Saturday, September 29, 2012

Religion Ruined My Love Life

Religion totally ruined my love life.

You have no idea.

When I was in high school, I was amped up on my Evangelical Christianity twenty-four seven. I was ragging for Christ. I was off the hook! I had lots of Christian friends. I had lots of good times. In fact, I don't regret my choice to be so active in my faith, in my mission work. But what I do regret, is how strictly I took it all.

For me, my Christian faith meant serious business.  As a good little Christian soldier, I kept rank. I wasn't going to be weak, because that meant Satan could get his hooks into me and drag me down. One of the ways I thought he'd get me is through the "temptation of flesh." Things like premarital sex, masturbation, and viewing pornography--I saw it all as just more pathways to sin.

This idea was so ingrained into me, that it made every moment of masturbation a guilt trip. I would feel horrible shame after every bout of "weakness" and I would be overly conscious of the thoughts I was having of the girls in my class.

When some of the really hot looking girls showed affection toward me, I would say or act in a way to distance myself from them. Any sense of intimacy meant another possible opening for temptation to enter into my life.

Now, I'm not saying I would have been a Rabelaisian young man, had I not had such 'guilt' constantly looming over me. I still would have been a responsible teenager, but I probably would have also been a sexually active one. Especially with my high school sweetheart  who I dated off and on for the last two years of my young adolescence. She and I are still close friends, even though we don't talk as much as we used to.

I lost her to one stupid drunken night when she went of with some other guy and got pregnant. Three divorces later, she seems to finally have found happiness. But I sometimes wonder, what if? What if I had stepped up, closed that gap of intimacy, and made a real connection with her? What if I had been the one to get her pregnant? Would I have been any less happy? Probably not. She's an amazing woman. And she wouldn't had to suffer that terrible string of divorces either.

My life would have ended up differently, sure. But it still would have been a good life.

Flash-forward four years, and I am a junior in college. That's when I came to Japan the first time. Still a good little Christian boy. And a boy is the mentality I stayed at (stunted from all the needless guilt my religion hung over me). Here's where the real regret starts to form in my mind. 

Here I was, a twenty-something-year old, fit, and in a foreign land. What's more, hot Asian women surrounded me everywhere I went. Not only this... hot, young, horny Asian women. It was a virtual paradise--for a hormone high young man--but there was that mountain of shame waiting to crush me in an avalanche of religious-bred guilt.

The first month I was a college student at a Japanese university, I had four Japanese girls and one Thai girl ask me out. I was flirty with the Chinese girls and the Koreans, but nothing ever came of it. I was still too guarded.

A couple months in, I had my first real date with a beautiful Japanese girl which, ironically enough, I bumped into at the mall the other day. She married a nice Korean man and she was eight months pregnant. Talk about surprises!

Our date (which was about eight years ago) never progressed to the next stage, due to my poor speaking ability at the time. My Japanese was atrocious. 

Another week went by, and this time I found myself at a university sponsored international camp. It basically was an English camp designed for all the Japanese majors of English, and allowed them some fun personal time to meet and talk with foreigners, perhaps make some new friends. It was a blast.

There I met an attractive Japanese girl, who on the first night, crawled into my futon with me and wanted to fool around. She was touching me, massaging me, and when I felt I couldn't take it anymore, I asked her to stop and get back over to her own bed.

Why? Because I was saving myself. Not because I wanted to, mind you. But because I felt it was my duty, as a Christian. Sure, I made that choice, but based on bad information.

So we dated for a couple of weeks. At the end of which, she wanted to fuck my brains out and, learning this, I broke up with her.

Was I a man or a sissy?

But being a blonde hair blue eyed man in a sea of Asian women, I was an exotic commodity. I received three offers the next week, and turned them all down. There was another girl I was interested in at the camp who I was really crushing on. I told her, but she had a love interest of her own. Not much came of it.

A few more days went by, and I met Sayaka, who is now my amazing wife. Strange, that when I began dating her, the girl I had been crushing on, having been rejected by the boy she liked, started sending me all the signals that she wanted to do more. Sitting on my lap. Putting her arm around mine. Asking me to meet her downtown with her friends to hang out. I went, but now being in a real relationship, I dodge all the opportunities she was giving me to... well... pick her instead. 

It seemed like a bit of a competition, because when Sayaka found out, she became furious. Not with me, but with the other girl. I found myself distancing myself more and more. Maybe I could have done the date one secretly thing, but I was still too much of a nice-boy. Too much of a Christian boy. 

One month with Sayaka though, and I couldn't take it any more. She was the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen, and each make out session turned into a struggle for me not to let her give me a blow job, or more. Eventually I caved in. I gave myself to Sayaka. But wowza! It opened my eyes. 

Wide open.

It helped me mature in a real man. I wasn't a little boy any more. I was like Neo starring at the Agents down the hall in green trickling binary. My eyes were wide open. I could see the code--the way things really worked. 

It change my life for the better. Not only because Sayaka is the most wonderful woman I've ever known, but because I realized that all the guilt--was a fucking joke. Religion doesn't have anything on us. It doesn't own us. And we shouldn't let it dictate our life decisions. I was free of my religious bonds, and that one little thing set me free. The shame never came. Instead, I gained my liberation.

But the story isn't over. Fast-forward three more years.

I was sitting in my car with one of my ex-students. A girl, sixteen going on seventeen. When she was my student we had always clicked. After she graduated, she would always give me those sultry eyes. One day I was eating in an Okonomiyaki restaurant and she came in, and without saying a word, sat down across from me.

We had a good conversation, but we had finished the food. She said, "Let's take a drive."

I was probably stupid. But I was having fun. The wife was out of town, and I thought, it will just be a drive.

A few minutes in she began asking me questions about my relationship. If I was happy, if I was satisfied, etc. A few minutes later she was sharing with me the fact that she was having financial difficulties. She was in dept. There were no part time jobs available in town, and her father was thinking of shipping her off to live with her mother if she didn't get her shit together soon. Then she dropped a bomb on me. She told me she was now a prostitute.

A prostitute!

What does one say when one of their favorite ex-students reveals they are a prostitute?

I told her, in all sincerity, that I hope she stayed safe and that if she needed help she could always come to me if she ever felt she couldn't turn to anyone else.

She said she needed to pay down her debt, since it was already climbing to around a grand, and she wanted to know if I wouldn't mind some sex for... a small fee. She said she wouldn't charge me much, because she had always had a little crush on me, so it would be fun for her. She said she'd make it worth my while. 

Her hand slid onto my crotch, and I stopped the car, and got out. I took a short walk up the street and back down the street. She sat in the car and watched me.

I wasn't about to cheat on my wife. No way. No how.

I got back in the car, and drove her back to her house.

Then I thought about something which amazed me. She was taking control over he sex life. She had the choice to get a crappy part time job at a convenient store, but chose to become a prostitute instead. Not only because the money was better, but she had revealed to me during the car ride, that she loved sex. 

That is the opposite of what I was as a teenager. I was shocked by her choice, and worried, but it seems like she knows what she's doing.

She is sexually free, and I had to fight for my liberation from archaic religious ideologies, and there are many people who are suffering the same guilt trips and self shame and regret simply for being sexual. I'm here to say, don't let religion ruin your sex life. If you want to have sex, have sex.

Hell, have lots of sex.

Just be sure to stay safe and take all the necessary precautions  Otherwise, life is too short to live under the mentally retarding, morally crippling, oppressive ideologies of religion. Religions ruined my love life, don't let it ruin yours.

Through Magic Eyes: How Autostereograms Help us See

Click to enlarge.

An autostereogram is a single-image stereogram (SIS), designed to create the visual illusion of a three-dimensional (3D) scene from a two-dimensional image in the human brain. In order to perceive 3D shapes in these autostereograms, the brain must overcome the normally automatic coordination between focusing and vergence. (Wikipedia)
(But more on autostereograms in a little bit.)

After I stopped believing in God, there was an argument that really bothered me. It was an argument about human rationality, powers of reasoning, and our ability to trust our own thoughts.

The theist, who is raised to distrust human experience, is told to rely on God, and is weary of the 'materialistic' world, has two main types of arguments for and against rationality, which both, oddly enough, try and support the existence of God.

The first one goes like this: Because we have rationality, and can recognize it, means something rational had to create our rational minds.

This is simply a tautology since there is no reason to assume that because we are rational, something rational must have made us. 

This is just circular reasoning, and it actually fails to answer anything, because of a fatal digress. Well, what of the rational mind which created us? What rational thing created it? Theists often will play a semantic game and state: "Nothing created God. God just is."

Well, if that's the case, why can't our cognitive faculty "just be" also? Why make the assumption a rational mind is behidn it in the first place if you're just going to end it with a useless non-starter? Why not skip that step entirely? Well, it's easy to seey why the theist wants to take it in that direction, because they want to leave room for God. But the truth is, God is just an unnecessary ad hoc assumption.

The second argument is a little more difficult to dismiss. It rests on the observation that our cognitive faculties are not without flaw. Than, in fact, we have flawed reasoning.

The idea is, then, if we cannot reason clearly about our experiences then how can we trust anything?

This point was raised by a Christian on my brother-in-blog Mike aka The A-Unicornit's site a while back. His comment shows the sort of thinking behind this styled argument.

"We can never test (and therefore prove) the reliability of our senses because we would need our senses to be reliable in order to do it. Thus, the test would be circular and fallacious. Another crucial "assumption" would be the reliability of our cognitive faculties. These cannot be proven either for the same reasons as our senses."

So, basically, because our reasoning is faulty, we can never prove our reasoning is reliable, therefore we cannot trust our conclusions about any subject. This is why many theists think the naturalistic worldview is an untenable position. In their mind, reasoning, cognition, and the human mind only make sense if it was implanted into us by some divine Creator. But these assumptions ignore many other factors worth considering, all the while positing superfluous supernatural suppositions.

Consider the above autostereogram. It is a jumble of color and seemingly random patterns which intermingle to form a colorful blur. But underneath this chaos of color and form lies a hidden image.

Now this is where things get interesting. Our brains are capable of interpreting the information which our eyes can barely make out. So although there are tons of neuroscience studies that show our cognition is faulty, our brains still have the cognitive power to take an autostereogram, reorganize the information, and make sense of it in the form of a 3D image which isn't really there.

Now, you are probably thinking, what does this have to do with the above argument about cognition? Well, it boils down to this. 

Our eyes can make out the optical illusion, such as the above, which is meant to perplex us. This doesn't mean, however, that we can't see well enough to reliably decipher the image hidden within the autostereogram. In actuality  the above optical illusion proves the theist's argument is fallacious. All it means is that, under certain conditions, the jumble of information the eyes take in gets confused from its journey from eyeball to brain, but our cognitive abilities can, given some proper effort, help make sure we can decode the information.

As one commenter, who raised this same issue over at Mike's blog, stated:

"When we understand and know our cognitive biases we can work around them to get better results. Acknowledging cognitive biases doesn't make our intellect impotent."

Isn't that what it always seems to boil down to? Whether or not we can trust our intellects?

The theist who makes the above argument says, no. Ultimately our cognitive faculties are flawed, and so untrustworthy under a naturalistic paradigm. Therefore the only explanation for working rationality would need to come from a supernatural agent--namely whatever God they want to fill into the gap.

Except for one problem, it's not really a gap.

All they have done is dig themselves a hole, thinking it will buy them some time. But the argument is a non-starter. We simply don't have any good reason to throw out all trust in our eyes, simply because they can be confused by an optical illusion. But allowing the brain enough time to decipher that information, we can see past the illusion. Our senses, and so too our cognitive reasoning, can overcome biases. This proves our cognitive abilities are working well enough to be trusted. So why throw them out?

If you would like to learn more about cognition and the way in which the human brain reasons, I highly suggest reading Michael Shermer's book The Believing Brain for a good introductory piece on this issue. If you want a much more detailed, and technical, book on the subject I suggest you read Self Comes to Mind by Antonio Damasio.

  • Argument From Reproduction

    Here's a little theological problem I have been mulling over in my mind. It's one Christians never seem to notice, although I don't see why not, because it's kind of an obvious question.

    God’s ability to control human reproduction is seen throughout the Bible. One of the most notable instances is when Abimelech took Sarah into his harem, to God's great displeasure. While she was there God “closed up all the wombs in the house of Abimelech.” (Genesis 20:18)

    Given God's power to do this, one must wonder, why didn't God control Eve's reproductive capabilities too? Why didn't he keep Eve barren and close up her womb? That way sin wouldn't have ever entered into the world.

    In fact, God could have simply collected the data on Adam and Eve and the effects of the free will he gave them. Oops, it didn't go as planned. Free will made them awfully hard to control, constantly disobedient, and full of mood swings. He could have called it good and then let them die of old age, happily, in the garden. End of experiment.

    Instead, God willfully lets them suffer 'The Fall'. Then he lets sin be inherited so that the progeny of Adam and Eve, i.e. the whole of the human race, is destined to be cursed by this strangely genetic affliction of ancestral sin.

    It's a strange problem. 

    Because a loving God which had control over women's reproduction would simply have halted it. Or, knowing that God has power of human reproduction at the genetic level (as his impregnating the virginal wife of Joseph shows us) he could simply have created the offspring of Adam and Eve without sin--much like how past theologians have claimed the baby Jesus was born without sin. Clean slate. Easy-breezy, if you're God.

    Knowing God had that power, but did not use it to sterilize Adam and Eve, means he is not a loving God. That's the consequences of a literalist interpretation anyway. One Christians would have to account for. What's more is, it implies God wanted to curse humanity with sin. In fact, knowing he could have prevented it two different ways means he actually went out of his way to ensure events would unfold in a way which would forever curse humanity with sin.  

    Interesting that.

    Personally, I having studied the Garden of Eden myth, and I think it's just that. A myth. As a myth, it makes sense. As a metaphor for growing pains, obeying ones parents, and then leaving the house and growing up. It makes sense. There's some underlying history of a Kingly Adam woven into it which historians can purse out. And still it makes sense. There's some pagan talking snake lore too. As a myth, it all makes perfect sense. 

    As a literal story, however, it creates huge theological problems for the Christian. Probably because it doesn't make a lick of sense. Which is to say, it is nonsensical, implausible, and absurd all at the same time when it's viewed legalistically.

    By the way, I call this the Argument From Reproduction. It shows that God is genuinely malevolent by his own acts. If this is denied, then it shows that either the Christian is ignoring their own scripture in favor of a deity of their own imagining, or else they are taking the liberal perspective that the events surrounding Adam and Eve is truly part of an age-old myth.

    If the Adam and Eve story is a myth, then there is no such thing as "Original Sin." It would be rendered only a metaphor for the natural evils we perceive in the world. Nothing more. Nothing mysterious. Certainly nothing supernatural. 

    If it's the other option, of a malevolent God, then Christianity is a bankrupt religious ideology from the very first chapter of the very first book. In other words, from day one--it's conception (pun intended). 

    This puts pressure on the fundamentalist to accept the Adam and Eve story as a myth--otherwise they are stuck accounting for a cruel and crooked God--and why they would worship that God--and why they would twist, contort, and distort the term love to describe what is obviously an evil entity which is going out of its way to cause eternal pain and suffering--all the while having the power to put an end to it but refusing to do so. That's the God literalists are stuck defending.

    Anyway, just thought of it and felt I should throw it out there. Maybe somebody can use it in a debate against a theologian sometime or, if you're Christian, it might give you some food for thought.


    Friday, September 28, 2012

    Thinking Makes My Head Hurt! Part 3: Scientifically Minded

    Plato was right: People would rather watch their own shadows flicker on the cave walls than step out of the cave into the light.

    Have you ever played with Legos--and really, really enjoyed it? Have you ever taken something apart, such as a cell-phone, computer, or car engine just to see how it worked? Have you ever made a baking-soda and vinegar lava volcano with your child, not only because of the fun you had doing it when you were their age, but because you wanted to understand with "adult eyes" exactly how the chemical processes worked? Have you ever been amazed that your iPhone is actually a much better device than anything Captain Kirk or Captain Piccard ever used?

    This is basically what science is. At least, it is the spirit of science. To get down to the bottom of how some real world process works, and then learn to understand it fully, completely. In this way, science gives us one of the most powerful tool for gaining positive knowledge ever invented!

    But this spirit is often sadly lacking in people. People so often take science for granted (the above image depicts this well enough). They use their smart phones, plasma screen TVs, and drive their cars with state of the art GPS navigation systems built right in, and they take it all for granted. One of the reasons they take the fruits of science for granted is that they don't understand it. This often creates the weird case where these same people will grow extremely skeptical of science.

    Sometimes they even go as far to deny science has any practical value, or that it doesn't relate to their daily lives. Perhaps this argument could have worked fifty years ago, but it's the 21st Century! Now is *not the time to grow downright disillusioned with science. 

    There's no two ways about it: the anti-science attitude is harmful. 

    It teaches you the wrong things about science, a negative smear campaign concocted by monkeys that don't know anything simply to leave their ignorance intact. Over the past half decade I have noticed a growing divide, especially in my home country of the United States. There seems to be a large segment of the population who is keeping up with the science, they are up-to-date. Whereas another large portion is completely in the dark.

    Needless to say, this rift has created a strange rift. I don't know if religion is to blame here or not (since it always seems to be those most skeptical of science are also the most religious), or if this trend simply denotes a lackadaisical mind-set within a large majority of the population. All I know is, it's not good. But it can be remedied! 

    How? By getting better acquainted with science, what it is, and how it works. This doesn't mean you have to become a serious scientist. Just be scientifically minded. The same could be said of sports fans. You don't need to play a sport to be a fan and know every play by heart. If people watched science programs even half as much as sports programs, society would be better off.  

    What do I mean by being better off? Well, I feel that scientific ignorance is probably the biggest reason for why science detractors feel like they need to nag about science anytime they are confronted with it. Which is a lot. Hey, we live in a scientifically advance culture, and gradually, the whole world is growing scientifically capable. It pays to be literate. But those who aren't sure love to complain.

    "Science can't explain love," they'll say. Or, "Science can't explain how the tides come in and go out," they'll say. In actuality, both statements are horribly embarrassing because they reveal a scientific ignorance so great that it actually has caused the person to say something worthy of being shamed. So instead of listening to Bill O'Reilly, we need to start listening to Bill Nye the Science Guy. In fact, if Bill O'Reilly would have had the basic, bare minimum, amount of scientific literacy, he would have never said such mind-numbingly stupid things. 

    Scientific ignorance/illiteracy at its finest.

    Does science provide better insights into what love means? Can is answer what the purpose of our life is? You know, the real deep questions that people often feel is important? And I think the answer is: yes

    Science gives us a guide to understanding the world better. Understanding ourselves better.

    Here's the thing though. When I say science can provide us with the answers to deep and meaningful questions like, what does it mean to be loved or to love someone, and what is our purpose in life, I am talking about the spirit of the science applied to everyday life. When I talk about gaining a practical understanding of how something works, and the causal reasons behind it, I am talking about the practice of science.

    What's the difference you might ask? Well, as I have come to see it, science consists of two separate parts. 

    • First, there is the philosophical aspect to science, which comes out of our desire to ask the "why" questions. It stems from our need to understand not only the world, but our place in it. The spirit of science, then, is the mentality we gain when we pride the value of applying the philosophy of science to our daily lives. It's a way of thinking. A lifestyle choice. 
    • Then there is the pragmatic aspect to science. The part which dares to boldly answer the "how" questions. How and why are the questions which science addresses.

    I only point out the distinction, because it seems many who are skeptical of the abilities of science think they should dismiss it simply because they don't see how it can provide insight into the "why" questions which they, for some reason, value above the "how" questions. These are separate parts of the whole, and it is a confusion to criticize one when you mean the other. A mistake, I find, many people make.

    "Science might tell you how a plane stays in the air," they will say. "But it doesn't tell you why I love my daughter. It can't explain love!"

    Actually, this is where the distinction is vital. Science first addresses the how. Love is a complex human emotion, but with recent advances in science, from biology to nuerology, from chemistry to psychology, we can understand "love" in its most rudimentary form--at the level of the brain. 

    The why question follows the how. If this, then why this? Or why not this? According to science, there are very specific evolutionary reasons for why we love our children. These reasons can be explained and understood using science. 

    [Note: It's important to remember that the order never changes, since one cannot ask why before knowing how. This is a casual relationship between witnessing an event and then asking what the ramification or implications of it might be. How comes first. Why people are simply putting the cart before the horse.] 

    But for a person who is not scientifically literate, such claims sound absurd. In fact, t
    hey often will remind us, and correctly so, that science doesn't have the answers to everything.

    That's true for two reasons. 1) Science is limited by how precise we can observe a phenomenon, and 2) how much we can learn from that observation. 

    What this means is, if our understanding is lacking, the observation may simply not matter until we can realize what it is we are seeing. 

    Other questions fall into the realm of what is known as metaphysics. Metaphysical questions are hard for science to answer, because metaphysics deals with assumptions that may never be proved. Such assumptions are matters of faith. Science also makes assumptions, sure, but then it attempts to validate those assumptions. 

    That's the difference between faith in, say, God and faith in the scientific method--and whether or not that faith rests on assumptions which can be proved true or false.

    I often hear the word "scientism" get thrown around by those who are under the false impression that science somehow failed to answer their deep and meaningful questions, or that are envious of the people who understand science enough to talk about its benefits. They feel science is competing for their beloved religious beliefs, and in a way it is. But people who promote science to the nth degree are not being "scientistic." They are being realistic.
    Where religion faiths to explain something, science succeeds. Where they both fail, they both fail equally. With but one caveat, science may surprise us and suddenly come up with an answer while religion continually proves incapable of doing so. Religion has no means to test and verify/falsify supernatural claims. That ability comes from science. That alone puts things into perspective. 

    Thus we have to be careful. Much of the metaphysics which religionists (or supernaturalists) purport science cannot address are impossible precisely because those metaphysics are unfalsifiable. It's true to state science can't answer everything, but not for the reasons they commonly give.

    Metaphysics (and by extension the supernatural) is a realm where many claims are unfalsifiable, and as such, it remains a realm where science has very little to say.

    So those who invoke the term "scientism" as a failure on the part of science or the proponents of science have simply confused their own limitations of understanding for restrictions on what they perceive science can or cannot say about the world. Ultimately, they think science fails because it fails to answer for what are, ultimately, unanswerable questions. 

    So you see, it's rather absurd to ask an unanswerable question and then ask why science can't answer it. I think this is where Richard Dawkins' point that there is such a thing as a stupid question comes into play. 

    Other times, and perhaps this is a third category, there simply may not be any good reasons for the "why" questions. Why does the universe exist? (Just to use one example.) Maybe it just does. Science is working on the how. Remember, the order we ask the questions in matters. Until we know the how, we can't ask the why. Until we know the how, the proper response simply is: why not?

    My personal goal, then, has been to try and apply the values of the scientific method to my daily life, to the best of my abilities. I am not a trained scientist, so there is a lot of trial and error. But the more familiar I get, with science, the easier it becomes to implement it in my life. It's a very powerful tool. But like any tool, it takes practice to get good at.

    Me trying to be "Scientifically minded."

    My list of three scientific principles that I strive for: 

    1. To truly embrace the value of science and scientific mindedness, one must strive to be scientifically literate.
    2. The scientific method, the way in which it asks us to test things, can be applied to our beliefs and basic assumptions as well.
    3. By bringing science to the forefront of our lives, our understanding of the world will increase, we will gain valuable knowledge which will be vital to help us navigate an every increasingly complex universe, and we will never again be as naive to think that science doesn't have the power to answer the "why" questions.

    Like Kant, I too believe our very understanding of reality depends on our experience of the world around us. Science not only enhances our perceptions, thereby making our experience more vivid, it also allows us to collect data, analyse, and study these experiences, text them, compare them, and take only the most reliable and disregard the rest. In other words, science helps us grow our knowledge and refine our understanding on just about darn near everything.

    I didn't used to be scientifically minded. I used to be skeptical of the powers of science--but that's because I had a flimsy, almost nil, understanding of science. It is expected that people who simply don't get science will often feel compelled to write it off. They just don't see how it affects every aspect of their lives. I, for one, do not think the human race can afford to be so naive any longer. As the t-shirt slogan goes: "Science works. Deal with it."

    Over the past five years, I have tried to strengthen my scientific literacy by becoming more familiar with science. I promised myself I would read at least one science related book a month until my eyes failed me and I could no longer read (and then I'd switch to audio books until my cybernetic eyes are ready to be installed).

    Of course, this has blossomed into somewhat of a passion for learning about science, and my reading of one book a month has blossomed to three or four science related books per month.

    Now I have a steady feed of science based articles flooding my mail box daily. I follow with interest NASAs missions and projects. I follow stories on cutting edges science, from black holes, to DNA computers, to nanite technology, to space-time crystals.  

    I try and keep up on the science.


    Because it helps me to see the world differently. No, correct that. It helps me to see the world more clearly.

    Personally, I don't see that there is any other alternative, since it is vitally important to have at least some small semblance of scientific literacy. And I am not just talking about losing vitally important sceince-based jobs and research to the Chinese and other Asian countries. I am talking about opening our minds up--and having the tools available to make sense of all the new information. And this tool is science.

    I'm talking about a quantum leap in our ability to understand the universe around us. And science will take us there.

    Meanwhile, the alternative consists of people asking the same old silly "why" questions, but all the while ignoring genuine science. The alternative looks like this:

    "Why not this?" some scientifically illiterate person once asked.

    Advocatus Atheist: A New Direction and A New Purpose

    A New Direction a New Purpose

    The new direction of this blog is to talk positively about my beliefs, what they entail, and how I cam to form them once I have left God and religion behind. The very simple reason is that I had taken apart the God argument from nearly every angle. The scientific, the philosophic, the theological, and at the end, true agnosticism was the only conclusion and atheism was the only realization which made any real sense, all things considered.

    After a while, my blogs were just rehashes of same old, same old type arguments. Criticisms of the failings of religion (if it wasn't obvious enough). Polemics against the religious institutions and the morons who run them (and all the religioso-accomodationalists who excuse them in the name of God). I was getting angrier and angrier with the sheer incredulity of people. The bald faced stupidity which went hand in hand with faith. And by stupidity I mean unquestioning, unthinking, attitudes with permeate much of religious culture (not an actual I.Q. quotient).

    Then I received some criticisms. People who I were close to grew tired of my "nagging" about religion. Heck, I grew tired of it too. I understood the reasons they acted the way they did, even if they themselves didn't. Honestly, I have been a religious minded person nearly all of my life. The obsession with writing on religion was just the last hurrah of my religious inclinations hanging on. I think I have now gotten past my deconversion process which is why I have decided to change the direction, and tone, of this blog.

    So with this new direction comes the question, what is my purpose? Why keep blogging if I have basically said all there needs to be said with respect to religion? Well, there are other things I value. Other causes and ideas which I want to share, support, and learn about. Also, I want to share with others how I have come to the place of understanding which I am currently at, and all that the journey entails, and knowing that the journey is never fully over, perhaps take the next few steps toward progress together.

    That's the new direction and purpose. That's reason enough, at least I think, to continue blogging.

    Wednesday, September 26, 2012

    Faith, Belief, and Assumptions. What's the Difference?

    There is a big difference between assumptions and beliefs, even as the two are mutually dependent on one another. I would like to caution that it is probably unwise to conflate the two. One acts upon the other. In that way we can see that they are not one and the same.

    Belief is, technically speaking, holding a proposition to be true (this is the dictionary definition). In other words, one makes an a priori assumption in the veracity of a belief (without actually knowing whether it is true or not).

    So beliefs require this basic a priori assumption to even get off the ground.

    But aside from this, the assumption the belief relies upon is provisional. Meaning, that the assumption will either be ratified at a later date, when there is convincing evidence to confirm or disconfirm the assumption, thereby making it true or false, or it won't.

    All beliefs are provisional for the very reason they rely on provisional assumptions. 

    [Note: Something to keep in mind is that people often make the mistake of thinking that their beliefs are dependent on the facts. The veracity of the belief is, but the acceptance of the belief is not.]

    Faith, is different from belief as well, in that, faith makes the same a priori assumption that a belief proposition is true--but where faith differs drastically is that faith relies on conviction rather than proof (this is the dictionary meaning).

    So when I speak of matters of faith--I usually mean convictions, or conviction held beliefs, or degrees of confidence in an assumption. When I speak of beliefs, I usually mean propositions which can be tested.

    Hopefully this clarification helps people avoid this all too common confusion of mixing the three up.


    Thinking Hurts My Head! Part 2: IPUs and Other Such Stuff

    When I am not thinking deeply on some issue, regardless of whether it is important or not, I find that I often apply my critical thinking skills I received when I studied literary criticism. Much of what I do is what is called "analytically reasoning."

    Philosophers are trained in it, as are literary critics, because analytically reasoning is a step-by-step process of breaking down the meaning of an idea, piece of text, or concept into its basic components. By deconstructing something down to is rudimentary parts, one can look at the components independently to see the interplay between the implicit and explicit meanings contained therein, and then ask: do these impact the belief, affect the observer, and how do they influence the person's thinking and behavior who holds them?

    Before I continue on with an example of analytically reasoning applied critically, I have a small confession. When I first started out, my reasoning skills were pitiful! It wasn't until I read great thinkers like Harold Bloom, Northrop Frye, Mikhail Bakhtin, Joseph Campbell, Jacques Derrida, William James, among others that I came to see what analytical reasoning required. But still, I was bad at it.

    Simple logic eluded me.

    That is to say, the rules of logic, which analytically reasoning stems from, were unfamiliar to me. I knew how to recognize analytically thinking--I could study it--but without knowing the rules of logic it was hard for me to do.

    During college, I grew frustrated with my inability to reason well. So I enrolled in three philosophy classes. One of them was called "Analytical Philosophy 101." Never mind that 'analytically philosophy' is an outdated term, and largely redundant since all philosophy is analytically, more or less. What the class taught was what is known at Predicate Calculus, at a very elementary level. It was a beginner course, after all. But it helped me immensely. Once I knew the basic "math" to run a set of propositions through, I began to improve my analytical reasoning skills. 

    I'm still not as proficient in Predicate Calculus as I'd like to be, but once I got the basics down I excelled (and got A's in all three philosophy courses on top of a semester of A's in all of my advanced literary theory classes).

    Although I do not consider myself a professional philosopher, by any means, I do know a thing or two about reasoning clearly.

    And that's namely what I try and do in my everyday life: I try to reason more clearly perchance I might reason a little bit better. Trust me when I say, it's easier said than done.

    Even so, it's something I strive for, and yes, it is an intellectual endeavor that not everyone pursues. This is made abundantly clear by the fact that there are so many people who are really bad reasoners out there. I know, I used to be one of them. Heck, I still am. I am just not as bad as I used to be. 

    That's the goal though. Improvement. After all, reasoning well is a skill. You have to practice it daily, like the violin, in order to really excel at it. Simply having thoughts won't make you a great thinker. You have to make your thoughts count--and to do that--you have to hone your reasoning skills.


    Next, I am going to give a straight forward example of analytical reasoning applied. It's less of a step by step guide than it is a working example, or rather, an insight into the way my mind works (as scary of a thought as that is).


    If you are familiar with the religious debate, you may have heard of the example of the Invisible Pink Unicorn, or IPU for short.

    IPUs spawned from discussions on alt.atheism web forums where atheists and skeptics discussed possible objections to God. One of the ways to do this is to think about what the definition of God entails, and what are the characteristics, and do they sponsor a coherent picture or not?

    God, according to many theologians, is an immutable, timeless, intangible, being full of love for us. 

    Now the first part of any analytical reasoning process is to check whether the example, in this case, an Invisible Pink Unicorn, properly correlates to what it is meant to be a corresponding analogy. This is important to ask, because if it doesn't accurately represent what it is being parodied, then we are left with an irrelevant straw-man for an analogy. However, if it accurately reflects the object or idea in such a way that it becomes impossible to distinguish between the two, then it can be deemed an accurate analogy.

    I think in the case of an IPU, it is fair to say, as defined, it does reflect the same qualities as God.  Both the IPU and God are immutable, timeless, intangible, beings. Whether or not they are full of love is an assumption which requires more evidence before we could confirm such a claim.

    So what does the analytical thinker do next? Well, she basically holds the analogy up, and looks for any signs of bad (i.e. faulty) logic.

    Take the IPU for example. Regardless of what characteristics we give to it, we only have the definition to work with, since like the God concept it is parodied after, there is no tangible evidence to create a referent to the description we have (which is probably why most theologians love to add intangibility to their description of God--to make it impossible for fact checkers to prove them wrong. Very dodgy). Basically, to claim something is "intangible" means that we are dealing with a purely theoretical construct, something many religious people take for granted when speaking about God. Their confusion arises primarily because God is said to *exist. But intangible things do not exist in the proper sense of what we mean by existence--something that is corporeal. It is usually gotten around by making the additional assumption, post hoc, that God is a spiritual entity, and his existence is mystified, or placed beyond the realm of our understanding because it is set outside of reality in such a way that the experience cannot related to corporeal events. But here is where the analogy of IPU helps us to highlight the underlying in-coherency with the way in which theists like to describe God.

    Right off the bat something smells fishy about the definition of IPUs. IPUs are said to be invisible. But they are also said to be pink. Well, invisibility is the absence of any color, thus fully transparent. But pink is a solid color, thus fully opaque. Something cannot be simultaneously both be transparent and opaque. This is impossible. The claim is *incoherent because of the negation it creates, therefore the term is rendered irrelevant (if not absurd).

    Definitions and descriptions of God often fail the simple test of logic in this way too. Even so, the IPU acts only as an illustration of how the religious term God, in most contexts, proves meaningless. A good example of this would be to replace the term "God" with "IPU" in scripture, and see what changes.

    "In the beginning The Invisible Pink Unicorn created the heavens and the earth...and the Spirit of The Invisible Pink Unicorn was hovering over the waters. And The Invisible Pink Unicorn said, "Let there be light," and there was light. The Invisible Pink Unicorn saw that the light was good, and she separated the light from the darkness." —Genesis 1:1

    As you can see, nothing changes in terms of how we understand the description of God to be when substitute the description of God for the IPU. Does that mean God is a Invisible Pink Unicorn? No, that would be absurd. 

    All it means is there is a problem with the way in which believers, in this case theists, define and describe their God. There description rests largely on an incoherent definition, and not much else. 

    But in order to realize this it first requires we take the step-by-step process of analytical reasoning, looking at each term from various angels, and then examine the logic (or lack thereof) to get a better idea of the veracity of the belief, claim, concept, or idea.

    Having considered this example, we find a reason to doubt the way God is being described constitutes a correct description of anything in reality. If it were describing something observed, the description would be much more mundane, straight forward, and probably a lot more coherent. What's more, others could verify these observations and discover for themselves whether or not the claims stood up to scrutiny. 

    The above example just goes to show that IPUs suffer the same problem of being unobserved just like God suffers from being unobserved. Like God, so too IPUs rely on inconsistent logic, at best, and fail time and again to be coherent descriptions of anything real.

    Using analytical thinking then, we can rule out God, as defined by theists, as a coherent description of anything. In actuality, analytical reasoning reveals, that taken to its logical conclusion, the God concept is horribly flawed. So flawed, in fact, that the IPU analogy rings a true comparison and helps reveal an irreconcilable obstacle for the theist. Unless a less absurd, more coherent, definition of God can be provided--then the God definition, like the IPU analogy, is meaningless. 

    But what happens when people talk about the experience of God? They will remind you that, while the IPU analogy works for the mere definition of God, it fails to work when they talk about their religious and spiritual experiences. After all, nobody has ever *experiences an IPU. But tons of people have had the shared experience of God! Check mate, atheists!

    Here is where one states that analytical reasoning is just a tool. Like any tool, it works if you know how to use it, and if you learn to use it well, then you might even get good at it. That's the hope anyway. Analytical reasoning can't explain everything. It's not meant to. It works great for beliefs, claims, concepts, and ideas--but what about tangible experiences? What about people who have had their prayers answered, been witness to miracles, and have heard the voice of God? What about spiritual experiences in which the consistency of the claims and beliefs seem to match up, and the shared religious experiences seems to be genuine? What then?

    Luckily for us, we have a proved methodology with a flawless track record of improving our understanding of real world experiences--and it is called science.

    Next time, I'll talk about how I strive to live a more scientific life, be scientifically literate, and test my beliefs against the evidence, or amend or discard them when the evidence calls for it.

    [Thinking Tip #2: Question everything! Then question it again.]


    Thinking Hurts My Head!

    I promised myself that when I started blogging again, I'd write less polemics against religion and write more on my personal beliefs and how I came to them, what they mean to me, and/or how they play a role in my daily life.

    This is probably one of the "and/or" moments.

    Over the past week I have been involved in a couple of serious dialogs with religious people. As the exchanges went back and forth, I kept noticing something peculiar--with me. Each time they'd write a paragraph, I'd write three. Every time they'd write two paragraphs, I'd write six or seven in response.

    I was trying to be concise! But my responses kept growing and growing.

    Why was this? I asked myself.

    Honestly, I didn't know why I was having this problem. I usually strive for pragmatic simplicity--elegant, functioning, reasons and straight forward, crystal clear, explanations. So what went wrong?

    I went back an re-read a lot of the exchanges. Then I realized something. I was trying to explain my objections succinctly, but before I could offer a proper rebuttal, I was working through their reasoning to show them where I thought it failed them. After all, I can't claim someone's wrong if their reasoning appears to be sound, and their points seem true, so I had to first explain why I didn't think this.

    Ultimately, my simple responses flared up into a series of mini-rebuttals tackling each point independently. And right when I felt confident my argument was air tight, they'd change the subject, and I'd have a whole new string of arguments to address.

    Now, this is just a personal quirk I have. I often am confident in my beliefs, because I take lots and lots of time to consider all the pros and cons, look at it from every angle, and think of possible objections I might have overlooked whenever I formulate or settle into a belief. But at the same time, I am more than happy to change it in a flash if there is compelling evidence and reason for doing so.

    What this means is that I often think about the thoughts I am thinking about. If it sounds tiring, believe me, it is.

    So what was happening when I was trying to respond to these people's comments? Well, I was trying to think about their points, then think how their points were likely to be mistaken, then think about my points, and whether or not they were right or wrong within the context of their points, and then lay it all out.

    This is why serious discourse is so time consuming. I don't want to make off the cuff remarks. I want to make real, tangible, points. I want my arguments to serve a practical purpose in revealing a fault or elucidating a point. I want my rebuttals to be accurate, and not just arguing because I disagree. I want my reasons for disagreement to be understood.

    This is important to me. Probably because misunderstanding always leads down the slippery slope of distrust. I want to build bridges of trust, where even even we disagree with one another, at the end of the day, our reasons will be clear.

    The problem, as I see it, is that when it comes to God, and talking about God, most people check their reason at the door. So often the conversation boils down to professions of faith, or anecdotal stories and appeals to emotion, and none of this involves proper reasoning!

    My family members often avoid religious conversations with me for this very reason. They know that it will turn into an all afternoon discussion, one in which I keep asking them "why?" until they either give up trying to find their reasons for the "why" or they will claim I am insufferable for always wanting to prove every little point.

    Well, yes. I am insufferable in that way.

    But I have good reasons to be. One of them is the fact that I firmly believe the truth matters. 

    Our beliefs, and how we come to them, aren't at all a simple matter. Which is why I struggle to provide such in-depth analyse of every little reason as I try and trace the connections, like trying to follow the lines of a spiderweb, as they glimmer in and out of the sunlight. It's much easier to do if you can put these threads under a microscope, and that's what I try to do with my beliefs and the reasons which tie them together.

    But that's just me. So no wonder my head always hurts.

    Next time I'll discuss my process of analyzing a claim and testing its veracity. 

    [Thinking Tip #1: The more clear and concise the better.] 


    Tuesday, September 25, 2012

    Most Recognized Words

    I have read, most recently in Pamela Myers' excellent book Lie Spotting, that the words OK, Coke, and Shakespeare are the most universally recognized worlds in the world.

    After Googling this, OK and Coke get the most hits, but I don't know if this is entirely accurate. Maybe in the English speaking world it is.

    But in the non-English speaking world Coke is the only one with any worldwide recognition, even if it is known by its full name Coca-cola.

    Having traveled to various Asian countries, including China, S. Korea, and Japan, I have noticed that "Bye-bye" is part of their everyday vernacular. OK isn't part of their lexicon.

    I asked my Thai and Vietnamese friends, and they both informed me that both "Bye-bye" and Coca-cola are known. 

    Meanwhile, in my conversations with my Asian friends, Shakespeare is a known word, but most people don't exactly know much more than the fact that he was the West's most famous writer.

    However, my best bet for most globally recognized words, and yes all three are English due to the fact it is the dominant language on this planet, would be: Coca-Cola, Bye-Bye, and Jesus Christ.

    These words would most likely be followed closely by the word "Muhammad." Both religious figures make the list simply because there are billions of Christians and Muslims permeating the world, and are found in almost every developed culture. Additionally, Muhammad is the most chosen name to give a child in the world.

    I would say the words CD, DVD, and Shakespeare are a close runners up.

    If anyone has some actual data on this, feel free to post it in the comments section below. I would like to research this more. Also, I filter all posts with links, so don't freak out if the post doesn't show up immediately. It will take several hours before I can get around to checking the link to see if it isn't malicious and then approve it.

    Sunday, September 23, 2012

    Dealing with and Identifying Trolls

    I figured I would say a few words about identifying and dealing with Internet trolls, since I recently had one go off endlessly on me in a previous post, until I was forced to block his various email addresses and IP addresses (multiple times) and then lock the thread down.

    Perhaps, the first step in recognizing a troll is how we can identify them.

    An online troll, according to the OTE, is: someone who sends a provocative email or newsgroup posting with the intention of inciting an angry response.

    Now if the post itself is controversial sometimes the responses will also be provocative. That's to be expected. With this respect it does us good to realize the term "troll" is subjective. There is no exact classification of what constitutes a troll, but there is a general (online) consensus of what constitutes "trolling."

    As such, when looking at the act of trolling, we realize that a typical Internet troll has an arsenal of about five things. Recognizing their strategy is a good way to identify who is and who isn't being a troll.

    1. Trolls tend to be two-faced equivocators, they won't cite sources, will hide behind false identities (or change identities) and usually use this anonymity to stir up confusion. 

    2. Trolls love to use ambiguous language to conceal the truth or avoid committing oneself to the dialog at hand, they frequently dodge direct questions posited to them, and will attempt to derail the conversation at every turn.

    3. One of the ways in which trolls will attempt to derail the thread, aside from their incessant equivocating, is they will single in on a person and launch a series of ad homimens--usually to the point of trying to drag you into what is known as the Abusive Fallacy (in which they flame-bait you and get you angry and riled up enough to stoop to their level). They will use demeaning language, call a person names, make unfounded accusations, and slander to the point of libel, and they will continue doing it until they wear you down and you get fed up and leave the conversation, after which they can declare (false) victory. 

    4. Trolls, for whatever reason, feel terribly compelled to have the last word. If you try and compete with them, they will keep going--never giving you an inch. All the while, they steer the conversation even further off course. Interestingly enough, even if you let them have the last word, they often come back, seemingly unsatisfied, to dish out more slander.

    5. Trolls want to feel superior to everyone and think they are right, period. Not you or anybody else will ever change their mind. No tactic will work, because when you ask them why, or how, they have come to that conclusion, they duck the question and/or change the subject, only to repeat the previous four steps above ad nauseam. This way they can make themselves feel superior, by always putting you down and never letting you get one up on them.

    Needless to say, I experienced just this thing with my recent encounter with a troll. Now not all trolls are ignorant, even if they act like it. I actually think the guy trolling me was probably fairly intelligent. But this only goes to show there are smart trolls as well as not so smart ones. 

    What strikes me as odd, is why would an intelligent person, who is capable of having an informed discourse, stoop down to the level of a troll? I don't get that. The person I was engaging with certainly was capable of having a mature and well informed discussion, but he simply wanted to attack my character and not engage with the subject matter. I suppose that may just be a (personal) behavioral thing. He probably just wanted to get his kicks and giggles making himself feel superior to some dumbass American--who he sees as inferior to himself--and who had the gull to disagree with him on some sociological or cultural point (I honestly don't know why, especially since the reason he gave is not even defensible--something which I pointed out by example, twice).

    So although I had some fun messing with him, after two days going back and forth, I realized I was wasting too much of my time and decided to call it quits and closed the thread. Oh, and I'll be on the look out for him popping up in other future posts too, as trolls often don't know when to call it quits. I'm hoping he's smart enough to realize that showing such a weakness would only go to show--beyond a reason of a doubt--that he is a major troll and, hopefully, the embarrassment of such a realization would be enough to stymie any further attempts to engage me. 

    Like most trolls, however, he probably doesn't even recognize himself as behaving exactly like the five steps as outlined above. Many trolls think they are the hero, that they are the ones bringing truth and shedding light, but you will know them by their character and quality of content.

    Everybody is a Critic

    My brother asked me: "Why must you always criticize others?"

    It's a fair question.

    After have giving it some thought, my answer to this question is this: Because criticism is the tool which helps us point out each others flaws. If we weren't allowed to criticize, we wouldn't know what to improve.

    Religious people often get offended when their religion is criticized. It's understandable. I mean, criticism is pointing out the flaws, not complimenting the things that work. People don't like to hear how horrible their religious beliefs are. After all, the invest a lot of time and energy forming--or conforming to--these beliefs. To hear that they are somehow inadequate, dysfunctional, or imperfect--when they were sold the belief on the promise of perfection--leaves them feeling the bitter aftertaste of regret in their mouths.

    Criticism also has the ability to sour relationships. When I criticize religion in general, most people are fine. General criticisms are far reaching, but too soft to sting. When I narrow my criticism down to something more specific, such as Christianity, they often throw up all kinds of barriers. Even if the criticism is more or less the same of religion in general. It's the strange double standard of--it's okay to criticize everybody else--because they're obviously wrong, but don't you dare criticize me.

    I personally welcome criticism. I have used much of the criticism I receive on this blog, from those who comment or feel so compelled to email me personally, and have looked at it. Much of it is just hot-headed folks incapable of taking criticism well lashing back, but sometimes there is an insight, or a point raised, which I hadn't seen or considered. When this happens, I often am given food for thought, and I do frequently re-think my positions to a wide variety of subjects. My personal beliefs are no exception.

    At the end of the day, that's what it comes done to, whether or not you are willing to question your own beliefs. People who refuse to question their beliefs, or have them questioned by others, are the ones who get the most defensive--the ones who are prone to outrage over the mere idea of being criticized.

    Admittedly, taking negative criticism is sometimes hard to do. I even struggle with bad reviews and angry comments that I receive. And believe you me, I have received my fair share of them. 

    It's important to take our criticisms in stride. With time, one can build the skill of learning to know which criticisms to ignore and which to pay attention to. We have to learn to separate the judgmental and derisive attacks from genuine criticism. Criticism is  literally the analysis and judgement of the perceived merits and faults of someone or something. It's more than just simply being judgmental. Being judgmental is just finding fault with everyone and everything but for yourself. Being critical is taking the time to reserve judgement until all the pros and cons have been considered, and only then is comment on such things warranted.

    A criticism often doesn't supply anything more than much needed contrast. In other words, it doesn't promise to solve all our the problems. But don't you see? That's why it is so important NOT to shy away from criticism. We need to flex our critical minds, we need to be critical of others, including ourselves, in order to isolate our faults and find ways of coping with them. I should add, however, that being critical does not mean being disrespectful. You can still point out someones faults and be respectful of them. 

    One of my beliefs which I have formulated over the years is this: Criticism is necessary if we are ever going to improve our ideas as well as ourselves. A world without criticism would merely be a world where no one asked the difficult questions.

    Advocatus Atheist

    Advocatus Atheist