Tag: god

Belief in supernatural beings is totally natural – and false

Source: Aeon

Author: Stephen Law

Emphasis Mine

Human beings are remarkably prone to supernatural beliefs and, in particular, to beliefs in invisible agents – beings that, like us, act on the basis of their beliefs and desires, but that, unlike us, aren’t usually visible to the naked eye. Belief in the existence of such person-like entities is ubiquitous. As Steven Pinker notes in ‘The Evolutionary Psychology of Religion’ (2004), in all human cultures people believe that illness and calamity ‘are caused and alleviated by a variety of invisible person-like entities: spirits, ghosts, saints, evils, demons, cherubim or Jesus, devils and gods’. In the United States, for example, a 2013 Harris Poll found that around 42 per cent believe in ghosts, 64 per cent in survival of the soul after death, 68 per cent in heaven, and 74 per cent in God.

Why are we drawn to such beliefs? The answer cannot be simply that they are true. Clearly, most aren’t. We know many beliefs are false because they contradict other similar beliefs. Take god-type beliefs. Some believe there’s one god; others (such as the Manicheans) that there are two gods; others: pantheons of gods. People also hold dramatically differing beliefs about the characteristics of these divine beings, ascribing to them incompatible attributes and actions. But it’s not just disagreement between believers that reveals many of these beliefs to be false. Science has also demonstrated that many of these beliefs are false: for example, diseases are produced not by demonic beings but by entirely natural causes. And of course, supposed evidence for such beings – sightings of ghosts, fairies, angels, gods and their miraculous activities – is regularly debunked by investigators.

When people are asked to justify their belief in such invisible beings, they often appeal to two things. First, to testimony: to reports of sightings, miraculous events supposedly caused by such beings, and so on. Any New Age bookshop will be able to provide numerous testimonies regarding invisible agency that might seem hard to account for naturalistically in terms of hallucination, self-deception, misidentified natural phenomena, trickery, and so on. Second, many will also claim a subjective sense of presence: they ‘just know’ their dead Auntie is in the room with them, or that they have a guardian angel, by means of some sort of extra sense: a spirit sense. The Delphic oracle believed she received communications from the god Apollo while perched on her tripod. Many contemporary religious folk believe they can sense divinity by means of some sort of sensus divinitatis or god-sense.

If there really are no good grounds for believing such beings exist, however, why do people believe in them? There’s much scientific speculation about that but, as yet, no definitive answer.

One obvious advantage of positing invisible agents is that they can account for what might otherwise be baffling. I could swear I left my keys on the table, but there they are under the sofa. How on Earth did that happen? If I believe in gremlins – invisible beings living in my house that have the desire to cause mischief and the power to do so – then the mystery is immediately solved. Invisible agents provide quick, convenient explanations for events that might otherwise strike us as deeply mysterious and, in so far as these beings can be appeased or persuaded, belief in them can also create the illusion of control, which can be comforting in an otherwise uncertain and dangerous world.

Scientists working in the cognitive science of religion have offered other explanations, including the hyperactive agency-detecting device (HADD). This tendency explains why a rustle in the bushes in the dark prompts the instinctive thought: ‘There’s someone there!’ We seem to have evolved to be extremely quick to ascribe agency – the capacity for intention and action – even to inanimate objects. In our ancestral environment, this tendency is not particularly costly in terms of survival and reproduction, but a failure to detect agents that are there can be very costly. Fail to detect a sabre-toothed cat, and it’ll likely take you out of the gene pool. The evolution of a HADD can account for the human tendency to believe in the presence of agents even when none can actually be observed. Hence the human belief in invisible person-like beings, such as spirits or gods. There are also forms of supernatural belief that don’t fit the ‘invisible person-like being’ mould, but merely posit occult forces – eg, feng shui, supernaturally understood – but the HADD doesn’t account for such beliefs.

In fact, I doubt that any single mechanism accounts for the human tendency to hold such supernatural beliefs. Certainly nothing as crude as ‘wishful thinking’ really does the job. What is believed is not always to the liking of the believer; sometimes, as in the case of night visits by demonic beings, it’s absolutely terrifying. In any case, the appeal to wishful thinking just postpones the mystery, as we then require an explanation for why humans are so attracted to believing in invisible beings.

Whatever the correct explanation for the peculiar human tendency to believe falsely in invisible person-like beings, the fact that we’re so prone to false positive beliefs, particularly when those beliefs are grounded in some combination of testimony and subjective experience, should provide caution to anyone who holds a belief in invisible agency on that basis.

Suppose I see a snake on the ground before me. Under most circumstances, it’s then reasonable for me to believe there is indeed a snake there. However, once presented with evidence that I’d been given a drug to cause vivid snake hallucinations, it’s no longer reasonable for me to believe I’ve seen a snake. I might still be seeing a real snake but, given the new evidence, I can no longer reasonably suppose that I am.

Similarly, if we possess good evidence that humans are very prone to false belief in invisible beings when those beliefs are based on subjective experience, then I should be wary of such beliefs. And that, in turn, gives me good grounds for doubting that my dead uncle, or an angel, or god, really is currently revealing himself to me, if my only basis for belief is my subjective impression that this is so. Under such circumstances, those who insist ‘I just know!’ aren’t being reasonable.

See: https://aeon.co/ideas/belief-in-supernatural-beings-is-totally-natural-and-false?utm_source=Aeon+Newsletter&utm_campaign=15c70c8060-Saturday_newsletter_16_July_20167_14_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_411a82e59d-15c70c8060-68915721

Does the beauty and effectiveness of math in understanding the world prove anything?

Source: why evolution is true

Author: whyeveloutionistrue

Emphasis Mine

One of the disadvantages of shopping for food early Sunday morning is that Krista Tippett’s “On Being” program is on National Public Radio at 7 a.m. And, of course, I have to listen, cursing to myself for an entire hour. Why do I do it, you ask? I could say that I need to keep my finger on the pulse of America, and that’s one reason, but it also serves as an Orwellian Sixty Minutes of Hate. (“Hate” is too strong; I think that Tippett and her followers are pitiable, though she’s very well compensated.)

Today’s show, actually, wasn’t so bad (I heard only about 40 minutes), as it featured a man who resisted all attempts to couch his thoughts as woo: Frank Wilczek, an MIT professor who, along with David Gross and H. D. Politzer, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2004 for work on the strong interaction.  Tippett being Tippett, the topic, of course, wasn’t really physics per se but, as you can see from the show’s title (“Why is the World So Beautiful?“), the “spiritual.” Wilczek has also written several popular books (I haven’t read them), one with the unfortunate title of A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design. I doubt that it’s teleological or osculates faith, but I wouldn’t have used the word “design”, which of course implies a Designer.

At any rate, Wilczek tackled an interesting topic: the beauty of mathematics and how well “beautiful and simple equations” describe the structure of the cosmos through physical laws. Why are such simple and “beautiful” theories so useful in describing the laws of physics? The wonder that Wilczek evinced resembled that expressed by Eugene Wigner in his famous 1960 paper, “The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences.” Here’s a quote from that paper:

It is difficult to avoid the impression that a miracle confronts us here, quite comparable in its striking nature to the miracle that the human mind can string a thousand arguments together without getting itself into contradictions or to the two miracles of the existence of laws of nature and of the human mind’s capacity to divine them. The observation which comes closest to an explanation for the mathematical concepts’ cropping up in physics which I know is Einstein’s statement that the only physical theories which we are willing to accept are the beautiful ones.

I doubt that most physicists would consider this a “miracle” (Wilczek didn’t come close to using that word); and, as I discuss in Faith versus Fact, there are anthropic reasons for the laws of physics being constant rather than variable (our bodies wouldn’t function, and no organism could evolve, if the laws varied wildly), as well as for mathematics being able to describe the laws of physics.

This leaves two questions: why are the laws of physics described with such simple—and, to physicists, beautiful—equations? And why, as Wilczek maintained, has beauty served physicists so well as a guide to truth? In fact, at one point Wilczek said that, when deriving an equation to explain physical phenomena, “It was so beautiful that I knew it had to be true.”

As a working (or ex-working) scientist, I recoil at such statements. To me, beauty cannot be evidence of truth, though it may be a guide to truth. If so, how does that work? But I even wonder how often mathematical beauty itself, which, after all, doesn’t come out of thin air but builds on previous equations known to describe reality, guides the search for truth completely independent of empiricism.  I’m not qualified to answer that question, nor the questions of whether even more beautiful equations could be wrong, or whether it’s all that surprising that the effectiveness of math in describing physics is “unreasonable.”

Of course Tippett tried to turn all this toward spirituality, and at one point asked Wilczek if this beauty was evidence for Something Bigger Out There that others have called God, but he batted away the question. The woman tries to force everything into her Procrustean Bed of Spirituality. But leaving that aside, I have three questions for readers to ponder, and—especially for readers with expertise in math and physics—to give their take in the comments:

  1. Aren’t there “ugly” theories that describe reality? What is a beautiful theory, anyway?
  2. Are there beautiful theories that physics has proposed that turned out to be wrong?
  3. Is it even worth pondering the question (if the proposition is true) about why physical reality is explained by such simple and “beautiful” equations? My own reaction would be “that’s just the way it is,” but clearly people like Tippett want to go “deeper.”


By the way, at the end of the show, Tippett announced the major donors to the show, and the first of these was—surprise!—the John Templeton Foundation (JTF). I hadn’t heard that before, and the JTF isn’t listed among the “funding partners” on the show’s main page:


Study Shows Religion In The U.S. Is In Decline


Source: Patheos

Author: Michael Stone

Emphasis Mine

Good News: Despite a vocal minority of Christian extremists, religion in the United States is in decline, and secularization is on the rise.

A new study finds a slow decline in American religiosity over time, demonstrating that religion in the United States is declining and mirroring patterns found across the western world.

The new research shows that contrary to anecdotal evidence, the United States is no different than other modern societies in the inevitable move towards secularization.

According to the new research from UCL and Duke University published in the March 2016 edition of the American Journal of Sociology, there is a slow, steady drop in the number of Americans who claim religious affiliations, attend church regularly and believe in God.

The study, titledIs the United States a Counterexample to the Secularization Thesis?”, also finds that these drops are driven by generational differences. For example:

94 percent of Americans born before 1935 claim a religious affiliation. For the generation born after 1975, that number drops to 71 percent.

68 percent of Americans 65 and older said they had no doubt God exists, according to the study. But just 45 percent of young adults, ages 18-30, had the same belief.

41 percent of people 70 and older said they attend church services at least once a month, compared to just 18 percent of people 60 and younger.

The abstract of the study reads:

Virtually every discussion of secularization asserts that high levels of religiosity in the United States make it a decisive counterexample to the claim that modern societies are prone to secularization. Focusing on trends rather than levels, the authors maintain that, for two straightforward empirical reasons, the United States should no longer be considered a counterexample. First, it has recently become clear that American religiosity has been declining for decades. Second, this decline has been produced by the generational patterns underlying religious decline elsewhere in the West: each successive cohort is less religious than the preceding one. America is not an exception. These findings change the theoretical import of the United States for debates about secularization.

Speaking about his research, David Voas, a social scientist with UCL and co-author of the study, said:

None of these declines is happening fast, but the signs are now unmistakable. It has become clear that American religiosity has been declining for decades, and the decline is driven by the same dynamic — generational differences — that has driven religious decline across the developed world.

Mark Chaves, a professor of sociology, divinity and religion at Duke University, and another co-author of the study, notes:

The US decline has been so gradual that until recently scientists haven’t had enough data to be sure the trend was real. The US has long been considered an exception to the modern claim that religion is declining, but if you look at the trajectory, and the generational dynamic that is producing the trajectory, we may not be an exception after all.

Bottom line: This is good news. Despite the perverse Christian extremism of some Americans, things are getting better, and religious superstition is on the decline in America.


What’s in a Name? Religious Nones and the American Religious Landscape

Source: Religion Dispatches

Author: Richord Flory

Emphasis Mine

Over the last several years the term religious “Nones” has become a major topic of discussion and analysis by those who pay attention to religious trends. Although the term dates back at least to the 1960s, based on its current usage and popularization, it would appear as though it is a completely new designation for a growing segment of the American population—those who are unaffiliated with any religious group.

What has caught everyone’s attention is that there has been a significant and sustained increase in the number of people who are choosing not to identify with any religion. As reported by the Pew Research Center, in 2007, 16 percent of American adults reported no religious preference or affiliation; by 2014 this statistic had increased to almost 23 percent. And younger adults are more likely to say that they have no religion than their parents or grandparents’ generations.

Many church leaders are concerned about their losses and what in their view will result in a general decline in social and personal morals. Others rationalize their losses as essentially a culling of the religious herd. Now, they say, we’re down to people who really believe, instead of “cultural Christians” who don’t adhere to Christian beliefs. Meanwhile, many atheists claim that the entire category is populated by fellow atheists who are somehow reluctant or afraid to publicly proclaim their disbelief.

These reactions to the increase in the number of people classified as “religious Nones” represent an assumption based on a market approach of religion and an understanding of religion as a binary reality. Just like any other business, success in the religious marketplace is the goal, and it is measured by the number of people who identify with your particular brand of religion (or irreligion as the case may be). Further, individuals are thought of as either being religious (or spiritual) or not; there are no other options. Thus the basic gist of the majority of writing and hand-wringing about the “rise of the Nones” is that secularism is on the rise, and religion and spirituality is in retreat.

In my view, this assumption doesn’t actually capture the diversity of beliefs, non-beliefs and practices within the Nones category. So, what is really going on with religious Nones?

The origins of the term shed some light on who exactly is actually included in the category. Although the category already existed, in 1968 sociologist Glenn M. Vernon published an article titled, “The Religious ‘Nones’: A Neglected Category” that brought the idea of “Nones” forward as an analytic category that religion scholars could, and should, explore. Vernon focused on the response of “none” or “none of the above” to the survey question, “What religion are you?” As it does today, his description of the term included “atheists, agnostics, those with ‘no preference,’ [and] those with no affiliation,” but it also included members of small groups that were not otherwise classified into a larger religious group. He proceeded to analyze the beliefs, experiences and affiliations of people within the Nones category. Vernon then argued that this category needed more analysis and actually suggested an alternative term for Nones (which obviously never caught on): “religious independents.”

More recently, in particular with the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), and the 2012 Pew Research Center report “Nones on the Rise,” this term has become part of the public imagination of the fate of religion in the US. (Indeed some have tracked the origins of the term Nones to the 2012 Pew report, others to ARIS researchers, rather than to its earlier origins.)

Despite all this attention, the Nones category isn’t particularly helpful for understanding what is happening with religion in the U.S., unless the different groups that can be identified within the larger category are disaggregated. Moving beyond simply classifying individuals by their religious or irreligious identity, particularly by listening to how they describe the diverse ways that they think (and act) about religion, we can identify some of the groups within the larger Nones category.

In addition to atheists, agnostics, and those who identify as “nothing in particular,” there are the “spiritual but not religious,” although they would not be found exclusively within the Nones category.

There are others who dismiss the whole idea of being “spiritual but not religious,” but who do religious/spiritual things. They occasionally attend services, pray, believe in Karma and meditate. But they don’t tend to think of these things as having any particular religious or spiritual content.

Focusing on Nones also misses those who are marginally interested in religion, rarely if ever attend services, yet claim that it has some relevance in their lives. Some Nones attend religious services on occasion, are generally open to the idea of the supernatural and believe in God or a higher power, but do not identify themselves as religious or with any particular religious tradition. As one young woman told me when I asked her whether religion had any relevance in her life, “A little bit, maybe 5 percent.”

There are still others who are generally disinterested in religion, are OK with idea of God—whether for themselves or others—but are not inclined to either identify themselves as atheists, agnostics or spiritual but not religious. There are even those who don’t believe in God but who differentiate themselves from atheists. Yes, these people exist, and in general, they distinguish themselves from what they see as the overly strident tone of atheists as well as the preoccupation of atheists to argue that God does not exist—neither practice appeals to these individuals.

Each of these have an important link to a larger perspective that we find, particularly among younger people, that might be thought of as the “It’s All Good” ethic, which tends to stretch across the religious and non-religious alike about many life issues. As applied specifically to religion, there is an acknowledgment that others can believe—or not believe—whatever they want: “It’s all good,” at least so long as nobody gets hurt.

Since the entire category is based on non-affiliation, all those people who may identify with a particular religion but have no involvement with any religious institution are also left out. This would include people who, for example, identify as Jewish, Catholic or generally “Christian,” but who never or rarely attend services, have no spiritual practices, and are otherwise uninvolved in any religious institution, whether church, synagogue, temple, or mosque.

Finally, and perhaps most telling, people that religion scholars (like myself) designate as Nones rarely think of themselves in that way. This in itself isn’t too insightful, since most scholarly categories are at least once-removed from real life. Yet, in this case, I think it illustrates the point: how people understand the role of religion in their lives is often much different than what scholars are able to express through their measures.

Religious Nones is a more complex—and interesting—category than its name implies. Perhaps following Vernon’s 1968 suggestion to call the religiously unaffiliated “religious independents,” we might pursue a better term for this category. Yet even then we are left with a category that implies a particular theoretical and methodological approach to religion that really doesn’t fit what is going on in real world.

Rather than imposing a category that forces a multi-dimensional reality into a dichotomous measure of religious or not, or thinking about religion as a purely numbers game of what group has the most adherents, we might shift our attention to focus on how religion, values, relationships and meaning really operate in the lives of individuals and communities—religious or not.

See: http://religiondispatches.org/whats-in-a-name-religious-nones-and-the-american-religious-landscape/?utm_source=Religion+Dispatches+Newsletter&utm_campaign=3090e731c9-RD_Daily_Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_742d86f519-3090e731c9-42427517

Atheism 101: The anti-intellectualism of religion

Source: Examiner

Author: Staks Rosch

Emphasis Mine

As an atheist, one of my biggest issues with the Abrahamic religions is that they perpetuate a culture of anti-intellectualism. It isn’t hard to miss. For example, it is no surprise that the large numbers of evangelical Christians in America are ignorant and proud. The fact that one of the most idiotic President in our nation’s history (George W. Bush) was elected mainly because of the support of Christian fundamentalists speaks volumes. Not to mention that within the Republican Party there is continually a race to the intellectual bottom with most candidates and politicians touting their religious beliefs and conviction.

A quick look back at history also shows that the Church and various organized religions have done everything they could to restrict science and knowledge. At every stage of scientific achievement, fervent religious believers were always there persecuting those who wished to expand human knowledge and human progress. One of the humanities biggest loses came pretty early on too. In 415 CE a Christian mob brutally murdered Hypatia of Alexandria. I would go into more details about the brutality of that murder, but it is a bit graphic. Needless to say, it was much more brutal than what Christians often describe as the “Passion of Christ.” She was one of the bright lights of science in her time. Even today, almost half of Christians in America stand against the scientific theories of evolution, the big bang, and global climate change. Many religious believers even oppose scientific medical advances like stem cell research, vaccines, and blood transfusions.

The fact is, that the more religious someone is the less value they tend to place on science and education. According to the National Academy of Sciences, 93% of scientists express disbelief or doubt in the existence of a personal deity. 72% outright disbelieve in a personified deity. These are among the brightest minds on Earth. Both Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking (widely considered the two smartest men who every lived) had issue with the personified deity of the Abrahamic religions. These men joined the company of many of the most intellectual founding fathers such as Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, among other.

The concept of “faith” is a slap in the face to science and intellectual curiosity. Faith stops questions while science encourages questions. Faith provides dishonest, unsupportable, and unquestioned certainty while science leaves every conclusion open to re-evaluation with additional evidence and discoveries. With faith, no education is necessary. In fact, education seems to often be a determent to faith. This is one of the biggest reasons why Christian fundamentalists are so keen on homeschooling so that they can control the information their children are exposed to. Even in the Bible, the character of Jesus elevates blind faith above intellectual rigor, reason, and evidence.

This is not the only instance in which the Bible attacks the intellect. Corinthians is full of such examples. “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise” – 1 Corinthians 1:27 and “That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 2:5. There are many more examples where those came from. Just pick up your Bible and read it for yourself.

Science, reason, and intellectualism support the concepts of continued questioning, education, and human curiosity. Through the scientific method, the rules of logic, and the thirst to understand, people of reason are continually pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and helping to make life better and longer for us all. Yet, example after example, the Bible and the Abrahamic religions stand against the intellect and continue to propagate ignorance, fear, and unreason. Between the Creation Museum and the absolute unquestioning certainty of a divine deity, religion remains one of the biggest oppositions to human progress and the greatest threat to intellectualism and humanity’s continued survival on this planet.

Religion often starts with the conclusion and then tries to find justifications for that conclusion. Science and intellectualism on the other hand start with curiosity and then form conclusions based on the evidence and even those conclusions can be re-evaluated if new evidence comes to light.



Paul Dirac on Religion:


” I cannot understand why we idle discussing religion. If we are honest—and scientists have to be—we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. The very idea of God is a product of the human imagination. It is quite understandable why primitive people, who were so much more exposed to the overpowering forces of nature than we are today, should have personified these forces in fear and trembling. But nowadays, when we understand so many natural processes, we have no need for such solutions. I can’t for the life of me see how the postulate of an Almighty God helps us in any way. What I do see is that this assumption leads to such unproductive questions as why God allows so much misery and injustice, the exploitation of the poor by the rich and all the other horrors He might have prevented. If religion is still being taught, it is by no means because its ideas still convince us, but simply because some of us want to keep the lower classes quiet. Quiet people are much easier to govern than clamorous and dissatisfied ones. They are also much easier to exploit. Religion is a kind of opium that allows a nation to lull itself into wishful dreams and so forget the injustices that are being perpetrated against the people. Hence the close alliance between those two great political forces, the State and the Church. Both need the illusion that a kindly God rewards—in heaven if not on earth—all those who have not risen up against injustice, who have done their duty quietly and uncomplainingly. That is precisely why the honest assertion that God is a mere product of the human imagination is branded as the worst of all mortal sins.” Paul Dirac, via Heisenberg.

7 Weird Realities Of Growing Up Without A Religion

10255797_10152206156388197_5651832525060857729_nSource: Thought Catalog

Author: Mathias Östlund

Emphasis Mine

Growing up in Sweden is awesome in a lot of ways, but something we don’t have much of is religion. Most of us grow up surrounded by atheism, and a lot of the times we’re not even introduced to the concept of God until we learn about it in school. Honestly, I wasn’t even entirely sure what a “God” was until I was about 8 years old. And as it turns out, not being indoctrinated into a religion until you’re somewhat capable of critical thinking can have some pretty weird side-effects.

1. The whole concept of God gets incredibly confusing

Imagine for a second that you had never heard about religion as a child, and that your first exposure to the concept of a “God” was through a more or less objective study of all the world’s major religions. You learn that some people believe there is one God, while others believe in several; some believe God is a shape-shifter, and others believe he is an old white guy with a great big beard.

Needless to say, 8-year-old me had a very hard time puzzling this all together.

2. It all just sounds like fairytales

Everyone seems to hold their particular belief as truth. But imagine if you were an 8-year-old kid being told that a long time ago, there was a man who could walk on water, create food out of thin air and resurrect from the dead. You’d probably just shrug it off as another lame comic book super hero with ridiculous powers.

At least, that’s what I did.

3. You start questioning people’s sanity

At first, I kind of just shrugged religion off as some sort of ridiculous stories, meant to entertain the generations that didn’t have video games or the internet. So imagine my surprise when this kid in school told me he actually believed in God, and prayed to him every day. At first, I thought he was joking, and when I realized that he wasn’t, I reacted in about the same way as I would if someone told me he actually believed in Super man.

Needless to say, I got sent to the principal’s office.

4. You can’t tell if religion is real or not

After getting in trouble for making fun of that kid’s religion, I was more confused than ever – if religion wasn’t real, then why was it such a big deal to make fun of it? So I asked my teacher about it, and she gave some halfhearted explanation about how it was sort of real, but still wasn’t.

So on one hand, religion was a real thing, and on the other hand it was just make-believe. For a kid who was still struggling with basic math, this wasn’t exactly the easiest concept to grasp.

5. As a kid, you get terrified

Picture this; you’re an 8-year-old kid without a care in the world, completely occupied with avoiding cooties and learning the names of the latest generation of Pokémon. Then one day, you find out about this place called “hell”, where you will be sent to suffer for all eternity unless you follow a bunch of rules and believe in the right things.

Of course you don’t believe it at first, but when you keep hearing more and more people talking about hell as a real place, you start to get more than a bit worried.

6. You have no idea which religion to choose

Every religious person in the world seems completely convinced that their God is the right one, and most of them seem to agree that anyone who doesn’t believe in that particular God is dead wrong and/or has a one-way ticket to this “hell” place.

Needless to say, you get more than a little confused about which religion you’re supposed to choose in order to avoid eternal damnation.

7. Eventually, you just say “screw it” and walk away

Imagine a bunch of people yelling at you that you need to start believing in this God or that, all while you’re still trying to figure out what a “God” even is. And instead of anyone actually trying to explain things, they only give you vague, propaganda-like answers that just sound like blatant lies.

Eventually, you’re just going to get frustrated and give everything the finger as you walk away. At least that’s what happened to me with religion, and I decided that hey, maybe this whole “God” thing just wasn’t for me. TC mark


New Dark Matter Map Confirms Current Theories

Source: Scientific American

Author:Jennifer Ouellette |

Emphasis Mine

The American Physical Society is holding its annual April Meeting at the moment in Baltimore, Maryland, and one of the highlights, research-wise, comes to us courtesy of the Dark Energy Survey (DES) collaboration. This afternoon, the researchers released the first in a series of maps of the dark matter that makes up some 23% of all the “stuff” (matter and energy) in our universe. The map was constructed based on data collected by the Dark Energy Camera, the primary instrument of the DES. The camera is perched high on a mountaintop, mounted on a telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, the better to get high-resolution images with minimal interference.

Now in its second year, the DES began taking data on August 31, 2013, with an eye toward better understanding dark matter’s role in the formation of galaxies. The resulting map unveiled today is, as one might expect, spectacular — the first to trace in fine detail how dark matter is distributed across a huge swathe of sky, although it’s a mere 3% of the area the DES will cover by the time it finishes its five-year scheduled run. It’s not the first dark matter map ever, but it’s the largest and highest resolution so far. Check it out:  

The analysis — carried out by a team led by Argonne National Laboratory’s Vinu Vikram and Chihway Change of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich — looked at very subtle distortions in the shapes of two million galaxies to construct the map, thanks to a technique called gravitational lensing, whereby the invisible gravitational effects of the dark matter bend light around said galaxies in predictable ways.

And so far, the researchers have found that the distribution of dark matter is pretty well in line with current theories — namely, that because there is significantly more dark matter than visible matter (a mere 4%) in the cosmos, galaxies were formed in those places where there are large concentrations of dark matter, and thus stronger gravity. Think of it as a delicate interplay between mass and light.

You can see that clustering in the color-coded image above, where the blue areas are where the density is about average, and the red and yellow areas depict regions of far greater density — places where there is more dark matter. The circles represent galaxies and galaxy clusters, which do indeed show up more in the higher-density areas. “Zooming into the maps, we have measured how dark matter envelops galaxies of different types and how together they evolve over cosmic time,” Chang said in an official press release. “We are eager to use the new data coming in to make much stricter tests of theoretical models.”

As more data becomes available over the next few years, the DES will further improve the scope and resolution of its dark matter maps. But the ultimate goal is to find out more about the accelerating universe, and more specifically, to suss out the nature of the mysterious dark energy that physicists believe is driving that acceleration. Dark energy accounts for a whopping 73% of the “stuff” in the universe, so, yanno, it’s pretty important. Like, Nobel

Prize worthy important. In fact, it’s among the top research questions in 21st century physics.

The tools and techniques the survey will use to do so aren’t limited to gravitational lensing. DES researchers will also study data from certain kinds of supernovae — the most common “standard candles” used to estimate cosmological distances. (Side note: a new paper in theAstrophysical Journal questions whether those standard candle Type 1a supernovae are as uniform as astronomers have assumed, which means the universe might be expanding at a slower rate than previously inferred.) They will also keep track of how many galaxy clusters are detectable by the Dark Energy Camera. Monitoring how that changes over time should shed more light on the ongoing tug-of-war between gravity and dark energy (essentially an anti-gravity).

Finally, the collaboration will study sound waves (a.k.a. baryonic oscillations) to map how the universe is expanding. Sound waves were created hundreds of thousands of years after the big bang that left an imprint in that galaxy distribution. Measure the positions of some 300 million galaxies, and physicists should be able to detect the pattern of that imprint, and use it to make inferences about the history of how the universe has been expanding.

As it happens, the Dark Energy Camera just won Symmetry‘s Physics Madness contest for favorite big physics machine, beating out the heavily favored Large Hadron Collider. Serendipity! Given this lovely new map, and the promise of even better ones to come, I’d say it’s an honor well deserved.About the Author: Jennifer Ouellette is a science writer who loves to indulge her inner geek by finding quirky connections between physics, popular culture, and the world at large. Follow on Twitter@JenLucPiquant.

See: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cocktail-party-physics/2015/04/13/new-dark-matter-map-confirms-current-theory/



George Zimmerman claims killing Trayvon Martin was God’s plan Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2015/03/george-zimmerman-claims-killing-trayvon-martin-was-gods-plan/#ixzz3VLFZABUG

Source: Patheos

Author: Michael Stone

Emphasis Mine

George Zimmerman claims killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was God’s plan, and that wishing Martin had lived would be “blasphemous,” according to a recently released interview.

Zimmerman spoke to his attorney about the case in an interview recorded earlier this month.

When asked “George how about the actual event itself. Do you wish you had turned different?” Zimmerman responded, in part:

…as a Christian I believe that God does everything for a purpose, and he had his plans and for me to second guess them would be hypocritical and almost blasphemous.

George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin on the evening of February 26, 2012. Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African American student, was confronted, shot, and killed near his home by Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain in the Orlando, Florida suburb of Sanford.

Zimmerman claims he was out on a “Neighborhood Watch patrol,” when he saw a “suspicious” young black man, ultimately shooting the youth in what Zimmerman claimed was self-defense.

Yet for many, Zimmerman’s story does not ring true, and the facts seem to contradict his claim of self defense. Indeed, for many, the known facts indicate that Zimmerman targeted, stalked and killed the unarmed teen simply because the youth was “walking while black.”

However, despite the evidence, a Florida jury acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in June of 2013.

In February of 2015, the Justice Department announced that there was not enough evidence to mount a successful federal hate crime prosecution against Zimmerman.

Despite these facts, many reasonable people believe Zimmerman got away with murder. Since killing Martin, Zimmerman has been arrested multiple times for domestic abuse.

In the interview with his attorney, Zimmerman not only claims that shooting Martin was God’s will, he also blames Obama for many of his troubles.

Readers can find a full transcript and video of the interview here.

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2015/03/george-zimmerman-claims-killing-trayvon-martin-was-gods-plan/#ixzz3VLGD9fFI



Why You Can’t Reconcile God and Evolution

Source: AlterNet

Author: Greta Christina

Emphasis Mine

“Of course I believe in evolution. And I believe in God, too. I believe that evolution is how God created life.”

You hear this a lot from progressive and moderate religious believers. They believe in some sort of creator god, but they heartily reject the extreme, fundamentalist, science-rejecting versions of their religions (as well they should). They want their beliefs to reflect reality – including the reality of the confirmed fact of evolution. So they try to reconcile the two by saying that that evolution is real, exactly as the scientists describe it — and that God made it happen. They insist that you don’t have to deny evolution to believe in God.

In the narrowest, most literal sense, of course this is true. It’s true that there are people who believe in God, and who also accept science in general and evolution in particular. This is an observably true fact: it would be absurd to deny it, and I don’t. I’m not saying these people don’t exist.

I’m saying that this position is untenable. I’m saying that the “God made evolution happen” position is rife with both internal contradictions and denial of the evidence. You don’t have to deny as much reality as young earth creationists do to take this position — but you still have to deny a fair amount. Here are four reasons that “God made evolution happen” makes no sense.

1. It contradicts a central principle of the theory of evolution.

According to theistic evolution (the fancy term for “God made evolution happen”), the process of evolution is shaped by the hand of God. God takes the processes of mutation, natural selection, and descent with modification, and uses them to direct life into the forms he wants – including the form of humanity.

But in evolution, there is no direction. At the core of the theory of evolution is the principle that whatever survives, survives, and whatever reproduces, reproduces. Each generation has to survive and reproduce on its own terms: there’s no selecting for a particular feature that’s harmful now but will be useful ten generations later, after a little more adapting. If a particular trait isn’t either beneficial or neutral to these animals, these plants, these bacteria, in this generation here and now – it’s going to be selected out pretty darn quick. Evolution is all about the immediate present and the very near future: it’s about surviving, and producing fertile offspring that live long enough to reproduce.

And there’s a huge amount of random chaos in the mix. If any of a hundred thousand quirks go a different way, the outcome can be different – sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. A flood shifts the course of a river, and a plant’s seeds float south-south-east instead of due south, and the seeds sprout on the part of the continent that splits off and becomes South America. An asteroid hits the planet and wipes out the dinosaurs, and these weird rodent-like creatures start reproducing like gangbusters, and in a few hundred thousand years some of their great-great-thousands-of-times-over grandchildren wind up as human beings.

Random stuff happens: if it happens differently, then different living things survive and reproduce, and it all turns out differently. Yes, the particular forms that life takes right now are wildly improbable — and if things had turned out differently, those forms would be wildly improbable. There’s no direction: there’s no selecting for life to take any particular form at any point in the future.

So it makes no sense to say that evolution is real, exactly as the scientists describe it — but that God is guiding it in the direction he wants. If evolution is exactly as the scientists describe it, there’s no direction for God to be guiding it in. God hasn’t got a thing to do with it.

Now, if the evidence suggested that evolution actually did work in this interventionist way — if the theory of evolution were based on it having no direction, but there were a bunch of evidence suggesting that it did have a direction, with some outside force pushing things in that direction — then the “no direction” part of the theory would have to go. And that would be fine. Our understanding of exactly how evolution works has shifted many times over the decades, and if there were a preponderance of evidence pointing to a Divine Tinkerer, we’d simply have to adjust the theory.

Which leads me to:

2. There’s not a scrap of evidence for it.

If there really were a Divine Tinkerer mucking about with evolution, like civil engineers re-directing a river or kids putting sticks in a stream, we’d see signs of it. When we looked at the fossil record, we’d see human knees suddenly re-shaped to better suit upright bipedal walking. We’d see human female pelvises suddenly re-shaped to better accommodate their infants’ larger brains without dying in childbirth. We’d see human brains suddenly re-shaped to better understand long-term cost-benefit analysis. And that’s just the humans.

We don’t see any of that. When we look at the fossil record — and the genetic record, and the geological record, and the anatomical record, and every other record from every branch of science that supports the theory of evolution and investigates how it works — we don’t see any signs whatsoever of outside intervention. What we do see is exactly what we’d expect to see if evolution were an entirely natural process, proceeding one generation at a time.

Now, some adherents of theistic evolution don’t think that God is tinkering with the process every day, or even every millennium, or even every epoch. Some theistic evolutionists are really more like deists: they think God set the entire process in motion, four billion years ago at the dawn of the planet, or 13.7 billion years ago at the dawn of the universe. They think God set the parameters way back in the mists of time, knowing how things would turn out, and is just sitting back watching it all unfold. That’s what they mean by “God made evolution happen.”

But there’s not a scrap of evidence for this, either. If your god is so non-interventionist that he’s entirely indistinguishable from physical cause and effect — what reason do you have to think he exists? In all of human history, the supernatural has never turned out to be the right answer to anything: natural explanations of phenomena have replaced supernatural ones thousands upon thousands of times, while supernatural explanations have replaced natural ones exactly never. So why would you think that an invisible god who set the wheels of evolution in motion, in a way that looks exactly like physical cause and effect, is more plausible than simple physical cause and effect?

As Julia Sweeney said in her performance piece “Letting Go of God, “The invisible and the non-existent often look very much alike.” Given that there’s not one scrap of evidence suggesting that this invisible Divine Tinkerer actually does exist — and a whole lot of evidence suggesting that he doesn’t — why would you conclude that he does?

Which leads me to:

3. There’s a whole lot of evidence against it.

Sinuses. Blind spots. External testicles. Backs and knees and feet shoddily warped into service for bipedal animals. Human birth canals barely wide enough to let the baby’s skull pass — and human babies born essentially premature, because if they stayed in utero any longer they’d kill their mothers coming out (which they sometimes do anyway). Wind pipes and food pipes in close proximity, leading to a great risk of choking to death when we eat. Impacted wisdom teeth, because our jaws are too small
for all our teeth. Eyes wired backwards and upside-down. The vagus nerve, wandering all over hell and gone before it gets where it’s going. The vas deferens, ditto. Brains wired with imprecise language, flawed memory, fragile mental health, shoddy cost-benefit analysis, poor understanding of probability, and a strong tendency to prioritize immediate satisfaction over long-term gain. Birth defects. 15-20% of confirmed pregnancies ending in miscarriage (and that’s just confirmed pregnancies — about 30% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, and asmany as 75% of all conceptions miscarry).

And that’s just humans. Outside the human race, you’ve got giraffes with a vagus nerve traveling ten to fifteen feet out of its way to get where it’s going. You’ve got sea mammals with lungs but no gills. You’ve got male spiders depositing their sperm into a web, siphoning it up with a different appendage, and only then inseminating their mates — because their inseminating appendage isn’t connected to their sperm factory. (To wrap your mind around this: Imagine that humans had penises on their foreheads, and to reproduce they squirted semen from their testes onto a table, picked up the semen with their head-penises, and then had sex.) You’ve got kangaroo molars, which wear out and get replaced — but only four times, after which the animals starve to death. You’ve got digger wasps laying their eggs in the living bodies of caterpillars — and stinging said caterpillars to paralyze them but not kill them, so the caterpillars die a slow death and can nourish the wasps’ larvae with their living bodies.

You’re going to look at all this, and tell me it was engineered this way on purpose?

Yes, there are many aspects of biological life that astonish with their elegance and function. But there are many other aspects of biological life that astonish with their clumsiness, half-assedness, inefficiency, pointless superfluities, glaring omissions, laughable failures, “fixed that for you” kluges and jury-rigs, and appalling, mind-numbing brutality. (See Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes for just a few of the most obvious examples.) If you’re trying to reconcile all this with a powerfully magical creator god who made it this way on purpose, it requires wild mental contortions at best, and a complete denial of reality at worst.

On the other hand, it is very easy to reconcile all this with an entirely natural theory of evolution. In fact, according to the theory of evolution, it would be hugely surprising if biological life didn’t turn out this way. Again: Evolution proceeds one generation at a time. Each generation is only very slightly different from the generation that preceded it. It makes perfect sense that biological life would consist of awkward, inefficient, ad-hoc adaptations to forms that no longer exist.

And at the risk of anthropomorphizing: Evolution doesn’t care if you’re comfortable. Evolution doesn’t care if you’re happy. Evolution doesn’t need you to be perfect: it just needs you to be better than your competitors, your predators, and your prey. Evolution cares if you survive, and produce fertile offspring that also survive. Actually, even that’s not exactly true. Evolution doesn’t care if you live or die. If you die, something else lives. Evolution doesn’t give a damn who it is.

Evolution doesn’t give a damn about any of this. But God supposedly does. So why did he do it this way? If God is so powerful that he could bring all of existence into being simply by wishing it; if he’s so powerful that he can tinker with the genetics and circumstances of evolution simply by wishing it — why would he wish it to be so clumsy, half-assed, inefficient, jury-rigged, superfluous, and brutal?

Which finally leads me to:

4. If it were true, God would either be incompetent or malicious.

Here’s the thing about evolution. Evolution has led to some truly wondrous, truly amazing forms of life. (Or, to be more precise: Evolution has led to human brains that are capable of the experience of amazement, and that are inclined to be amazed at the variety and complexity of biological life.)

But evolution is messy. Evolution is wildly inefficient. See #3 above. It’s not just the products of evolution that are inefficient, either. The process itself is inefficient — inherently so, almost by definition. If you’re an all-powerful magical being trying to create sentient life, evolution is the long, long, long way around. If you’re trying to get from Point A to Point B, evolution is a slow, meandering walk down convoluted dirt roads, with thousands of stops on the way to visit your doddering uncles who never shut up.

And evolution is brutal. It’s not just that the results of the process are often uncomfortable, frustrating, even painful. The process itself is inherently brutal. The process ensures that most animals die in dreadful suffering and terror: they die from starvation, from injury, from disease, from birth defects, from being torn to pieces and devoured by other animals. Of all the billions upon billions of conscious living beings that have ever existed, an infinitesimal minority got to die peacefully in their beds surrounded by their families. The overwhelming majority died brutally, in pain and fear. And that includes the ones who actually won the evolution sweepstakes, and got to live long enough to reproduce with fertile offspring.

If there were a god who was using evolution to direct life in the direction he wanted, it immediately begs the question: Why? Why on earth would anyone do this?

If God were powerful enough to magically tinker with the process of evolution, in undetectable ways entirely indistinguishable from natural cause and effect — why wouldn’t he be powerful enough to just “whoosh” humanity into existence? If God were smart enough to know precisely how to set the parameters of existence so that billions of years later it would unfold into conscious human life — why wouldn’t he be smart enough to do it in a way that avoided the inefficient, hideously violent processes through which evolution has unfolded, and continues to unfold?

If theistic evolution were true — if there really were a god who either tinkers with evolution to create human life or who set the universe in motion knowing that evolution would eventually result in human life – then that god would either be grossly incompetent or cruelly malicious. That god would have to be either incapable of using the system of evolution to create life efficiently and with minimal pain – indeed, incapable of coming up with a better system for producing life in the first place — or brutally callous to the great suffering he has caused for hundreds of millions of years, and that he continues to cause on a daily basis.

Is that really the god you believe in?

A For Effort, F for Execution

I understand the desire to reconcile science with religion. I really do. People have a lot of reasons to be religious — community, family identity, cultural identity, an attachment to the ritual, a built-in sense of meaning and purpose, a desire to believe that the creator of all time and space personally cares about you, a desire to believe in an afterlife. And I definitely understand the desire to accept science: as flawed as it is, science has repeatedly shown itself to be the best method we have for understanding reality.

I understand that people want their religion to reflect reality. But there is no religion that reflects reality. If you want to accept reality in general, and the reality of evolution in particular, you need to accept that.

Greta Christina is the author of “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why,” available in ebook, print, and audiobook. She blogs at Greta Christina’s Blog. Follow her on Twitter: @GretaChristina


See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-you-cant-reconcile-god-and-evolution?akid=12086.123424.ZIQJ6I&rd=1&src=newsletter1014078&t=11