Wednesday, May 19, 2010

POTUS Supports Secular Government

It is inspiring to see familiar arguments for a secular government being used by people in a position to make a difference.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Christians Can Support Evolution

The principle of the separation of church and state is one that I have come to value as one of the fundamental ideals that has contributed to the advancement of our society. Falling within this principle is the current struggle between those that would teach evolution in or public schools and those that would teach creationism. I’ve seen the arguments for both sides and frankly, I don’t really see how there can be an argument any more. Even a minimally rational person should be able to see there is no rational thought behind teaching creationism or intelligent design in a science curriculum. This ongoing debate shakes my faith in the idea that most people, deep down, are basically rational beings.

But every time I start to lose hope, something always turns up that renews my faith in people. This time, I came across The Clergy Letter Project. More than 12,000 Christian clergy across the United States have signed a document declaring that science and religion can peacefully coexist, and that rejection of the theory of evolution is to embrace ignorance.

Now, I don’t know how significant 12,000 signatures are. A quick look at the Census Bureau’s website told me that there are more than 396,000 clergy in the United States, and many denominations didn’t report their numbers. But it still gives me a warm fuzzy. My hope is that someday, there won’t be any high school biology teachers like mine who chose to skip over the chapter on evolution. She explicitly told us she didn’t believe in it and refused further discussion.

The Faith of an Atheist

I’m reading The Reason for God: belief in an age of skepticism by Timothy Keller right now. It’s fairly coherent argument for Christianity. I’m three chapters in and while the arguments so far are not particularly persuasive, it is the first apologetics book I’ve read so far that has given me some food for thought about the nature of belief.

Keller’s foundation for his arguments, however, demonstrates that he completely misunderstands the nature of disbelief. In the introduction he states, “All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really just a set of alternate beliefs.” I’ve found this line of thinking to be pretty common among theists. I’ve read several times that it takes more faith to be an atheist than it does to believe. This is utterly ridiculous of course. My hypothesis is that since theists hold their beliefs to be self evident, they just can’t comprehend how someone could reach a different conclusion. My basis for this hypothesis is only personal experience; I was once a Christian too.

For a meaningful dialog to exist between theists and atheists, I think it would be helpful for theists to understand that doubt is not just another belief. I can really only speak for me, but I’d be willing to bet most atheists could identify with what I’m saying when I say I have examined the arguments claiming God exists, and I find them lacking. There is no convincing evidence for the existence of God. This equates to a lack of belief in God, not a belief in a lack of God. Until a theist can truly understand this, he does not know how to argue his case with me.

Let’s try to put it in a way that most (though not all) people can relate to. I don’t believe in fairies. There is no shortage of information about the existence of fairies. There is literature going back thousands of years that profess the existence of fairies. I find the idea of fairies appealing but quaint. There is no physical evidence or tenable argument for the existence of actual fairies, therefore I conclude that fairies do not exist. If you can identify with this line of reasoning, replace “fairies” with “God” and you’ll see where I’m coming from. If you can’t identify with this line of reasoning, then a dialogue between us would be useless.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Why Atheists Argue (Part 2)

The second reason (at least for me) for holding a public dialog on this topic is to attempt to change the negative stereotypes most believers hold about non-believers. This approach is necessary in order to improve the quality of life of a minority group of people in predominantly theistic society. I’m not looking for any special recognition for non-believers beyond the recognition of their worth as human beings. Many people see atheist as incapable of being moral due not deriving their morals from a supernatural being. Or worse, atheists are evil agents of Satan. In the most tolerant cases, we’re seen as unfortunate misguided souls that don’t see what’s right in front of them.

These perceptions are unfounded untruths perpetuated by ignorance and in some cases malicious lies. While there are some people who fit the extreme stereotypes, saying these people represent atheism is like saying Jerry Falwell represents all of Christianity or Osama bin Laden represents all of Islam. I would like to present myself as a typical non-believer, so here is me in a nutshell:

I am a husband and father whose whole life revolves around his family. I know what unconditional love is all about because I know that there is nothing that could ever stop me from loving my wife, kids, parents, sister, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Even if they were to commit a reprehensible act, while I might not be able to face them, I could not stop the feeling of love that continues to pour out of me. To a certain degree, I apply this attitude to the whole human race.

I am a patriot who with unswerving faith in the ideals that really define this country. Freedom, justice, and democracy, are more than catchy slogans for me. They are what give each individual the opportunity to express his or her true being and they allow a society to be more than the sum of its parts. While a may recognize that we as a nation sometimes miss the mark in while aiming for these worthy goals, I believe that our current system is among the best designed to facilitate them. I am willing to fight for these ideals, and I believe my 13 years and counting of military service stand witness to that fact.

I believe in the difference between right and wrong. This blog will eventually help me explore why and how I come to these beliefs, but I reject the notion that they can only come from a higher power. I think there is evidence to support this stance, but that will have to wait for future posts.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why Atheists Argue (part 1)

I have noticed a common theist response to atheists and their ramblings that goes something like this. “If you don’t believe in God, why is it so important to you to talk about it? Why do you have to discredit religion or religious people or God.” I think it is a very good question and any atheist should have a clear, logical reason before he engages in a public discourse on his or her lack of belief. Non-Believers are a diverse bunch of people. Just like theists, while we may have one central tenet in common with others in our demographic, our experiences and actions in relation to our unbelief will vary wildly from individual to individual. Some may feel the need to shout their unbelief from the mountaintop. Others may be content to quietly go about their business and never give any indication of their faith status. And there are any number of people that fall somewhere in between. This pretty much reflects the human population as a whole. For me, the talking about belief versus non-belief serves two purposes. First, it provides an opportunity to examine our beliefs openly and honestly so we can form our conclusions using all the data available. Second, a civilized and open-minded discussion about atheism hopefully will help dispel the negative perception many theists have about atheists.

First, let’s look at the open and honest discussion reason for talking about it. If anyone holds a belief with such conviction that they are willing to base their worldview on it, they should be able to look at that belief with a critical eye. If said belief influences how we treat other people, this is especially true. Also, to be honest, when discussing the possibility of salvation or eternal damnation, one should have a clear idea of why he or she accepts or rejects any beliefs in that arena. The key here is to hold these discussions while at least attempting to see all points of view ad give them honest consideration before rejecting or accepting them. As humans we are naturally biased, and I accept that myself as well as others will be able to achieve this with sometimes limited success.

The goal here is not to convert anybody to your system of belief. Nobody will change their mind until they are ready to do so. The cracking of a belief system is always an inside job. The goal here is to examine all the data and come to our own conclusions. I have been on both sides of God/no God debate during my lifetime. I understand that many beliefs are held very dear and no amount evidence to the contrary will influence some people’s beliefs. My change of stance happened during a long period of time that there was no dialog on the topic happening. I’m still looking for rational arguments for both sides to either strengthen my position or change it if the evidence requires it.