Friday, November 26, 2010

Deconversion

I grew up Christian. Or Roman Catholic, more specifically. I never really questioned it. How could I? No one I knew had any dissenting opinion of the church or God. So I was a good little Christian boy and I prayed every night.

We went to church every week and I always choose to be active in the church. I was even an Alter Boy. Go ahead and make your jokes, but I always liked doing it. Our priest, Father Ralph, was actually pretty cool. (As a side note, he eventually left the priesthood and got married.) Also, being an Alter Boy gave me something to do during mass. It helped ease the mind numbing boredom that was church.

I received a double dose of indoctrination in the form of religious eduction. Also once a week. It was basically bible stories and workbooks. Its other purpose was to prepare us for important events. One of those events being first communion. For the uninitiated, first communion is sort of the first affirmation that you want to be Catholic. For me it was not really a question and I never really felt like I had a choice. I just did it. I mean, everyone else was doing it.

I became part of our church's youth group. It was a pretty good time. It was mostly just a community volunteer group with a slight religious undertone. Unfortunately, I was again surrounded by like-minded people who unquestioningly believed in God.

My first seed of doubt came when I started high school. It didn't come from my science classes. I had already learned about evolution and it had already been professed to be compatible with religion. It actually came from my social studies class, when we learned about the various world religions. There were so many current religious and so many that had come before. All dramatically different in their claims and beliefs. Which one was right? How cocky of me to have believed all these years that I had the answers. And I went further, how did any of them know that they were right? Certainly all of them thought they were the one true religion. Meaning most of them were wrong.

I was wrong.

I kept these thoughts to myself and continued with my religious studies. I was preparing for my confirmation into the Roman Catholic religion and had no intention of rocking the boat just yet. In my religious education classes, we began to question our religious instructors. Clearly, I was not the only one had had begun to doubt. The answers did not satisfy me. Questions were merely dodged. We were told that we just had to have faith. That did not sit well with me. Why should I just take them at their word? Why doesn't God come down here and show his damn face. Surely, that would be enough to make a believer of me. Of course that never happened and the word of the believers was no longer good enough. I was steadily loosing my faith.

It happened slowly. I still went to church, but I began to look at it with a more critical eye. I now understood the rituals and chants. The blind following and affirmation. It always amused me that the church-goers were referred to as the flock. They didn't even try to hide that fact that we were a bunch of sheep. I stopped praying and I stopped saying the creeds.

I went through with my confirmation. It was a joke to me, but I had no intention of disappointing my mother or anyone else for that matter. Plus I wasn't a hundred percent sure of my position and I had already gone through with everything else up until that point. Immediately following my confirmation, I stopped going to church. I began thinking of myself as agnostic. I knew that the Roman Catholics were wrong, but I wasn't quite ready to call myself an atheist yet.

Around the time I went to college was when I shed faith in God entirely. I was happy to find other open minded people. And when I say open minded, I don't necessarily mean they were atheist. I mean they were willing to consider my position, even if they disagreed with me. It just felt good to speak freely, and it strengthened my position.

However, in the spirit of open mindedness, I too would be questioned. I realized I didn't have all the answers. I was unable to refute logical claims made by the religious. Nor did I know the sciences well enough to explain evolution or astronomy, should the need arise.

I started to read. I just Google searched atheism one day. Just looking for some help. I wanted to be able to argue my position. This lead me to Richard Dawkin's site and in turn P.Z. Myers' site. I picked up some books about atheism. First, Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion and then Carl Sagan's A Demon-Haunted World. Reading Sagan's book introduced me to more than just atheism. It introduced me to skepticism. I understood the need to demand evidence for any claim. My reading then moved to more specific topics like biology and astronomy. I finally had the knowledge to argue the atheist position and back it up with evidence.

The promotion of atheism and skepticism has since become an important aspect of my life. There is real harm that can come from making decisions that are not based in reality and I intend to stand against it. My primary method of promotion is simply to speak plainly about what I am and what I believe. And I encourage others to do the same.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Evidence for the Supernatural

There has been an ongoing debate between two of the blogs I read, Pharyngula and Why Evolution Is True. The subject is whether there can ever be convincing proof of a god, or anything supernatural for that matter. I don't really think either of them make a good argument and my personal opinion is somewhere between the two. So, I thought I'd take the time to weigh in on the subject.

To get started we need some context. The term supernatural is terribly nebulous. Most would probably use the term to describe unicorns, god, or psychic powers. Let's get a more concrete definition in place. Here is one of the definitions Sean Carroll has provided:
The lawless: things that affect the world in ways that are observable (directly or otherwise), but not subject to the regularities of natural law.
I feel pretty comfortable with that definition. Basically, something that is supernatural would have to be completely unpredictable. Anything that is natural is predictable and anything that acts predictably fails within the domain of science. That's what science does. It makes predictions about the natural world tests them.

So how do you prove that something has unpredictable behavior? I'm not sure that's possible. The mere fact that we would try to prove it indicates that we are expecting predictable behavior. The logic feels circular and wrong. This makes the idea of lawlessness seam almost nonsensical.

My point is that anything that operates using the laws of cause and effect is natural and falls within the domain of science. Even if this thing is a super powerful being that shoots lasers from its eyes and raises the dead, it is still natural if its behavior can be predicted. The only definition I could accept for a deity is a being that truly had free will. This being would have behavior that is impossible to predict, and not just because it would be difficult.

If your idea of a god falls outside of that category, into the range of predictable, then you have a lot better chance of someday being able to prove it to me. But then if you did that, it wouldn't really be a supernatural god anymore would it?

So now we come back to the original question. Can there be proof for a supernatural god? Logically, I don't think so. Is it even a good question? Not really. Is it possible that a supernatural being exists? Maybe, but I doubt it could be satisfactorily proven.

I find it comical that religious folk spend so much time trying to prove that their deity exists. If they ever succeeded it would seem that the deity isn't actually all that powerful. It was predicted and proven using the scientific method? Seems sort of weak.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Truth No Matter What

Well, I'm back. Don't worry, I didn't forget about you. I'd like to say I've been too busy to spend time with you... but that isn't the case. The Truth is I've just been too lazy to be bothered with your entertainment. It feels good to get that off my back. The Truth will set you free... as they say. They say that don't they?

You may be curious as to why I've been capitalizing "The Truth". Oh you didn't notice or care? Too bad. I'm going to make you sit through this anyways. The reason for this is that my new hero does this. Us impressionable youngsters just love to emulate our heroes.


Spider Jerusalem from the comic series Transmetropolitan has an infatuation with The Truth, which he capitalizes as such. All that matters to him is getting at The Truth so that he may expose it to the world. There is no compromise for him. He will not lie or hide information to further his own agenda. He will present The Truth unadulterated, regardless of the consequences. This is what makes him an honorable and just protagonist, despite his mental instability and disgust for humanity.

Personally, I think that's a great way to live one's life. No, not the mental instability... I mean the uncompromising dedication to The Truth. It's really the only rational thing to do. The Truth should be given and received no matter how unpleasant it is or how uncomfortable it makes us feel. The Truth should be given regardless of whether you stand to gain or lose by its distribution.

What? You say the idea of evolution inspired Hitler (It didn't) to murder all those people? Well what does this have to do with the validity of the theory? Oh right, absolutely nothing. We cannot hide from a fact for fear of its consequences. The Truth will still be The Truth no matter how we try to distort it to accomplish our agenda. The only sane thing to do is accept the facts.

This is how I'd like the world to work. I want to have The Truth no matter what.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Higher Learning

When did learning stop being fun? Why does self improvement end at a 4.0 GPA?

There was a long span of my education where all I cared about was the bottom line. What do I need to do to graduate? What do I need to know to pass the test? And I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Then I started to become passionate about something... Atheism, for those at home. After I lost my faith, I wasn't really sure how the world worked. I knew general information about evolution and physics, but there was no way I could defend my worldview. So I started to read...

First I read about atheism. Then I read about evolution and astronomy. I read blogs, articles, and books. Now I have 2 economic books waiting in the queue. Unfortunately, it takes me quite a while to get through a book.

I found that gaining an understanding of the world was very enjoyable. I remembered why I went into the computing field in the first place. I wanted to learn how computers worked. Of course, I was mostly interested in how video games worked when I first began.

The point is that this thirst for learning was not inspired by my teachers. We never care about what we are learning, just that we have to know it. I guess I wish that more emphasis was placed on the concepts and less on the grades. I wish we were taught how to discover the world and not just a list of formulas.

I'm not sure what the solution is. I just think it's a shame when people get turned off to learning because they aren't good at taking tests.