Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fringe Science!

Weird scientific facts that sound unbelievable but that are, in actuality, true.

1. South Korean scientists put a jelly-fish gene into cloned puppies and made them glow in the dark.

2. Although we share 95% of our DNA with Chimpanzees we actually share 50% of our genetic code with a banana.

3. In the U.S.A. cloned animal food products passed FDA inspection and are FDA approved.

4. Denisova homini is a third species of humanoid after Neanderthals and Humans.

5. Black holes are real!

6. The human embryo goes through quite a surprising metamorphosis including developing gills, a tail, webbed fingers and toes, and a full coat of fur, among other traits, which it then sheds to become a fetus.

7. Traveling at the speed of light slows time down to a halt. It's also known as Einstein's special theory of relativity.

8. Using high intensity lasers physicists are bending space-time and attempting to send messages into the future, perchance to receive a message from the future! Great Scott! Back from the future!

9. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN, in Geneva, needs to be cooled to absolute zero, colder than the vacuum of space, in order to work properly.

10. Lead particle physicist of the ATLAS division of the LHC at CERN, Dr. Brian Cox, was a chart topping English rock musician with three number one singles before he became a leading theoretical physicist.

11. Real T-Rex DNA was successfully acquired by Jack Horner and his associate. Jurassic Park here I come!

12. Bumble bees have been tested by the U.S. military as laser guided missile destroyers.

13. The mass of a proton, 90% of which is empty space, was measures using quantum electrodynamics which detected and was able to accurately measure the random fluctuations which are going on at the quantum level.

14. Life comes from non-life. Living cells arose from non-living stuff such as amino acids, nucleotides, and lipids.

15. The Universe came from nothing!

16. Life in the universe is almost assuredly not rare! With the recent discovery of the amino acid glycine, a key building block in the formation of life, recovered from the tail of the comet Wild 2 by the NASA spacecraft Stardust from deep within our solar system, we can be sure this evidence strengthens the argument that life in the universe may be common rather than rare.

17. Exoplanets, large Earth-like planets, are surprisingly common. More are being found every day.

18. Human brains do not feel pain, but all the pain the body feels is stimuli registered by the brain!

19. The part of the brain that controls motor function and tool development is also necessary for speech--and these important key features distinguish us from other intelligent animals, our ability utilize language and develop tools, in a strange turn it also gives us the human spark, or essence, which people describe as the human soul.

20. You can still get an erection even after you're dead. Hallelujah!

These are just a few interesting scientific facts which I have come across in my readings.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Space: The Final Frontier (Hope After Faith)

Space: The Final Frontier: Hope After Faith

Growing up my mother would set my brother and I down in front of the television set and go cook dinner. The only thing on in the six o’clock time slot was a strangely intriguing show, a little series known to the world over as Star Trek. I remember seeing my first episode of Star Trek on a little black and white box television at my Grandmother’s house just a few weeks after my parent’s divorce. My Grandmother was off in the other room consoling my mother, and for the next few weeks at Grandma’s this was the only show my brother and I watched. And the adventures of Gene Rodenberry’s sprawling space opera transfixed my imagination and unknown to my loving Christian mother the secular Humanist message would plant the first seeds of my atheism. To boldly go where no Christian has gone before…

That’s the short version of the beginning of the end of my faith. Granted a little known science fiction series was not the cause of my dwindling faith three decades later, it was merely an ideal which thirty some years later gave me reason to pause, after I had lost my faith I went through what most ex-Christians go through—a grieving experience. Mine lasted a whole thirty seconds. As I was beginning to feel the worry well up and ponder the implications of this bold and dangerous new territory I was venturing into, one without the familiar comforts or framework of organized religion, before the realization had time to set in a familiar theme song blared famously in the background on my television set. It was the heroic opening theme to Star Trek the Next Generation, and as Captain Piccard’s voice said those magic words, “To boldly seek out…” I suddenly felt a great weight lift off of my shoulders. My brief doubt of the meaningless void of a godless existence was suddenly filled the hope of a better brighter tomorrow.

Part of the reason fans of Star Trek have been so enamored with the series for over four decades is because it paints a picture of a future where science plays such a vital and intricate role in the moment to moment interactions of ordinary people. It has continued appeal because the struggles of Captain Kirk and crew are the same struggles we face today. In Roddenberry’s picturesque utopian future science has equipped us with the means to eliminate poverty, disease, and war. Something which seems as pertinent today as it did forty years ago.

It is no surprise that in the world of Star Trek those who clung to outmoded religious ideologies, tribal mentality, and war mongering all went the way of the dinosaurs—extinct. They either died off in senseless disputes and age old blood feuds of little importance, or they became civilized. This was a radical departure from the standard fair Little House on the Prairie styled family dramas, always with their visibly religious undertones, but Star Trek found its niche not only in those of us who saw merit in the secular humanist worldview, but in all of us who dared to dream big. Beyond a simple unassuming prairie was a vast spiraling galaxy wrapped in the milky froth of star dust, filled to the brim with sparkling stars and new planets to discover. The pastoral religious view of a quaint existence in the service of god, where submissiveness equated to a praiseworthy moral life, in my mind, was usurped by the rebellious power of what Star Trek stood for… the capacity for humanity itself to reach out into the void and perhaps touch the face of god itself! No longer were we a race of humble servants enslaved by the limits of our feeble imaginations, now we were on an equal plane with any so called deity, and the starship Enterprise was our vessel, it was our bridge to that other world, the one we dared to dream of.

Every week, in the absence of any god talk whatsoever, we found ourselves flung into a world of adventure and excitement along with the intrepid crew of the starship Enterprise. Our heroes were not the ancient Greek legends of yore, those cut from religious cloth, once venerated Olympians, Oracles, Ordained Messiahs, and Predestined Prophets but humble explorers and scientists. The protagonists were not mighty beings with vast powers like Superman of Jesus Christ Superstar, but regular people like you or I, trying to get by in an extremely hostile environment, but having the fortitude and ingenuity to adapt and evolve to each new precarious situation. Needless to say growing up watching Star Trek left me enthralled pondering the sort of future that I may grow up to see.


Recently a Christian friend asked me what I thought about the Hubble Deep Field surveys, and whether or not I thought it was the most important photo humanity has ever taken. I don’t know if it is the most important, but I personally find it to be the most eye-opening. Gazing into a black patch of virtual nothingness the Hubble telescope zoomed in for just over eleven days to see over 78 million light years across the known universe. In that black patch of nothing were literally thousands of galaxies, all with hundreds of millions of stars, many of which are almost certain to have life. Anyone who has grown up on a series like Star Trek will be instantly struck with an overwhelming sense of excitement, here it is—the view we until recently could only dream of—it was quite literally the most religious experience I have ever had looking at the Hubble Ultra Deep Field survey. After seeing that sprawling space scene spread out before my eyes Moses’ chatty burning shrubbery seemed all trivial by comparison. Mohammad’s splitting of the moon just seemed silly. Beholding the beauteous expanse of all of Mother Nature’s grand canvas of creation, all the stories in the world’s holy books were somehow relegated to the status of children’s bedtime stories, they became more inconsequential than they had seemed before, and my imagination was instantly transported to the thought of another possibility, one in which Gene Roddenberry’s reality was a feasible possibility.

In all truth, for those of us who have put childish ways behind us and have placed our fairytales back on the bookshelf where they belong, in contrast, have made the first step to transforming our dreams into realities. Where Christians and other believers see the death of God as a postmodern horror and desperately seek to deny anything which would falsify their belief in this God, science included, atheists view the death of God as one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

I suppose that’s the main difference between those who have matured beyond religious schemes, we view religion as a failed hypothesis through and through.

Somewhere in the world right now a brilliant mind is wasting away chanting over a cracker and making believe it is the flesh of a bygone figure lost to antiquity, and they will repeat this mantra in communion every week, week in and week out, so that the whole world will come to realize the importance they have imbued this cracker with lest they forget what it's all about. What would such obvious cracker worship appear like to a civilized race of explorers curiously watching us from above and wondering what the meaning of it all could be? 

Anthropologists as well as certain evolutionary psychologists have proposed that religious rituals are a badge of sorts, an emblem people of faith wear to show their allegiances and to which sect they belong, allowing them to congeal in the shared experience of their particular brand of faith. Beyond this, all of this regulation and ceremony serves little to no discernable purpose. All this stylized effort, this social and cultural plumage if you will, all this repetitive ritual, all this excessive compulsive architecture put in place by religion is, basically, so that everyone might be organized in accordance with the greatest man made effort of time wasting ever devised. But who am I to criticize their consecrated claptrap of a myriad of mundane practices? Believers seem to enjoy it, more or less, and apparently they find meaning in it. As long as they aren’t hurting anyone then shouldn’t they be allowed their little quirks? Besides, we all have our own mundane practices, daily rituals, and habitual routines and cherish the things that help us get by. Who am I do deny anyone this privilege? 

Even so, I still can’t help but see religious ritual as a huge waste of one’s time—as if religious practice was one giant cyclic error designed specifically to have you go in circles never to make any head way. If we want to understand the wonders of this world and the universe beyond it, we must venture to the cusp of our fears and breach the event horizon of our prejudices, we need to be as bold and courageous as the voyagers of the starship Enterprise.

Instead of wasting time with superfluous rituals designed to be signatures of faith, aimlessly peacocking about trying to outshine all the other acolytes, attempting to justify our beliefs as truer than the rest, we ought to begin to humbly study and analyze the unknown instead of being afraid of it whether we are religiously inclined or not. 

Secularism allows us a way to stay productive and busy working toward a better future such as ending world hunger, addressing global warming, and assessing any other potential threats which we may have to one day face without any Promethean worries of offending the gods. It goes without saying that even the most pious are capable of working toward a goal as well, I’m not denying their capability just their efficiency, since it goes without saying that they would be more productive if they didn’t take on and off their make-up six times a day, just for good measure. 

When you stop to think about it religion has not given us that much better of an understanding of the world. Not really anyway. It simply is a way of explaining away our fears and helps us to define ourselves in a barely comprehensible cosmos, and in our bewilderment those still bewitched by the religious spell, will inevitably, turn back in toward their faith. Like a broken record destined to repeat mandated mantras and instead of learning from the world hiding from it. Whenever the world encroaches on their territory they will retaliate, often how fearful and uninformed types prone to ignorance so often do, with violence and spewing hate followed by proclamations of holy war and wrathful vendettas against anyone who opposes their righteous entitlement issues.

Disregard the atheist slogan, as spot on as it is, that “Religion flies you into buildings; science flies you to the moon,” and consider that, in all truth, religion flies you nowhere. Religion did not invent the aeroplane—science did. Religion only warned Icarus not to fly up there, for that is the domain of the gods, in a phrase, that is not your territory to conquer. Icarus, of course failed, his feathery wings burnt up and the wax harnessing him to his father’s device melted away and down came Icarus, a testament to human limitations. But in the whole scheme of things it was science the triumphed. We not only flew to the heavens and back again, we did so without consequence. Science will fly us to the stars and beyond and it has given us the tools to glimpse what was once only the limitless imagination of a visionary science fiction writer; now it is the beginning of a much brighter journey toward discovery and understanding. 

As an atheist, it is in this realization where I find hope for a better tomorrow. It fills me with excitement to know that humanity may someday stop fiddling around in the dirt with so much nonsensical throw-rug rituals (or what not), and begin to take on the challenge of doing something wholly worthwhile and meaningful. Science has done this where religion has failed. Science has unlocked the mysteries of evolution, has decoded the human genome, has harnessed the potential of nuclear energy, has discovered the origins of our starry existence, and has shown us that the sky is the limit. Religion simply tells us not to fly too close to the sky.

So with an absence of faith, contrary to popular opinion, all hope is not lost. It is in this breakthrough realization that we find the means to create our own destiny, that nothing is truly preordained, and that in the secular humanist worldview working toward a better future is not only the most practical, reasonable, and responsible choice, considering the consequences of the alternative, but it is also the logical choice. For those of us who have shed such oppressive religious shackles of tyranny over the imagination, we are free to make our own destinies as we see fit, and set out on this bold new trek to new ways of understanding free from Icarian worries. Our wings will surely not burn off, because the wings science has given us are made not of paltry feathers, but the stuff of dreams. As I write this, I find myself smiling, for in retrospect I feel that I have come to understand and fully appreciate what Gene Roddenberry must have meant when he wrote those renowned opening words, “Space, the final frontier…”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Crap-Shoot of Weighty and Starry Existence

God Cannot be Derived from the Cosmological Argument or Argument from Design

An intelligent Christian blogger I often come across online, ran by a quote which he found and put to me:

Why not consider the possibility that life is what it so evidently seems to be, the product of creative intelligence? Science would not come to an end, because the task would remain of deciphering the languages in which genetic information is communicated, and in general finding out how the whole system works. What scientists would lose is not an inspiring research program, but the illusion of total mastery of nature. They would have to face the possibility that beyond the natural world there is a further reality which transcends science. (Johnson, p.110)

Johnson, Phillip. Darwin on Trial, Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1991.

This is a pro-Creationist quote, and nothing against the author, but it specifically asks to consider the hypothesis that there is an ultimate or divine artificer which is evidently the source for life, and therefore appears to be an intelligent designer behind it all. This is the crude hypothesis of Intelligent Design, which I’ve written about before, and which I find to be wholly lacking in support, and so is invalid and cannot be used. But the question isn’t asking us to review the hard evidence, which is all but lacking, however it asks us to suspend our skepticism long enough to simply consider the possibility.

Okay, let’s consider the possibility of a creative intelligence.

First off, I’d have to be critical of his so called “intelligence” since the design we find here on Earth appears to be a hobbled together, trial and error, tapestry stretching back to our cosmic origins. The formation of life from non-living matter, amino acids and proteins, via a complex process of chemical bonds and reactions has been well documented by the scientific community. This is the stepping stone to getting slightly more complex organisms and then natural selection takes over and evolution becomes an incontestable fact. But in all of this happenstance there is no sign or stamp of a handicrafter or divine intelligent creator of any kind. Life itself can arise naturally, and that’s the thing that puzzles people who have not grasped the more involved aspects of scientific understanding. 

I won’t go into detail about evolution, because there is enough we know about it to know that there is no intelligence behind it, and even though we can comprehend it well enough, the leftovers of evolution, the flaws and failures of trial by error processes, have left us with a slew of handicaps and useless vestigial traits which are themselves proof of the unguided and unintelligent influences which compel all living things to evolve. Evidence which directly disproves the Creationist hypothesis. So I must assume the question is referring to the idea that, perhaps, somehow, beyond our current understanding there is a deity of some sort that wrote the basic laws into the universe so that we can decipher it and see the hand-print of God himself. This is also known as the Cosmological Argument [already famously put into contention by thinkers such as David Hume and Immanuel Kant just to name a couple].

Cosmological Arguments and necessary existence all sound well and good, but here I must object. Because it is unclear of which God or gods we are looking for exactly. If the case be that we are looking for one universal, generic, entity with no religious affiliation except for it being an intelligence of some kind, either within or beyond the known universe, then the deist which looks for the signs of this sort of deity beyond the reality we know will be, in all likelihood, greatly disappointed. Any evidence for this sort of being can only be had in this reality and space and time.

Justifiably, we know that it is highly improbable, although, admittedly not altogether impossible, that such a being should exist at all. But the fact remains—we just can’t know of it if it should exist. Not because his signature couldn’t be deciphered and found in nature via the plethora of data we have available to us, but for the fact that all the data available to us precludes any possibility of an intelligent designer of any kind in the first place. A better understanding of the laws of physics will reveal, as it has to me, that we are faced with the serious possibility that the Big Bang was not a one off event, that parallel dimensions are very plausible, that dark flow suggests universes outside of the dark rim of our own infinitely expanding universe, that gravity may be shared between membranes, and that all of this may describe a time before the Big Bang. It also alludes to the fact the Big Bang was not the first event possible, but one of an infinite series of catalysts sparking one of an infinitude of possible universes into existence. Why don’t I think any deity is behind it? Because these quantum fluctuations which we call Big Bangs are described by Quantum Mechanics as being entirely random, and without a doubt, completely arbitrary.

What this means is, there is NO rhyme or reason behind them. 

The Big Bang precludes the possibility of a designer because 1) it was probably  a random event (and even if it wasn't there is no reliable evidence of what the initial conditions were predating the big bang therefore the probability of it being caused by a "designer" is exactly the same of it not having been caused by a "designer" thus, once again, an intelligent designer cannot be assumed), and 2) although it is highly probable that a universe would pop into existence (since the laws of Quantum Mechanics dictates that it is, peculiarly enough, even more improbable that it wouldn’t have) is the fact that 3) this universe seemingly sprang from nothing (which we have good evidence for. See video below).

We might ask, where in all this is the fingerprint of a Creator? I, for one, simply don’t see it. An eager theist may posit that this aforementioned quantum complexity is the language of God, that Quantum Mechanics seems so impossible to unravel or understand because the Creator is that complex. But this comes from the same people who have posited that the Creator is intelligent, so could not an intelligence of such magnitude be capable of speaking precisely and concisely enough to be comprehended by those fledgling consciousnesses and growing intelligences which spring up in the cosmic garden of his so called creation? 

It would seem to me, assuming a supreme intelligent creator exists beyond the known cosmos, that he has hidden himself behind a series of haphazard and completely random events which camouflage any direct involvement whatsoever. If there is a God of this sort, we cannot discover it, and certainly we cannot know anything of it. And this leaves me with the distinct hunch that there is no such intelligent being of such a shy and reclusive predisposition. 

Deism of this type, although in the smallest degree imaginable is ostensibly feasible, the burden of proof is too demanding and it ultimately remains unverifiable, therefore becomes highly doubtful, and cannot just be assumed. Anything more than a postulation is special pleading and will not suffice.

In conclusion, it seems to me that life does not evidently appear to be the product of any creative intelligence. 

Life is the strange consequence of an infinity of crap-shoots in which out of uncertainty there is so vast a number of chances that every once in a while we get the winning number—the crap-shoot of weighty and starry existence. I find the analogy of winning a lottery well suited when discussing such probabilities. Our lucky existence may turn out to be very much like winning a lottery. 

If it (i.e.g, existence of life) is played just once, the odds are unanimously against our chances of winning. But if our chances to win the lottery are infinite, and truly arbitrary, then odds are good that with an infinite amount of tries we’ll come out with a big win. It's a statistical thing, basically.

In fact, with the possibilities of winning stretching into infinity and beyond, it is more than likely we will all win that lottery, and most probably more than once. Which means it is more than likely that other life does exist, and given the right conditions other universes too, as unbelievable as it sounds, it would be even more unbelievable if it weren’t the case.

So I have no qualms with going with what the real evidence depicts, and what it depicts is an exclusively natural world and existence with no traces of divine magic tinkering or supernatural involvement of any recognizable kind. 

But even if there was a divinity of some sort, if one day there should be real tangible evidence for a God, science will gladly begin to study that too. 

Until then, my atheism is vindicated by the knowledge and understanding of the scientific evidence we do have and can discern—all of which precludes the possibility of any such intelligent designer or God.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Adam and Eve Never Existed: It's a Myth!

Adam and Eve Never Existed: It's a Myth!

The Garden of Eden story is a myth. How do I know this? For one, because it’s a myth!

But seriously, how do I know it didn’t happen as a matter of fact? A couple things: the lack of talking snakes (or the lack of language genes within the DNA of snakes for that matter), and the lack of any evidence what so ever for its reliability as a historical occurrence. In fact, the lack of the infamous Garden of Eden itself is the biggest give away. Not to mention that talking animals are common to myth and fable, not historical fact, with the exception of a few talking parrots.

Yet why is it so crucial for Christians to believe in the Garden of Eden story? Because it is where the concept of “original sin” comes from. If this story wasn’t told, then Jesus wouldn’t have had to die for humanity, and that would have meant his life and death were ultimately meaningless. If truth be told, it would imply he needn’t have died in the first place. So it’s better to believe in talking snakes than admit that. Otherwise you’re a sinless Christian, and as we all know, that can’t be the case since Jesus died (specifically) for your sins. What of the counterargument that the Garden of Eden fable was just a metaphor to explain “sin” so simple minded humans could understand the profundity of it all? Well, then you’d need to explain why God created sin? Not only this, but then you’d have to explain why he created us sinful if he intended to punish and persecute us for it? Surely a loving God would be incapable of such mischief and mayhem? The argument of allegory and metaphor not withstanding. 

The way I read it, Adam and Eve did not yet possess the knowledge of "good and evil" which means they had no inkling of rebellion or mischievousness. Since to disobey God requires, first and foremost, a certain prerequisite of naughtiness.

Only by means of a magical talking snake could Adam and Eve be compelled to do wrong. In which case they, having no knowledge, would still be guiltless because they would have been victims of having been deceived, let alone withheld a proper education to prevent them from talking to strangers, especially dubious talking snakes.

Yet Christians tend to need to believe in the talking snake, because without it, then there is no such thing as "original sin." Therefore imputation would be erroneous. So Christians posit that the talking snake was a serpentine Satan in disguise. Imaginative speculation sure, but is purely conjecture since there is no reason to assume this, and scripture does not yield such a reading.

But if you read it for what it is, a myth, it makes much of Christianity seem absurd. We can't have that now, so we'll consider it a myth to explain sin--but this begs the question of why God would create sin to begin with and why he made mankind sinners?

Free will is the argument here, but I'm not convinced that free will has any direct correlation to sin per se. I mean, if we had the freedom to choose to do bad then surely we have the freedom to choose to do good. And so Christians must show how, if Adam and Eve had no inclination to do bad (not knowing good and evil) then how could they ever choose to do bad and disobey God's law? They couldn't have. It's impossible...

Unless you believe in talking snakes that is.

Regardless, I'm always more concerned about the divine reversal periscopes in the Bible. I mean, how do Christians account for them? Assuming God is real, granting them oh so much lee way as this, then divine reversals would complicate the nature of their concept of God to the nth degree. The talking snake being a great example, I think you’ll find.

I agree with Thomas Paine’s question: Shouldn't the snake be crucified for mankind's "original sin" as punishment for his meddling instead of Jesus? Paine’s observations was right on the money, basically that the garden serpent should be nailed to the cross, not some poor Jewish sap, let alone the son of God. You do realize how absurd it all sounds, don’t you? 

Not to go overlooked, however, is the peculiar fact that the snake gets off scott free while God incarnate, comes in the flesh, and in human form, must punish himself, as his own son (?), for the initial meddling of a talking snake which he himself supposedly created! Not only this, but to get the ball rolling he had to start it with a big fat juicy lie! You shall SURELY die if though eat the fruit of this tree, God said unto them. And the snake said, nah’, you won’t die if you eat the fruit. And guess what? They ate and did not die. In the meantime, the good and honest talking snake, whatever his reasons may have been, persuaded two (uneducated) teenagers playing 'hide the snake in the garden patch' into doing something they were told not to, namely to gain knowledge, i.e. get an education. 

Or if you insist on proper terminology, the knowledge of "good and evil," which actually can be metaphor for "carnal knowledge." But Christian miss this point because they like to equate "evil" with "sin." In this case, wrongly so. Understanding that there is no spiritual connotation behind the knowledge of "good and evil" will clear up matters, and anyone who thinks I'm mistaken here has missed the moral this myth is trying to convey altogether. Which is simply this: Obey your father, for he protects you and provides for you, and only upon becoming a man (contextualized as a coming of age fable) and find thee a wife shall ye be worthy to venture out onto your own, with the knowledge which your father has provided. No sin required for the moral to get across.

It often gets overlooked that the snake was telling the truth. I mean, they didn't "surely" die. Terrifying kids with "certain death" is certainly not metaphorical language. Besides, how did God expect Adam and Eve to understand the subtle layers of metaphor before they had knowledge? For all intents and purposes he’s speaking to children, an all knowing God would at least know this much. So anyone who offers the counterargument that God was speaking metaphorically (for spiritual death) has to explain why he would deliberately deceive two unknowing children. After all, it’s suspicious that God uses the language of certainty, not the more commonly ambiguous language found in allegory. Metaphor and allegory are rarely ever "certain." However, they’re abundantly contained and used in the genre of myth.

Fact: God lied. Fact: the snake told the truth. Fact: God deliberately withheld knowledge since obedience was more important to him than his children's well being and edification. Fact: The snake showed Adam and Eve how to gain the knowledge and become enlightened. Fact: God punished Adam and Eve for their disobedience with no regard to their new-found understanding of the world. Fact: God regularly acts capricious and cruel. Fact: The snake is nowhere to be found. Fact: These are all traits of myth, not fact. What about the counterargument that none of this would have happened if Adam and Eve would just have listened and obeyed God? What about my counterargument to the Christian counterargument that this too could have been avoided if God simply didn’t create a talking snake?

And that brings me back to my first divine reversal question. If you were all knowing, then why oh why, would you design a dubious talking snake to deceive Adam and Eve, knowing the predestined events which would unfold ahead of time, and using all forms of subterfuge and trickery to dupe them into sinning, knowing this is the serpents purpose and design, only to then shift the blame onto your son (which is supposedly you?) for doing something you initiated in the first place?

Also, why would the Creator create a talking snake he knew was going to misbehave to begin with? As I mentioned earlier, wouldn't it have simply been easier not to create a talking snake? Or he could have just as easily created a behaving snake, since only humans have free will (right?).  That way the snake wouldn’t have been capable of defying God at all, problem solved. And those who make the counterargument that the serpent is actually Satan in disguise would be hard pressed to support this claim, since there is absolutely no Biblical evidence for it! Either the all knowing creator made a blunder, or he deliberately used the snake as a tool to force Adam and Eve into a no win situation. Could an all loving God really do that? Not likely. Thus Satan was introduced to get around this colossal problem, but as I pointed out this is pure conjecture and is not Biblically supported in the least. The facts remain, Adam and Eve were still unable to make educated decisions mind you, while using manipulative language God forced them into doing something they were instructed not to, and blackmailed them, for the price of their souls! Poor kids.

It makes me wonder what the moral of the story is supposed to be. Obey your parents? Duh. Don’t need to create “original sin” for that. Don’t disobey God? How could they not? Yeah, I know, it’s hard not to laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of the scenario.

If it's a true story, it's dumb. If it's a myth, as anyone can clearly see, it's not much better (especially since it lacks a clear moral). Just saying. God tricking mankind into causing “original sin” so he can murder (ah-hem *sacrifice) his own son to appease the sin which he first initiated by creating a dubious talking snake in the first place is a fun story! Patent myth, sure, but it’s not a true story. And if you think it is, then I feel sorry for you. 

Not because you deserve my pity for believing in silly things, because I can appreciate the fondness of the nonsensical and outlandish, but because more rational minds will mock and ridicule you with unrestrained laughter, and deservedly so, but also because of the heart wrenching sadness I feel whenever a prospective intellect goes to waste. In the famous words of Sheldon Cooper, “One cries because one is sad. For example, I cry because others are stupid, and it makes me sad.” Condescending? You bet. But so is trying to pass a blatant myth off as fact so you can justify the ins and outs of your faith and thereby sustain it by desperately clinging to fallacious stories with no basis in reality—just so you can tell me I’m wrong, that I’m a sinner, and need of salvation? Seriously, I ask you, what’s more condescending than that?!

If you think that’s going to convince me or impress me much, think again. Unlike the bumbling and mentally handicapped Adam and Eve prancing around Eden oblivious to the cruelties they would have to endure at the hand of their Creator, amid all the “hanky-panky,” I can see it for what it is: a sham. As a fully actualized, educated adult I know, using reason and critical thinking skills (something uneducated children typically lack), that it was all just a bedtime story. If you want to convince me of the Christian story of being anything more than legend and myth historicized, then you’ll simply have to do better than this. 

When it comes to credibility talking snakes just don’t cut it.  The belief in them is not even sensible, indeed, it's quite incredible. That is to say, rather far fetched, to say the least. Here incredible doesn't mean the same as astonishing, although, admittedly, a talking snake would be rather astonishing. There's just no proof, and never has been, for anything like it. 

Additionally, the concept of “original sin” is wickedly preposterous, not to mention wholly unnecessary, and an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God not being able to get around the problematic elements of introducing a cunning serpent who didactically chatted up Eve thus convincing her to eat a magic fruit, also the source of all knowledge, consequently tempting her gullible husband to do so as well, to suggest the only way to solve the problem of "disobedience" (aka the big set up) was if God sacrificed his own son for the situations and crimes he himself perpetrated, thereby rewrite destiny (which he needn’t had bothered with if he would have done it sensible thing to begin with by just not toiling with gabby loose tongued serpents), just seems beyond ludicrous to me. So you’ll just have to excuse me if I don’t  buy into it. Until something convincing comes my way, my atheism is sustained by the acknowledgment that the story is, in fact, a myth.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

How to Craft a Good Argument

Writing with Persuasive Rhetoric: How to Craft a Good Argument

Part of winning a debate or getting people to agree with you is by having the clearest and best reasoned argument possible. Here I will share with you some of the basic techniques for improving your arguments, backing up your claims, and supporting your position with evidence according to the critical method. I’ll be referring to The Norton Field Guide to Writing, by and far the best book on reading, writing, and rhetoric for college level writers that I have come across. If you’re a serious writer, or looking to be, this is a more than valuable resource.

According to The Norton Field Guide to Writing, in part 9 of section 2, we find the section heading that reads “Arguing a Position.” I’ll be doing a paraphrased summary of pages 97-98 and page 105, breaking down the key points in sequence and sharing with you the skill set required for crafting the best possible argument you can. So without further ado, the key points to keep in mind when making your case are:

1)         A clear and arguable position

-This is relatively straight forward. Make your case, make it short and sweet, and remember simple is always better. Normally the position you’re arguing for or against takes the form of your thesis.

2)                  Necessary background information

-Inform your reader or audience as to the necessary details which they may need to know about when you set up your main argument or factor in any vital details so that they will be clear about where you stand with regard to your position.

3)                  Good Reasons

-By itself, a position does not make an argument; the argument comes when a writer offers reasons to back the position up.

4)                  Convincing evidence

-It’s one thing to give reasons for your position. You then need to offer evidence for your reasons: facts, statistics, expert testimony, textual evidence, and so on.

5)                  Appeal to reader’s values

-Even though it may sound good to you, don’t forget to keep in mind the moral sensibilities of others. Instead of incidentally offending your audience, try to win them over by appealing to their values. In other words, know who you’re audience is.

6)                  Trustworthiness & Credibility

-Know what you’re talking about, use credible sources, and don’t over exaggerate too much. Being correct doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll have the best argument; your job is to convince others that you’re correct. So remember to do your research in advance and be prepared to think on your feet. This will make you look good and give others the impression that you’re at the top of your game.

Just a quick side note: if you know little to nothing on a specific topic then it’s better to admit that you don’t know than to speak out of your hat. Getting caught speaking out of your hat will put an end to your credibility really fast and leave the audience with the notion that your whole argument was erroneous, and that it was just your over-glorified opinion. And looking foolish, arrogant, or both is not the way to win others over to your side of the argument.

7)                  Consideration of other positions

-No matter how reasonable and careful we are in arguing our positions, others may disagree or offer counterarguments or hold other positions. We need to consider those other views and to acknowledge and, if possible, refute them…

Refuting the opposing position

  State the (opposing) position as fairly as you can, and then refute it by showing why you believe it is wrong. You may choose to point out its weaknesses, such as: faulty reasoning, inadequate evidence, or incredibility.

  Avoid the fallacy of attacking the person making the contra argument/claim. This is known as an ad hominem attack. Frankly, it’s not only bad form, but it typically is a sign that you’re either unprepared to answer in turn, have not considered the other position fully enough, or are trying to get in cheap shots, which might get a few brownie points with those already on your side, but it does nothing to make your case more convincing and consequently it takes away from your trustworthiness.

Important Reminder:

  Before you start writing out your brilliant essay or speech, remember to 1) qualify your thesis, 2) organize your argument(s) coherently, 3) in your conclusion summarize your main points, propose a course of action which coincides with your statements, and don’t forget to frame your arguments, and last but not least, 4) cite your sources.

[For more writing techniques see The Norton Field Guide to Writing: With Readings and Handbook, Second Edition, 2010.]

Now that you know a few of the tricks of the trade, you can apply these methods and will, in no time, begin making better arguments. However, a word of the wise, there is no guarantee you’ll win any of those arguments. Like anything else writing clearly and arguing keenly takes some practice. Just be sure to do your best, never give up, keep on honing those writing skills, and don’t forget to dot your i’s and cross your t’s. Good luck!

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist