Respecting Others Despite Their Stupid Beliefs

The first person to seriously teach me about evolution was a creationist.  I say this in all seriousness, using a non-ironic sense of the word “teach”.  This creationist was my 7th grade science teacher, who for the purposes of this essay, we’ll call Ms. Science.  I went to a small school, so Ms. Science taught science courses for grades 6, 7, and 8, and 7th grade was the year we studied “Life Science”.  An appropriately large portion of the course was dedicated to teaching us the principles of evolution, and we learned it straight out of the textbook.  There was nothing to indicate that our teacher didn’t wholeheartedly believe everything she was teaching, and I ended the year with a decent (for a 7th grader) understanding of evolutionary theory.

We had the Lab Book and everything.

This was our textbook, in case you’re curious.

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Cosmological Confusion: My issue with the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Among all the questions we can ask and reflect on, the one that always seems to trip people up concerns the Universe and the beginning of all space and time. Just where exactly did all of this come from? It’s an interesting question to ask, and a mind-boggling one at that. Modern cosmology has made the idea of a Steady-State (“static”) Universe untenable, so the leading model of the day is one in which the Universe began in a hot big bang and expanded, giving rise to everything we observe today. The science is very much sound and there is consensus among astrophysicists that this scenario is what happened 13.7 billion years ago. Given the model’s predictive power and overwhelming evidence (e.g. the existence of the Cosmic Microwave Background, cosmological redshift, etc.), it seems unlikely that the Big Bang theory will be refuted and replaced anytime soon.

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“Agora”: The atheist’s “Passion of the Christ”

Hypatia's student, Orestes, urges her to leave the rest of the scrolls behind as the Christians destroy what remains of the Library of Alexandria.

Hypatia’s student, Orestes, urges her to leave the rest of the scrolls behind as the Christians destroy what remains of the Library of Alexandria.

A few days ago a friend of mine introduced me to a film he cleverly describes as “the atheist’s Passion of the Christ” – Agora. This Spanish-made 2009 film tells the story of Hypatia, the great philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer who researched and taught in Alexandria, and the film deals with the relationship between religion and science/learning.

The year is 391 A.D., and the Christians of Alexandria are causing unrest by defiling the gods of the ruling pagans. The pagans, against Hypatia’s urgings, attack the Christians but then find themselves outnumbered and are beaten back. They take refuge in the Serapeum, the temple to the Hellenistic-Egyptian god Serapis, which also housed an offshoot collection of the great Library of Alexandria (which was destroyed before this time, although the date of its destruction is unknown). The pagans, Hypatia among them, are besieged in the temple for a time. All the while, Hypatia is looking at the sky, trying to figure out the mysteries of the heavens, namely why the “wanderers” – the moon, sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – move as they do; as one of her students suggests, the Ptolemaic model of the universe, which places the wanderers on epicycles moving around the Earth, seems too “whimsical”, and there must be a simpler answer.

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My Problems With God

(This continues my last post: How I Became an Atheist)

My high school apologetics class dealt with its subject matter as rigorously as any other class I took there.  The purpose of the first unit was to clarify for us the concept of God, to get a look at the idea’s nuts and bolts and figure out exactly what is meant by “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  We started with the most basic apologetic arguments for deism: arguments for god as First Cause and Ground of All Being, on the grounds that rejecting this hypothesis leads to the the dilemma of positing an eternal Universe or an infinite regress of causes.  Once a theologically precise definition of God had been established, we went on to see what followed from this definition and what could be inferred about God from the world, as well as examining the evidence for the divinity of Jesus and the reliability of the Bible.  It was all interesting material, but I found it abjectly unconvincing from the start.  While I came into the class as an agnostic deist, this exposure to a rigorous analysis of what I kept telling myself I believed was enough to push me over the edge into full-blown Strong Atheism (the positive belief that there is no God).  In this post, I’ll explain why I find even the most basic conception of God philosophically untenable.

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Atheist in a foxhole: Why would an Atheist join the military?

You know I’m not religious…” – Corporal Pat Tillman (1976-2004), in reaction to an Army chaplain who came to talk to him about returning to the NFL (link here)

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At the beginning of my freshman year in high school, military service was literally something I never considered as an option. Anyone who knows me in person would say that my life mostly seems to revolve around school, doing things that are mostly academic in nature. So when I said that I wanted to earn a commission as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, people were surprised; why a spindly nerd like myself would want to join a branch of the Armed Forces was beyond them. Moreover, why an atheist like myself would desire joining a predominantly Christian military was even more of an irregularity. After thinking long and hard about my desire to join the military, and a recent discussion with fellow members of the Berkeley Atheists and Skeptics Society, I think it would be interesting to discuss my reasons for wanting to join the US Armed Forces from the perspective of an atheist.

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How I Became an Atheist: Alex Freeman

dawkins_quote

For starters, my parents were both Catholic, and I was brought up in the Catholic Church.  I went to a Catholic school and attended Mass regularly throughout my childhood.  Initially, I found the whole religion thing boring; I insisted on bringing a book to church, to read for pleasure while the rest of the congregation was doing whatever it was people came to church to do.  When I got older, however, I learned more about the meaning of the Mass and the symbolism and the history behind it all, and I became really enthusiastic about being a part of the Church.  On some level, I believed I was a devout Catholic, but of course all I’d heard of Church doctrine was the watered-down Veggie Tales version that they teach to elementary school kids.  In any case, it was more of an identity; I hadn’t really thought through the implications of what I ostensibly believed.  Catholicism was the default at home and school, so I ran with it for a while.

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Why faith fails to prove the existence of God

Carl Sagan MemeBesides the philosophical arguments and their attempts to prove God’s existence, many retreat to the concept of faith to justify belief in God. To some, having the deep and spiritual feeling that God exists is proof enough of His existence and nothing can disprove this intuition despite all evidence to the contrary. William Lane Craig, a leading Christian philosopher and apologist, for example, seems to adhere to this belief because nothing can disprove “the witness of the Holy Spirit” in his heart. This is true, to some extent, as one cannot disprove a spiritual intuition strongly held by an individual, but this doesn’t mean that their beliefs are justified. Faith, by definition, is belief without logical proof or evidence; with faith in play, almost anything is justifiable as long one has a strong belief and emotional investment in something. Faith is used throughout the domain of religion, and trying to justify the existence of one God by faith alone does not suffice as evidence of any kind.

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