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August 31 2008

Bevans the Atheist – Why I don’t believe in Christianity

Series: Bevans The Atheist

  1. Introduction
  2. Why I don’t believe in Religion
  3. Why I don’t believe in Christianity
  4. Why I don’t believe in God (coming soon)

NOTE: I’m currently re-writing this post. I don’t think I’ve adequately explained my true feelings on this matter.

If you read my previous posts in this series, you may have noticed that I’m basically explaining my belief system backwards, because I feel like that’s the best way to explain it. Or maybe I’m saving the really good stuff for the end. The root question of religion is whether or not there is a god/gods, and that will be covered in my next post in this series. Then there’s the “what’s he like” question, which is covered by specific religions, which I’ll be addressing in this post. Then there’s the “how do we know that X religion is right” question, which I at least partially addressed in my previous post in this series. That’s kinda confusing, isn’t it? Oh well. On with the show.

This is probably going to make a lot of people very angry.

People who accept some form of Christianity believe certain things that set it apart from other religions. Some of the most important are:

  1. God created the universe.
  2. Jesus is the son of God (or he is God…or something).
  3. Jesus is the savior of mankind.
  4. Jesus died to redeem our sins.
  5. Jesus came back from the dead.
  6. Jesus is coming back someday, and he’s totally gonna fuck us up.
  7. The Bible is friggin’ awesome.

I’m going to save #1 for my next post, because it’s a big’un.

Let’s start with #7. Christians believe many things about the Bible, like:

  1. It’s literally true.
  2. It’s figuratively true.
  3. It’s a guide to leading a better life.

Those are huge simplifications, and I’m not even covering all the angles, but I want to stay brief and readable here; if this gets too long, I’ll have to distribute this post in paperback form. (That’s a joke of course – there is no limit to how much you can write in a digital format.)

Well, we know that the Bible isn’t literally true; at least not the whole thing. Genesis is obviously completely wrong. We’ve discovered things like evolution and the big bang and archaeology and stuff. This fact shouldn’t shock you. Also, there are countless contradictions and errors.

So is it figuratively true? Well, that’s an extremely vague way to put it. I guess you could say that such an indefinable idea can be applied to the Bible. There are so many different stories in the Bible that you can read that you’ll inevitably come across one that makes you say “gee, that’s kinda like _____” and it can help you in your everyday life. But the same can be said of other ancient texts, or the Iliad, or the works of Shakespeare, or the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or the 4th season of King of Queens (if there even was a 4th season) or whatever you have sitting on your coffee table.

So, does the Bible really help you lead a better life? Again, it basically comes down to which text you choose to guide you. There’s certainly a lot of good stuff in there, like “love thy neighbor as thyself” and all that. But there’s also a lot of horrible, insane stuff in there. Even ignoring the entire Old Testament, for every inspiring passage, there’s one that makes me wonder why the book has sold as well as it has. There are far more reasonable, well-written, and helpful books out there that can help you lead a better life.

To better understand the Bible, I strongly urge you to check out the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible.

Now, let’s examine the elephant in the room: Jesus.

Pretty much everything we know (or think we know) about Jesus comes from the Bible. And as we’ve established, the Bible is full of contradiction and error. Not only was the New Testament written decades after Jesus’ death and supposed resurrection, but it has been translated, mistranslated, reinterpreted, and rewritten numerous times over the centuries. For example, the idea that Mary was a virgin comes as a result of a mistranslation in the King James Bible. The word for “young woman” was mistaken for the word for “virgin”.

You know, I’m having a really hard time putting my thoughts into words here. I’ve read, watched, and listened to a lot of fascinating info on the origins of the Bible and the story of Jesus for my entire adult life, and there’s a whole lot of very compelling reasons to doubt it all, but putting dozens of sources together into cohesive sentences here is…daunting.

Well, to pull myself out of the corner that I’ve written myself into here, I’ll instead focus on what I DO believe about who Jesus was.

I don’t have a problem with assuming that he did exist. But his story has been so distorted over the years – adapted to fit the prophecies, merged with other savior stories, and so on – that it’s probably impossible to know who he really was. My guess is that he was just one of many charismatic philosophers of the time, and he happened to draw a bigger crowd than the others. He had a lot of good things to say, and a lot of people liked him. He upset the status quo, and was executed as a result. No miracles, no magic, no resurrection, no coming apocalypse (except that which we create for ourselves). To me, he’s a historical figure like Shakespeare or Homer (why do I keep going back to those two?) in that there are doubts about whether they even existed.

Maybe he believed that he was really the son of God. If so, he was unfortunately deluded, because (as I’ll explain in my next post in this series) there’s no such thing. All in all, he seems like he was a good guy, so I hate to have to take him down a few pegs like this. My ingrained Christian indoctrination is making this topic very uncomfortable.

If, right now, you’re thinking “that was all crap!”, I pretty much agree with you. In this post, I tried to succinctly explain my true feelings about Christianity, and I failed miserably. But I’ve laid down a framework, and I’ll be coming back to this post to revise and add to it as I am able. Really, there’s so much to talk about on this subject that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get everything written out definitively.

I also wanted to point out why I’m not providing any links to my sources for what I’m saying here. For one, I don’t feel like it. I’d wind up spending way too much time tracking down my sources and linking them here. And really, would it matter if I did? I’m not trying to convince anyone here; I’m trying to say why I’ve come to the conclusions that I have.

August 29 2008

Whoops

I just wanted to apologize to all 4 of the people who have subscribed to my RSS feed (woo!) about the Digg spam. I was playing around with one of the many features that Feedburner offers to spruce up your feed, but I didn’t realize it was going to grab all my most recent diggs and spam my feed with them.

I turned that feature off as soon as I saw what it did, so it won’t be happening again.

Also, it occurs to me that I am one of those 4 subscribers. Sigh.

August 28 2008

The Pledge

I’m putting off writing a big Church/State separation history post by writing a bunch of small ones. (The previous one is here.)
During the past few years (perhaps even longer than that), there has been a lot of argument about whether or not we should require kids to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school, and it inevitably comes up once or twice during election “season” (when did 3 years become a season?) although I haven’t seen it pop up yet.

Requiring kids to recite the Pledge seems pretty harmless on the surface, but many people have forgotten what it really means, sort of like how most people have forgotten that “Ring Around the Rosey” is a poem about the plagues. (EDIT: No it’s not.)

First, let’s look at the name. Pledge of Allegiance. It’s an oath of loyalty, a vow to faithfully serve. Such a vow is not something to be taken lightly. So…why do we make kids say this every morning?

When I was a kid, I had no idea what half the words in the Pledge even meant. I heard words like pledge, allegiance, republic, witchistans, indivisible, liberty, justice, and had no idea what their meanings were (one of them turned out to be three words), and didn’t even have the faintest notion of the solemnity and importance of such words. It was just something I was expected to memorize in school and recite back with everyone else in my class. (Actually, I was one of those kids who didn’t like to speak up in class, so I usually just mouthed along with everyone else.)

Pledging your allegiance to a person, or group, or nation, is a powerful act that should only be undertaken by those who fully understand what they’re doing. So why the hell are we forcing children to take it, when they’re too young to know what they’re doing, or even to understand the words they’re speaking? And why require it at all? A pledge is something you should only take willingly, and a forced pledge isn’t a pledge at all.

Well, I’ve gotten this far, and I could stop now and be able to say that I’ve argued my case pretty well. However, I haven’t even mentioned the huge controversy surrounding just two words in the pledge, which seem to be far more central to the national argument than the issues I’ve just covered. And those two words are: “under God“.

Those two words loom forebodingly over what is an otherwise pretty good pledge. Anybody who’s familiar with the US Constitution (and who isn’t trying to push their own agenda) can tell you that requiring any US citizen to recite something that prescribes anything even remotely religious violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. So why did we adopt such a pledge?

August 25 2008

Why I don’t like the term “Brights”

brights Finally, an atheist organization with a decent logo.

Before I embraced my atheism, I had never heard the term “Bright” used in reference to an atheist. So, that’s probably a good sign that I need to describe what it is before I describe why I’m opposed to it.

Bright” is a term used by some very prolific people in the atheist movement (such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett) as a euphemism for “atheist”. The idea is to mimic the way that the homosexual community redefined the word “gay” to paint them in a more favorable light.

I can certainly see the reasoning behind this. When many believers use the word “atheist”, they’re thinking of morally bankrupt, god-hating, hell-bound degenerates. However, changing the name isn’t going to stop this. Look at the word “gay”. People who hate gays infuse the word with their hatred and negativity, and would do so no matter what word they used.

And then there’s the fact that “brights” as a term could be easily confused as something meant to be insulting to all non-brights. After all, the word “bright” is frequently used to describe someone who’s smart. Are we trying to say that we’re smarter than the believers?

I’m not opposed to the movement itself, which seems to have at its center the goal of improving the public’s opinion of atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, secularists, humanists, and the non-religious. They’re trying to do what most other atheists are trying to do. I just don’t think this is the way to do it.

The only way we’re going to overcome the negativity is to confront it head-on. If you find someone saying hateful, untrue things about atheists, tell them they’re wrong, and explain why. It’s natural for humans to react negatively to what they don’t understand, and most people feel the way they do about atheists because they’ve never met one.

This is why things like the OUT Campaign are so necessary. There are millions of non-believers out there, but there are so many of us still in hiding (myself included) that people think we’re just a lunatic fringe. When the general public can look at the atheist next door and see that we’re just as normal and moral as they are, the negativity directed at us due to ignorance will dissipate, and we’ll be able to more effectively interact and shape the world.

The term “bright” needs to go away. It would be nice if Dawkins and Dennett and some of the other supporters would just say “hey, we thought this was a good idea, but we’ll all be better off if we just improve our current titles”.

I highly recommend just reading the Wikipedia article. Honestly, what’s written there on the subject is far more articulate than what I’ve written here.

August 18 2008

The 21-gram soul

Ah, the mainstream media doing what it does best: reporting science.

This is a pretty interesting concept.

As the story goes, a doctor named Duncan MacDougall proved that the soul exists because he found that people weigh less (about 21 grams) after they die than they did just before death. These results were reported in the New York Times numerous times after the study was performed…in 1907.

I guess science reporting was as crappy 100 years ago as it is now. But, rather than just dismiss this out of hand as we probably should, let’s analyze it a bit.

First, it’s pretty lazy logical thinking to assume that, even if there IS a difference in weight, that it automatically means that it’s the result of the soul leaving the body. It’s only 21 grams (or 3/4 of an ounce), so we’re not talking about a whole lot of weight. I’m no doctor, but I can think of a few ways that this could be attributed to something besides a phenomenon that has never been proven to exist.

  1. Breath leaving the body. Contrary to popular belief, air DOES have weight, though it’s very low. When a person dies, their lungs deflate, and a lot of air is expelled from the body. I wouldn’t even bring this up, except for the fact that the missing weight is only 21 grams. It also goes hand-in-hand with my next idea:
  2. Moisture leaving the body. Your breath has moisture in it, after all. Just breathe on a piece of glass and it’ll fog up. When the breath leaves the body, it takes some moisture with it. I’m guessing that the moisture is probably heavier than the actual air.
  3. Snopes has what I think is the most reasonable explanation, from the American Medicine journal:

    “…MacDougall…failed to take into account the sudden rise in body temperature at death when the blood stops being air-cooled via its circulation through the lungs….[The] sweating and moisture evaporation caused by this rise in body temperature would account both for the drop in the men’s weight and the dogs’ failure to register one.”

    More on the dogs later.
    (I feel like a real reporter or something. I just used a quote from a medical journal.)

  4. Were such large scales in 1907 even able to measure with such accuracy? Maybe I’m underestimating the technology of the time. MacDougall says in his paper that his “scales were sensitive to two-tenths of an ounce”. That doesn’t seem accurate enough to me, especially considering how difficult it must be to balance a body on what must be a pretty large scale.

Anyway, we’re still talking about 21 grams here.

Let’s examine the study itself now. Was the study well done? What was the sample size?

Six. He weighed six people before and after they died. This is nowhere near a sufficient sample size for any scientific or medical study. Except that two of the six subjects weren’t able to be weighed, so really it’s just four people in this study. Only one of the 4 actually lost 3/4 of an ounce, and the others were far less exact. This study is quite a mess.

Ok, I think I’ve beaten this into the ground. However, MacDougall still may have stumbled upon something here. Maybe somebody has duplicated his results over the years. Well, I did do some limited searching for similar studies, and I didn’t find any evidence that supports MacDougall’s claims, although that doesn’t mean that the evidence isn’t out there. In fact, I did find one study that showed that the body actually increased in weight after death, but it was a pretty lousy study too, and they were weighing sheep.

You know, these days it would be very easy to perform our own scientific study of this “phenomenon”. Some modern hospital beds have built-in scales and automatic monitoring that could easily detect this weight loss, if it’s happening. It should be fairly easy to look at the weight logs of a few thousand people who died in a hospital equipped with these beds and figure out if they’re losing any weight when they die.

Of course, even if you established that they do, you still need to establish that it’s linked to the soul leaving the body, and to do that you would first need to prove that the soul actually exists. Good luck with that, and remember Occam’s Razor.

On a related note, I just sent this subject in to Skeptoid as a suggestion for a future episode. I’d love to hear Dunning’s take on it, but I’m sure he’s got much more important stories to tackle.

August 17 2008

Book Review: “Letter to a Christian Nation” by Sam Harris

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This is one of the first atheism-oriented books I read once I realized that I was probably an atheist and that it was ok to read books on the subject to learn more. If I remember correctly, it was #4, after The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (great), God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens (I couldn’t get into it, even though I really liked his writing), and Harris’ own The End of Faith (mostly pretty good).

This book was written as a direct response to the criticism Harris received from The End of Faith. It’s written directly to “Christian America”, and attempts to address the biggest issues and apparent omissions from his previous book. As a result, it reads more like a conversation than a lecture, which really helps.

Though I enjoyed The End of Faith, I found Letter to a Christian Nation to be much easier to read, to understand, and to recommend to others. Harris addresses specific questions that you commonly hear when theists are questioning the atheist point of view (as they should, even though they rarely apply similar questioning to their own religion), and in a calm, matter-of-fact way.

In fact, this book seems more mellow and casual when compared to The End of Faith. This helps it a great deal, because the book can’t be as easily dismissed as the angry ranting of a “militant atheist” (a term which seems to refer to any atheist who doesn’t just sit down, shut up, and let the Christians do what they want).

The best part is that it’s short. It’s only 144 pages long (or 2 hours in audiobook form), which makes it much easier to digest for the common reader. Harris doesn’t ramble or tell unnecessary anecdotes or quote other books very often. He specifically focuses on Christianity (as if the title of the book wasn’t a big clue) in order to tailor this book to the general public. If you want to read his opinions on other religions, he covers them at great length (especially Islam) in The End of Faith.

I listened to the audiobook version on my MP3 player, which I think is a great way to go. (I’ll address my inability to actually read non-fiction in a future post.) The narrator is very good, and either believes the material he’s speaking, or he’s an excellent actor. His calm voice lacks any venom that could distort what Harris is really trying to say.

(I was just thinking…it must be hard finding book narrators who don’t have a problem with narrating an atheist book. It’s probably a good thing that they’ve never done an audiobook of Mein Kampf, because anybody who takes that job is going to come out of it sounding like a nazi. They’d have to get someone who can in no way be mistaken for a nazi, like Morgan Freeman or Woody Allen.)

The best thing about this book is that it’s actually something you can give to your believer friends to help them understand why you can’t believe in God. It specifically addresses the common Christian throughout its pages. Will it convert them? Probably not, unless they’re already on the fence. And true believers won’t be swayed by any of the arguments Harris makes, of course. But most rational believers will probably come away with a better understanding of who atheists really are, and they’ll probably never look at their own religion the same way again.

On a slightly unrelated note, I find it hilarious that someone wrote a book called The End of Reason in response to Harris’ The End of Faith. Guess they didn’t give much thought to that title, did they?

August 16 2008

Videos I found on another blog (or: has it come to this already?)

These two videos are mind-boggling.

This first one is from an IMAX documentary called "Cosmic Voyage" (narrated by Morgan Freeman), which I was lucky enough to see when it came out in `96. Each circle (they’re kinda hard to see at first) is ten times larger than the one before it, which helps you to wrap your mind around just how insanely large the universe is. Well, it helps a little. It’s still too large for the human mind to comprehend; after all, I still think California is pretty far away.

Next, a video that helps you to understand how large many of the celestial bodies of our universe are. It’s really cool because it shows you just how small Earth is in relation to the gas giants (Neptune, Saturn, Jupiter), and then how small the gas giants are in relation to our sun (Sol), and then how small our sun is in relation to other stars. Again, it’s mind-boggling.

August 14 2008

Protesting, within reason

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When you imagine that this is a top-down view of the elephant, it looks like it’s been crushed to death by a tank, complete with treadmarks.

I’m trying to find a word that describes how I feel about the Republican party that isn’t "hate". Loathe? Sure, that’s good. I loathe the Republicans. They’ve consistently shown that they don’t give two shits about this country, and seem to be actively working to destroy it.

Ok, that’s a bit harsh. But needless to say, I want to do whatever I can to make sure that "Bush Light" McCain isn’t elected. Shockingly, he’s currently tied in the polls with Obama, which just goes to show that there are a lot of people who still haven’t learned from their mistakes.

Well, "good" news: the Republican National Convention is being held here in Minnesota, in St. Paul, which is only 15 minutes away from where I live. So, maybe I should join one of the protest groups!

Well…maybe not. Here’s the thing: there aren’t really a whole lot of level-headed, reasonable protest groups out there. Where they say "get out of Iraq NOW", I say "come up with a sensible plan to get out of Iraq while at the same time stabilizing their government, helping their citizens, and preventing full-scale civil war". That’s not something that fits on a protest sign very easily.

There’s another protest for immigrant rights. I’m certainly in favor of treating people like people! What a novel concept! Except…there’s a whole lot of Spanish on the information page. I don’t mind Spanish (I even know a little bit of it) but I think providing non-English translations for everything is the wrong way to go. It basically allows for a language-based caste system. People who don’t know English in this country don’t get nearly the same benefits and opportunities that English-speaking people do. And part of the reason why there are so many people in this country already who don’t know English is that our immigration system is currently pretty poor, which is why I support immigration reform in the first place…

And then there’s a music festival of some sort. In other words, HIPPIES. I guarantee that’ll be nothing but white people with dreadlocks, people wearing hemp necklaces, dirty people poorly playing poorly-written songs on cheap acoustic guitars, and drum circles.

But the worst part? All of it will probably be completely ineffective. For one, the police don’t seem to be allowing anyone near the Xcel center in any meaningful way. Second, these are Republicans. They don’t care what the common people have to say.

So…I’m probably not going to go to a protest. I’ll probably wind up sitting at home and blogging about it. And honestly, making fun of the Republicans is fun. I just wish they didn’t have any control over our country.

August 12 2008

It seemed like a good idea, at first… (the Boy Scout coin)

I was listening to Atheist Talk this morning, and their guest, Lori Lipman Brown, brought up an issue that I had assumed was settled, for good or bad.

The issue is the minting of a special coin to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. The bill was introduced months ago, but apparently it’s being held up due to lobbying by people like Brown.

I want to tell you exactly why the hell I’m opposed to this bill, but first I need to talk about my history in Boy Scouts.

For most of my childhood, I was involved in Scouting. I started in Tiger Cubs when I was really young (I don’t even remember when that was…6 or 7 probably) and then moved up to Cub Scouts, working my way up the ranks until I entered Boy Scouts. I went on nearly every camping trip, I made a lot of friends, and learned a lot of important stuff. As I got older, I took on certain leadership roles in my troop, and held the position of Scribe, Patrol Leader, Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, and eventually even Senior Patrol Leader (the non-adult leader of the troop). I earned at least a dozen and a half merit badges and got to the rank of Life Scout (which is one step down from Eagle), and even became a member of the Order of the Arrow before I succumbed to being a teenager and lost interest.

So it’s with great sorrow that I say that I can no longer support the Boy Scouts. And here’s why:

The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. In the first part of the Scout Oath or Promise the member declares, ‘On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law.’ The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members." (source)

Religion has always been a part of Boy Scouts, of course. And I always just tried to ignore those parts as much as I could when I was a member. However, the unstated premise here is: no atheists or agnostics. Interestingly, they don’t seem to care which religion you practice, just as long as you believe in God (or, presumably, gods). It’s worth pointing out that 62% of all units (troops, packs, etc.) are sponsored by religious groups, the largest being the Mormons, Methodists, and Roman Catholics.

Then there’s this:

"Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed. The conduct of youth members must be in compliance with the Scout Oath and Law, and membership in Boy Scouts of America is contingent upon the willingness to accept Scouting’s values and beliefs." (source)

So, they discriminate against atheists, agnostics, AND homosexuals.

I could point out that they also don’t allow female members, but then it IS called the BOY Scouts. And besides, seeing female leaders, camp counselors, and even the occasional scout wasn’t that uncommon in my time.

And I should also point out that not all scout groups are discriminatory. In fact, most of them aren’t. Most are led by people who live by the morals that they teach and know to treat all people with respect and dignity, no matter what the official position of the organization is. And I think that eventually, the whole organization will change its stance on these discriminating issues. However, right now, the official position of the BSA is to discriminate against atheists, agnostics, and homosexuals.

Now, for some Libertarianism: I believe that any privately-funded organization is fully within their rights to discriminate against whomever they wish. I don’t have to like it. However, the BSA is NOT a private organization. Which brings us back to the coin. Remember the coin?

According to the bills, they intend to mint 350,000 of these coins and sell them for $10 per coin, with all of the profits going directly to the BSA. That’s $3.5 million going to a religious organization with discriminatory policies and practices. Why don’t we just send the Pope a check?

This bill is clearly in violation of the First Amendment and Church/State separation. The government should/must not fund religious organizations, no matter how much good they do. And it certainly shouldn’t fund organizations that discriminate against ANYONE. Indeed, this bill seems to be a very sneaky way to support religion, disguised as a way to honor one of this country’s most beloved organizations.

Just for the hell of it, here’s what I think the BSA needs to do:

  1. Stop discriminating against atheists and agnostics. Stop discriminating against homosexuals (and bisexuals and all that). Stop discriminating against females. In fact, just stop discriminating against anyone.
  2. Modify your programs to allow for alternate paths for the nonreligious. For example, where advancement regulations currently require a scout to attend their church/temple/mosque and discuss what they saw with a leader, allow them to visit a secular center or read a secular book, watch a secular documentary or TV program, or something like that. It’s kinda hard to say what exactly, since atheists don’t have churches.
    In fact, even better: require kids to attend a church AND a temple AND a mosque AND a secular…thingy, and so on. Having kids learn about different cultures is one of the most worthwhile things the BSA could do.
  3. Stop with all this "you need God to be moral" nonsense. You don’t. This is definitely a topic that needs its own post, but I did post an article I found recently that is a good start.
    How about replacing "reverent" in the Scout Law with "moral"? It seems to me that the inclusion of "reverent" instead of "moral" indicates that you think that they are one and the same. However, how is it moral to discriminate against someone else? Again, a topic for another day.

I really hope the BSA shapes up. My memories of my time as a scout are some of the happiest I have, and it makes me sad that I can no longer recommend it as it is today.

I also recommend an episode of Penn & Teller’s show Bullshit (season 4, episode 1), which tackles the boy scout/church & state issue specifically (though not the coin bill).

August 10 2008

The Dawkins Belief Scale

As I’ve been writing, it seems to me that it’s a good idea to explain a “tool” I’ll be using at certain points to describe degrees of theistic belief, or lack thereof.

In his book “The God Delusion” (which I highly recommend), Richard Dawkins lays out a 7-point scale that defines degrees of agnosticism, from 100% belief to 100% non-belief.  In this case, I’m going to cut-and-paste a slightly easier to understand version adapted by Christopher Sisk on his web site.

  1. Strong Theist: I do not question the existence of God, I KNOW he exists.
  2. De-facto Theist: I cannot know for certain but I strongly believe in God and I live my life on the assumption that he is there.
  3. Weak Theist: I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.
  4. Pure Agnostic: God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.
  5. Weak Atheist: I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.
  6. De-facto Atheist: I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable and I live my life under the assumption that he is not there.
  7. Strong Atheist: I am 100% sure that there is no God.

I consider myself to be a 6: De-facto Atheist. Dawkins himself claims to be 6-7. Personally, I think 7 is just being unreasonable, at least right now. It’s true that there’s no proof that God exists, but there’s also no proof that God doesn’t exist, and unfortunately there never will be, because it’s impossible to prove that something doesn’t exist (if something doesn’t exist, it can’t exactly leave evidence of its nonexistence). And, a #1 is just insane. Those people are delusional.

Anyway, I’ll be referring to this scale in future posts, because it’s a lot easier to just point to a number on a chart and say “that one” than try to define a degree of belief in relation to other degrees of belief

August 4 2008

Inventing words

Do you know that feeling you get when you’re watching/listening to/reading the news and something simultaneously makes you laugh and fills you with sorrow? A mix of the horrible and the hilarious? Like when ignorant people in positions of power say stupid things that affect thousands of people? Like pretty much every story on the Daily Show for the past 8 years? We need a word for that.

One of the best ways to create a new word, while at the same time making it understandable to people who’ve never heard it before, is to just mash two words together, and that’s what I’m going to do here.

Let’s consult the mighty Thesaurus:

hilarious
amusing, comical, entertaining, funny, humorous, jocular, jovial, ludicrous, merry

horrible
abhorrent, abominable, appalling, atrocious, awful, cruel, despicable, detestable, dire, dreadful, excruciating, execrable, fearful, formidable, ghastly, gruesome, grim, grisly, gruesome, harrowing, heinous, hideous, horrendous, horrid, horrific, loathsome, mean, nasty, nefarious, obnoxious, repulsive, revolting, shocking, terrible, ugly, unbearable, ungodly, unpleasant, unspeakable, vile

Ok, that’s enough. Let’s see…some of them don’t really apply, or don’t fit our purposes, or aren’t very well-known. So, I’ll just narrow the list a bit.

hilarious
comical, funny, humorous, ludicrous

horrible
appalling, atrocious, awful, heinous, revolting, terrible, unbearable

There. Not a whole lot to work with, I must say. Hmm…this is going to be harder than I thought. Well, let’s try mashing some words together and see what happens.

hilorrible, horrarious, atrocihumorous, horrihumorous, revoltical, terricomical, humorawfulus, horrifunny, funawful, heinorous, hilariterrible, appallicrous

My spellchecker just put a great big red line under every single one of those words (including "spellchecker"). Oh, if only it knew the meaning of the word "futility".

You know, this is really hard. None of those words seem to be very good at performing the required task. In fact, they’re all just cumbersome.

This seems like a project I’ll have to put off until a later date. Until then, maybe somebody can come up with some superior solutions to the problem. Or maybe there’s already a word for this phenomenon that I’ve overlooked, or have never heard before.

 

To be continued…

August 4 2008

Wheel of Morality, Turn Turn Turn

This just popped up on Digg today, and I thought I’d share it. It’s a fascinating (and long!) article about where morality comes from. It’s written by Steven Pinker, who I think is brilliant. I’ve heard about him and his books from several different sources lately, and he always seems to be studying something interesting.

The author also discusses a lot of info from Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene, which I just added to my "To Read" list. (I’ve been considering reading it for a while now, since I’ve read The God Delusion and am currently listening to the Ancestor’s Tale audiobook.)