Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Ash Wednesday Challenge

As many of you may know (or may not know), today is a religious holiday known as Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the religious season known in the Christian calendar as Lent. It is tradition for followers to give up something during the Lenten season.

I wanted to try a different approach: why not do something differently or try something new for 40 days?

I'm sure you can come up with something. Of course, you don't have to limit yourself to any set period of time or any particular thing.

Consider this a challenge.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Power of the FSM Compels You!

Exchange from the blog "Unreasonable Faith":

Teleprompter: As long as you’ve prayed to the FSM, I’m sure it doesn’t matter what “religion” you are.

D.F.: Are you implying that praying to the FSM is a religion? IT’S NOT!!!! It’s a relationship! It’s communion! We eat his flesh and drink his blood! It has NOTHING to do with religion! It’s spiritual…communion…tasty…worship.

Teleprompter: It is a religion - and you are a HERETIC - you will burn in the sauce forever!

D.F.: Sorry to inform you, Teleprompter, and believe me when I say it breaks my heart, but YOU ARE THE HERETIC.

Obviously, the FSM has not chosen you to be a TrueFollower™. Perhaps you think you are a follower, but let me be clear — you are NOT a follower, and HAVE NEVER been a follower.
You have been deceived by pirates. Unless you repent, then it is YOU who will burn in sauce forever! Ramen!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Atheist Blogroll and ThunderfOOt

Avert Your Eye is now a member of The Atheist Blogroll!

You can view the blogroll in this blog's sidebar. The Atheist Blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to atheist bloggers from all around the world.


If you would like to join *the* Atheist Blogroll, please visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

Of course, I'm also going to throw in a mention of ThunderfOOt. As many of you may already know, ThunderfOOt is one the most popular anti-creationist, pro-science YouTubers.

His video "YouTube vs. The Users", which admonishes YouTube for not addressing votebots has been removed, and his account has been suspended for two weeks.

If you would like to make a mirror of ThunderfOOt's video, please visit the following website and download ThunderfOOt's banned video:

Literally hundreds of users are re-posting mirrors of this video. Please support these efforts to reduce censorship on YouTube and support ThunderfOOt.

And if you're interested, please go see Mojoey at Deep Thoughts and check out The Atheist Blogroll. Thanks!

Science and Religion: Which Works Better?

Let’s compare the scientific method to religion --

Scientific method: Observe. Deduce hypothesis. Make prediction. Perform experiment. Analyze results. Repeat for consistency.

Religious method: Observe. Deduce hypothesis. Do not make a prediction. Do not perform an experiment. Do not analyze results. Reject alternative explanations, even if they explain things in reality better than your hypothesis does. Or, revise hypothesis to accept alternative explanations. Then, either hold conflicting beliefs, or gradually define your hypothesis out of existence. Do not question. Repeat for consistency.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Strange Thoughts and More Like Them

The inner workings of the brain are something I can only contemplate given my severely limited knowledge.

It must be like some kind of machine.

I heard someone speculate once that there must be programs which can "crash" the brain, just as there as programs which can "crash" a computer.

I wonder what such a program would be like?


There is an image which keeps re-appearing to me again and again, in several guises:

The lego constructions I used to build when I was very young: the elaborate manipulation of the bricks, followed swiftly by near inevitable destruction or implosion.

Numerous colonies of bacteria in a plate, consuming agar, reproducing themselves into oblivion.

A panel from the comic "Peanuts" when Linus spends a long time carefully molding a soap replica of a Navy clipper, only to see his creation obliterated by his sister Lucy.

Things arisen, things consumed, things destroyed.

And this visage repeats over, and over, and over.

What do I make of it?

I think that is a question for all of us.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

There's Probably No Good Reason for this Post...

...Now stop worrying and enjoy my pictures.

Thanks are extended to:

for the nifty Bus slogan generator,

inspired by the recent Atheist Bus Campaign.

The cake is a lie. Or is it? Schrodinger's Cake, anyone?

I feel a lot of empathy for my friends who have gluten allergies.

On the Nature of Spirituality (Part One)

As an atheist, how do I understand spirituality? How do I understand the religious inclinations of individuals?

Some sources have suggested that certain people have varying predispositions for the mystical or the spiritual.

For some people, "god" is reality - god exists for them and for them, he is indeed real. That is not necessarily a disconnect from reality -- for some people the mystical is as plain as daylight.

Then again, for schizophrenics, many things are also plain as daylight. But I'm not here to make that comparsion. I want to emphasize that this is a tough topic to negotiate: there are many complicated causes and effects of the practices of spirituality and mysticism.

Most of us are inclined to believe in the supernatural, for whatever reasons we may have, whether psychological, cultural, etc.

Some of us describe ourselves as "spiritual but not religious". Some of us are more accurately "religious but not spiritual" -- like a lot of people who profess that they're Christian or Jewish, etc. but rarely worship and only nominally think about and participate in their religion.

Some people really do have a self-proclaimed "spiritual" sense but don't believe in any particular religion, like Sam Harris. It would also be helpful to consider Carl Sagan's perspective on awe and wonder in our lives when considering this particular form of "spirituality".

I know a few friends (this is purely anecdotal) who have rejected Christianity but still felt in touch with a certain kind of "mystical sense" and became neo-pagan or polytheist/pantheist.

It seems from the way our psychology and perhaps our society has formed, that some people have a real need for religion or spirituality or mysticism in some variety. Now, I realize that it is highly debatable whether people actually "need" spirituality or mysticism. Do people need these things the way a drug addict needs drugs? Or the way a hormonal teenager needs sexual outlets? Or the way that a lonely person needs someone to talk to? I don't know where we should place the spiritual "need" in these categories. However, that uncertainty does not negate the existence of the "need" itself. As long as atheists refuse to address this base component of spirituality, most people will not understand atheism. Religion often serves as a proxy for many emotional attachments and states. Statistics may indicate that the non-religious are no less moral than the religious, but statistics are not enough to create understanding, or evolution would be far more widely accepted in American society than it is today. As long as atheists cannot or refuse to understand the emotional basis and implications of spirituality, people will not understand us.

I believe that this spirituality is an inner component of our psychology, and that each of us interprets this differently due to cultural and environmental influences. Some of us also feel this urge more strongly than others do.

Just because I believe that spirituality comes from inside of us, instead of from some external creator force, does not mean that I casually disregard it or see it as unnecessary to our lives.
There are many emotions and such within our minds that we feel, which may or may not be necessarily "true", but that we almost all acknowledge as perfectly valid feelings, such as love, anger, fear, etc.

I fully acknowledge that many urges which originate from inside of us are negative, and that perhaps spirituality is one of these negative urges which should be eliminated, controlled, or reduced. I understand this point of view. I do not know whether or not I agree with it.

I perceive spirituality as one more emotion we encounter in our existence, just as we experience fear, love, hope, anger, happiness, and many other feelings.

For me, spirituality is a perfectly valid feeling, but I have acknowledged that spirituality probably comes from within us, and also that each of us is especially prone to use confirmation bias to mold the perceptions we have of our internal spirituality so they conform to our culture's external sense of religious piety.

Craig Hogan speculated recently that our universe is actually a hologram, based on "noise" from the GEO600 machine. This is what I think about in terms of "spirituality".

My spirituality consists largely of a fond respect for the absurdity of our universe: if it is true that our entire universe is a hologram, can we honestly say that it is any stranger than, say, SpongeBob Squarepants living in a giant pineapple under the sea?

We human beings are all spiritual in many different forms: sometimes it is expressed through our love of religion, our love of a career, our love of nature, our love of humor, our love of family, our love of certain traditions, our devotion to patriotism or to sports or to politics.

Are other atheists so cocksure that they want to take a popular stand against the essence of "spirituality"? Yes, such an opinion may be valid; it may be correct for all I know -- but now it is suicide. When theists ask us why we can live our lives in a moral way, it isn't because they think we're evil -- it's because for them, spirituality is linked to all of these other positive values.

I agree that this connection is a profoundly negative one. But rather than focusing on a complete rejection of spirituality, it would be wiser and more efficient for us to shift the topic of spirituality away from the religious sentiments which divide us and towards the emotional sentiments which we all have in common.

I have nothing against Carl Sagan's or most liberal Christians' or Jews' or pantheists' spirituality. My problems lie with dogma. I have nothing against faith. My problems lie with blind faith.

I just want people to be able to make a knowledgeable decision about religion. Organized religion has claimed a place of unquestioned privilege in the realms of spirituality and morality which I strongly feel it has not deserved for much of human history. For me, it is long past time to reclaim morality and spirituality back from the vise grip of organized dogma.

I have no problems with individual religious experiences or even organized religion itself. My main frustration is with the monolithic oppression of dogma -- fundamentalism and ignorance devastatingly at work. That is the message atheists need to convey.

Atheists are not opposed to spirituality or morality -- not opposed to emotion or feeling -- not opposed to family or patriotism or service -- most atheists are opposed to the ignorance, prejudice, and anti-intellectualism which are strongly identified with religious fundamentalism and even many guises of so-called religious moderation.

Doubt, not dogma. Spirituality, not religion. Faith, not blind faith. Healing, not heresy.

The next segment more geared toward religious believers.

Dear Christian

I am inclined to believe that atheists will never be able to conclusively prove that the generic “god” does not exist. I can’t foretell this, but it seems that there are too many obstacles and unknowns to justify such a belief.

However, I believe that I am fully justified to not believe in the god of the Bible, the god of the Qur’an, the god of Joseph Smith, the god of Scientology, and many other gods which we know of now.

In all likelihood, I cannot disprove the existence of these gods. But there are things of which I know now which to me make it highly unlikely that any of these gods would exist.

Is evolution true? Then I cannot take the Bible literally.

Is the Biblical revelation, and more importantly, the interpretation of Biblical revelation, inconsistent? Then I cannot take the Bible (or most forms of Christianity) seriously.

Is the mind a product of the brain? Then I see no reason why I should believe in the concept of the “soul”.

A metaphorical interpretation of the Bible is more or less fine until I start to doubt the coherency of Christian dogma. But the incoherency is more or less defensible or avoidable until I doubt the existence of the “soul”.

Then I must proceed in doubting the premises of Christianity, due to this continually evolving set of circumstances.

If, once I begin to doubt the premises of Christianity, I cannot defend them, nor convince myself of their meaning or relevance or application or even existence, then I cannot in good faith profess Christianity as my religion, and then I feel compelled to move on to something else.

I am not here to insult or denigrate you.

I just want to express my beliefs, my experiences, and my struggles. I want to illuminate the discussions of religion and faith and skepticism. I want to contribute to our knowledge. I want to engage others in intelligent, calm, rational argument.

I am sure that you want the very same things that I do.