Archive for reality

New Zodiac Signs? Panic? Turmoil?

Posted in Skepticism with tags , , , , on January 15, 2011 by theicidalmaniac

The Facebook is a-flurry this week with a lot of hubbub about a new zodiac sign being recognized, and adding to the panic is the fact that people’s sense of wellbeing is being besieged, plagued even, by worries that matters of fate will no longer be crystal clear through a detailed understanding of time-honored astrological principles, due to the fact that the signs’ places in the Earth’s night sky have shifted due to the wobbly orbit of our little planet.

All of this got me thinking.  Thinking hard.

When I was born Aries was the predominant sign. So hypothetically speaking…(stay with me here)…had I been on the MOON when I was born, and the moon had been between the Earth and the constellation Aries, I would have been even CLOSER to the great goat sign in the sky, and thus more strongly influenced by it.  Doesn’t this mean, therefore, that an April baby on the moon would grow up to be even MORE stubborn and goatish than an Earth baby?

Of COURSE it does.

Obviously.

Crap. Imagine what it’s going to be like when future-people finally leave Earth for good and terraform other planets like Neptune, or Uranus, thinking they have conquered the solar system only to find out that their children are all being born with socially-crippling personality disorders relating to their new proximity to the influence of these powerful stellar arrangements, causing the fledgling human settlements to collapse under self-destructive cancer-on-pisces warfare.  O, the bitter irony!

I have to wonder, though, how this incredible cosmic force affects GOATS who were born in early April. And I wonder if bulls that were born under the sign of Aries ever feel like a goat trapped in a Taurus’ body. Like, is a bull that was born on May 1st more of a bull than one that was born April 1st? Sorry…that’s a silly question.  Of COURSE it is.

Obviously.

But in all seriousness…

…isn’t it amazing that a stone-aged superstition remains intact after all these thousands of years of technology advancement and migration, that it survives despite being at opposition to every premise of physics and biology that we are aware of, and that it flourishes with nothing to support it but pure faith and the notion that it gives meaning to people’s lives?

Gosh.  Really makes you think, don’t it?  I wonder what ELSE we could say that about.  I wonder if there’s anything, anything at all, that many MANY MANY people believe in RIGHT NOW, that is the same kind of hocus-pocus…

Nah.  Doesn’t seem likely that we’d make that mistake more than once.

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The Security Blanket

Posted in Atheism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 20, 2008 by theicidalmaniac

It has often been said that religion is good for society, giving it a moral base, making people happy, and bringing people together. The claim is often made that we NEED religion in order to have a properly functioning society. It is said that our religions are the source of our morals, that it is the cause of peace and happiness, that it has a unifying effect on the public, and that, given its divine nature, no evil can come of it. In fact it is instilled in much of the American public (although I see little reason to doubt that Americans are alone) when they are very young that religion is the most important thing that there is, and that to reject it would be pure foolishness. Being raised with that over your head hardly creates an environment that is open to inquiry on the subject, and most Americans believe that religion is, indeed, a wonderful, love-inspiring blessing from above. At least, that’s what they believe about their own religion.
The evidence, however, illustrates the overwhelming naivety of the belief that religious traditions are benign, or purely beneficial, elements of human society. The fact is that despite all of the good that religions may inspire, religion has and does also inspire people to violence. In fact many things inspire people to do battle with one another, but religion has the added problem of being utterly false in addition to being destructive. To look at history, or even current events, is to see that civil disturbance is religion’s malformed twin, joined at the hip. Freedom or family, life and happiness may all be worth fighting for, but I don’t think that something demonstrably false should necessarily be given that pass. I will attempt to illustrate this from a logical, rational position in order to piece my point together. Understand that it is not my goal to steal a source of joy from anyone, rather it is my goal to expose this joy as a purely selfish and irresponsible one.

Obviously morals do not come from religion. There are just too many “moral” people in the world who have not been exposed to one of our major religions for anyone to even make this claim without betraying their own ignorance. If one looks at universal moral values, one finds in them a great social utility, a point of value which can more than sufficiently explain the continued existence of such morals. The moral ideals that are less universal often tend to be found solely within that groups religious beliefs, often found in scripture. Holy books tend to contradict themselves fairly often, leaving the reader to decide which parts to accept as divine truth, and which parts to reject as archaic wivestalery or mistranslation, or any number of other excuses one might contrive to explain less than 100% adherence to scriptural writings. The very fact that the reader has to sift through the mess to find meaning is the reason that we have so many disagreements ABOUT meaning, so many splinters and sects within our religious communities. Further, because the reader is able to do this task, that is, to use his moral compass to find the wisdom of his holy text, it is therefore evident that his morals can not have resulted from an understanding of that text. In other words, if it is up to the reader to decide what is good in scripture, then he doesn’t need the scripture to tell him what is good – he is telling it!. So something else must be shaping our concept of “good.” Imagine, for a moment, if that were not so; suppose we were to accept the Bible as purely true and good divine wisdom. If we followed each and every holy edict that we encountered, we’d be in trouble. If we weren’t paralyzed by confusion, we’d find ourselves behaving in a manner consistent with the times during which the texts were written. That is not progress. Much of the book not only glorifies, but often demands, the maltreatment of “non-believers,” which is essentially anyone who can be identified as having differing spiritual beliefs. There are many examples, the most poignant of which are mentioned in Sam Harris’s book, The End of Faith, as summed up here in an article in The Independent;

“Harris’ quotations from religious texts can be startling. In Deuteronomy 13:7-11, God declares that, ‘if your son or daughter’ or “your most intimate friend” even suggests worshipping other Gods, ‘You must kill him, your hand must strike the first blow in putting him to death. You must stone him.’ Thus, Harris explains, ‘A literal reading of the New Testament not only permits but require heretics to be put to death.’ Nor are followers of the Old Testament let off the hook: Jesus Christ demanded that his believers fulfil every “jot” and “tittle” of the Old Testament.

Just as bad, in Koran 9:73, it says, “make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home: an evil fate.” This is just one of five whole pages of quotations directly from the Koran demanding war on unbelievers. True, there is one (much-quoted) line in the Koran that tells believers, ‘Do not destroy yourselves’ – but it comes in the middle of fire-breathing calls to war against ‘the friends of Satan’.”
(The Independent)

This is particularly disturbing, as each person’s idea of what makes someone a non-believer is unique to that person, so that anyone of whom a believer disapproves is a potential infidel.

The more distressing claims are those that suggest that religion has a unifying effect. This is perhaps the most myopic of views that has ever arisen in defense of religion. Yes, in a small homogenous community the effects can be unifying, but that is based on the assumption that everyone IN that community believes the same thing already. It only unifies those who hold similar opinions on specific topics. It does this by setting them apart from others, and handing them a “you are always right” card. All of today’s major religions stake an exclusive claim on truth and redemption. Yet this is clearly a logical impossibility; it is not possible for more than one thing to be the only thing. Therefore, rationally speaking, AT LEAST all but one of them MUST be false, and since the only real differences between any of them are based on miracles and other articles of faith, which are necessarily unprovable, there is very little REASON to accept that even one of them is correct.

Religious beliefs even erode our idea of reality and truth. It is TRUE, scientifically, that all humans are made by sexual reproduction. This does not necessarily mean sexual intercourse, but rather the joining of two haploid zygotic cells to form a fertilized gamete. So to say that a man was once born of a virgin in a time prior to scientific medicine is, scientifically speaking, untrue.

Happiness, too, is a mirage, for the religious, insomuch as they believe that religion makes it possible. Religious conviction has been compared to addiction so often that I scarcely feel the need to cover that in any in-depth manner at this time, except to say that it is clear that most religious people believe that they are happy because of their faith, that their faith makes them better people, and that they could not be happy or worthy of salvation if they were not members of their specific flock. There are many, many problems with this claim. First, and again, there are simply too many people of differing faiths, all of whom find some joy in their lives, regardless of what they believe about the attributes of their creator. Atheists and agnostics also have joy in their lives with or without the influence of superstitious traditions.

The next ridicule-worthy claim is that religion makes you a better person. To put it logically, if religious faith makes you a better person, then anyone without religious faith is not as good as they could be. Epitomizing this stance is the always eloquent Jerry Falwell, stating, “If you’re not a born-again Christian, you’re a failure as a human being.” (The Passion of the Atheist) This automatically separates the faithful from the non-faithful in any given community into a class system, where the faithful are, in their own view, better people than the non-faithful; better because God prefers them, as evidenced by the fact that most religions also believe that if you do not follow their particular brand of faith, then God will not find any value in you, and you will be cast off or destroyed. In a Jewish community, then, the Jews are better than the Muslims and the pagans and the Christians. In the Christian community, the Christians are better than Mormons and Jews. In the Mormon community, the Mormons are better than Muslims or Christians or atheists. Because there is no static law running through one group to the next, no universal pecking order, we must admit that the respective hierarchies are nothing more than human contrivances; arbitrary statements about value that have no bearing on reality. It is truly dangerous to say that having a faith makes you a better person. Does having the belief that blue Crayolas are superior to green Sharpies put you in some higher category of life in the universe? Of course not. So why then, should anyone believe that faith in Ganesh or Allah could make them a more valuable lifeform than they would be with a faith in Zeus, Thor, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? If you accept that it is what you believe about your origins that makes you a good or a great person, then your value system is not based on altruism or on making the world a better place for your fellow humans, it is based on being right. Some would argue that treating other humans with dignity and respect, and trying to elevate other people is what makes you a great person. Again, this is a cultural thing, however, it does bring true happiness to a person if you make their life better; in fact, that is what it means to make a persons life better. So in this system, value is placed on happiness, which we have seen is not something that religion can offer, and not an ideal that it promotes.
More importantly, when these social groups are formed in a community, they exclude anyone who does not believe the same as they do. Basically, when you unify Cache Valley, Utah in Mormonism, you set it in opposition to the surrounding Catholic community. Each side believes the other has got it all wrong, and will suffer punishment for their blasphemous confusion. Similarly, having America more or less unified in various sects of Christianity sets it at odds with nearly every other region of the world. There is no overall unity in this structure, only division, and thus organized religions are, in effect, segregatory institutions. An organization that claims to have the only perfect truth also makes the claim, by default, that no one else does. When you place your value on being right, rather than on creating happiness, you only make relations worse for the larger community.

I think I just proved that there is no God!

Posted in Atheism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2008 by theicidalmaniac

Alright the title is a little ambitious, and sort of a hook, I know. In fact I think that the whole God thing was never sufficiently REASONABLY posited, but it has taken hold so well that I think it a worthy topic for loud skepticism. That skepticism has been applied by many thinkers with minds far more powerful than my own, but here is another argument to throw on the pile, if you deem it fit. I wrote this in early 2006 while drunk:

So, ok, say you are the Creator of EVERYTHING. This means that at some point there was ONLY YOU. Now of course we’re familiar with the obvious response; “who created You, the Creator?” (and more intriguing, what were You made from?) And it’s also pretty interesting to ask “what did You make everything from, since there really was nothing in existence for You to use as raw material?”
These questions are all familiar ground for those of us who call ourselves freethinkers, and there is a never-ending buffet-trough of regurgitated slop that has been spewed forth from the mouths of those who care to ignore the concept behind the question, and who continue to clutch their security blankets. This swill is often presented in the A Priori argument. It is obvious that the ideas of centuries past still dominate the playing field for much of the world’s population. The answer for these people is encapsulated by the belief that God always existed, that He created EVERYTHING, and that He did it EX NIHILO.
But is that even a possible scenario? Are we the centerpiece of an omniscient engineer’s intelligent design? What evidence exists to suggest that the design was intelligent, or the disigner for that matter? Is there reason to believe in an intelligent designer?
Intelligence is really just the ability to process information. It also may include self-awareness as a functional feature, as in Turing’s model of artificial intelligence. There are serious problems with attempting to reconcile one’s understanding of intelligence with one’s understanding the A PRIORI argument. Two facts that pose a great threat to this argument are as follows;

  1. Awareness of the self is seeing yourself as separate from all that surrounds you.
  2. In order to process information THERE MUST NECESSARILY BE information to process.

The argument that an intelligent designer intentionally created the universe from nothing cannot hold up to scrutiny in light of these two facts. Again let us suppose that You are the Creator:

1) Awareness of the self only comes when you see yourself as seperate from all that surrounds you. Prior to creation NOTHING surrounded You to provide this juxtaposition. Without anything outside of the self the very idea of the self holds no meaning. Without this idea of self, what reasons would there be for doing things? How can you feel that You must do a thing, if you are not aware that there is a You? The only presences that act in this way, that is without planning or awareness, are our physical laws. So perhaps God is just some universal force, you say? Many have made this claim, strange as it is [*Note, I believe that this is essentially what Einstein believed, and he famously wondered whether God would have then had any choice in creating the universe – Aug 2008]. But these laws and forces do not operate with intent and can ONLY operate ON PHYSICAL THINGS, because they are merely descriptions of the way things act. If physical things have not yet been created by You, then there is nothing for a cosmic force to act upon, thus rendering the force impotent, in effect non-existent. If You are that force, then you can see the problem this creates for you.

2) In order to process information THERE MUST NECESSARILY BE information to process. But if there existed at this time NOTHING, there is nothing about which there could BE information. There would be nothing to process, and therefore no intelligence. The end result is an unintelligent processor, if one assumes that the creator did always exist.
This leads to the more important question; “If there was nothing except You, how would You know to create anything?” Where would the idea come from? What patterns, rules, or laws would you follow? What would provide inspiration? This is an important question, because a fundamental element of processing information is the INPUT sequence. As with any processor – anything that could be said to calculate or THINK – there must be something TO calculate, something to ponder, something to think ABOUT. What can be given as an output is largely, in fact overwhelmingly, dependant on what has been given as an input. In a complex system such as a brain there are likely uncountable POSSIBLE outputs to a given input, due to the large number of variables such as heredity, environment and past history. But in an atmosphere of nothing, there are precisely ZERO variables, by definition. If, within this NOTHING, there is only a single variable X (X being You, the Creator) there would still be only ONE possible output. In mathematical terminology this can be rephrased as X = X, or in this case, 0 = 0.
The Creator Itself is not just a part of the Nothing, because nothing has no parts. So to return to the question of “what were You made from?” the answer is surprisingly simple. You are, of course, made from nothing – You don’t exist.

Of course the argument that there MUST be a beginning is not the strongest argument one can make. Of course every man-made thing on the planet was created and therefore has a beginning. This is how man creates. But what about the natural elements of the earth. What about trees? Do trees have a beginning? An indiviual tree is just the sprout of a seed, and the seed itself is only a growth at the extremities of another tree, itslef merely a sprout of another seed and so on and so forth, as if all trees in a family are only extensions of themselves.
If we could travel back through time to find the moment trees were born you would have no clearer answers either. A species, a genera, a variety or a race, none of them form in a single instant. They are shaped slowly, generation by generation. The creature that gave birth to trees did so in small steps and at a terribly slow pace, each generation looking slightly (and probably unnoticeably) less like it’s parents and more like today’s trees. Neither will they remain as they are now forever; look far enough to the future and the trees we know will no longer be found. But the strange plants from the future would be only extensions of the branch of life that trees are a part of. You can even perform an experiment on plants to test this theory in your own garden.

In other words, go back as far as you like and you will never find a clear beginning, only an ancestor, a precursor, a primative forerunner. The same is true for other life forms on this planet and the fossil record supports this claim. You can say as much for any living thing and still you have found no clear beginning, and no reason to assume that there is one, or that the Cosmos create in the same way that man does.