Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sciency Basics for the Newly Deconverted

Both believers & atheists seem to put science at the core of atheism at times, when it really doesn't have to be, at least not as you deconvert.

My deconversion was due to skepticism about the supernatural in general, and due to learning about other cultures in Anthropology courses in college and by meeting people of other backgrounds as an adult. Science to me was the antithesis of pseudo-science, not of religion... at least while I was still going to church trying to "connect" with the religion of my childhood.

The skeptical literature I read at the time concerned things like:
  • the numerical impossibility of souls being reincarnated
  • fake faith healers' "miracles" no more than magic tricks
  • "chi" of Eastern pseudo-medicine has no basis in fact
  • psychics use "cold reading" to fool people
It took some time for me to realize the claims of my religion were just as ridiculous as the claims of pseudo-science.  I didn't consider for a moment whether the Earth was 6,000 years old, or whether the Bible contradicted itself, or whether Noah's Ark was a total impossibility (well, I'd figured that one out in childhood).  I just realized I'd gotten the same "results" from believing in God as I would believing in almost anything else.

...then I went trippingly through life free from the burden of wondering whether I'd go to Hell or whether some supernatural judge was eavesdropping on my thoughts.  I let people know I was an atheist, but unless they were part of a batshit crazy denomination or tried to convert me, I didn't press the issue.  (Heh heh, do NOT send me Godspam!  You've been warned!)

...and then I discovered atheist stuff on the interwebs.  ...and then the "New Atheist" movement created a few books for me to stumble across at Borders Books  (*sniff* still miss the place)

If you are new to atheism, you'll notice that the "professional atheists" tend to come from a few scholarly disciplines.  Only Christopher Hitchens could be counted as a "regular guy" who just told it like it is, though he was a professional journalist so only semi-regular.  Here are the disciplines some bullies think you have to be conversant in to have an opinion:
  • Philosophy
  • Ancient History
  • Apologetics
  • Cosmology
  • Evolutionary Biology

...and possibly a few others. Fortunately, you don't really have to be conversant in a bullshitter's favorite form of bullshit to call them on their bullshit. But it helps. For the most part, though, we encounter believers who ask the same rather inane questions of us. Sometimes there are some sciency answers to the questions they ask, because they think their religion explains sciency things.

Here are some "answers" for newbies:
When you die, your brain cells stop doing what they do and you stop being who you are. It's hard to accept but "we" are our brains. Just ask someone who's been shot in the head and survived.  Oh wait, ask their family for a better answer.

Near-death experiences just prove that the brain has a process during death, not that there is a bright light in another plane of existence.

Where we came from is a series of totally natural processes that took millions of years. That includes possible abiogenesis (life from nothing) from chemical building blocks of what are now cells. It includes evolution, which the process of advantageous variations giving a few individuals an edge, while most variations are neutral.  You don't have to know every detail of all these things to know that "God did it" is a cheap and superficial answer.

Why are we here? We just are. If you need a reason for your existence, find one for yourself. Nobody gave it to you.  That's okay, because the people who find a "reason" in their religion have really found it for themselves, too.  They all find different purposes even when they supposedly believe the same things.

Yes, most of the stuff of religion is factually wrong. Sometimes it's accidentally wrong, and sometimes it's intentionally wrong. Just because some historical details from the Old Testament are true doesn't make the supernatural details from the Old Testament True. Atlanta really burned during the Civil War, but that doesn't make Gone with the Wind a true story.

There is wonder and mystery and poetry in the Natural World. You don't need to add a supernatural dimension to find that. It's there if you look.

Your brain is a fabulous thing, but it can deceive you. Under certain conditions you can see or sense other beings, feel a warm comforting feeling, or give yourself the will to continue under stress. Much of that you can get from relationships with other people. Cultivate your relationships and you'll find you haven't lost much by disbelieving in the supernatural.

Knowing the classic fallacies helps to see through nonsense when it's presented to you. "False prophets" are everywhere, but now you can call them what they really are: charlatans.

Trust in the scientific method and the people who use it is not the same as faith in a supernatural deity.  If the scientific method didn't work, it would be thrown out because scientists care about what's true.  Believers will cling to what is demonstrably false..

...well, for awhile they do.  Welcome to the World of What's True, newbie!


Robert the Skeptic said...

The religious like to assert that science is bereft of "meaning" and therefore we need religion fill this void. Often stating bullshit like science tells you how a rainbow works, but it doesn't help you to appreciate it.

Like hell... understanding the physics and science behind rainbows, sunsets, the reasons behind the smile on my granddaughter's face makes me appreciate all these things more than falling back on mindless ignorance. The universe is far more remarkable when I conceptualize the incredible complexity of it rather than accepting that this all came out of some dude snapping his supernatural fingers.

LadyAtheist said...

I can have it both ways - a brain-turned-off aesthetic experience or a brainiac sense of wonderment. Not being religious doesn't seem to take away either.

Imagine what looking at the stars was like for people who thought they were a few hundred (or thousand?) feet above them compared to us looking up and thinking that some of that light is from stars that may have died by now. No comparison for me!

Grundy said...

Great post. Knowing why we believe crazy things is half the battle to preventing rampant gullibility.

LadyAtheist said...

Thanks. So many things are "intuitive" but wrong. It's just too easy to believe those things rather than think things through.

former fetus said...

"Your brain is a fabulous thing, but it can deceive you. "

Yeah. Most especially the depressed brain.

Can't catch a glimpse of God in this world?

If you are chronically depressed—it's likely your brain that has failed you. However, that will not mitigate God's impending judgment in your own particular case.

It all boils down to reasonable doubt. One can experience doubt—but there is never reasonable doubt. The onus for disbelief remains where it should, on the atheist.

Mother Teresa used reason to logically overcome her emotive doubt and continued to live out her faith through almost an entire life enduring "the dark night of the soul".

You shouldn't pass yourself off as a reliable guide to people—because you're not.

You have not acknowledged, or 'owned' your own limitation. That, actually, should preface everything you say as a dire warning.

And there is nothing in a scientific understanding of the world around us, that supports a posture of atheism.

(Feel free to delete my comment—atheists, especially you, have a strong aversion to earned public chastisement)

LadyAtheist said...

"And there is nothing in a scientific understanding of the world around us, that supports a posture of atheism"

Your qualifications and the facts to support that assertion please? After calling me arrogant you need to support your claim.

former fetus said...

"And there is nothing in a scientific understanding of the world around us, that supports a posture of atheism."

Scientific research investigates the material world.

Science cannot test that which is immaterial or purely spiritual like God is. Science can only study the created world. God is the uncreated One. For science to support atheism, it would have to prove God does not exist. By observation. By trial and error. Otherwise you have only a theory of non-existence—not a fact, law or truth. Yes, the logic and conclusion is that simple.

We can look at the problem a little more thoroughly to really appreciate the dilemma of science with regards to studying God.

If you want to study river rocks… you simply go down to the river and commence studying.

That research relationship only depends on you.

But, if you want to study gazelles in their natural habitat, that is a little more difficult.

You would have to fly across to the other side of the world, to Africa, and set yourself up there. Lots of preparation, some study time, and lots of down time when the gazelles are out roaming, and not around. These gazelles can be studied provided you remain hidden, don't get too close, and don't frighten them off in any way as you study them.

That research relationship still relies mostly on you, your ingenuity, and your will to complete the task, and a little bit on the gazelles' unconscious co-operation.

Now if you want to study someone, or enter into a relationship with a particular person…you might be able to do that.

A lot depends on how you present yourself and how the other responds.

Favourably, and your questions will be answered or the relationship will commence. And grow. However, just as possible, your overtures or questions could also be rebuffed. One could also be shut out, for continued unwanted attention, the police called, a court restraining order issued.

One thing is for sure, the success of human encounters depends on the will of both people involved in that encounter.

Now, what if you want to study God, or 'find' God?

The success of that endeavour depends entirely on God.

Without any personal revelation from God, without the Great God reaching down to humanity, mankind would learn very little of their Creator. They would conclude there is one, by the very splendour of his creation, but would know little else. That fact was quite evident throughout history with all peoples, other than the Jews.

Fortunately, there is additional revelation from God. One thing we have learned early on is he doesn't accept man-made or do-it-yourself 'strange fire' religion. He has established a Kingdom, not of this world, but one which begins in this world. He doesn't change. He has given man complete and utter freedom and will only spare persons from his impending judgment if called upon. He has left us with far less than we would have liked, but assures us it is enough. And, it is. Therefore, a response of action is required from humanity towards God, and within the earthly manifestation of his kingdom, which is the Church.

Don't believe? God has a prayer for you,

"Lord help my unbelief."

Keep that prayer constant—for as long as you need it.

Unsure about Jesus?

If you are prepared to do the will of God—you will know who Jesus is, and where his teaching comes from. Follow his moral teaching. Follow his prescribed call to holiness…follow his liturgy…just do it… and, you'll see.

God rewards action.

And, He never rewards those who have no heart to try~

And if you are looking for a Ph.D to guide you, or another expert—God rarely works that way.

LadyAtheist said...

What a load of crap