There is an argument that because there are many properties of our universe that if changed by even a small amount would have made the universe impossible to support life. Some people like to use this as proof that the universe had to have been created because everything is “just right” for life to exist.
If, for example, the strong nuclear force were 2% stronger than it is (i.e., if the coupling constant representing its strength were 2% larger), while the other constants were left unchanged, diprotons would be stable and hydrogen would fuse into them instead of deuterium and helium. This would drastically alter the physics of stars, and presumably preclude the existence of life similar to what we observe on Earth. The existence of the di-proton would short-circuit the slow fusion of hydrogen into deuterium. Hydrogen would fuse so easily that it is likely that all of the Universe’s hydrogen would be consumed in the first few minutes after the Big Bang. (1)
On the face of it, this seems to make sense in regards to an intelligent designer of the universe. If everything is just perfect to support life, then it must have been designed that way.
But look at it from a different way. We are here. We exist. Of course the universe seems fine tuned for us, simply because we are here to observe it. It is a fluke of nature. Just as a depression in the ground wasn’t specially created to hold a puddle after the rain, our universe wasn’t specially created just for us to live in.
We have to get over the idea that we are somehow special. 99% of all species that have ever existed have gone extinct. Many of those existed for millions of years before disappearing. We, as a species, have only been here, maybe 500,000 years. The earth doesn’t care about us. Nature doesn’t care about us. Neither does the universe.
We are just a happy happenstance. Star stuff that coalesced into a star with planets. Once of those was the earth. It was in the right place, at the right time, with the right stuff.
On second thought, perhaps that does make us special. But not because we are the pinnacle of some grand plan, but because we are lucky enough to have been in the right place at the right time. Serendipity. Splendid serendipity.
If, for example, the strong nuclear force were 2% stronger than it is (i.e., if the coupling constant representing its strength were 2% larger), while the other constants were left unchanged, diprotons would be stable and hydrogen would fuse into them instead of deuterium and helium. This would drastically alter the physics of stars, and presumably preclude the existence of life similar to what we observe on Earth. The existence of the di-proton would short-circuit the slow fusion of hydrogen into deuterium. Hydrogen would fuse so easily that it is likely that all of the Universe’s hydrogen would be consumed in the first few minutes after the Big Bang.
From PZ Myers comes the story of a science teacher who wasn’t afraid to stand up for science and critical thinking. The best part is that a judge in a lawsuit against the teacher by a Christian student defended the right, and the necessity, of promoting critical thinking and questioning dogma. It is good to see the fundgelicals called on the mat for their attempts to insert their archaic, tribal beliefs into our educational system. Yea for science and critical thinking!
My childhood friend who was upset about my trashing of the bible as a source for moral authority has now commented on my Happy Darwin Day post:
|Kerry D. Fitts commented on your post.
Kerry wrote: “don’t forget to credit Darwin with the nazi’s and the Holocaust Hitler was a big fan of darwin and his eugenics”
Ah, bringing up Hitler and the Nazis, the last refuge of scoundrels. Oh, wait, that is patriotism, we are talking about religion and science. We could apply Goodwin’s law, but I’m not sure that really applies. Still, dragging the Nazis into it is always bad form, unless you are discussing history.
I say to you, Kerry, that what hitler believed or promoted from his understanding of evolution is immaterial to wether Darwin or evolution is correct or bad.
Hitler also used Christianity and his Christian beliefs to justify almost everything about his regime. Check out these quotes by Hitler to find out just how prominent a role Hitler gave Christianity in his words and deeds.
Based on these copious quotes should I then say that Jesus and Christianity should be given credit for the Nazis and the holocaust as well? If anything, the prevailing Christian belief that the Jews were Christ killers is and was at the core of the anti-semitism that produced the horrors of the holocaust.
The fact that you seem to feel so threatened by a scientist and a scientific theory that you would stoop so low as playing the Nazi card shows me that you are deeply affected by cognitive dissonance caused by your religious beliefs. It is obviously pointless to continue discussing these topics with you as you are too entrenched in your dogma to make them productive.
I have written about cognitive dissonance here before (here, here, here, here and here). In brief, cognitive dissonance is holding two contradicting ideas in your head at the same time and the emotional discomfort that causes.
Cognitive dissonance is something that we all experience to one degree or another on a fairly continuos basis. Most of the time, the dissonance is easily and painlessly resolved simply by making a decision. For example, say you know that you need complete a project deadline by the day after tomorrow and you have planned on completing it today, but then you get a call from a friend asking you to go out for lunch and shopping. You feel unease because you know you need to get the project done. If you decide to work on the project instead of go with your friend, you have resolved the dissonance and the unease gone now that you know you will complete your project today. If, on the other hand, you decide to go with your friend, the dissonance remains. You justify your decision by telling yourself that you have all day tomorrow to complete the project. In this case you haven’t really resolved the dissonance, but you have rationalized it to yourself effectively enough so that you are able to go out and enjoy your time with your friend, even if the dissonance may be nagging at you in the back of your mind.
We deal with situations like this all the time. The vast majority of times, we resolve it by making a decision that makes the dissonance go away. Sometimes, we choose to let the dissonance remain and we rationalize it away in order to allow ourselves to function without the emotional discomfort.
In situations where the dissonance involves a very important idea to us though, it becomes much harder to remove the dissonance because that could mean making a very big change in our worldview. A good example of this is religious belief.
I was a devout believer in god for much of my life, but was constantly changing my reasons for believing because the more I thought about it the more I saw that the evidence for god’s existence was non-existence. For a while I found ways to rationalize the dissonance that arose from keeping the ideas of a perfectly good and loving god and of suffering and evil in the world in my head at the same time. Eventually, I could no longer justify away the dissonance and accompanying emotion distress without abandoning either my rational, scientific view of the world, or my belief in god. As those of you who have been regular readers of this blog know, I abandoned the later.
How we deal with cognitive dissonance has huge implications for our society’s future because those who are devout believers in god are actively trying to interfere with and limit government funding for much important scientific research. From climate change to stem cell research, vital research into subjects that will have a profound impact on our future is in danger.
I will be continuing to research, think about, and write about cognitive dissonance and what can be done to successfully deal with it here on this blog.
PZ Myers had a post on his blog asking readers their experience with being taught about hell.
Here is my response:
I was raised Catholic so hell was a prominent feature of many sermons. We weren’t constantly barraged with it, but it was always lurking in the background, to be brought to the forefront whenever the priest felt that his flock might be forgetting that God’s mercy wasn’t infinite.
I do remember a period of time in my pre-teens or early teens when I lived in constant, palpable fear of going to hell. It was an overwhelming, irrational, terrifying fear that was akin to having a major panic attack on constant basis.
To subject people, especially children, to this kind of terror is unspeakably cruel and is emotional abuse, as far as I’m concerned. I see no difference in scaring a child out of her wits with visions of hell and the threat of physical violence for any possible trespass. Why we allow people to do this to children is beyond me.
Why is it that a parent can be charged with child abuse if they threaten physical harm, but not a Sunday school teacher when he promises the same child eternal torment for the same offenses?
I just finished reading Your Religion is False by Joel Grus. This is a light-hearted, very humorous book that pokes fun at just about every religion and belief systems that you can think of and tries to explain why they are false.
He takes on each religion, one at a time, as well as covering general dogmas that most religions have in common, using humor to point out the logical premisses they all have in common. Here are a few examples:
The existence of God: God exists because there’s no evidence he exists.
Perfection: People say god is perfect, so he must exist, otherwise he wouldn’t be perfect.
Divine revelation: Except for great-aunt Geraldine there’s no history of schizophrenia in the family, so those voices in my head must be god talking to me.
At times the humor borders on the blatantly absurd, but this works well as it reinforces the tone of the book, which is that all religions are absurd at their base.
He covers all the major and minor religions as well as cults and pseudo-religions like Hooliganism, Environmentalism, and Chopraism. The consistent theme that runs through the book is that, whatever your religion/belief system/deeply held belief is, it is false, and he bolsters this by satirically lampooning the convoluted and circuitous illogic that underpins all faith based belief systems.
For example, when giving a brief history of the Jewish religion, he takes the passages as they are in the bible and modifies them so that they become laser guided missiles of satire such as this gem:
The Jews complained about being hungry and water-thirsty and blood-thirsty, until Moses found them manna (nutritious psychoactive mushrooms), produced water by hitting a rock, and ordered eternal war against the Amalekites, who today are known as “atheists” or “freethinkers” or “the sensible.”
Or when commenting on the Ten Commandments he gives us this commentary:
I am god
No other gods
No making idols
Don’t use god’s name wrongfully
Celebrate the sabbath
These first five are what Biblical scholars often call the “domestic violence” commandments, as they are eerily similar to the hyper-controlling restrictions used by abusers in dysfunctional relationships: “Don’t look at other men!” “Did I say you could talk to your friends?!” “It’s after sunset on a Friday! Why the hell isn’t dinner ready?”
He is equally adept at skewing Christianity in his discussion of the concept of the trinity and how people who try to defend it give a mumbo-jumbo of mystical nonsense:
…they might offer the uncompelling analogy that an egg is three distinct persons (a yolk, a white, and a shell) combined in one “egghead,” ignoring the fact that the shell never claimed to be the yolk’s father and yet also a yolk, and also the fact that the white has never been claimed to dwell inside people who believe in eggs.
He can take something as supposedly secular as Environmentalism and use it as a metaphor of all faith-based beliefs when he says:
The most important Environmentalist holiday is Earth Day, celebrated each April 22 to commemorate the birthday of Vladimir Lenin. (Although Lenin was not himself a Gaiaist, he nonetheless embodied Gaiaist values like anti-capitalism, persecuting and demonizing one’s ideological opponents, and not tolerating dissent.)
At times he seems to veer of course to says something just to get a laugh, but that still has a bit of sarcasm in it:
While most people from India speak incomprehensibly (if you attended college you probably had such a person as a teaching assistant for your math courses), occasionally you will find one who speaks with a rich, beautiful, British-style accent. For reasons that are unclear but that probably have to do with the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, many people find these well-spoken Indians unrealistically credible. This, as far as I can tell, is the only explanation for the popularity of Deepak Chopra.
There are points, mainly in the last quarter of the book where, even though he is being humorous, the overall impact is one of deep seriousness. The following three quotes are examples of this and are quite sobering and really bring home the absolute ridiculousness of faith-bases beliefs:
Imagine that some television star … begins hearing voices in her head, commanding her to kill her fans. You and your moderate friends can argue over what the voices in her head “really” want her to do, but it would be much more practical (not to mention much less delusional) to point out that these voices are obviously hallucinations and to demand that she get medical help. Don’t we owe our “talks-to-Jesus” acquaintances the same type of concerned honesty?
Some people argue that religion is a necessary source of morality, and that if people all realized their religions were false, they would no longer have any incentives to fly airplanes into skyscrapers, to chop off the tips of their babies’ penises, to restrict poor people’s access to contraception, to censor cartoons, to make it difficult to purchase liquor on Sundays, to stone homosexuals, or to murder apostates and heathens. Society, they argue, would subsequently break down.
Overall, Your Religion is False is a wonderfully fun, satirical look at religious belief that pervades our society. Like all great satire, it uses humor and absurdity to highlight important truths about its subject. I would recommend this book to anyone was is at all interested in religion’s place in our society, especially those who are believers themselves, for perhaps while laughing at the author’s take on all the other religions, maybe it will make them step back and take a look at their own.
I’ve spoken here before of the harms of religious thinking. Today I want to talk about something that is a threat to our modern society and that is the religious antipathy toward science.
Science has done more to advance the health and welfare of the human race than anything else humans have yet devised. In the past 100 years alone, the average human lifespan at birth has almost doubled. Humans are healthier, taller and live longer than at any point in our history as a species. This trend is due almost entirely to the progress that science has provided.
Science has allowed us to understand how the world we live in really works which in turn has allowed us to improve sanitation, housing, agriculture, food safely and production, health care and more. Without an understanding of how the world really works, we would still be in the medieval ages in terms of our well being and technology, beset by famines, plagues and pandemics that, until the middle of the 20th century, killed millions annually.
To illustrate just why and how science is important, I’m going to discuss evolution as it applies to bacterial resistance to antibiotics.
Evolution is a fact. Yes, it is a theory, but it is also a fact just as much as gravity, which is also a theory, is a fact. Gravity exists. We know this to be true because we can successfully launch space probes and satellites, and we can predict where an asteroid or comet will travel.
In the same respect, evolution is a fact. We know it is a fact, for example, because we can see how bacteria evolves resistance to antibiotics. Because of our understanding of evolution we are able to predict how certain bacteria will likely evolve and use this knowledge to provided new drugs in time to treat bacteria that became resistant to older antibiotics. **
The problem we are now running into is that the funding for research and development into antibiotic resistance is in jeopardy because of resistance to science funding by the U.S. Congress, driven mainly by the GOP due to religiously motivated ideology.
Another problem that is possibly even more serious is the general lack of education in evolution in public schools. This lack of evolution education is caused mainly by religiously motivated anti-evolution groups all across the country.
The effect of this is that most students who enter college have littler or no knowledge of evolution or even science in general. This has lead to students who have little or on interest in science, or if they do, they tend to get discouraged because of the extra classes and work they have to complete just to get up to the level to be able to do college work in science.
This sad state of affairs means that the United States, once the undisputed leader in science and technology in the world, is quickly becoming a scientific has-been in the world. It is now countries like China, Russia, Korea, Taiwan, Japan and the European Union that lead the world in science and technology. It is no accident that these countries have very weak or nonexistent religiously based political groups.
In fact, if you look at countries that have the greatest infusion of religion in society and government, you will see that these countries are all scientific and technological backwaters. The Middle East is a prime example. Yes, they might embrace technology, but that technology is bought, not developed. Soon, unless we do something to change the current trend, the U.S. will also be a buyer of other’s technologies. We will become a nation of consumption instead of creativity and innovation. We will be entirely dependent on other countries for almost everything we need to function as a society. That is not a future that I think any of us wish to live in.
What is the solution? Get religious ideology out of government and public institutions. Base science funding and policy on what is proven to work or has the potential to work, not on religious dogma and ideology. Make science education as important as reading and arithmetic, just like we did in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
It is time to put religion back where it belongs, in our homes and churches, and keep it out of where it doesn’t belong, in government and our public institutions. If we fail to do this, we will soon find ourselves the greatest has-beens of world.
**Wikipedia, Antibiotic resistance, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antibiotic_resistance#Alternatives
I’ve written several post here , here, here, and here about the fact that the United States was not founded as a Christian nation or even upon Christian ideals. It was firmly founded on the ideals of the Enlightenment.
Most Americans are ignorant of this fact and many would have the history of the Enlightenment’s effect on the birth of this nation buried and even seek to teach against it.
The fact is that virtually every one of the founders were was a man of the Enlightenment and embraced its ideas and ideals. Washington, Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Pain, and Hamilton were all progressive supporters of the ideals of the Enlightenment. These ideals are defined by Wikipedia as:
“The Enlightenment took scientific reasoning and applied it to human nature, society and religion. Politically the age is distinguished by an emphasis upon liberty, democracy, republicanism and religious tolerance – culminating in the drafting of the United States Declaration of Independence. Attempts to reconcile science and religion resulted in a widespread rejection of prophecy, miracle and revealed religion in preference for Deism – especially by Thomas Paine in “The Age of Reason” and by Thomas Jefferson in his short Jefferson Bible – from which all supernatural aspects were removed.”
I’m currently doing research for a more comprehensive article about what I call, “The Myth of the Christian Nation. The idea of the United States founded as, having been, or being a Christian nation is a complete and utter myth spread by those who would use religion, specifically evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity, to perpetuate and spread that myth in order to create the reality of a Christian Nation where their form of Christianity is the only religion and all laws would be based on their reading of the bible. This country was founded on principles that were meant to prevent exactly this type of theocracy from even taking hold here.
I’ll end with a quote from Thomas Jefferson who, if the Texas Board of Education has its way, will be written out of the history books for his staunch statements in support of the separation of church and state:
“Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”
- Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 1816
I’ve set up a site, the Freethinking For Dummies Mediasite, where I’ll be posting audio and video related to the topics I cover on this blog.
If you have any videos or MP3s that you think might be of interest, please let me know so I can post them there.
James Underdown at CFI wrote on his blog about the “Mosque at ground zero” controversy. In a piece titled An Immodest Proposal for Ground Zero, he suggests building the Center for Inquiry-New York on the site of the World Trade Center instead of an Islamic Center.
“As secular humanists, we don’t have to worry about the political correctness or the Constitutionality of whether or not to build a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple at Ground Zero. All those buildings would all be near the bottom of our desired list of buildings to erect anywhere. I don’t have to think twice about whether I’m being fair to Muslims vs. Christians, because my answer is the same to a Southern Baptist Chapel as it is to a Scientology Center: Better something else.”
I agree that it would be better to build something else as long as it’s not any kind of religious building. As a t-shirt I recently saw read, “9/11 was a faith based initiative”. In that case, it was the faith of radical Islam. In another part of the world it could, and often is, a different faith that is carrying out acts of violence.
He ends by asking,
“Wouldn’t it feel right to occupy that space with an organization that promotes the idea that we can rise above the animosity that caused it to be available in the first place?”
Yes, it would. But I propose that this organization shouldn’t be an ideological organization either. CFI does wonderful, important work in trying to make sure that all people are afforded the same rights and privileges. Unfortunately, even though I don’t think it is true, CFI, and other organizations like it, are considered by many average Joes to be linked with atheism, and therefore is, in the minds of many, painted with the same ideological brush as all religions or political organizations. This is a matter of perception, not fact, but unfortunately in our society, perception always seems to win out over facts.
If any publicly accessible building is going to be built at ground zero, I say let it be one dedicated to the study and preservation of that which our society was founded upon and which still makes great; a library and museum for the study of the U.S. Constitution.
This single document, more than any other in history, literally changed the world. Before it, freedom was something accorded to those privileged by birth or wealth only. After it, freedom was considered to be a right for all human begins. Freedom of, and from, religion; freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, the right to partition the government for redress of grievances, none of these things had existed, in law, for everyone, before.
This document gives us secular humanists the tools we need to promote our causes and perform our missions and is a most fitting tribute and memorial to those who lost their lives at that site almost 9 years ago.
It is a much better symbol of freedom and human rights than even a CFI-New York building, and a damn sight better than any mosque, church, synagogue, or temple, and something that everyone in this country can share in equally.