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Before I get started on this diary I want to emphasize that this is MY experience and as such applies only to me.  Others may have had similar epiphanies, or their experience may be totally different.  I in no way mean to imply that my way is the "right" way.  If you are religious or an atheist, that is your choice caused by your life experiences and I was not given the ability to gainsay it.  Nobody died and made me God or gave me the keys to universal truth, scientific, religious, or otherwise.

When I was a young boy my parents did their best to inculcate me in the love of God and Jesus.  I never went to church (my mother said that she could not sit still in church, although for some time in later life she attended a Southern Baptist church) as my dad did, but stayed at home with my mother and listened to religious programs over the radio.  My favorite was actually a Jewish program called "The Guiding Light", but we were nominally Methodists and I also listened to a number of local sermons broadcast on Sunday for the stay at home crowd. When Billy Graham started his crusades my mother and I listened to them and later watched them on a black and white set my dad was able to buy in 1958.  I tried to give my soul to Christ on a number of occasions, but it never really stuck.  I really found Christian theology boring and often contradictory, but slogged my way through all of the Bible - from cover to cover as they used to say (later in life I also read the Qur'an, the Tao te Ching, and some Hindu texts.)  So why did this would-be born again Christian wind up an agnostic evolutionary biologist?  Well, that is a fairly long story, but I will try to condense it as best I can.

In the early 1950s Life Magazine published a series of articles later reprinted together as "The World We Live In."  In it I was first introduced to the ideas of deep time and biological evolution.  Nearing the 100th anniversary of the "Origin of Species", Life followed with a series that, with included later articles, became the book "The Wonders of Life on Earth."  My mother warned me not to take the articles too literally so that my faith in God would not be tested. She was probably right to do so, given that she believed that everything was made by the deity in six days, or perhaps days that lasted each a thousand years, and my faith in such an event faded with the knowledge I gained.  One question, in addition to those posed by the Life Magazine articles, disturbed me.  If indeed a deity had created the earth and all its contents, why should I believe just in the Judeo-Christian creation to the exclusion of Hindu, Native American or other creation stories?  Just why was the Genesis story true, while others were not?

I was interested in living things from a very early age and the natural world was a refuge from a fairly dysfunctional family, so I continued to gather data on what was known about life and its evolution.  The thought of a deity fashioning liver flukes and ichneumon wasps eventually struck me as rather strange.  I did not see why butterflies should be punished for original sin by parasitoids unless God was not good. If such creatures were created by evil forces than God was not all-powerful.  

My interests, especially in invertebrates, led to a career in entomology and arachnology. I took courses in evolution and speciation,  population genetics, cell biology, genetics, ecology, general entomology, parasitology and invertebrate zoology, as well as several specialized entomology courses. As I did so, whatever faith I had disappeared.  On the other hand I could not discount the possibility of a creator or of a god or gods, only that I saw no reason to believe ancient texts, which (as I found out) were suspect in regard to authorship and historical accuracy. One thing that influenced me further was my father, who, although an active church-goer, was not very careful of the truth as Christians were supposed to be. Nothing teaches like example!

Initially, before this slow transformation took place, I was impressed by two arguments in favor of the Christian faith.  The first was that Christianity must be true because it had lasted 2000 years and the second was Paley's watch on the heath argument.  This was that a watch, if found on the ground, would certainly bespeak of a watch-maker.  Thus a rock on the same ground must also be manufactured by a creator.  The first is suspect because Hinduism, for example, has lasted in pretty much its current form for at least 2500 years and has older roots.  Buddhism is almost as old. The second is wrong for several reasons, but my take on it is that like comparing the brain to a computer it conflates two totally different proceses, if they are even analogous (as they are to at least some extent with the brain). We know the watch was made because we can, given the proper training, make a watch, but making a chunk of granite, although it might be done, is not so easy.  The computer is made by humans and in my book is not the same as the human brain.  We have reversed the order here it seems to me.  Because we understand machines and make them, we think of the natural world as being machine-like and thus having to have been made.  But machines are artifices we constructed to either mimic natural functions (such as the computer as brain) or to do something nature does not normally do (have four wheels with axles as automobile do).  To be simplistic a hypothetical carpenter thinks every problem can be solved with a hammer, thus because we create things we assume that the universe and life had to be created. Unfortunately, the problem "Why is there something, when there could be nothing?" is not solved by just inserting a creator. You still have the question of where did the creator come from and why did he, she, or it, manufacture a whole lot of rather bizarre organisms? Why did the creator allow evil to exist, as humans define it?

On the other hand I was not there at the beginning of the universe and find the Big Bang (which I at the present think probably happened pretty much as George Gamow envisioned it) almost as mystical as "God did it."  Evolution is of course not about the origin of the universe or even of life, but about how we wound up with so many life forms, extant and extinct, once life had come into being. There the evidence is, it seems to me, pretty persuasive.  Biology only makes sense if living things evolved and diversified by natural selection, with the origin of the diversity on which natural selection worked being recombination, mutation, epigenesis, and possibly symbiosis (although some would argue that the latter produced new life forms only rarely.) The existence of such organisms as liver flukes, leeches, mosquitoes, ichneumon wasps and hagfish, then becomes more understandable and (in my view) more wonderful.

What then to make of the huge diversity of religious beliefs that the world contains? Should religion be outlawed as an unproductive and divisive meme as some atheists would have it? Are atheists naturally good and religious people naturally bad, as has been suggested by these same atheists?  I think not.  Certainly a lot of blood has been spilt over religious ideas and I have no use for fanaticism, however I would suggest that a) you will never eliminate religion as it seems to meet some basic need in many (but certainly not all) people, and b) atheists are human, like religious individuals, and can, in their own way, be quite obnoxious, or even dangerous. I have known a number of clerics as a one time representative from the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) to the local Interfaith Council, and most of these people are quite decent citizens. I have had a Muslim, a Greek Orthodox and several agnostics or atheists as grad students, and been friends with representatives from the local Jewish Temple, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Lutherans, the Old Catholics, the Roman Catholics, the Mormons, the Campus Crusade, the Navigators, the Unitarians, the Pagans, the Muslims and the Buddhists. I have attended a Jewish memorial for the victims of the Holocaust (which was very moving), several Passover Seders, a Baptist funeral and several Baptist services, several Quaker weddings and memorial services, a Lutheran service, an Episcopal wedding (my elder daughter's), several Unitarian services, and a number of others.  I knew these people and liked most of them so I am not trying to decry religion for others, but I have little need for a personal savior. I find more affinity to Zen Buddhism, but as in a Zen saying, if you meet the Buddha on the road kill him!  One should never get too attached to any untestable ideology.    

Perhaps, and for all I know, there is in reality a creator, but I see no compelling evidence for such an entity.  Thus I agree with the Buddha that the question of the gods is not relevant as it cannot be answered definitely.  The only worthwhile question is thus "How should I live?", not "Is there a god?"  Still I would (and I can only speak for myself here) not only tolerate most religious, philosophical, and untestable scientific ideas, even if I do not believe in them, but respect them as uniquely human constructs. This would be true unless they directly led to harm to others or the natural world.  There are a few religious ideas that I oppose because they are inherently destructive in some way or another, or require all to believe them.  

Finally I will say that science itself should never become a religion. It is a highly successful method of examining the universe and testing ideas about how that universe is constructed. As such it should ideally have no absolute orthodoxy or claim to have absolutely proven anything. It should never base judgements on authority, although in practice sometimes expert opinion about untestable hypotheses are accepted by the public and advertisements are reif with claims about scientific tests or nine out of ten doctors, or scientists, or some other authority. Critical thinking should always be applied to any idea. The idea of evolution by Natural Selection has passed numerous tests and for me this makes it a powerful tool for understanding the diversity of life on earth. However, it tells me nothing about the origin of the cosmos or of life. In the ultimate the individual has to make their own decision about how they view life, the universe, and everything, as Douglas Adams put it.  While I can only speak for myself, I find the universe to be pretty darn amazing, in whatever way it came about. As Richard Dawkins says it engenders the "magic of reality." I can live with the mystery it represents. Exactly what choice do I have anyway?

Originally posted to Desert Scientist on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 12:30 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech, Street Prophets , and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  A title Mr. Darwin... (15+ / 0-)

    ...proper scion of the Wedgewoods and sometime aspirant to the parsonage, could also have used :}  

    ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

    by jessical on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 12:40:19 PM PDT

  •  All religions believe the same (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    arizonablue, Desert Scientist, TexMex

    about a "creator", whether he/she is called Zeus, God, Allah, big bang, or anything else. The only differences between the many religions, cults, sects, etc. is they have different rules for getting the best afterlife.

    So if one religion says you can't have caffeine, or you can't eat pork, or you have to pray 6 times a day, no one religion (including atheism) is better than another. You go with the beliefs that make you feel superior to those who don't believe as you do and who you think you need to convert to your way in order to "be saved" (if you are of a brand that pushes conversion of the sinners - anyone who doesn't believe in your way).

    My belief is that the only sin is deliberately hurting someone else. Anything else is okay as long as no one gets hurt.

    I reject your reality and substitute my own - Adam Savage

    by woolibaar on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 12:49:15 PM PDT

    •  "You go with the beliefs..." (11+ / 0-)

      "You go with the beliefs that make you feel superior to those who don't believe as you do...."

      It's an error of reasoning to assert that people-in-general choose their beliefs on the basis of power dynamics.

      The propensity toward various belief systems is at least in part an outcome of the way the individual brain is wired, which in turn is the basis for the way each person experiences their existence.  One variable is "pattern-recognition," another is "sense of meaning in relation to something larger than self," another is "degree of personalization of the objects of perception," and there are others.  Many of these have been found as a result of investigations of the structure and functioning of various parts of the brain, neurochemistry, and so on.  

      So you start with a brain that has certain inherent capabilities, add the entirety of the way you experience the world, add various formative experiences, and end up with beliefs.  

      Power and superiority may be relevant for some individuals, but only in a 1/N way.

      "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

      by G2geek on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 04:57:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It is just like any generalization, such as .... (6+ / 0-)

        "all people seek God."  As was pointed out by W. H. Hudson, this is demonstrably not so.  I feel no need for a god, but I refuse to deny that need to others or to really imply that they do so to feel superior.  Some may, but some may have totally opposite beliefs for the same reason.

        •  agnosticism & science: (10+ / 0-)

          IMHO, agnosticism is the necessary conclusion of empirical science:

          Any entity having the capabilities attributed to deities, can also confound any experiment performed to test its existence, therefore no such experiment can be valid, a-priori.  

          The Enlightenment era philosophy of Deism sought to associate theistic beliefs with science on the basis that scientific findings were clues to the mind of God.

          Modern atheism seeks to apply Occam's razor on the basis that absence of evidence for a deity is the equivalent of evidence for the absence of a deity.

          But both Deism (and various theistic philosophies of science) and atheism are operating on the basis of indirect inference, rather than direct empirical findings.  

          If one operates on the basis of strict empiricism, indirect inference is not sufficient to obtain a conclusion: one must always "do the experiment."  But since any such experiment is a-priori invalid, there is no way to arrive at a conclusive answer.  This is one of those very rare instances of a significant question that is not answerable from within empirical science.

          Thus science must remain agnostic, and the question of the existence of a deity must remain a matter of freedom of conscience for each individual.  

          Further, since we know that the elements that make up the basis for religious beliefs or the absence thereof are grounded in variations on neuroanatomy and neurophysiology, we have to treat this in the same manner as sexual orientation, with the equal protection of the law.

          "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

          by G2geek on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 06:45:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I agree with your thoughts on this. (7+ / 0-)

            The flaw in humans is that some of us seem to think we can know the answer to puzzles we have been arguing over for thousands of years without any way to test them.

            •  the difference between "knowing" and "knowing." (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              blackjackal, raincrow, FarWestGirl

              People can "know" something for themselves, through the first-hand subjective truth of their own experience.  For some that leads to belief that there is a deity, for others that leads to the belief that there is not a deity, and so on.

              But many make the error of conflating subjective truth with empirical truth.  They are not the same, any more than "truth" in the courtroom (evidence and sworn testimony) is identical with "truth" in the artistic realm (authenticity to the human experience).  

              The fact that we've been puzzling over these things for thousands of years isn't the governing factor, since there are many other age-old questions that have become accessible to science (questions of facts) or for which the answers have changed as a result of the evolution of societies (questions of ethics).  But puzzling over these issues over time is a factor in the evolution of our philosophical systems and the behaviors they engender.

              "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

              by G2geek on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 10:46:02 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Actually, there is a loophole, (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:


            Any entity having the capabilities attributed to deities, can also confound any experiment performed to test its existence, therefore no such experiment can be valid, a-priori.  
            You can't test the existence of a supreme deity, but you can test the faith:  how has mankind faired since the introduction of monotheism?  Has mankind made its greatest strides when religious fervor was maximized or minimized?  Has monotheism elevated human aspiration or has a whole new dark stain of religious persecution and intolerance become a permanent facet of humanity?

            A couple of thoughts to keep in mind:  the pre-christian roman empire had dozens of pagan sects all living peaceably side-by-side.  Mecca used to be an open pagan city where any person of any religion could make the hajj and give tribute in their own fashion.  From wikipedia:

            Prior to Muhammad's era, each year tribes from all around the Arabian Peninsula would converge on Mecca, as part of the pilgrimage. The exact faith of the tribes was not important at that time, and Christian Arabs were as likely to make the pilgrimage as the pagans.[6] Muslim historians refer to the time before Muhammad as jahiliyyah, the "Days of Ignorance", during which the Kaaba contained hundreds of idols – totems of each of the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula, with idols of pagan gods such as Hubal, al-Lat, Al-‘Uzzá and Manat.

            and their contempt for the Latin schools was applauded by Theodoric himself, who gratified their prejudices, or his own, by declaring that the child who had trembled at a rod would never dare to look upon a sword.

            by ban48 on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 07:48:30 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Uh... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              the pre-christian roman empire had dozens of pagan sects all living peaceably side-by-side
              You do not get an empire without violence.  

              -9.38/-7.69 If religion means a way of life, and life's necessities are food, clothing, and shelter, then we should not separate religion from economics. - Malcolm X

              by dirkster42 on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 10:09:18 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  There is no shortage of violence in US history (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                either.  If the religious-right disappeared, violence wouldn't disappear either, but demagogues would have one less card in their decks.  Just imagine a world without religious strife for a minute.  Imagine a world where "It's rude to talk about religion" doesn't exist.  Why is it rude to talk about religion?  It wasn't always this way.

                PS - I also don't think paganism would have survived the scientific revolution and we would be left with secular societies, but that is a separate thread in itself.

                and their contempt for the Latin schools was applauded by Theodoric himself, who gratified their prejudices, or his own, by declaring that the child who had trembled at a rod would never dare to look upon a sword.

                by ban48 on Mon Oct 29, 2012 at 05:09:12 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  There was political violence which might have or (0+ / 0-)

                might not have manifested itself in violence against a particular sect. However, polytheism came about as an accommodation by one power of the sect of the weaker state or as a tactic of assimilation. Not every sect developed a zero-sum "us vs them" paradigm. Along with "religious" evolution of societies, we also had the evolution of secular society which allowed the formation of some of the great early commerce-centric city-states.

                You can't make this stuff up.

                by David54 on Mon Oct 29, 2012 at 01:12:04 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

            •  that's still indirect inference..... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              ... and it's not even asking the same question.

              1)  Is there, or is there not, a deity?

              2)  Is the widely-held belief in a single deity beneficial or harmful to societies?


              If we wanted to go even further, we would break down (1) into the questions of a)  Is there any deity at all? and b) If there is, then is there one deity or more than one?  

              But here we run into the limits of empiricism, which is that it doesn't work for entities that by definition are even partially above or outside of nature.  For example assume you have an entity that is "merely" 5-or-higher dimensional, such that to this entity, time is traversable in a manner roughly equivalent to the way that space is traversable to 4-D entities such as ourselves.  Such an entity will be able to observe the outcome of an experiment, so as to overcome the blinding of the experimental conditions relative to the entity.  

              By analogy, if you know that the goal of an experiment in cognitive science is to ascertain whether you can correctly perceive shapes under certain lighting conditions, you will be on alert for "shapes" as distinct from "colors," and that will bias the outcome and render the result invalid.  


              Re. (2), we would necessarily have to it break down into a very large range of subsidiary questions, each concerned with a different axis of benefit or betterment to individuals and societies.  Otherwise (2) as stated is meaningless, since it has not specified the value of its dependent variable.  


              Per Robert Fuller, one might also argue that the belief in a single deity leads directly to science as an effort to understand the deity's created universe or the mind of the deity.  (Fuller himself is atheistic, but recognizes the relationship between science and religion.)

              "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

              by G2geek on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 11:01:38 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Of course they are not the same questions. (0+ / 0-)

                1) is by definition not-answerable.  I don't think 2) is not-answerable or meaningless:

                If you reach the conclusion that human betterment is inversely proportional to monotheistic religious fervor, (i.e we're not only wasting our time worrying that there is a single creator of 100B galaxies each with 100B stars and he is talking TO ME!!!, but it by definition leads to division and conflict over who is truly channeling and championing him), I think that says something - both about monotheism in-general and the validity of the concept of a supreme being.

                and their contempt for the Latin schools was applauded by Theodoric himself, who gratified their prejudices, or his own, by declaring that the child who had trembled at a rod would never dare to look upon a sword.

                by ban48 on Mon Oct 29, 2012 at 05:03:09 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  That depends (0+ / 0-)
                Per Robert Fuller, one might also argue that the belief in a single deity leads directly to science as an effort to understand the deity's created universe or the mind of the deity.
                That thesis depends on a radical misunderstanding of world polytheisms.  
    •  Actually, they are not the same. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Desert Scientist

      The Christians (monotheists) pretty much invented the concept of eternal damnation.  The pagans had the underworld, but it was something that just kindof happened and wasn't the focus of their religion.

      And, it doesn't have to be this way.  There was no religious war until the concept of a Supreme Being demanding blood and sacrifice and the stamping out of heretics became mainstream.

      and their contempt for the Latin schools was applauded by Theodoric himself, who gratified their prejudices, or his own, by declaring that the child who had trembled at a rod would never dare to look upon a sword.

      by ban48 on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 07:36:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  over-simplified history. (4+ / 0-)

        Religion is only one axis of identification by which people choose sides in warfare.  There are many others: tribe, nation, race, etc. etc.

        The common denominator for aggressive warfare is the desire to increase the availability of resources to one's group.  Those resources may include land, water, food, energy, etc.  (Slaves are basically equivalent to a form of energy: the capacity to do work.)

        Violence of all kinds increases where population overshoots available resources.  

        "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

        by G2geek on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 11:04:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I was commenting on the opening statement (0+ / 0-)

          that all religions believe the same about a creator.  They don't.  The idea of a supreme being is relatively new.  Pagans expected other pagans to have different gods for the same reason we expect Mexico to have different holidays than the US or why different football teams have different mascots.  And they didn't kill each other over it.

          They killed each other for plenty of other reasons, but so do monotheists.

          and their contempt for the Latin schools was applauded by Theodoric himself, who gratified their prejudices, or his own, by declaring that the child who had trembled at a rod would never dare to look upon a sword.

          by ban48 on Mon Oct 29, 2012 at 12:40:59 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I must disagree (3+ / 0-)

      First of all, I am an atheist and am sure that atheism is not a religion. There is no belief system.  An atheist can live anywhere, have any political agenda, does not have a particular set of moral values. The only thing any one atheist may have in common with any other is that both agree there are no gods.

      That does not mean there is no shared atheist culture in some places, organizations or activities.

      If you take a comparative religion class or read a few comprehensive books on the subject, you will find that there are indeed some major differences between religions other than rules for getting to their respective afterlives.

      •  I believe in doubt. (0+ / 0-)

        I think it's obvious that God, if he exists (as a he) doesn't want people to be certain of his existence.
        I lean toward Buddhism.
        I was brought up by truly devout parents but I stopped going to church when I was 12.
        Within our democracy, your opinion about religion counts the same as any other individual's. Or it should. To assert with certainty that God doesn't exist strikes me as a belief.
        I can say with more certainty that the idea that the earth is 6000  yrs. old because the Bible is the literal and infallible word of God and someone added up the "begats" in the old Testament doesn't pass the smell test.
        I can say that the definition of God based on such a way of thinking doesn't pass the smell test.
        It's obvious to me that the Bible is the story of the evolution in the relationship between God or "God" (if you don't believe) and humans.
        It's a fact that Christianity has evolved over the centuries, radically so in the last 50 years.
        It's possible that science has updated the concept of "God" such that we have to accept him as a subjective reality experienced between the ears of the believer.
        That doesn't mean he doesn't exist for them.
        I had a similar experience to the diarist, except I've educated myself in science as an amateur. My primary teacher has been the crucible of life. My mother's personal experience and story is such that I have a great deal of respect for her "faith", and she has never proselytized and has actually been open-minded about all spiritual paths and understands doubt, too.

        You can't make this stuff up.

        by David54 on Mon Oct 29, 2012 at 01:40:10 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  not all religions posit an afterlife (8+ / 0-)

      not all religions believe in sin
      not all religions have the notion of a creator

      and of course, atheism is no more a religion than baldness is a hair color

    •  All religions wha...? (0+ / 0-)

      You and I must have very different definitions of "religion"...

      !! Four more years !!

      by raincrow on Mon Oct 29, 2012 at 10:56:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Very interesting. It seems that we are about (15+ / 0-)

    the same age. I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, but I was sent there to learn about Christianity, not necessarily to become a Christian. That made all the difference for me. I graduated from Baylor and saw up close and personal that the ministers who were trained there knew almost nothing about the unanswerable questions.

    My parents would sometimes discuss the eternal questions. My father was the philosopher of the two; my mother had an engineering outlook. My father's three eternal questions were: Where did I come from? Where am I going? What should I do while I am here? You have no doubt dealt with those.

    My mother's eternal questions were more interesting to me and have governed my life ever since: Where do we stand? How did we get here? Where do we want to go? How do we get there from here? I think these questions are also familiar to you. In a way they are part of the process of the scientific method.

    So, the lessons I learned at Sunday school were far less interesting than the conversations I heard at home. My religious beliefs are an amalgam of all of these inputs, and I am very comfortable with them.

    Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

    by hestal on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 12:52:01 PM PDT

    •  very very interesting. (10+ / 0-)

      Sounds like your parents were wise in their outlook, irrespective of education and careers.  

      To those questions I would also add, What is real?,  How do we know?, and What should we do about it?

      All of these types of fundamental questions of existence are the starting points for philosophies and religions.   One could write out one's own answers to them and thereby compile one's own religious/philosophical belief system.

      It would be really interesting if you were to write diaries about the kinds of conversations you had with your parents about these things.  

      "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

      by G2geek on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 05:03:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  These conversations and a few others (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dirkster42, G2geek, FarWestGirl

        involving WWII veterans newly returned from the war led to a view of history and national purpose that has resulted in a book that I am in the process of publishing.

        It deals with the eternal questions and answers them from a national point of view. The "where do we want to go" question is answered by showing how modern technology can enable us to take the nine superior ideas of Athenian democracy and use them to transform our nation. The answer to the ultimate eternal question, "how do we get there from here," provides ideas for institutional changes that are of a type not seen, by me at least, anywhere in our national conversations about our present predicament.

        I have worked on the ideas presented in this book for more than sixty years. Just an old man's hobby. But it has been a kick and a wonderful way to pass my idle time.

        Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

        by hestal on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 07:46:39 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for sharing your story. (11+ / 0-)

    I was a very religious boy, turned evolutionary biologist, turned professional biblical scholar and part-time/amateur evolutionary biologist.

    Should religion be outlawed as an unproductive and divisive meme as some atheists would have it?
    While I am never for oppression or persecution anywhere at any time, one can make a decent pro-religion argument for doing this.  Religious movement tend to be at their best when they are a persecuted minority, and at their absolute worst when they have a lot of power and influence.

    So I see only tatters of clearness through a pervading obscurity - Annie Dillard -6.88, -5.33

    by illinifan17 on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 01:45:30 PM PDT

    •  Respectfully, I think that's probably true of (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Desert Scientist

      almost any power structure, due to the basic makeup of human nature.

      Religious movements tend to be at their best when they are a persecuted minority, and at their absolute worst when they have a lot of power and influence.

      Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

      by FarWestGirl on Mon Oct 29, 2012 at 01:34:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for this diary. To me, the watchmaker (13+ / 0-)

    analogy deserves the famous phrase Jesus had for the pharisees: swallowing the camel while straining out a gnat. If you can't conceive of a watchmaker without a maker, how can you accept that the watchmaker's maker has no maker?  Conversely, once you realize that the simplicity of evolution also explains the appearance of a watch, there is no need to look for explanations based on uncreated creators.

    •  Absolutely! (5+ / 0-)
      If you can't conceive of a watchmaker without a maker, how can you accept that the watchmaker's maker has no maker?
      This is exactly the way I've turned the watchmaker argument back on people who've tried using it with me.

      If you argue 1) if a complex artifact such as a watch implies a human maker, and 2) if the human beings who made the watch are themselves artifacts of an entity such as a deity, then 3) the deity itself, which would necessarily be even more complex than either watches or the humans it had created, likewise couldn't have arisen ex nihilo, but rather must be the product of a still more awesome, complex, and mysterious creator.  In other words, "The creator of your creator must have really been something!"

      And so on, ad infinitum...

      FOX News: For entertainment purposes only. Not to be confused with actual news broadcasting.

      by IowaBiologist on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 10:11:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Evolution explains nothing of origin (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FarWestGirl, Desert Scientist

      Science, including evolution, only explains how what's here works. It in no way elucidates how what's here got here -- and neither does religion.

      Why spend any energy arguing about it?

      !! Four more years !!

      by raincrow on Mon Oct 29, 2012 at 10:36:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  origin of what? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        The Big Bang theory explains the origin of the Earth and of the Universe.  As far as an origin of the Big Bang, we are back to the problem of the watchmaker's maker.

        The theory that there is an origin, that there was a point in time where there was nothing and then there was something, is very problematic.   If there is nothing, there is nothing to give rise to something.   It may be true that there is no universe or nothing in this universe, but still there is something OUTSIDE this universe which gives rise to this universe.    No matter how large you expand the bubble, from Earth (first there was nothing, then the Big Bang gave rise to Earth), to the universe (first there was nothing, then forces outside our universe caused an explosion that resulted in our universe) -- no matter how large you expand this bubble of nothing, there are always forces outside, SOMETHING outside, the perimeter of the bubble giving rise to something out of nothingness.

        Therefore, I remain of the opinion that existence is infinite.   Existence has always existed, and our concept of an origin is just like bubbles popping -- matter or energy popping here and there in sea of matter and energy that has always existed.


      •  Quite so! (0+ / 0-)

        I'm reminded of William T. Davis, the "cicada man" of Staten Island, who started the "Maybe so" Club in which unsubstantiated ideas would be prefaced "Maybe so!"  

        People get way too bent out of shape by things that cannot prove or disprove.

  •  It's about trust in large part. (5+ / 0-)

    What do you trust? Your senses? Your education? Your feelings? Authority?

    Whom do you trust? Your parents? The people of whatever faith you grew up with? The People who have the answers that speak to you now? A particular teacher or someone who was an example to you?

    When do you trust? The first answer that makes sense to you? The answers you keep coming back to? The answers you think may still be waiting to be found?

    Trust - and where we place it - has a big effect on the answers we are willing to accept. And, perhaps even more important, the questions we are willing and able to ask.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 07:31:07 PM PDT

  •  Perhaps because I am Catholic (9+ / 0-)

    I never regarded this as an either or proposition. A proper reading of scripture - through the great thinkers of the long history of the church, and not the knucklehead Elmer Fudd Gantrys who preach it today - we learn that not even in antiquity did they countenance the idea that Genesis was a historical document.

    As Augustine said 1600 years ago:

    It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation.
    From The Literal Meaning of Genesis.

    It is only modern American evangelical idiocy that preaches we must believe Adam rode Velociraptors. Our fathers in faith taught no such nonsense.

    Rick Perry - the greatest scientist since Galileo!

    by Bobs Telecaster on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 07:42:04 PM PDT

    •  Same for the Main Line Protestant Denominations /n (3+ / 0-)

      The White Race can not survive without dairy products - Herbert Hoover (-8.75,-8.36)

      by alain2112 on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 11:44:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  When I was a kid in a small Texas town, we (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Desert Scientist

      (Methodists) accepted the theory of evolution and thought of Biblical literalists, fundamentalists, and pentecostals as uneducated hillbillies.
      We watched "Inherit the Wind" and "Elmer Gantry" on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies and "got" it.
      What really stirred up the advance of the religious right was the abortion issue and then the Iranian hostage crisis.
      There has been a "backward" advance of ignorance ever since.

      You can't make this stuff up.

      by David54 on Mon Oct 29, 2012 at 01:52:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The World We Live In (5+ / 0-)

    was one of the coolest books I had as a kid. Somehow it ended up on my brother-in-law's bookshelf, I thought, I'm not gonna fight over it.

    For some reason I'm always a bit amused by the mental gymnastics people go through to believe or not believe in a deity. The older I've become, the more comfortable I've become with the truth of poetry. My Methodist Sunday school upbringing in a non-religious home (excepting a devout Roman Catholic grandmother I loved) didn't give  me much to rebel against. But it  it gave me  good manners, kept me out of cults, & convinced me that no matter how much I studied other cultures & religions, Western Civilization was my home base. One could  not be everything, accept everything, give everything equal weight. & sometimes a leap of faith into a metaphor is a wonderful thing indeed.

    "There ain't no sanity clause." Chico Marx

    by DJ Rix on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 07:51:46 PM PDT

  •  Ha ha, the ad that came up for me below the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dirkster42, G2geek

    squiggle is from

  •  Science is not a religion (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    G2geek, tharu1, raincrow, FarWestGirl

    You state towards the end of your post " should not become a religion..", do you think there is a danger of it becoming one? From my understanding, science is not a belief system, i.e. it is not about believing but thinking about the evidence based on hypotheses testing and from that making conclusions. I would hope that science will never be seen as a religion for that will be it's demise.

    •  for some it is roughly analogous: (4+ / 0-)

      For this we use the word "scientism," referring to the belief that only certain classes of observables are real, and that only certain types of logical processes are valid.  

      Usually, scientism reveals itself by asserting taboos against asking certain questions or studying certain phenomena.  

      For example back in the days when behaviorism dominated academic psychology, questions related to subjective experience were basically taboo.  This situation has since radically changed, in part as a result of the development of techniques that provide objective correlates for subjective experience (for example the EEG and various types of brain imaging).  

      I'm a ferocious empiricist, but I recognize that there are aspects of our experience of the world that are not amenable to empirical treatment.  "Is there a deity" is the core example per my other comments, but it's only one type of example.  A much larger category has to do with what David Chalmers calls "qualia" (after Plato), for example the question of "what is it like to perceive that one exists?"

      Something to keep in mind, is that the rigidity of belief that we normally associate with certain threads of religion, is an independent variable all its own.  It can be associated not only with religion, but with philosophy, art, politics, or any other human endeavor, including science.  

      Conversely, the open-mindedness to new discoveries that we normally associate with science, can also be associated with other human endeavors, including philosophy, art, politics, and also religion.  

      "Open <<--->> Rigid" is independent of content.

      "Minus two votes for the Republican" equals "plus one vote for the Democrat." Arithmetic doesn't care about their feelings either!

      by G2geek on Sun Oct 28, 2012 at 11:22:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Exactly! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      However I have known people (who should know better) who advocated a "science-based" religion.  Such a concept is, in my mind, inherently corrupt and will lead to no good. Once science becomes a religion it ceases being science.  

    •  Yes, there is a danger (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TexMex, FarWestGirl

      Living here in Texas, I hear people say, all the time, that they don't "believe" in evolution, as if it is a belief system that is based on a popularity vote.   There is definitely the view that science is just another religion that one can choose to join, or not to join.  Another example is climate change.  

      Here in Texas, science is viewed as a religion.   The teacher, as she was teaching science IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS, stated very clearly that she didn't "believe" in evolution, while teaching the subject in the SCIENCE classroom.     There is definitely the view that scientific discoveries are not to be judged by the evidence, but are something that we simply choose to believe or disbelieve based on our preference.  There is very little interest in actual science, and more interest in finding pseudoscience to back up the claims they decided to make.  In science, we call this "bias".

      Check out the apologia science curriculum, and you will see the evolution of science evolving into religion.

      These OPTIONAL supplemental readings for science-oriented students do not replace the main courses listed. They merely give your student additional science material to learn if your student is interested. Here are some suggestions:
      Supplement I
      ■Evolution: The Fossils Still Say No!, Dr. Duane T. Gish, Master Books paperback ISBN 0890511128
      ■Reasonable Faith: The Scientific Case for Christianity, Dr. Jay L. Wile, Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc., Paperback ISBN 0965629406

      Supplement II
      ■What is Creation Science, Dr. Henry M. Morris and Dr. Gary E. Parker, Master Books, Paperback ISBN 0890510814
      ■Environmental Overkill: Whatever Happened to Common Sense? Dixy Lee Ray, Regnery Gateway, Hardcover ISBN 0895265125, Paperback ISBN 0060975989

      Supplement III
      ■Evolution: A Theory In Crisis, Michael Denton, Adler & Adler, Paperback ISBN 091756152X
      ■Darwin's Black Box, Michael Behe, Touchstone Books, Hardcover ISBN 0684827549, Paperback ISBN 0684834936

      More and more materials like this are being created, to be presented to students as a science curriculum.  These materials are not based on the latest fact-based, peer-reviewed scientific discoveries, but rather on the grounds that they will help to convince the student to disbelieve the actual science, and to "believe" the creationist, anti-global-warming religious messages.
  •  Desert Scientist, G2geek, you have transported me (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Desert Scientist, TexMex, FarWestGirl

    back to the classroom.  Thank you professors

  •  Atheism isn't a choice. (4+ / 0-)

    Well, not for me at least... which could be why I find this whole religious thing to be particularly perplexing. For my whole life I've simply not been able to accept things supernatural (or at least not based in evidence) as factual. I don't know why, but I need data. Something I can taste, smell, touch, absorb, process... not a "because God" type of thing. Don't tell me why... show me. Show me the results, the tests, the reproducable methods that give others the same results. Maybe it's something genetic, I can't say... a tweak in a gene that hardwires skepticism? It would be interesting to see if there are studies on that...

    Probably the closest thing to a "belief" I can attest to is that there is most likely life on other planets aside from Earth. However, even that is based on data... the universe seeded with organic compounds everywhere we look, more and more planets being discovered as our ability to detect them improves, the sheer numbers of them makes it incredibly unlikely that we're the only planet with life. I'd be surprised if that were the case. But, we can never prove we're alone... the universe is too vast. That next system over that we haven't looked at yet may be the one... but I seem to have wandered. I do that a lot too... maybe there's a connection...

    I also seem to like using "..." a lot.

    •  Neither is perception of God. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I can't pretend God doesn't permeate every aspect of every waking moment of my life; and you can't pretend you perceive the existence of the God I perceive.

      This particular difference between us is, to me, profound and impenetrable; a facet of human experience every bit as complex and compelling, biologically, psychologically, and sociologically, as sexual orientation or gender identification; and IMO we should treat it as such -- without any need to repress, punish, or devalue.

      !! Four more years !!

      by raincrow on Mon Oct 29, 2012 at 10:48:17 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Many important points you've made (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Ultimately, operationally speaking, I agree with your point:

    The only worthwhile question is thus "How should I live?", not "Is there a god?"
    Religious people argue that their religion gives them a moral compass the rest of us don't have. The foolishness of this assertion is obvious, looking at the ubiquity of evil done by "religious" people.

    The hypocrisy of people who consider themselves religious is what I consider most dangerous. Empiricists by definition accept cause and effect. Conclusions are based on internally consistent observations. Objective reality is paramount. Religious thinking rejects all of this, and so the actions of these people are irrational. That's one definition of insanity: believing the world is something different from objective reality.

    Religious people act in a way that is inconsistent with their stated beliefs and values. Among all the many dangerous manifestations of this, is how they make political decisions. "Romnesia", "We built that", etc, etc, are lies and hypocrisy. It is terrifying to me that insane people are making political choices for all of us.

    •  Religious thinking in no way rejects (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      empiricism. It is true, though, that both religious and non-religious individuals may not be consistent in how they collect and model the data before them.

      And all people, to varying degrees, act in ways that are inconsistent with their stated beliefs and values. Take your comment, for instance: a testimony to the rejection of abundant empirical data about the practice of religion across centuries of recorded history, yet I infer you feel perfectly comfortable and qualified in making political decisions that you would extend to all of us. You, too, OD, "believ[e] the world is something different from objective reality."

      That makes you human just like all the rest of us, and every bit as "dangerous" and "irrational."

      !! Four more years !!

      by raincrow on Mon Oct 29, 2012 at 11:09:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Religion is based on faith, which means when (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        a situation comes up that pits belief against empirical observations, belief wins. That's what I find dangerous.

        In no way is this type of thinking limited to religion. As you note, being human means to sometimes

        act in ways that are inconsistent with their stated beliefs and values.
        Nor do I paint all religious believers as evil-doers. Far from it. I was raised a Quaker and a have read a great deal of history. I know the good that can come from people with beliefs. The reason I point to religious belief as being dangerous, is because, in my opinion, that form of thinking makes it especially easy to throw out factual reality when empirical observations conflict with dogma.

        Yes, we all have that within us, but should it be condoned? Shouldn't rationality be our goal?

        There are different political points of view (such as - what is the role of government).  What I object to is lying and hypocrisy as a means to gain power.

      •  It is astonishing to me (0+ / 0-)

        Perennialists will point to the claimed universality of god, but not the universality of the equally mystical, experiential, and wondrous doubt. Those of us that doubt that Being is a being, that morality is a person, that creation requires a Creator have an rich place in human history, no matter how often you accuse us of blindness.  

    •  Some Christians take the lessons of Matthew 6 to (0+ / 0-)

      heart and other admonitions of Christ and keep their religion to themselves and don't pass judgment on others.
      They're also honest about their doubt.
      We don't hear much about these people, though.

      You can't make this stuff up.

      by David54 on Mon Oct 29, 2012 at 01:56:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Go to college, study, get your degrees, etc. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The very same way a religious boy or girl becomes an aerospace engineer, astronomer, economist, etc., etc., etc.

    There is no conflict between religion and science.

    !! Four more years !!

    by raincrow on Mon Oct 29, 2012 at 10:26:07 AM PDT

    •  The conflict is between people who have no (0+ / 0-)

      faith in their faith and the rest of us.

      If a person's faith is secure, they are not threatened by things that appear to conflict with it, they have faith in their beliefs. It's those who don't have a very solid faith who can be rocked by external inconsistencies and flail about in the attempt to defend it. It's fear. It's a seeking of social proof, herd instinct and sticking together. They're afraid they'll go to hell. They're afraid their children will go to hell. They've been told that ignorance equals innocence and that they need to have faith in those who lead them and interpret for their diety, not themselves.

      And then you get to those up the chain of authority who sometimes(often) use those fears to control people and resources. So basically we have problems with either those who lack a genuine faith or those who cynically prey upon and use them for their lack of faith.  


      Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

      by FarWestGirl on Mon Oct 29, 2012 at 01:55:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Strongly recommend this book (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "Finding Darwin's God" by Kenneth Miller. His background is similar in that he was raised to be Christian but became fascinated by biology and is now a molecular biologist. The book is essentially Deistic apology from an evolutionary perspective and I found it compelling. Miller is rigorous about adhering to scientific orthodoxy while maintaining that there is room for faith in what we understand about the origins of our universe and ourselves.

  •  Good essay, misses at some points. (0+ / 0-)

    It looses a few points in the middle in choosing to tilt at some ridiculous windmills of strawatheism though.

    •  I am not attacking atheism, only ... (0+ / 0-)

      statements made by some prominent atheists to the effect that a totally Atheistic society would be more moral.  Like similar statements by evangelists, I find the idea lacks solid positive data, but there are lots of negative data.  Neither belief in god or gods, or non-belief, on their faces, makes the person better. We still suffer from being "jumped-up" apes with a Pleistocene mentality.  I myself am an agnostic, leaning toward atheism, but I do not believe that makes me a more moral person, or that I would be a better leader than a theists or an out and out atheist.  It depends a lot on the ability of the leader to lead!

      But again that is just my opinion, which in the case of untestable hypotheses is probably not worth too much.

  •  You wrote a wonderful diary! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Desert Scientist, FarWestGirl

    Thank you for sharing!

    ( for you folks hiding from the storm, check out the following.
    It is long but hey, you have time to kill!)

    And then there is Dan Otte!!!

    An improbable Tale!!

    Dan Otte's family went into Zululand with an oxen cart.  He was from several generations of missionaries.
    Dan Otte won the Leidy medal!

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