XIII. Is There A God?

•January 28, 2012 • 19 Comments

 And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:35-36)

I debated at great length with myself as to whether or not I should write this particular post. I have lost sleep over it, in fact. But the truth remains, and if that is indeed what I am trying to covey– the Truth –to the best of my ability, then I cannot in good conscience discuss the perils and pitfalls of religion without having an honest discussion with you about The Man Upstairs. The Big Kahuna. The Holy Padre.


I was raised in the Southern Baptist Church and baptized around the time I started grade school. It wasn’t until around the age of 11, however, that I was actually old enough to appreciate the rapt emotions and overwhelming experience of being “saved” at a Baptist Revival. I remember the moment of accepting Jesus into my heart. I remember the warmth in my body, the spiritual ecstasy, the support of my church family around me, the sense of purpose, the nervousness of walking alone down the long aisle to the alter, the feeling of being pulled there. I remember thinking, as the preacher laid his hand on my shoulder and spoke a muffled prayer through bad breath, that I had finally found the path to Truth and Light. A few months later, among sweaty throngs of adolescents like myself in a Church Camp Tabernacle in North Texas, I walked down another aisle and dedicated my life to Christ’s service. It all felt so right.

I became an Atheist, at the age of twelve, less than a year later.

Atheism is the absence of belief in a deity. I do not believe, based on the evidence (and lack thereof), that any deities exist. Atheism is NOT a religion. Religion seeks to explain and nurture the relationship between humans and a god or gods. Atheism is NOT based on faith. Faith is the belief in something with NO evidence or in spite of evidence. Atheism is NOT itself a claim; it is the rejection of the claim that god exists. Atheism is NOT a belief system; it is an answer to a single question, “Does God Exist?”.

I prefer the term Humanist if you must ascribe a title. (That’s why it’s not “Chris the Atheist’s” Blog.)

Some Theists (people who believe in at least one God) argue that if God exists, then He is beyond our natural world and therefore unknowable and untestable to science. I agree. If that is the case then we really can’t ever know for sure. That is why the idea is rejected by science. It is a hypothesis that can not be tested and cannot be proven with the current complete lack of empirical evidence. If the evidence changes, if God makes Himself universally known, science will happily revisit the question.

Some believers challenge me to “prove that God doesn’t exist”. That’s impossible. You cannot “dis-prove” a claim like that. You can only reject it in light of insufficient evidence and offer alternative theories or hypotheses. I cannot “prove” that the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist unseen somewhere, but I do have an alternate theory involving sneaky parents. Interestingly enough, I don’t have to go around identifying myself as an “A-easterbunny-ist”, nor do I get looked down upon for not believing in Easter Bunnies, or the Tooth Fairy, or elves, or a Flying Spaghetti Monster (for the record I’m agnostic when it comes to Santa Claus).

No, in fact, you and I and pretty much every single person on the planet are complete atheists when it comes to Zeus, or Apollo, or Poseidon, or Pan, or the Egyptian God Ra. I just take it one God further than most people. The thoughts and feelings that a Christian has when trying to comprehend how anyone could believe in the Hindu monkey god Hanuman, and his or her complete lack of concern over going to Hell for not believing in such a god are the EXACT same thoughts and feelings that Atheists have when trying to comprehend Christians and their faith.

It is this faith that is so highly commended in religion that is so harmful to the world. Believing in something so much that you design your entire life around it, when that belief causes you to do harmful things in spite of a lack evidence or evidence to the contrary, is dangerous, unreasonable, and flies in the face of rational thought and the way most people deal with all other aspects of their lives. You don’t have “faith” in politicians, or the products that you buy, or your spouse, doctor, or even your preacher; you TRUST them based on a long-standing record of credibility and reliability. And a “leap of faith” is a poor replacement for an educated guess, which actually is a valuable thing.

Believers often claim that the feelings they have about God are proof that He exists. I’m sorry, but that’s not how it works. I had those same feelings, which, I admit, are completely real and valid, but they are the result of the communal ritualistic experience itself, not a direct line with a deity. These very same experiences can even be induced in the laboratory by stimulating the temporal lobe or administering mind-altering drugs.

I am told by the religious to look at the human eye as evidence of a Creator. The evolution of the human eye can be explained in 6 steps. And if we’re so special to God, why did He give eagles and cats much more powerful eyes, and for that matter, dogs and deer much more powerful ears? Creationists have a similar argument that claims that the Universe and the World are so suited to life, and to human life, that there must be a Creator. Then why is the Universe mostly empty space, with most of the areas where matter is collected being uninhabitable? Why is our tiny little planet such a harsh place of extremes, with many places being uninhabitable, and why is life here a ruthless, painful and constant struggle for survival? Why is the extinction of 99% of all the species that have ever lived before us on this planet part of God’s Plan? Why is the human body at times poorly designed, faulty, or useless if we are made in His image?

But how did the Universe come to be if God didn’t create it? Well, if God exists, then who created God? And if God has always been around, then why couldn’t the Universe always have been around? (There IS a hypothesis about an infinity of Big Bangs and Big Crunches.) We don’t know exactly what’s happening on these huge scales of time and space, but we’re searching for the answers, if they can be found. We’re pretty sure it’s not Yahweh though.

I am often asked why I attack the belief in God, when the idea helps so many people in their daily lives. Does it? The belief in a deity almost always involves a religion, and I believe I have addressed the downfalls and dangers of religion at great length already.

For those of you who don’t really put much stock in the religion, the Bible, or even God for that matter, but you may go to church with your family because “it’s what good people do”, you are providing the safety umbrella that religious extremists can hide under. There are far better sources of moral teaching and community involvement. And for those of you who are Agnostic and riding the fence on the whole God issue, you are guilty of the same crime. Tolerance is an incredibly demeaning and condescending term, and all religions cannot coexist, regardless of how cute it’s written on your bumper.

If you believe in God, then you believe in a being who does not answer the prayers of billions, who kills millions of innocent people in horrible ways in natural disasters on a so-called designed planet according to His plan. This is a being who aborts millions of babies naturally every year, who allows good people to die and bad people to live, and who watched with complete indifference as humans suffered in 25 year lifespans, most dying from starvation, disease or their teeth, for thousands of years before He revealed himself to us. And even then he failed to say anything that was of much use. If God is, in fact, real, I want absolutely nothing to do with Him.

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

— Epicurus

Prev: What Religion Gets Wrong: Morality                                      Next: What Soul?

XII. What Religion Gets Wrong: (Part 3) Morality

•January 22, 2012 • 52 Comments

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

— Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

“And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good — Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”

— Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance 

The source of morality in the Bible basically all boils down to Adam and Eve and a Snake and a Tree. This is the basic story that has been preached to me by Christians time and time again:

Around 2,000 years ago God impregnated a virgin in the Middle East with his only son, who was also himself. This god/man volunteered to be tortured and killed (in order to fulfill the prophecies) and came back from the dead three days later so that now in today’s world, if I telepathically tell this invisible friend that I believe in him as my Savior, he will forgive me of all of my sins, as laid out by the Commandments of the Jewish Bible, and when I die, no matter what bad things I may have done in life, if I continue to believe and ask for forgiveness, my soul will live for eternity in Heaven with God. Otherwise, no matter how good of a person I may have been in life, when I die I take the risk that my soul will burn in pain and suffering for eternity in hellfire. The reason this happens is that I have inherited and was born with Original Sin. This unfortunate piece of luck arises from the fact that around 10,000 years ago the first woman, who was made from the rib bone of the first man, was convinced by a talking snake to eat a piece of fruit from a magic tree.

Ah yes. Well there you have it. It all just makes perfect, rational sense, doesn’t it?

If that all seems a bit vague, let us look at the commandments, God’s laws to his Chosen People. The first 4 all basically say that God is a jealous god, the only god, and that you should honor Him. Couldn’t these vanities be combined into one commandment? Kind of a waste. Honoring your parents is a good one, except for the parents that abuse their children, although the Bible endorses the beating of children, as shown in the recent Christian child abuse cases. Okay, well how about “Do Not Kill”? Pretty good. Except that it leaves out acts of self defense and the fact that God commands his servants to slaughter hordes of people in the Bible (Whoops. But those were actually good murders because God commanded it, right?). ‘No stealing’ and ‘no adultery’ are decent, although they are technically covered by “Do Not Bear False Witness” and “Do Not Covet Thy Neighbor”, so they can hardly count. And besides, where would today’s society be without coveting, if no one ever saw their neighbor’s car, iPhone, happy marriage, or sexy spouse and desired to find those things for themselves? It’s called wanting a better life. In contrast, the scriptures of Jainism, an ancient religion of non-violence from India, offers this as a commandment: “Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being.” How much better of an effect would the Bible have had if THAT statement was anywhere in the 10 Commandments?

The rest of the 613 laws that God gave to Moses deal with important things like not shaving, what kind of fabric you should wear, genital mutilation, what you should eat on what days of the week, which animals are clean and unclean, and how to rid yourself of the spiritual impurity of sperm and menstrual blood (both of which God supposedly created, remember). Of course there’s far more insidious, rather revealing laws that explicitly instruct church members to kill (yes kill) anyone working on the Sabbath, anyone who is homosexual (though God created homosexuality), anyone who speaks out against God (that’s me!), and anyone who commits adultery, among other things. And of course handicapped people cannot come to the church alter, lest they make it an abomination. I’m sorry but I can find no morality in these statements.

Why do the laws that God supposedly gave to his creation fall so short? Well, the obvious answer is that they were written by men a very long time ago when people were ignorant and concerned with such things. But one only has to look at the acts endorsed by God throughout the Bible to realize that he’s not such a moral guy himself. He personally killed or ordered the execution of an estimated 2.2 million people in the Bible, and that does not even count Egypt’s first born and all of the world’s population killed during the Flood! Not to mention that God sanctified Moses to command his armies to rape women, take young girls as sex slaves, and to kill the elderly, children, babies and livestock, all after killing entire villages full of men simply because they belonged to a different race or religion. And of course Abraham, the man for whom the world’s major religions are named, is praised to this day for his unwavering faith in the God who commanded him to slaughter his own child.

(Think the “Devil is in the details” and is responsible for the evils of this world? Think again. Most of the conceptions Christians have about the fictional character of Satan are nowhere in the Bible.)

So the New Testement cancelled out the Old? Then why did Jesus say over and over to honor the Torah laws? He ushered in a new covenant with God? Then why does he continue to endorse things like child abuse, slavery, abandoning your family, and avoiding planning for the future by “taking no thought for the ‘morrow”? He was a great teacher? Then why did many of his teachings directly contradict each other? A man of peace who loves his enemies? Then why does he threaten his enemies with Hell and damnation, and promise to return to kill most of the population in Armageddon? This is hardly “turning the other cheek”. I think the great Christian writer C. S. Lewis stated it quite plainly:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” 

A New Perspective on Morality

We now know that many of the notions of morality in the Bible were based on the concepts of previous religions, which were themselves a crude first attempt to organize our primal ideas of ethics. These first, primitive morals came about through the evolution of the mammalian and then the primate brain. Our ancestors learned that forming bonds, cooperating, and keeping social harmony aided in survival. Indeed, that is the very observation that has led to the development of our entire culture throughout the ages…we humans need each other. Other large-brained animals like chimps, dogs, elephants and dolphins also have the rudimentary basics of these notions of morality in their family groups and use them to cooperate and survive. Morality simply pre-dates religion, and our system of morality has since developed and matured in many ways, amazingly at times in spite of religion.

I find it utterly incomprehensible how seemingly good, moral people can look me in the eye and claim that if there is no God then there is no basis for morality. Really? So you’re telling me that if God didn’t command you otherwise, you would immediately loose all self control and run around like a rabid animal– raping, stealing, killing and whoring, abusing drugs and destroying the world? I find the very notion genuinely appalling and completely insulting. I am not religious, and yet I know, for instance, that rape is bad because it is a forced act that causes great suffering, and I need no other reason than that to abstain from it, thank you.

Morality is an ever-evolving complex system of beliefs and behaviors, and it is up to all of us to determine, as a species, what we want that morality to look like. Sam Harris had this to say about his book, The Moral Landscape:

“I think the greatest challenge facing our species is to build a global civilization based on shared values. To do this, we will need to think about questions of right and wrong and good and evil in a common framework, purposed toward human flourishing. The alternative is for us to waste our time debating things like gay marriage, while problems like nuclear proliferation, energy security and climate change go unaddressed…The moment we admit that questions of right and wrong, and good and evil, are actually questions about human and animal well-being, we see that science can, in principle, answer such questions…After all, there are principles of biology, psychology, sociology and economics that will allow us to flourish in this world, and it is clearly possible for us not to flourish due to ignorance of these principles…We should reserve the notion of “morality” for the ways in which we can affect one another’s experience for better or worse.”

I think that’s a far more evolved idea than anything that ever came out of the Bible.

If you find any fault with anything I have said, I encourage you put in some time and do the research for yourself. Click on any of the underlined links, or explore on your own. Go ahead: open up the Bible, or the Koran, or the Book or Mormon to any page and start reading. If you still find fault with my claims, then please, leave a comment and let’s figure this out together. After all, I could be wrong. Could you?

Prev: What Religion Gets Wrong: The Universe                    Next: Are You There God?

XI. What Religion Gets Wrong: (Part 2) Life, the Universe and Everything

•January 21, 2012 • 17 Comments

Countless times I have stood in awe and complete humility, on many occasions even being moved to tears, as I have contemplated our history up to the present moment. How incredible it is, that a living organism could evolve over billions of years into a bipedal mammal with opposable thumbs and a swollen neocortex, able to look out on and play with the Universe and actually ponder, with a surprising degree of accuracy, its existence and where it came from. And to think that all of this is possible because long ago, a star lived, died, and exploded, creating our basic building blocks. Unfortunately, many people do not know this story, and many refute their own history- in the face of clear and unanimously accepted evidence- in order to cling to a dogma that sadly, comes nowhere near being able to touch the true beauty and complexity of the cosmos.

The Structure of Things

Biblical Claims: The Bible (which I am using for this discussion not to single out any faith, but because this book is shared both by many faiths and by the majority of believers) simply gets many things wrong. Click here to read my post about the origins and evolution of life on this planet and how the Bible provides incorrect and insufficient information. The Bible also makes many claims about the structure of the Universe that are simply not true. It states in several different verses that the Earth is flat with edges, covered by a hard dome, sitting on a foundation of pillars, and that it is unmoving and unmovable. It also claims that celestial bodies were placed by God within the hard dome that separates the “waters from the waters” to light the Earth at night and to “give signs” (Jesus was a Capricorn).

The Bible goes on to make many more outrageous claims: Joshua commanded the Sun to stand still in the sky (he couldn’t have), the entire world flooded (it didn’t), Noah put two (or seven, depending on which verse you pick) of every species of land animal alive today on a 450 foot long boat (he didn’t), and that Moses parted the Red Sea and led the Israelites out of Egypt (the former is physically impossible, and there is absolutely no archeological evidence for the latter). The New Testament continues the tradition by describing the casting out of demons (Jesus at one point even casts demons out of humans and into a herd of pigs!), as well as healing blindness and lameness in the ancient world, virgin births, resurrections from the dead, calming storms and walking on water. And once again, if biblical scholarly calculations are correct, God supposedly created the Earth and the Heavens around 10,000 years ago…around the time that agriculture was being developed in Egypt, nomads from Asia were settling in what would become the southwestern United States, and beer was being discovered in Mesopotamia.

The Evidence: The Greeks, including Aristotle, had theorized that the Earth was a sphere hundreds of years before Jesus of Nazareth was even born. Eratosthenes even correctly calculated our globe’s circumference in 240 B.C. It was around this time that the first theories of a sun-centered model were also being developed, but unfortunately this anti-biblical idea would be mostly extinguished until literally hundreds and hundreds of years later when Copernicus and Galileo made the idea global and brave explorers of the sea made it fact.

We now know through observations in astronomy that our world is a 4 billion year old planet, orbiting around a slightly older middle-sized star, in the lonely backwaters of a vast spiral galaxy with hundreds of billions of stars, in a vast universe with hundreds of billions of galaxies (and yet some still have the weak and selfish notion that we were created as the purpose and center of it all). We also know now what Democratis hypothesized in 450 B.C., that everything is made up of tiny atoms. We know that these atoms were created in stars, and that one day they will return to stardust again. We know almost certainly that this stardust originated with the Big Bang around 13.7 billion years ago, although we have scarce details about what happened at that moment and before. But isn’t it fantastic that we can know even as much as we do, at this point in time, all these eons later? Scientists do have both plausible and at times seemingly incredible explanations for what came before the Big Bang (and how something can arise from nothing) and even now are trying to discern the secrets of those early moments to provide the answers to the rest of humanity. In science, it’s perfectly okay to say, “We don’t know yet, but we’re working on it.” Only religion claims unchanging and total truth. At this, and precisely because of this, it usually fails miserably.

How It All Works

Biblical Claims: Good people go to Heaven, bad people go Hell, and prayer is effective.

The Evidence: I will actually reflect back to the Holy Bible for an explanation about where we go when we die. Most Christians, for example, are taught that if you believe in Jesus and accept him as your savior, when you die your soul will rise out of your body and go to Heaven, where it will praise God for Eternity. If you do not have the appropriate telepathic conversation with this invisible god/man, when you die your soul will fall out of your body and go into Hell, where it will suffer and burn for Eternity. At some point, Jesus will come back to Earth, and those lucky enough to be around at the time will see the world destroyed, Satan defeated, a new Heaven built on Earth, and Jesus will raise the dead from their graves for some sort of morbid iSoul sinc/upgrade with the good souls already in Heaven.

Yeah. The only problem is there is absolutely NO description of this whole system anywhere in the Bible. Not once. Indeed, priests and biblical scholars have combed the Bible in search of a verse here that mentions someone going to heaven, and a verse there that paints some vague description of hell, and yes, Jesus says something about following him to have everlasting life in the Kingdom of Heaven, but he believed that the end of the world would occur within the lifetime of his disciples. You would think that in a book from God to his People, he would at least have one chapter entitled: “What happens when you die: The definitive lowdown on the whole Heaven and Hell thing,” (and a chapter on evolution, astronomy or even bacteria, for that matter, would have been exceedingly helpful) but instead we find nothing but ancient myths cobbled together in contradicting books written by different men, sometimes hundreds of years apart and after the fact, all with a somewhat unifying story but with absolutely no clarification on the details. It is these very differences in the Bible’s details and their interpretations that have led to the some 38,000 different denominations of Christianity. (I will talk more about the simple, elegant and beautiful truth of life and death in a later post.)

Finally, I cannot write a blog post about how religion gets it all wrong without mentioning prayer. It has been said in countless ways in countless ancient books in countless languages that men may ask favor of the Gods. Jesus said ask and ye shall receive. I am told every day that God answers the prayers of the faithful. I will discuss the nauseating moral implications of this idea in my next post, but for now, I ask you to look at the evidence. If you pray, look at your own prayers. How often does God let your team or your politician win? How often does God bring your soldiers home from war? How often does God get you that promotion, that girlfriend, that child when you are otherwise unable to conceive? How often has God saved your house from the fire, saved your marriage, saved you from debt, or saved your loved one from dying? If he has done some of these things, how often has he said no? How many people has he NOT saved while instead saving you? Are you God’s favorite? Are you a better person? Did you pray harder? To quote author Sam Harris, “Get a billion Christians to pray for a single amputee. Get them to pray that God regrow that missing limb. This happens to salamanders every day, presumably without prayer; this is within the capacity of God.” As it turns out, scientific studies have shown that prayer works as often as random chance, about 50/50.

The fallacy of the idea of prayer is evident in its illogical reasoning. A religious devotee will pray to God for a particular outcome, or they will pray for general health and happiness, or guidance. If the requested outcome happens, they claim it as evidence of God’s unending love and generosity. If the outcome doesn’t come to fruition, or if a disaster occurs, the religious person will claim it as “God’s will”, according to His “Divine Plan”. But if God already has it all planned out, and if He’s going to do His will anyway, and he already knows what you’re going to pray for and the outcome before you ask…then why pray to Him in the first place? You think that YOU can change God’s mind and convince him to move the cosmos for you by asking nicely before bedtime? Really. Maybe if you hold these beads and whisper these words over and over. Try that.

Now I am certainly a proponent of prayer as quiet reflection and contemplation (I will discuss more effective methods later), and I will also admit that group prayer in hospitals has been shown to help people heal by boosting people’s immune systems through elevated mood. Amazingly enough, however, you can pray all you want for Uncle Clyde’s heart surgery to go well, but the doctor still has to pay for and attend years of medical training, and he has to perform all of the operation steps correctly, and then with the proper antibiotics the wound takes its normal long time to heal, all regardless of whether you pray or not. Prayer is not an effective method of changing the world, but there are other ways that do work. More on that later.

Until next time, you won’t be in my prayers, but as always you will be in my thoughts. Thank you for reading.

Prev: What Religion Gets Wrong: Evolution     Next: What Religion Gets Wrong: Morality

X. What Religion Gets Wrong: (Part 1) Evolution

•January 12, 2012 • 16 Comments

“Evolution is JUST a theory.”

This unfortunate statement has passed from the lips of believers time and time again. It’s such a simple sentence, and yet these 5 words in this particular combination have contributed to more ignorance about how the world works than I can even imagine. Let’s clear this up folks, once and for all.

From wikipedia.com:

The scientific definition of the word “theory” is different from the colloquial sense of the word. Colloquially or in the vernacular sense of the term, “theory” can refer to guesswork, a simple conjecture, an opinion, or a speculation that does not have to be based on facts and it need not be framed for making testable predictions. Scientific theories also contain speculation at first, but they develop over time and many are rejected as they are specifically crafted for the purpose or function of being testable. In this way, theories can be constructed using logic, models, or schemes for generating testable hypotheses with precision.

The “theory of evolution” is actually a network of theories that develop with the science over time. Since Darwin, evolution has developed into a well-supported body of interconnected statements that explains countless observations in the natural world. Evolutionary theories generate testable predictions about nature. Theories offer more general explanations of systems in nature than the hypotheses they generate, which are used to test specific instances or examples of the theory. Theoretical models are one of many kinds of scientific methods that can used to communicate accurate and precise depictions of systems, such as evolutionary systems, that are continually and repetitively investigated.

So the “theory of evolution” is a collection of hypotheses and models that have been proven to be true with the scientific method, modified with new evidence and capable of making accurate predictions time and time again. You would never say that the Theory of Gravity is “just a theory” or that Germ Theory is “just a guess” and should be taught to schoolchildren alongside ‘Plague Theory’ (which explains that people get sick not due to bacteria, viruses and other microbes, but rather by God’s wrath as punishment for wrongdoing, and that the appropriate cure is not medical attention, but prayer.)

Here is a fantastic video featuring Carl Sagan narrating the entire animated story of the evolution of life on earth, from the first cells all the way to modern humans, in 10 minutes:

What the Bible Says

I have chosen to discuss the main topics that religion gets wrong using the Holy Bible as a point of reference, not because I am trying to pick on Christianity, (remember, I believe that ALL religions are wrong and harmful), but because the Holy Bible is shared by the majority of the world’s religious believers. This process of looking at the data and analyzing the evidence can and should be applied to all of the world’s religions and holy texts, and I will most likely do just that in future posts after this series is concluded.

The Bible states quite plainly that God created the Heavens and the Earth, and that he did so in 6 days (with a well-deserved day of rest on the first Saturday). It goes on to say that he created all of the animals, as they exist in the forms we see today, all within a few days. It also describes how God created the first man, as he exists in the form we see today, (biblical scholars estimate this occurred anywhere around 6 to 12 thousand years ago, with some estimating slightly longer), and how the first woman was created from the rib bone of the first man. It would further have us believe that all the people of the world that ever existed descended from these 2 homo sapiens (this is called incest, which is forbidden elsewhere in the Bible). Then you have God killing off all of the world’s people in the Great Flood except for Noah and his family, who then repopulated the Earth. God apparently found mass murder and incest (once again) to be necessary. And perplexingly, if you look closely at the scriptures, the two different stories of Creation, told in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 respectively, contradict one another ever so slightly but ever so importantly. Interesting. And the story of the Tower of Babel explains to us, rather childishly (though quite colorfully), how the diversity in human language and culture came to be.

What the Evidence Says:

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Biological Evolution can be defined most simply and accurately as any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Charles Darwin was the first to formulate a compelling scientific argument in 1859 for a theory to explain the diversity of species of life on our planet. In his book “The Origin of Species”, Darwin described evolution by means of natural selection, the nonrandom process by which biological traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of differential reproduction of their bearers. It is this process, for instance, that led the tiny random mutation of a tail feather gene in a single male peacock that lived long ago to evolve large, colorful, showy plumage in an entire species over time, simply because he and his male offspring were more attractive to females. The subsequent offspring thus produced would have more of a genetic chance of having showy plumage, and thus more chance of passing it on to their offspring (this process in particular is called “sexual selection”). Over hundreds or even thousands of generations, the population eventually changes to the point that all of the surviving males express the genes for this plumage. This theory has grown to become one of the most well-supported and widely accepted ideas in all of science.

What Darwin Didn’t Know:  But Darwin did not know about genes, nor did anyone else know until the early part of the previous century, HOW evolution actually mechanically works: that changes in physical traits are caused by random mutations (tiny errors in the copying of genetic material), and that these mutations are passed from generation to generation through an organism’s DNA. This is the same process that resulted in all of the varying breeds of dogs, cats and livestock through selective breeding by humans, a process known as artificial selection (as opposed to natural selection), over a few thousand years. The only difference is that humans did the selecting of desired traits with these animals instead of nature, which is why it has caused such variation in such a relatively short time. It is this same process of evolution that allows us to formulate new flu vaccines every year, and precisely why we have to- because the viruses are constantly evolving through mutations. And just to clarify, “survival of the fittest” (a term adopted but not coined by Darwin,) does NOT mean and NEVER meant “survival of the strongest“, rather it means that organisms that develop random mutations that allow them to be more suited to living in their environment (the intentional meaning of the word “fit”) will be more likely to survive and thus pass on these mutated genes. Biological evolution is a beautiful merger of the random and non-random.

For The Record: It is also this understanding of evolution that has led us to be able to map the human genome, and the genomes of countless plants and animals in the world. This has led to new advances in medical technology and advanced understanding of how the natural world works, as well as the inner workings of our bodies and minds. It has also clearly shown us how we are literally related to every living creature on the Earth, including bacteria and plants, and shows once again that most likely all life on Earth descended from a single common ancestor. The evident pattern of this change over time is also clearly laid out, just as we would predict if evolution were true, in the fossil record of the Earth’s history. It is this fossil record, along with DNA mapping, that has also proven, without a doubt, that humans and current apes evolved from a common ape-like ancestor, and that the first of our species, homo sapiens, migrated out of Africa sometime around 100,000 years ago to explore and populate the globe.

Here is a great video illustrating evolution and addressing some common misconceptions:

Proponents of Intelligent Design (which makes the supernatural claim that evolution is guided by an intelligent being and not purely by natural selection, and is not accepted by the scientific community because it does not adhere to the strict rules of scientific methods, data analysis, and peer review) make the invalid argument that there are far too many “gaps” in the fossil record to use evolution as an explanation. This is just false. First of all, it ignores the fact that we are extremely lucky to have any kind of fossil record at all. As it turns out, fossils that can last for millions and millions of years are extremely difficult to make (imagine that). That’s why every living creature that dies does not become a fossil, and why scientists have to search hard to find fossils. Secondly, we have collected so many fossils at this point that there are remarkably few “gaps” left at all, and we are looking even now to complete the collection (the transition is blatantly obvious, regardless).

Our evolutionary history has been proven time and time again, and has been proven and accepted across all scientific fields, including geology, archeology, biology, history, economics, psychology, genetics, physics, chemistry and medicine. What evolution via natural selection does NOT explain, nor is it or was it ever intended to explain, is how life originated on Earth in the first place. Or how the Universe came into being. There ARE, however, evidence-based scientific theories available to explain those particular phenomenon, which I will describe in my next few posts.

If you are a believer in the Abrahamic faiths, then you either believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, which in this case has been proven to be wrong, and therefore cannot be the literal explanation of creation from God to his people, or you believe that the stories of creation are simply metaphor, written by “divinely inspired” human hands. And if either is true, if the Bible is not the literal word of God, edited, altered, added to and subtracted from as it has been through the ages, and if it has caused so much damage to humanity already, it begs the question: why would an intelligent person such as yourself ever bother wasting your time trying to design your life around it, when there are so many other sources of knowledge available that are far more useful, comprehensible and reliable?

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IX. Why Religion Sucks: (Part 2) The Not So Obvious

•January 8, 2012 • 13 Comments

” How much vanity must be concealed- not too effectively at that- in order to pretend that one is the personal object of a divine plan? How much self-respect must be sacrificed in order that one may squirm continually in an awareness of one’s own sin? How many needless assumptions must be made, and how much contortion is required, to receive every new insight of science and manipulate it so as to ‘fit’ with the revealed words of ancent man-made deities? How many saints and miracles and councils and conclaves are required in order first to be able to establish a dogma and then- after infinite pain and loss and absurdity and cruelty- to be forced to rescind one of those dogmas? Got did not create man in his own image. Evidently, it was the other way about, which is the painless explanation for the profusion of gods and religions, and the fratricide both between and among faiths, that we see all about us and that has so retarded the development of civilization.”

― Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

“We will see that the greatest problem confronting civilization is not merely religious extremism: rather, it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accommodations we have made to faith itself.” 

― Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

“When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.” 

— Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

While it remains indisputable that countless atrocities are committed as the direct result of religion (click here to read my post about the more obvious consequences of religion), there are many more casualties of this plague that we often fail to notice in light of the activities and beliefs of the world’s many faiths:

How deplorable of a person can you be to preach the gospel in AIDS-ridden Africa and then tell the entire society there that God thinks that condoms are a sin, when condoms have proven to be effective in protecting against the transmission of HIV? And yet this is the Catholic Church’s official position on birth control.

Can you have no love for your children that you refuse to protect them from disease? In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Taliban have issued  fatwas opposing vaccination against polio and other diseases as an attempt to avert Allah’s will, and as an American plot to sterilize Muslims. The Taliban have even kidnapped, beaten, and assassinated vaccination officials, including assassinating the head of Pakistan’s vaccination campaign.

Why is it that we now live among the brilliant thinkers and technological wonders of the twenty first century and we are still arguing over whether or not homosexual couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples. Are you kidding me? All because The Old Testament, which is shared by Judaism, Islam and Christianity, says explicitly that a marriage is between a man and woman. It further states that homosexuals should be killed. Then again, in the same book, it also says that wearing two different types of fabric at the same time is a sin, and that if you work on the Sabbath, you should be beaten to death with sticks. Is this really the best advice we can come up with?

How much farther along would society be with cancer research; what medical breakthroughs have we failed to discover, simply because the religious believe that tiny bundles of stem cells are people, and that souls can live on petri dishes? Indeed, how many bright young minds, who would have grown to be the medical scientists, Nobel Prize winners and great philosophers of their time, where stifled by their church and their well-meaning faithful families to follow a life of religious indoctrination?

How many thousands of followers have suffered from low self-esteem, sexual repression and succumbed to depression, being told that they are born into sin and unworthy of God’s love, all the while held to an impossible “holy” standard. How many millions upon millions of suffering believers have prayed in vain for God to save their lives, to save their children’s lives, to cure their cancer, to bring them wealth, to bring them hope, to stop the violence against them, all to be answered with cold and unflinching silence?

Not to mention that the cosmological and historical claims of the world’s religious texts are simply not true. We live in a world where we can scientifically verify the approximate age of the earth, the solar system, the galaxy, and the Universe, and can describe the evolutionary processes affecting matter at all of these different scales, and yet even now school systems all over the country are insisting that Creationism be taught in schools as an alternative and plausible theory to evolution. My next three blog posts will focus on differentiating these false claims that religion makes from the truth of reality. Do not forget that it is these very claims about reality that are causing numerous hostile eyes throughout the world to look at our country with much disdain, with hopes of ridding the world of our kind and ushering in the final holy war of Armageddon.

The argument that religion has done many things to benefit the world is valid. I will also concede that religion meets many necessary social and psychological needs of human beings. In a future blog post, I will address how these needs can be met without the harms of religion, I promise. For now, I leave you with a quote from Christopher Hitchens:

“One is continually told, as an unbeliever, that it is old-fashioned to rail against the primitive stupidities and cruelties of religion because after all, in these enlightened times, the old superstitions have died away. Nine times out of ten, in debate with a cleric, one will be told not of some dogma of religious certitude but of some instance of charitable or humanitarian work undertaken by a religious person. Of course, this says nothing about the belief system involved…My own response has been to issue a challenge: name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer. As yet, I have had no takers. (Whereas, oddly enough, if you ask an audience to name a wicked statement or action directly attributable to religious faith, nobody has any difficulty in finding an example.)”

For more on this subject, click on the names of the following authors, who have been an invaluable influence to my research on this these topics:

VIII. Why Religion Sucks: (Part 1) The Obvious

•January 7, 2012 • 8 Comments

“One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody- not even the mighty Democritus who concluded that all matter was made from atoms- had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as for comfort, reassurance and other infantile needs). Today the least educated of my children knows much more about the natural order than any of the founders of religion, and one would like to think- though the connection is not a fully demonstrable one- that this is why they seem so uninterested in sending fellow humans to hell.”
― Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

God does not care whether or not your sports team wins. He does not care how much of your face or your body you choose to show in public. No, he doesn’t care who wins or looses at the culmination of your damned holy war, and God certainly does not care whom, or in what position, you choose to have sex with. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t even mind if you masturbate! (I promise.) In the next two posts, I am calling bullshit on Religion.

It is my firm belief that religion (and I do mean ALL religion- each and every single one on the menu) is one of THE main causes of the major problems that the world is facing today, and I am not alone in that belief. Far from it. I fully admit and disclose that I now “stand on the shoulders of giants”, and most of this post will consist of me paraphrasing or quoting the incredible work of the authors I have come to trust. My aim is not to steal their work, but rather to make it more accessible and collected in one location for your benefit. My ramblings are no substitute for the original and complete works of these courageous and outspoken critics of the perils of faith, and I highly recommend that you peruse the bibliography at the end of this post to read further. And just as you should not simply take me at my word but seek to verify the sources of my claims through independent research, you should give the authors that I have come to hold in such high regard the same treatment, just as I have. Unfortunately, the facts back up our claims. (Click here to read my post on how to use logic and reasoning to determine the authenticity of a claim.)

So why am I always hatin’ on religion so much? Well, let’s look at the evidence

First of all, nearly all religions of the world subscribe to a belief that the world will one day come to an end as part of God’s plan. Most of these people believe that it may happen soon. Please take the time to read my post here on why this type of thinking is not only horribly ignorant but insidiously dangerous, and ironically stands in the way of preventing the very plausible end of our species.

Furthermore, the body count alone that can be attributed to all the religions of the world or the deadly persecution thereof is a mind-blowing and completely revolting realization. Do a quick google search on missionaries and pagan conversion; the Crusades; the burning of heretics and the Inquisition; the trial, torture and execution of so called “witches”; persecution and murder of Jews, the slaughter of native peoples in the name of colonization and expansion of the Church, ethnic cleansing and genocide in Rwanda and other third world countries; decades of violence in Ireland; hundreds of years of Muslim holy war; slavery; human sacrifice; and religious terrorism. Am I making the claim that religion is the cause of ALL of the world’s wars, violence and death? No, certainly not. I’m not even making the claim that religion has killed more people than any other cause ( I don’t believe that, based on the evidence, but I do firmly believe that religion has, at least indirectly, contributed to the destructive thinking behind nearly all of those other causes). But even if just one person once alive on this earth were ever slain, if one defenseless child was ever laid to waste, simply due to the words in a book about an invisible god in the sky, then that would be one too many. Unfortunately, there have been thousands upon hundreds of thousands.

So have you seen so many torture-porn movies that all this blood and guts doesn’t phase you in the slightest? (If that IS true, then you seriously need some psychiatric help.) Does the idea of persecution in the name of religion affect you at all? How many untold homosexuals, born gay and without a choice to be otherwise, and supposedly created that way by a Holy Creator (click here to read about the “gay gene”), have been bullied, harassed, discriminated against, beaten, killed, or have become convinced that suicide is the only option left, all because we’re told that the Bible says that being a homosexual is a sin (which it clearly does) and yet God makes homosexuals and then condemns them to Hell? Bullshit anyone?

Still not moved? What’s your opinion of the domination and oppression of OVER HALF of the world’s entire population? Who are these unfortunate targets of violence and discrimination? Women. And who is in favor of treating women like crap? Your religion. Your God. Click here for a list of verses from the Bible, a teaching document shared by over 54% of the world’s religious faithful and supposedly written by God himself, that describe in detail the sanctified rape and murder of women, a woman’s divinely decreed submission to a man and her relegated role in society, and how the general uncleanliness and unholiness of women should be dealt with. And if one looks at the Muslim faith, one of the fastest-growing religions at the current moment, certainly you are familiar with the inhuman concept of the burka, and the mortal penalties associated with not wearing one, as well as all of the other restrictions placed upon the female livelihood.

Still not queasy? The World Heath Organization estimates that 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the cruel consequences of female genital mutilation, the ritualistic removal of the clitoris (so that the young girl will never feel pleasure during sex), the removal of the labia, and/or the sewing up of the vagina until marriage.  Also according to WHO approximately 664,500,000 males aged 15 and over are circumcised (70% of these being Muslim), which is nothing less than cruel and medically unnecessary male genital mutilation. You can thank religion for both of these atrocities.

Prev: The Big Picture                     Next: Why Religion Sucks (2 of 2)

VII. The Big Picture

•January 2, 2012 • 3 Comments

I would like to take a moment with this blog post to pause and reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going with this project.

If you’ve been following along with my blog since the beginning when I asked you to finally wake up and take charge of your life, by now I hope you’ve at least put some thought into what bullshit you can eliminate from your life and society around you. Maybe you’ve reinvested in that gym membership this month and bought some organic apples to eat on your afternoon breaks. Maybe you’ve promised yourself that this week you’ll sit down in front of your laptop with that box of bills, receipts and tattered envelopes to work out a draft monthly budget on a spreadsheet.

Or maybe you’ve even swallowed some of your insecurity and found the courage to wield the rules of logic and politely call someone out on their bullshit for the betterment of all mankind (even if it was just sending your burger back because it wasn’t yet cooked well enough). If you have taken any ‘small steps’ at all toward the goals I’ve recommended, then I highly commend and thank you for the ‘giant leaps’ you’ve taken for mankind. Please keep it up and do not cease in your mission. For those of you who haven’t yet begun…what are you waiting for, the Second Coming? Enough of that nonsense. It’s time to get busy.

This post is the seventh in a series of twenty one that I am composing and publishing one by one. As such, they should be taken together as a whole, and are ideally meant to be read sequentially, from first to last, for the maximum effect of building my argument and taking you on this journey. My humble goal in writing this, my first blog ever, is nothing less than to help save the world.

Now I fully realize that the planet Earth itself is not literally in imminent danger of being destroyed. Such an idea is nonsensical. In fact, Earth isn’t scheduled to literally live out it’s lifespan until it becomes absorbed by the Sun sometime between 5 and 8 billion years from now. But there are several current, frighteningly imminent threats to the survival of our species, including but not limited to world-wide pandemics, nuclear warfare, biological and nuclear terrorism, overpopulation, environmental collapse, the current food/water/energy crisis, and socioeconomic devastation. I am writing this blog in hopes that you will read it, and perhaps tell someone else to read it, so we can then begin the work of stopping these rather dismal scenarios from ever having to come to full fruition. It will take all of us working together as one cohesive, well-managed system.

“But wait,” you may well argue, “isn’t that for the leaders of our countries to figure out?”  If you truly believe that, then you have clearly not been paying attention to the decisions that the governments of the world have been making recently, and the completely flawed, irrational and extremely dangerous reasoning that they have been basing these decisions on. “But really,” you may continue, “don’t we always manage to figure things out before a true global crisis happens?” If you truly believe that, then you have clearly not been paying attention to the entire scope of human history, natural history and political history. “But during times like these,” you may ask, “shouldn’t I turn the big problems over to God and the authority of my church?” If you truly believe that, then you have clearly not been reading your so-called “holy” texts, nor have you been paying attention to the gruesome history of atrocities committed not only in the name of religion, but as the direct result of it; a horrible history born at the inception of faith that unfortunately continues to this very hour.

In the next few posts, I will unflinchingly confront the illusions that you now surround yourself with. As I said, I want to take you on a journey, and in the interest of full disclosure, I am warning you now that this journey will be difficult. I will be challenging your most cherished, core beliefs, and I will be asking you to leave them behind, forever. All that I ask for the moment is that you keep an open mind, and apply the rules of logic and scientific inquiry that you have learned to look at the World, the Universe and your own entire Life in a brand new way.

I promise that you will disagree with at least something that I have to say. That’s okay. That’s why I have presented this blog as a discussion and not a sermon. I promise that some of you will be offended. That’s okay. That will hopefully mark the beginning of an incredibly rewarding personal path of enlightenment and discovery for you. Just know that everything I say is in the spirit of love, hope and compassion, however brutal it may come across at times. I now face the sobering truth that I am about to alienate myself from and attract the scorn of many of my friends, family, coworkers and even complete strangers. I am fully willing to face that certainty. Because if I can reach even just one single person with my words, and cause them to think more critically and carefully about their own life, and if by doing so they are able to improve it and therefore the world as a whole, then everything that I will have worked and suffered for will be worth it. Just please, please, make it count.

Alright. Are you ready? Let’s do this.

Here is a great 5 minute video from youtube that does a really awesome job of beautifully depicting and describing “The Big Picture.” Please watch as an introduction of sorts to where you and I are about to go. Enjoy.

Prev: The Skeptic: Truth’s Best Friend                     Next: Why Religion Sucks (1 of 2)