve never wanted to go convert the faithful to my way of thinking – until now. What’s the harm in letting people believe in God, or believing they will go to heaven and meet all their old relatives and friends. It’s a wonderful dream to dream. What harm could there be in leaving people alone to believe in religion and all the things religion promises them?
But the Republicans are forcing me to make a choice. They have made their religious goals political. They have put education and science in their gun sights. They have essentially made the two political parties Democrats=Science and Republicans=Religion.
I use to believe it was important to let people believe whatever they wanted until I realized the faithful had begun an anti-Education campaign. Conservatives believe liberals are pushing education as a way of destroying their religious beliefs. Many liberals disagree with this, and even I don’t think it’s a conscious agenda, but I do think a good education tends to dispel religious beliefs. It’s natural for the faithful to fear higher education and to want to control the K-12 curriculum. I think liberals are being disingenuous not to recognize that a good education does erode religious belief.
But I think the faithful and conservatives need to realize that attacking the Department of Education, Higher Education, and the money we spend on K-12 schools is equal to the idea of liberals wanting to do away with Churches. The educational system is essentially the secular church of liberal beliefs. Now fundamentalists know this and that’s why they are attacking the educational system. Liberals have their heads in the sand if they don’t see this. Atheists believe in science and education, it’s not a religion, but it a belief system.
I know conservatives can’t understand this, but liberals and most atheists are very big believers in the freedom of religion, and they don’t want to challenge religious thinking directly, and especially not politically. But conservatives don’t see that, and they have decided to attack the educational system.
The faithful feel its their duty to spread the word of their faith and to attack evil where they see it. Of course, Muslims and Mormons believe this too, and they are growing faster than Christianity. All the aggressive faiths are in a battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Earth. My question is: Should atheists, skeptics, free thinkers, and other non-believers get in on the action by converting new recruits? Among the religious the war for souls is really a battle for who describes God best. Even though most Christians and Muslims hate each other, they do share the concept of God.
If atheists become missionaries for science, it will become a battle for God versus Science, and that could lead all religions to band together, and they’d have a big majority. Lucky for believers in science the faithful don’t get along. However, does that mean we need to make scientific converts to win the battle for scientific thinking?
When you think about it though, isn’t that what’s already happened around the world? Fundamentalism is pushing back against the secular all across the globe, in a disunited front? I think the recent rise of atheism is a retaliation to that movement. Maybe it’s time we all put our cards on the table and be honest. There are many Christians out there that want America to be a Christian theocracy. I think they are jealous of Islam innate relationship with politics. I want politics that’s based on reality and science.
On the surface Republican politics appears to be about reducing taxes, especially for the rich. And the rich members of the party see reducing the size of the Federal government as the best method to this goal. Below the surface are the religious members of the Republicans, and they’ve latched on to making a smaller Federal government as their method to undermine liberal education. The reason all candidates fall all over themselves claiming to be the one true conservative and the reason why they fear being called a moderate is because they are united in in their goals even though they want to achieve different outcomes.
For 2012, the question becomes: Are there enough pro small government voters to elect a small government president? Conservative politicians think they represent the majority of Americans but I can’t believe that. We’ll find out in November. Who are you going to vote for – the Party of God or the Party of Science?
JWH – 3/11/12
Think about cockroaches. How much do they know about reality? They have compound eyes that see the world poorly. They can sense vibration, and they have a sense of touch. Do they smell and taste the world around them? I don’t know. Cockroaches are little biological machines that eat and replicate. They survive. Between roaches and humans is an array of animal life with ever improving senses that understand more of reality. To get some idea how an animal thinks watch “My Life as a Turkey.” Humans do not have an exclusive hold on consciousness, but our consciousness lets us explore reality far deeper than any other creature we know.
I tend to doubt animals understand their environment in a conscious way. They react to it, and even develop rudimentary calls that can be language-like that can relate to others of their kind about locations, events or things in their environment. But I don’t think they ever ask: who, what, where, when, how and why? Maybe some higher forms of animals might pine for who, what and where, but I doubt they cognitively ask.
I believe we have a number of cognitive tools that help us analyze, map and understand reality.
Words let us break down reality into parts. Grammar lets us describe actions with nouns and verbs. The origin of language let us work with who, what, where and when.
Theology introduces abstractions that attempt to answer how. Theology was our first tool that lets us ask why are we here. Unfortunately, theology is all based on imaginary concepts. Theology distorts reality. Theology lets us think we see things that aren’t there. Theology has imprisoned humans for tens of thousands of years in a pseudo-reality.
Philosophy introduced rhetoric and logic and attempts to understand reality through deduction. Sadly, philosophy was tainted by religion and sought to reconcile reality with ideal forms of the mind. It took philosophy centuries to throw off trying to make reality shoehorn into a preconceived concept.
We started counting with language and commerce, but mathematics came into its own with philosophy. At first mathematics was used in philosophical interpretations of abstractions and ideal forms, but eventually we applied it to analyzing reality. It became our first tool where consensus and validation was important.
Science is a system for testing reality. Answers only count if they are consistent, reproducible and universal. Mathematics became the cognitive tool of science.
Technology allowed us to expand our senses. Telescopes and microscopes see further than our eyes. Other technology allowed us to look into the reality where our senses can’t perceive.
The first three cognitive tools we developed, language, theology and philosophy often distort reality, or create illusions and fantasies. Most humans never get beyond those three tools and even though they perceive reality far greater than a cockroach because of their superior senses, language, theology and philosophy often just confuses their minds. Our brains are so powerful that they let us see what we want to see. Our minds can override our senses and alter reality. Theology has always been more powerful than any drug, especially combined with the power of our imagination.
The Limits of the Mind
Math, science and technology have expanded our awareness of reality out to infinity in all directions, including time. How much of this reality humans can comprehend is yet to be determine. Most humans on planet Earth cannot get beyond theology which blinds them from seeing true reality. Most religions have incorporated bits of philosophy to make their religion logical and understandable by rhetoric, but its foundation is based on illusion and quicksand. In recent years theology has even attempted to incorporate science but its been a pathetic failure. Those people whose only cognitive tool for understanding reality is theology cannot comprehend how science works, if they did, it would destroy their theology.
There are many other tools for understanding reality, such as art, literature, history, journalism, poetry, drama, etc. They are all subjective, but they have their pros and cons.
JWH – 3/6/12