Freethinking for Dummies

Skepticism, secular humanism, social issues

Science Versus Faith

Most of us want to understand the world we live it.  We seek to make sense out of our lives; why we are here; what the purpose of our existence is.  Not knowing is unsettling, even scary.  

For thousands of years, likely since humans could actually think as we understand that wold, we have tried to find ways to understand how things work.  We tried to explain the forces of nature that we can’t control.  Weather, seasons, earthquakes, volcanos.  These things frightened us.  To try to reduce the fear and uncertainty, we tried to explain these things as best we could.  We created spirits, demons, monsters, and gods.  

These creations varied from culture to culture. The Greeks had their Zeus, the Romans Jupiter, Bushmen had Cagn, Babylonians worshiped Marduk , Jews had Yahweh, Christians,  Jesus.  All of these deities had mostly similar traits, but also differences that varied according to the particular culture.

Some people, however, tried to find a different way to explain the world around them.  Ancient Greeks had Plato, Aristotle, and others who tried to use reason and observation to explain things.  The were often wrong, but it was a departure from just explaining things away as acts by a deity or deities.  

In the 15th century, Galileo used his telescope to discover truths about the universe: that the planets were worlds like our own and not just points of light on the backdrop of the celestial sphere.  Kepler, Copernicus, and later Newton, added to our understanding of the cosmos.  The defining idea of these endeavors was that they used careful observations and reason to explain how things worked and, for the first time in history, accurately made predictions about the world that we could rely on.  By the 18th century, the discipline of science was born.  Engineering, medicine, communication, and other practical areas of study emerged that were different from the old ways of explaining the world.  This way of learning about and explaining the world had two major differences from the mythologies that tried to explain things before: it was able to accurately make predictions, and it worked.

This leads to the most important difference between the mindset of religious and magical thinking, and reason and scientific thinking: People who rely on faith, hunches, and the like are afraid not to know.  They seek solace in their faith in their god or gods.  Their gods love them, watch over them, and will even save them from death by allowing an afterlife of rewards for being faithful.  

Those who believe in the scientific way of thinking are not afraid of the unknown, in fact, they embrace it.  The unknown is where we lean, where we can grow in understanding.  It allows us to beat back the fear and uncertainly.  It lets us make predictions about how the world works that can be tested and proved or disproved.  This is how we can understand how our bodies work, which has lead to a doubling of our life spans in just over a hundred years.  It is how we have provided ways to communicate across the globe, to share our thoughts and ideas, our emotions, our hopes and dreams.

It has been said by some that science is just another religion.  This is false.  The reason it is false is that science, unlike faith, can cause us to modify our ideas about the world as new information is discovered, giving us ever more accurate explanations for how the universe works.  This allows the technological advances that save millions of lives and make our lives more comfortable.  Unlike faith, it allows us to make predictions about the world that are accurate and reproducible, bringing certainty to the previously unknown, and pushing back the fear that the unknown brings.  And unlike faith, science just works.  

April 22, 2012 Posted by | Religion, Science, Skepticism | , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Stigma of Mental Illness – A Personal Story

The resources for people with mental illnesses in the country are sadly lacking. They are terribly underfunded and understaffed. The problem is somewhat better for those with health insurance, but even then, there is the social stigma that goes along with being mentally ill.

I would prefer a term such a Brain Chemical Imbalance or Brain Structural Anomaly. These terms are more accurate and better describe where the real cause of mental illness lies. It is a malfunction of various brain activities. Because these things are happening in our brains, where our mind resides, the effects can be profound and devastating to the person suffering from it and all those around him.

I have a son with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder). Deal with him has been a constant and difficult struggle since he was a baby. While he is intelligent, attends high school like any other kid, ways of perceiving the world and relating to others that make life very difficult for him. He can come across as indifferent to feelings of others because he can’t understand the normal queues such as tone of voice or body language or facial expressions that most of us grasp intuitively.

I myself suffer from chronic clinical depression. There are days when I literally can barely function. Imagine wearing a suite that weights 200 pounds and goggles that are slightly cloudy and then trying to go through your day like that. Add to that a complete lack of motivation and even something as simple as standing up to walk to the printer at work takes an amazing effort. I’ve even had people remark that I look like I’m carrying a weight around on my shoulders. It actually affects how I move physically. It certainly effects how I feel physically. My head feels like it is full of cotton stuffing, my arms, hands, head feel like little needles are being poked into the. There are almost constant headaches and the pain in my neck, shoulders and arms are real and ever-present. When those commercials say that depression hurts, they are 100% serious and true.

I have begun to reach the point where I don’t know if I can work anymore. Of course, I have to because I can’t afford not to. I’m a single dad and there is no one else to take care of my kids. Taking a leave of absence is out of the question. I have not idea if my disability insurance at work covers mental illness. I suppose I need to find out.

I’m sure you are wondering what I’m doing to treat this? I am on various medications for depression and anxiety. I also regularly see a therapist. I try to get out, do some exercise. Not keep myself isolated. I’m doing the right things, but the depression just seems to worsen as each day passes.

Why do I bring all this up? I’m not looking for sympathy. I want people to be aware that mental illness is more than just homeless people mutter to themselves in parks and on street corners. It can effect anyone, in any walk of life. It is as debilitating as any physical illness can be, and that is because it is a physical illness. And just like other physical illnesses it needs to be treated with medication and therapy.

Unlike other physical illnesses, you can see the signs just by looking at someone. Instead it affects behavior and mood, which are considered to be part of our personalities. If your job performance is impacted because of a physical ailment like a back problem, accommodations can be made to help compensate. But what accommodations can you make for an inability to focus on tasks or to organize your thoughts enough to organize your work?

I don’t have the ability to even focus on possibly solutions. If anyone out there does, please comment.

March 1, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Hitler – The Last Refuge of a Theist

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.

February 14, 2011 Posted by | Religion, Science | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Coexistence?

A dear friend of mine posted some disturbing videos from Indonesia of people being stoned to death for one religious offense or another on her Facebook profile to highlight the terrible violence that religion continues to inspire. She changed her profile photo to
wpid-174270_830719950_2402185_n-2011-02-13-18-21.jpg

I found what I consider to be a much more accurate version of the Coexist sign above,

wpid-sexist_by_dailyatheist-small-2011-02-13-18-21.png
*by http://dailyatheist.deviantart.com/. Used with permission.

I’m not a graphic artist, but I’m sure if I had the talent I could come up with other signs that contained more “truthiness” that the Coexist one.

Of course, the Coexist message represents something to strive for and as such it serves its purpose well. If religious coexistence was a fact, we wouldn’t need the logo in the first place.

While I fully support efforts for peoples of all faith to coexist, my feelings, as I said in my response to one of the videos, is that to coexist we must see each other as fellow humans, not as believers and unbelievers and until we can throw off all vestiges of religions, that can never happen. As long as people allow religion to guide how they live their lives, the violence and hatred will continue. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but we need to be realistic about just how insidious the influence of religion really is and how very difficult it will be to change that.

February 13, 2011 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Frank Zappa on The Christian Right’s Growing Influence on Government

Here is an interview with Frank Zappa where he discusses the danger of the Religious right’s growing influence within the U.S. Government. It was relevant then during the Reagan era and it is just as relevant now.

This is hosted on my sister site, Freethinking4dummies.org. This a bit more personal than my blog here, so if you are interested about the guy behind Freethinking For Dummies, enjoy!

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How Tragedy Brings Out The Worse In People

There has been much talk and speculation about the motives for the Shooting of Rep. Giffords and others in Tucson, AZ. The right wingers are falling all over themselves to minimize the possible damage, using ad hominem attacks against just about everyone who is further to the left than Dick Cheney. Meanwhile, those on the left have been making wild speculations about the motives of shooter, sure that he must be a dyed in the wool Tea Partier with a lifetime NRA membership who spits on every homeless person he sees.

Despite all the calls for unity and civility, the reactions have been par for the course for our national discourse of just about every issue out there. It is disheartening and frustrating. Yet, even the most self-serving and stupid reactions from people like Sarah Palin pale when compared with the pure hate and idiocy that reins on the Internet.

I found these comments on the Man Boobz blog:


He [was] probably dumped by a girl and that’s what started him on the road to crazy batshit loonery. I can’t think of any other factor that could more quickly drive a man to violence than women.

And this one:


it pisses me off when i see all this outrage on the news and from the public knowing that if it was a congressMAN who was shot, everyone would be wondering what he did to deserve it.

this really shows you how society values women over men. and she’s not even dead!


And this:


This is yet another example of how Femerica values female lives more than male lives. In the eyes of most Americans, men are less human than women.

The male judge gets a mention because he is a lackey for the interests of the elite. Even though he is dead, since he is a male, his death is presented by the media as less of a tragedy than the non-lethal shooting of a female politician with a good chance for recovery.



The death of the young girl was portrayed as third in line in terms of level of tragedy. By American standards, it was a tragedy because she possessed a vagina, but since she was not grown enough to be a full-fledged feminazi, her death was less of a tragedy than the non-death of the female politician.

These reactions bring douchebagery to a completely new level. The utter hate and contempt for anything female is staggering. I don’t even know where we can begin to address ideas like these.
I normally like to remain upbeat about things, but this whole situation makes me wonder if our society has passed the proverbial point of no return and will eventually tear its self apart from within. I have no words of wisdom today, just sadness and dismay.

January 13, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Andrew Wakefield Goes Down Hard

I’ve written before about my strong support for vaccinating children and how, in the past decade or so there has been an anti-vaccination movement that has literally cost the lives of dozens of children in the US and UK of pertussis and measles. Now, the man who started it all, the darling of all the anti-vaxers out there has been shown to be, not just unethical and a sloppy researcher, but a fraud. I’m still digesting everything in the article and I’ll have more to say on that later, bur for the meantime, read it.

It’s good to know that sometimes the truth can win out.

January 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Living In The Real World Is Hard For An Idealist

I just finished watching Crimes and Misdemeanors by Woody Allen. I’d never seen it before, nor many of his other movies. The only ones I’ve seen before were Zelig and Sleeper, and those back in college.

A very dear friend of mine suggested to me that I watch the movie, which I watched on Netflix. She also mailed me Hannah and Her Sisters, Manhattan, and Annie Hall, which I plan on watching in short order. She said that she thought that the themes explored in these movies were the same that I explore here in this blog and after watching Crimes and Misdemeanors, I have to say that she was right.

What I found most compelling about the movie was the struggle that the main character, Judah, has with himself between his life long rejection of religion and superstition and the Jewish religion that his father raised him and his siblings in. As a youngster he questioned his father’s beliefs and as a man, he openly rejected them, but after he commits a terrible crime, he is racked with guilt to the point of a mental breakdown.

At the end of the movie, he is at a wedding reception talking to Cliff, the idealist and romantic, played by Woody Allen. Cliff is despondent over a lost love and sardonically say, thinking about his brother-in-law who got the woman Cliff was in love with, that he was contemplating murder. Judah, knowing that Cliff is an aspiring film director, tells him that he has this great plot for a movie about murder with a twist.

“And after the awful deed is done, he finds that he’s plagued by deep-rooted guilt. Little sparks of his religious background which he’d rejected are suddenly stirred up. He hears his father’s voice. He imagines that God is watching his every move. Suddenly, it’s not an empty universe at all, but a just and moral one, and he’s violated it. Now, he’s panic-stricken. He’s on the verge of a mental collapse-an inch away from confessing the whole thing to the police. And then one morning, he awakens. The sun is shining, his family is around him and mysteriously, the crisis has lifted. He takes his family on a vacation to Europe and as the months pass, he finds he’s not punished. In fact, he prospers. The killing gets attributed to another person-a drifter who has a number of other murders to his credit, so I mean, what the hell? One more doesn’t even matter. Now he’s scott-free. His life is completely back to normal. Back to his protected world of wealth and privilege.”

Cliff, the idealist and moralist, says that the murder would never be able to live with what he did and, if he were directing that movie, he’d have him confess to the police, becoming the moral authority of the story. He says that it would be a great tragedy. Judah chides him by telling him that his ending only happens in the movies, he is talking about reality.

The meaning is clear, we can, and do, rationalize away those things that cause us guilt, or else we wouldn’t be able to live with ourselves.

I have written quite a bit here about cognitive dissonance, the theory that people, when faced with uncomfortable facts that contradict their world view, will resolve the dissonance by either accepting the truth and rejecting their world view, or rationalizing the facts away, so as to be able to live with themselves. The situation portrayed in the film is very similar, in that Judah had to rationalize away the crime he had committed in order to live with himself. After all, the reasoning goes, if he turned himself in he would destroy his family and himself end up in prison for life, and what would that accomplish; who would that benefit?

It is a very seductive and, in many ways, reasonable way of resolving the guilt he feels. Of course, this goes against our concept of morality. We believe that someone who commits a crime should be held accountable for it. Yet if that person is not the type to normally commit crimes, if they don’t pose a reasonable danger to anyone else, what really is accomplished by confessing and accepting the consequences? It is a tough nut to crack and one that rationalists and ethicists have been debating for thousands of years, and I certainly don’t think that I have an answer.

It is a fascinating topic for reflection and debate. What is the real reason for punishment for those who commit crimes? On the larger scale, it helps keep social order, but what about on a personal scale? It can give the victims a sense of justice, but isn’t that really just rewarding their desire for revenge? Of course, if the offender is a career offender, or has a pathological personality that drives them to commit crimes, then prison makes plenty of sense, and this is probably the case with many offenders. But what about those people who are basically good and decent, but are driven to commit a crime out of fear or mental anguish? Is the same penalty we would give a dangerous career criminal really appropriate for them?

The movie doesn’t answer these questions. Judah is shown as having moved on with his life, in fact, his life is better than ever. Cliff is left alone with his idealism, even though it has failed him once again. This is as real as it gets, and real life is messy and arbitrary and the film gets that perfectly.

January 9, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Senseless Violence – Why And What To Do

I wrote several entries, here and here, this week about a shooting at a local high school in which a principle and assistance principle were shot by a student angry over being suspended. The assistant principle died and the student killed himself shortly afterwards.

Now we have news of another senseless shooting. This one involves U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona who was shot along with 12 others at a meeting she was holding at a grocery store in Tucson. A federal judge was also among those shoot. So far, 6 people have died, including the judge. The shooter, Jared Laugher, is in police custody.

There have been death threats against both Rep. Giffords and the judge in the past; Giffords for her support for President Obama’s health care bill and the judge for his ruling in an immigration lawsuit. It is too early to say if this shooting was motivated by either of this issues or who the intended target, if any, was.

I’m not a big propionate of gun control, but I do support laws to require background checks of people purchasing guns and laws requiring gun owners to properly secure their firearms. I believe that there should also be laws that will hold gun owners accountable for crimes committed with their firearms if it can be proved that they did not properly secure them.

For those who would assume that I am against gun ownership let me say that I don’t own a firearm, although I have on several occasions in the past. The only reason I don’t own one now is that I have teenagers in the house and I just don’t feel comfortable having one in the home. Personally, I enjoy target shooting and skeet shooting and once my kids are out of the house, I plan on purchasing a shotgun, rifle and possibly a handgun, all for target and skeet shooting.

To get back to the main focus of this post, it is unclear what the causes or solutions are for these sort of events. There will always be angry and violence prone people and they will always find a way to act on their violent impulses.

There are plenty of statistics to be thrown around. From the Brady Campaign and Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence we get:

In one year, guns murdered 17 people in Finland, 35 in Australia, 39 in England and Wales, 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany, 200 in Canada, and 9,484 in the United States. This seems to indicate that the number of people killed in the U.S. is disproportionally large compared to other western countries and when you run the numbers, they seem to bear this assumption out. I used estimate population for 2010 from the CIA Worl Fact Book and here is the number of people killed by guns per 1000 people in each country :

Country Percentage gun related deaths per capita
Number of gun related deaths per 1000
Finland 0.0032349724 3.2349724
Australia 0.001626715 1.626715
England and Wales 0.0006255168 0.6255168
Spain 0.0012901571 1.2901571
Germany 0.002357717 2.357717
Canada 0.0059242159 5.9242159
US 0.0305705847 30.5705847

So the US has 5 times the gun related death than the next highest, Canada. I’d call that significant. The real question is what to do about it?

This, of course, is something that has been debated for decades and this particular incident probably will inspire more debate, but with a Republican controlled House of Representatives you can be sure that no real progress will be made to address the issue of gun deaths in America.

There has been a lot of speculation on the motives for this shooting on twitter with some people pointing to Sarah Palin’s web site that used to have a Rep. Gifford’s district on a map with a target on it. That was removed from the site today after the shooting. Wether it was removed out of respect for the congress woman and other victims or because a target has been eliminated is unknown, but some people are trying to infer the latter. There is also many who are promoting the idea that the shooting was politically motivated, but until the facts are in as to the gunman’s motive, we can, and should, assume nothing.

The new Speaker of The House issued a statement condemning the attack in which he said, “An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society.” I heartily agree.

My thoughts are with the victims and their families.

January 8, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Only Life We Have

We just got back from the candle light service for the assistant principle who was shot and killed at school yesterday. Here are some pictures I took with my camera phone. I didn’t think to bring my good camera because I wasn’t thinking about recording it in anyway.

It was very eerie and unreal, with somewhere between 1000 and 2000 people gathered. They started off with the school cheer and then I couldn’t really hear much else, that was until the most poignant point, when they sang Happy Birthday for the woman who’s birthday would have been today. It was very emotional and very unreal. You see things like this on the news, but it is always somewhere else. To be actually standing there and realize that a human life has been needlessly taken, and seeing the hundred of students and faculty who’s lives have been so horrible changed in an instant is just beyond words.

My kids don’t go to that school, but my son’s girlfriend does. Tonight was actually the first time I’ve met her. Most of the kids I saw were either very quiet or they were acting like this was just another school event, but you could tell from the way they quickly looked away whenever they met someone else’s gaze that emotional turmoil was just under the surface.

The saddest thing to me was realizing just how many people were affected by this tragedy. Students obviously were directly affected, but you knew that their parents, who must have been panic stricken yesterday when the news hit, we just as affected. There too, were the faculty, all of whom must have known and worked closely with the woman who was killed. Even the look in the eyes of a couple of the reporters seems to show that even they were not unaffected.

As I said on my blog earlier today, it is things like this that make you realize how precious life is and how terribly quickly and suddenly it can be snuffed out. Tonight has made me treasure all of the people I know and love more than ever. A message to take away from this is to never, ever take anyone for granted because in the blink of an eye, they could be gone (or perhaps you could be). Our lives are all we really have in this world and it is the people around us who make those lives worth living. To take that for granted, to overlook this fact is probably the one of the greatest mistakes we could ever make.

January 6, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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