Why do All Things Die

March 28, 2012

Casey Asks:

Hello, my name is Casey. I am an Evangelical Christian. I believe in the Bible, and it’s reason for why all living things die. I am not looking for a debate, but I would like to know what an atheist believes is the reason for the death. Why do all organisms have life spans?


The incomprehensible and Atheist thought

February 18, 2012

Kurt says:

For many of us, the definition of an Atheist is one who does not believe in the existence of a God. To discuss this further then one must agree to a benchmark Atheist definition of what does the word God mean? Is God a higher power, a supernatural force, or as described by the two main western religions; Christianity & Judaism.

NASA’s Kepler Mission is searching for planetary systems throughout our Galaxy. Based upon all of the Initial research of the Kepler Mission scientists now believe our Galaxy contains more planets than it does stars! That means there should be no less than one trillion stars and five trillion planets. Of all those five trillion planets most scientists believe that no less than 5% will be in a Goldy Lox Zone! That would equal 250 Billion Planets. Of those 250 Billion conservatively 5% would harbor life. Of the 12.5 Billion which harbor life it is estimated that no less than 1% (125 Million) will have intelligent life forms and of these 125 million planets it is now believed that at least 1% or 1.25 million planets within our galaxy harbor intelligent life which is vastly more evolved than our comprehension. In other words life or entities with incomprehensible higher powers.


Do Atheists Judge God’s Morality?

December 6, 2011

Mike Johnson asks:

Question for discussion: If morality is exclusively human in origin and relevance, why do we judge the God of the Bible with it?

Explained:

On the premise that human moral values and obligations are a product of human evolution, they would necessarily only apply to human beings and useful in governing and judging human behavior, and would be subject to change and further “evolve” over time.

Many atheists object to what they conclude are “immoral” acts committed by God described in the Bible, i.e. murder, commanding genocide, incest, slavery, etc.

How can morality that only applies to contemporary humans be used to make moral judgments against a hypothetical Creator God, who, if He existed, would not be bound to moral laws from human conceptualization, based on descriptions of immoral acts that the Bible portrays as occurring thousands of years ago? Doesn’t this show that even the atheist who would make such objections holds that morality is universal and absolute regardless of time, place or person, thereby placing the origin of moral values and obligations somewhere outside the scope of human convention?


Divinely Guided Evolution: a Profile of God

September 25, 2011

While the vast majority of believers accept that evolution occurs, they hold that the evolution is guided by God.  They believe that God created us, but He used the process of evolution to do it.  In this post, I’ll explore what this implies about the nature of God.

Evolution in a Nutshell – a simplified account

When an individual’s genome is altered, the change in the genome on rare occasion is advantageous: it gives the individual an edge over others of its species.  This individual might be stronger than average, or more resistant to some threat in its environment for example.  If the individual passes on the genetic alteration to its progeny, and if the progeny are more likely to reproduce than the others in the population who don’t have the genetic alteration, then over a long stretch of time, this new genetic alteration becomes more and more prevalent in the population until the majority of individuals in the population have the alteration.

Any species tends to split into a number of isolated populations.  Isolation can occur due to migration of different populations in different directions to seek out new resources, or due to changes in geography to name a few examples.  As different genetic alterations take place in different isolated populations, the gene pool of any one of the populations begins to “drift” apart from the gene pool of the other population.  That is, the gene pool of any one population continues to accumulate alterations and steadily becomes less like the gene pool of the other populations. At some point, the differences in the the population’s genetics are enough that individuals in the population can no longer reproduce with individuals from the other populations.  The population becomes genetically distinct – it becomes a distinct species which will continue to evolve independent of the other populations.

While this is an gross oversimplification of the process of evolution, it is accurate enough for the purpose of this discussion.

Evolution – the “losers”

We tend to focus our attention on the “winners” in the process of evolution, the ones who evolve into new species.  However, the vast majority if individuals are “losers”.  Some are losers because changes to the their genome are detrimental to the extent that they are disadvantaged in some critical way, perhaps by some sort of deformity at birth or some other inability to thrive.  Perhaps they are more susceptible to agonizing diseases, or they slowly starve because the are unable to adequately compete for food.  They suffer and die.

The majority are losers because they weren’t fortunate enough to receive the advantageous genetic trait.  The population with the advantageous trait is able to spread because its members can out compete the “normal” non-advantaged majority for resources in the environment.  The “normal” individuals are less adept to compete for resources and they often slowly starve or are killed by their stronger rivals.  Eventually, the advantaged population grows to become the new majority – who will subsequently be losers to a new minority population which acquires some new advantageous trait.

Profile of God – guided suffering

The product of evolution is creatures that die, and few of those deaths are painless.  All of “God’s creatures” suffer. If God has a plan, suffering is an integral part of it.  The vast majority who are “losers” in God’s game of evolution tend to suffer even more than the winners.  If evolution is guided, it is guided by a cruel Hand.

To paraphrase Epicurious’ Riddle: is God willing to prevent his creatures from suffering but unable?  Then God is not omnipotent.  Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Then why do his creatures suffer? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?


Jesus Couldn’t Have Died for Original Sin

August 14, 2011

Christianity tells us that we are all sinners and doomed to Hell, unless we accept Jesus as our Savior.  The reason we are doomed is that we are all sinners. The Apostle Paul says in Rom 5:12:

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

The reason that we are all sinners is that we “inherit” the “Original Sin” of Adam.  As sinners we deserve death.  Only Jesus’ death could atone for Original Sin.

Right?

That puts Christians in an awkward position.

Christians have to hold that there really was an Adam and Eve and a talking Serpent in the Garden of Eden.  They have to accept the creation story of Genesis. Most Christians have abandoned this position in favor of concepts like “divinely guided evolution”.  A few Christians still argue in favor of creation a la Genesis but the arguments have been exposed over and over as baseless dogma and have rapidly lost traction among all but the most fundamentalist of Christians.

Or, Christians can accept evolution, even if they qualify it as divinely guided evolution.  Then there was no Adam in a garden with Trees of Life and Knowledge.  If there is no Adam, there is no Original Sin.  There is only our nature (is it sinful?).  And our nature is the product of evolution (is it divinely guided?).  If there is no Original Sin, then why did Jesus die?


Do You Believe in Faith Healers?

July 15, 2011

I’ve always been fascinated by faith healers, and even more fascinated by the people who believe in them.  This video is long – really long – just over an hour.  And it’s often a bit slow and boring, but it’s also astounding.  Don’t miss any of it!

If you are a believer in God and in faith healers, consider what you have just watched here.  Then ask yourself: “in what material ways are the faith healers I believe in different from Pastor James Collins?”

If you are a believer in God but not a believer in faith healers, you might join me in recognizing how believers in faith healing don’t simply believe – they need to believe.  Any attempt to dissuade them from their belief is not met with good reasons for their belief, but instead it is met by emotional responses that are disguised as reasons.  Because in the end, the “reasons” they give are not rational, and there is no real reasoning with them.  You might ask yourself: “is this like my belief in God?  Do I believe for good reasons, or do I simply need to believe?  Are my “reasons” rational?  Or are my reasons specifically designed to justify what I already believe?”

Extra credit:

Atheists should also contemplate the nature of their belief that God does not exist: “do I start with a belief that God does not exist and then seek reasons to justify this belief, or is my belief that God does not exist a result of reason?”

Since by definition, agnostics don’t find that the evidence they have is sufficient to form a belief regarding the existence of God, can “needing to believe” influence their belief about the existence of God?


Creating the Creator

July 10, 2011

We humans believe in all sorts of different gods.  It is a rare person who believes that all of these gods exist.  Most people in modern society believe that only one particular God exists (Allah or Yahveh for example), or they believe that only a particular pantheon exists (The Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and angels for example). And a few of us believe that none of these gods exist.

Unless you happen to be one of the rare people who believe that all gods that anyone conceives of really exists, you can join me in exploring how people come to dream up the gods that do not exist (excluding, of course, your god or pantheon which really does exist).  Here is one plausible account:

Memories of the dead

When a parent dies, there is very often the mistaken feeling that the parent is still somehow still with us after his or her death. We continue to “feel” the parent’s presence for several months. Our memories of the parent, emotional denial of his or her death, our habit of having the parent with us since birth, all make it difficult to realize the loss. In some societies, ancestor worship is the main religion. These feelings, that the parent is still present, has grown into a codified belief system where ancestors are always present and watching over their progeny.

When some ancestors become more powerful than others (the spirit of my great great granddad can protect me against the spirit of your great great granddad), that ancestor becomes a demigod. Each generation attributes more powers and abilities to their demigods. Over time, the demigods begin to look like what we would call gods.

Belief in the unseen

Most of the time, we (and other animals) can distinguish an agent from an inanimate object. We can tell for example that a lief blowing overhead in a stiff wind is inanimate, even though it is moving erratically. We can tell that a hawk gliding smoothly overhead is animate; the hawk is an “agent”. An agent can act, it has the ability to direct it’s movements. Inanimate objects can be acted upon but they don’t act of their own accord.

We are good at recognizing agency. Our ability to recognize agency is hardwired in us, it is essential for our survival. We can recognize pray, and more importantly, we can recognize predators. But because our ability to recognize agency isn’t perfect, we have evolved to err on the side of mistaking an inanimate object for an agent. This has some disadvantages. One disadvantage is that we might flee at the sound of a falling pine cone. However, this is far more preferable than erring in the other direction – it is far more preferable than mistaking an agent for an inanimate object. That is how you get eaten by a predator!

We’ve all heard a creak in the house that sounded a little like a footstep. Or we’ve seen a shadow that look a little like a person. Because we are hardwired to recognize agency, and if we can’t tell for sure, we’re hardwired to err on the side of recognizing agency when there is no agent. We interpret these “unseen agents” as spirits or ghosts. Spirits and ghosts are what we call agents that are invisible. Most of us have had the experience of “seeing a ghost” until we look close and discover we have seen a shadow.

Language develops

As hominids become bipedal, children could no longer easily hang from the mother as she goes about her business of foraging and traveling. The child had to walk close by as soon as he became big enough to walk. As a result, physical gestures between mother and child became less effective since the child and mother were no longer in constant physical contact. Vocal utterances began to take on a primary role in mother child communication: “stay close by, beware of danger, eat this, stop that!”

Language takes on a more important role as toolmaking develops – it’s a way to pass on the skill to children and other tribesman. Finally, it becomes a way of facilitating cooperation. Language evolves from grunts and hoots and becomes symbolic.

Language can describe the unseen

As language becomes more sophisticated, it becomes adequate to describe a dead ancestor or tribesman to a child who has never seen him.

Conflation of real and imaginary

The child grows up with the understanding that there are unseen people who everyone believes to be real. The same child hears stories of mistaken (or intentionally invented) agents which are indistinguishable from stories of extinct agents. There is a conflation between an imagined agent who never existed with real extinct people who really did exist.

Imagining Gods

Memories of ancestors become distorted as more superhuman feats are attributed to them. Super ancestors are imagined to explain apparent agency that would not be possible actions of (normal) dead relatives: thunder, earthquakes, the sun tracking along the sky, floods, famine, epidemics.

Imagining a Creator

Logic develops and people begin to recognize that things have origins. What is the agent that created those things? The origin stories from different cultures give us examples of various Creators that we humans have imagined.


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