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17 not-so-stupid questions for Atheists October 19, 2015

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
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Godless Mom was contacted by a christian student with a series of questions.  And, surprise, instead of being “gotcha” questions, they seem to be actual genuine questions, a real effort to understand non-belief.  So I’ll answer them here, and also cross-post them in the comments to the original blog entry, here:


Other bloggers and commenters have answered them, but I’m going to give my own answers without comparison to theirs.  So I apologize if this comes out as repetitive.

1. Why are you an atheist?

Because I don’t have enough evidence to warrant belief in any god.

2. Have you ever believed in a Higher Power?

Sure, I was raised liberal Protestant, and it was just the assumption everyone made.  God’s in charge, Jesus loves you, so let’s sing some more songs about love.  I was the kid that was involved in everything – Sunday school, youth group, youth choir, retreats, conferences, handbells, VBS, I showed up for everything, and I had a great time too.  If you ask me whether a bad experience at church put me off religion, I’ll have to say no.

3. If so, Did something traumatic happen to make you stop believing?

No.  Traumatic things happened, and they might have been some of the factors involved in my thought processes, but no specific traumatic event made me stop believing.

4. If not, why did you stop believing?

In college a lot of factors came together that finally got me thinking about what I believed, and whether the stuff the church said was true was actually true.  Dealing with judgmental fundamentalist students.  Listening to Brother Jed’s ranting, among other crazy campus preachers. Reading great books.  Tons and tons of science and math classes. And especially reading the bible all the way through for the second time.  When I looked at everything, I realized that the belief system I had been fed, while very nice and lovey-dovey, was not something I thought was actually true.

5. What do you think happens to us when we die?

The same thing that happens to any other animal.  We stop existing, and the atoms that we are made of go on to be part of other living things.

6. Without believing in a Higher Power, where do you think we get our morals from?

As social animals, we need to live in groups to survive, and get along together.  We’ve worked out rules for doing this over thousands of years, by trial and error.  We keep improving these rules, which is why there are things that people thought were OK hundreds of years ago that we now have decided are unacceptable.

Personally I got my morals from my parents, from school, from society in general, and my personal senses of empathy and compassion.

7. Where do you think the universe came from?

Don’t know.  I don’t need to have an answer to this either, I’m OK with not knowing stuff.  Scientists are working on this problem, and have some interesting ideas.

Every religion has an origin story, and none of them match up. This tells me that people who think invisible spirits talk to them are not a reliable source for accurate information about the universe.

8. What’s your views on Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens?

Stay quiet

They’ve brought atheism into the public arena as something that can now be talked about openly.   Their books have helped a lot of people find their way out of religion, and that’s great.  Individually, each of them has/had positions that I agree with, and some that I don’t agree with.  They are just three voices among a chorus of many other voices, though.  They get the most attention, but they are not necessarily our best thinkers.

9. Do you consider yourself a weak atheist or a strong atheist?

If you use the definition of strong atheism as a positive belief that there are no gods and weak atheism as lack of belief in any gods, then I would be a weak atheist.  However, those terms make my position seem wishy-washy and timid, so I don’t like them.  I prefer agnostic atheist.

10. How can you prove that God doesn’t exist?

You can’t.  However the first problem there is that there are so many different definitions of “god”.  If you pin down one specific idea of a god that’s actually testable, someone else will pop up and say “well, that’s not the god I believe in.”  Some modern theologians go all the way to completely nebulous definitions like “the ground of all being.”  If you can’t even define it, how would you go about proving or disproving it?

11. Do you believe in miracles?

You mean localized violations of the laws of nature, to demonstrate the particular favor of a supernatural being?  Nope.

12. Do you have a support group/system?

When I originally deconverted, no I didn’t, but that was in the 1980’s.  Back then my only support system was books.  Sagan, Asimov, Bronowski, Joseph Campbell, Stephen Jay Gould.

Now, with the internet, all nonbelievers can have a support system.

13. Do you try to get others not to believe?

I try to get others to think more clearly.  I try to help them understand the limitations and biases of the human brain, and how it often leads us to jump to conclusions.  I try to get them to think about why they believe what they believe, instead of just accepting what they are told.  Once someone starts thinking, they often reach the conclusion that religion is BS on their own.

Once someone has taken the first steps toward non-belief, I do try to support them in that, because there are so many pressures on them to remain a believer.

14. Do others tend to view you differently when they discover you’re an atheist?

That doesn’t really come up much for me.  I’m not a very social person, that’s just my personality.  My friends and immediate family all know, most of them are atheists or non-christians anyway.  At work and in my arts group I consider my religious views to be “not their business” and I don’t bring it up.

15. Do people tend to try to convince you that your views are wrong?

On the internet, all the frikkin’ time.  But they usually try apologetics, which aren’t any good for that purpose.  Apologetics are for reinforcing believers’ confidence in their beliefs, not for changing the minds of non-believers.  What it would take to change my mind is evidence, and they never have any of that.

16. How does your family view your beliefs? Are they supportive?

My spouse and children are also atheists, so no problems there.  As for my extended family, there’s quite a few fundamentalists, and I don’t generally bring it up with them (see “not their business” above.)  Although we’ve had some interesting emails from my fundamentalist brother-in-law.

17. What are your views on Madalyn O’Hair?

She did some really important work, including helping get rid of compulsory bible-reading in public schools.  Her public image was certainly abrasive and confrontational, but at the time that might have been the only way to get any media attention for the points she wanted to make.   I might not have liked her personally if I had had a chance to know her, but I think her work has had lasting effects.

48 Sure-Fire “gotcha” questions for Atheists! (part 5) June 21, 2015

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
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Previous post in this series

Stupid questions continue, is there no end?

33.  If there is no God, then why do we have laws that govern us, such as speed limits?

Ah, this is a good time for me to talk about the two kinds of things we might be talking about when we say “laws”!

First, there’s the rules that humans make for ourselves to allow us to live together in large prosperous groups.  If you live in a small group, say of hunter-gatherers, you’d know every person in the group, and what your relationship is with them.   You’d know that if you kill someone, his family will come kill you.  You’d have customs about how people usually respond to social infractions, but there’s no need for a permanent code of laws.   Laws are needed when people are living in a group so large that everybody can no longer know everybody else.  Then there needs to be official rules for behavior and how you treat others in your group, and there can be different rules for how you treat outsiders.  These rules have been worked out through trial and error over thousands of years, and we continue to modify them still.

Then there are natural laws, which are descriptive.  We observe how the universe works, and figure out the mathematical relationships of the behavior of matter and physical forces.  Thus, when we say the law of gravitation is that gravity is proportional to mass and inversely proportional to the square of distance, or when we say the speed of light is a constant, we are describing the way things are, not imposing a rule for the way things ought to be.

34. Do you know where you are going when you die?

Yes, I’m going to stop existing and not go anywhere, and the atoms that currently make up me will go on to be parts of other things in the future.  The world will continue, I just won’t be part of it.  I don’t expect it to be any different than it was before I was born.

35. Why do we not act like monkeys if it is true we came from monkeys?

First, we don’t come from modern monkeys, we share an ancestor with them.  But why would you say we don’t act like them?  Have you ever spent any time studying monkeys, or our closer cousins, the great apes?  They live in social groups with complex social behavior and communication.  Their children are dependent on their parents for a very long time, and parents spend a lot of effort caring for them.  Males put on dominance displays, individuals sit around bonding with each other (they groom, we make small talk), members of the group both compete with each other and look out for each other.  Chimps make and use tools and make war on each other.  How are we so different?

36. Why do we display The Ten Commandments in the courtrooms if you say the Bible is not real?

Tree Widdling

37. Why should be it wrong to rape if God is not real?

Considering the treatment of rape in the bible, that’s probably not the best question for you to be asking. Why is it wrong to rape if there is a god?  The Old Testament is full of rape, but there aren’t any commandments saying “Thou shalt not rape”.  The Israelites are commanded by god to destroy everyone in a town, except that they are allowed to take the virgin girls as sex slaves.  Or how about Abraham having a child by Sarah’s slave Hagar, and nothing is said about whether Hagar consented.  Or how about the verses where the only penalty for rape is a 50 shekl fine, and then the victim has to marry her rapist?  And did 13-year-old Mary really have a choice to say no when she was told god was going to impregnate her?

Without religion, we can say we do not wish other people to harm us, so we should not harm other people, and violence against other people should be right out.  Remember that humans depend on one another, and are accountable to each other, not to an invisible god.

38. Why is The Passion of The Christ very high on the Box Office?

How old are these questions?  It was popular for a little while, but not anymore.  If we are using box office earnings as a measure of truth, I’d suggest that we should be following Harry Potter. (He saved us from Voldemort, you know!)

I watched The Passion of the Christ on DVD, to see if it was appropriate to show my children for cultural background. It was straight torture porn, and I got rid of the DVD very quickly.  I guess this was a way for christians to pretend to be doing something virtuous and be able to watch torture porn without having to feel all guilty about it.

39. How can America not be a Christian nation if there are way more churches than mosques?

America can be a nation with a lot of christians in it, without being a “christian nation”.  Our founding fathers weren’t ignorant of  hundreds of years of European history with countless wars over religious differences, and endless persecution and oppression of those who even slightly differ from acceptance the official dogma.  They saw how dangerous it was to give the government to power to tell the citizens what to believe, and so wisely built a separation of church and state into our government.  Ironically by today’s standards, it was the evangelicals who were some of the strongest supporters of that separation, because at the time they were a small minority sect.  If there had been an official religion, it would either have been Congregationalist (dominant in New England) or Anglican/Episcopalian (dominant in the south), and their freedom to practice as they wished would have been suppressed.  Too bad modern evangelicals don’t know their own history.

40. How is the bible not real if it’s the most popular book read by man?

It’s a real book, but that’s probably not what you mean.  It might be the most popular book right now, but that wasn’t always the case.  Back when the Old Testament was originally being written the Hebrews were a small unimportant tribe, and there were lots of other texts that were way more popular.  You’d have had a much easier time finding a copy of the Iliad or the Odyssey or the Story of Sinhue.  Any Egyptian rich enough to buy one had a copy of The Book of the Dead put in their tomb.


And if the growth rate of Islam continues, the Qu’ran will probably overtake the bible in popularity someday.  Would that make the Qu’ran real and the bible not?

One more of these sets of questions left.

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48 Sure-Fire “gotcha” questions for Atheists! (part 4) June 19, 2015

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
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Previous post in this series.

These questions may be getting stupider, if that’s even possible.  Sorry if these answers seem so obvious, and kind of like Atheism 101.  I’ve known this stuff for a long time, but for somebody who’s been told all their life that these are clever questions, this might be unfamiliar material.

25. If creationists can’t do science, then why does the website Answersingenesis have proven science articles from creationists that do science?

It’s not that creationists can’t do science, it’s that they don’t do science. Science means testing your ideas against reality.  Science means being open to the fact that your ideas might be wrong, and may need revising or scrapping.  If there is no possible answer that you could get from your experiment that would show your hypothesis is wrong, then it’s not science.  If you start with the conclusion you want (i.e. “the bible is true”) and then cherry pick some data that supports your conclusion, that’s not science.

If those guys were really doing genuine science, they could get their papers published in real scientific journals, not some fake one they publish themselves.  The stuff they put out is religion, not science, so they can’t qualify for real journals .

26. If evolution is true, then why can’t white people compete to be good in basketball like black people? After all, white people can’t jump!

(So in addition to the stupidity, now we’re adding racism.  This just keeps getting worse and worse!)  White people can be good at basketball.   White people can jump just fine.   I refer you to  Dick Fosbury, the famous Olympic gold medalist high jumper:


The Fosbury Flop

If there were an isolated population of people where success at basketball  was necessary for reproductive success, over many generations you would see the traits that permit success at basketball begin to dominate, and there would be an evolutionary shift towards those traits in that group.  But right now it’s possible to raise lots of kids while being terrible at basketball, so that change is not likely to happen.

27. Where do you decide to fit God in your everyday life if you don’t believe in him?

Wait, what?  This question demonstrates that the questioner is completely unclear on the concept of “not believing in things.”

Do you believe in Thor?  No?  Then where do you decide to fit Thor in your everyday life if you don’t believe in him?  Where does Krishna fit?  How about my invisible 6-foot-tall rabbit friend?  Where do you decide to fit Harvey into your life? 

Really, before you ask some of these questions, try substituting in some religion you don’t believe in, and imagine someone from that religion asking you the question.  If it makes no sense that way, then maybe you shouldn’t be asking it either.

28. Why is Christianity the fastest growing religion if it’s false?

Because it’s not.  Remember when I said you can look this stuff up on the internet?  Well, you can look this stuff up on the internet.  Worldwide, the fastest growing religion is Islam.  In the US, the fastest growing group is the unaffiliated.  The fastest growing church in the US is probably the Mormons.  But I think that the Pastafarians are actually growing much faster than any church, there’s just nobody keeping the statistics on that.

Here’s this chart again, just as a reminder as to that in the US, christianity is not the fastest growing group.

religious landscape

29. Do you feel free to commit murders, homosexuality, go to strip bars, steal, commit adultery, and do other sins since you believe there is no God?

Wow, so much to unpack with this question.

First, this idea of “sins” is problematic.  A “sin” is doing something that god told you not to do, and if there’s no god, then there’s no “sins”.  This whole idea of “sin” is just religion trying to convince you that you have a disease and need their cure.

And then you have listed a whole bunch of behaviors, some of which harm other people and some of which don’t, apparently classifying them as equally “sinful”.  This is ridiculous.  Murder and theft cause direct harm to others, so we can agree that they are not acceptable.  Adultery is the private business of the people who are married, and what promises they made to each other.   If you promised your spouse fidelity and then violate that, that’s a breach of trust and certainly wrong for your relationship, but not on a par with murder.  I’ve got no problem with strip bars as long as the people working there are of age and are working there of their own choice.   And homosexuality is not something someone commits, it’s something they are, and there is nothing harmful about it in any way.  Conflating unlike things into one big pot of “sin” like this may be one of the things that’s putting our young people off religion.  (One in three young Americans is not religious, a huge increase in recent years.)

And do I feel free to do things that cause harm to other people?  Why would I want to?  I live in a society where I depend on other people for my survival.  My children will continue to depend on the stability of that society, and their children after them if they choose to have any.  I don’t want to live in a society where murder and violence and theft are acceptable behavior, so I don’t do that myself.  I’m accountable to the people around me for my actions, not some invisible god.

And the obvious counter to your question –  is your belief in god the only thing that’s stopping you from harming other people?  If that’s the only thing, then you must be a very bad person indeed.  And please keep believing in your religion in that case!

30. Why do the fossils say no to evolution?

They don’t.  (They don’t actually say anything, we have to study them!)  Looking at fossils is one of the things that leads to the conclusion of evolution.  We see that life has changed over time, that new animals don’t just pop in out of nowhere, but develop from prior forms.  We see that animals didn’t exist in isolation, but as part of populations living and breeding in different environments.  You should try visiting a real science museum sometime, it’s fascinating!

31. Why did Darwin admit that how the eye formed is impossible?

More mistakes!  He didn’t say that.  Here’s the full quote:

To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory.

And here’s an example of eye development, from marine animals, showing progressive stages of eye development, each useful to the animal that has it:


32. Where did everything come from if there is no God?

Don’t know.  I don’t need to know!  I may live my whole life without having an answer to this question, and I’m fine with that.  People have been working on this question a lot, but we don’t have an answer yet.  Maybe we never will.  Right now we don’t have enough information to begin to answer the question.  Neil DeGrasse Tyson has the right idea; this quote is from a discussion about UFO’s but is also relevant here:

COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY: More than three decades after Carl Sagan's groundbreaking and iconic series, "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage," it's time once again to set sail for the stars. Host and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson sets off on the Ship of the Imagination to discover Earth's Cosmic Address and its coordinates in space and time in the "Standing Up in the Milky Way" Series Premiere episode of COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY airing Sunday, March 9, 2014 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)

Well, if you don’t know what it is, that’s where your conversation should stop!

There’s lots of possibilities.  Maybe universes bud off of other universes.  Maybe there was always “something”, just in a different form.  Maybe “nothing” is unstable and always decays into “something”.  Maybe there is a hyper-dimensional cosmic cow that farts universes.  I’m not going to pretend I know, and I’m not going to believe that you magically know either.   Not knowing something is not a reason to fill the gap in your knowledge with a made-up “god”.

There’s still more of these to come…

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10 Questions for Every Atheist July 16, 2014

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Responses.
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This list has been floating around the internet for a few days.  I did a response to a similar list of 15 questions awhile back, and you can find my answers to that one here: 15 Question Atheist Challenge (Edit – and another fairly stupid 10-question set I answered here.)  But I suppose I’ll join in and answer these too.

The list recently appeared here: http://todaychristian.net/10-questions-every-atheist/#_

But was lifted from a post by Robert Neilsen, an atheist, here: http://robertnielsen21.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/10-questions-for-atheists/

The first thing that caught my eye is this lead-in on the TodayChristian website:

Some Questions Atheist Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer! Which leads to some interesting conclusions…

And you will never hear any of those conclusions from their website, because commenting was not allowed on that post.  Because throwing out an assertion like that wouldn’t be any fun if the real atheists were actually allowed to show up and refute it by truly and honestly really answering them.  So here’s my shot at truly and honestly really answering them.  I’ll try to keep each answer succinct, since I tend to ramble sometimes.

1.       How Did You Become an Atheist?

Short version: I read the bible, just like my youth leaders said I should.  Twice, cover to cover, two different translations. And then in college, I ran headlong into people who were crazy fundamentalists of one sort or another, and the nutcase preachers like Brother Jed, each totally certain that they were right and everybody else was going to burn in hell.  And I started thinking about whether it made sense to believe any of this, and I realized that it didn’t.  And I thought about whether the stuff I had been taught had any more solid basis in reality, and it didn’t.  By the end of college I was functionally an atheist, but didn’t adopt the word until later.  That was around 30 years ago now, and I’m still not believing any of it.

2.       What happens when we die?

We decompose, and the brain that produces the activity that we call our “conscious mind” stops doing that.

3.       What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!

Then I’ll have a wonderful time at the Beer Volcano, while all you christian infidels have to settle for flat beer and ugly strippers down in Hell Lite.  Oh, did you mean YOUR version of heaven and hell?  Why are those any more likely to be true than all the other versions?

4.       Without God, where do you get your morality from?

Same place everybody does.  My own sense of empathy and compassion, plus rules devised from the need to live together with other people in groups.  By trial and error over thousands of years, we’ve worked out some pretty good rules for co-existing.  Not that there still isn’t room for improvement.

Some people think they get their morality from ancient books or supernatural beings.  But I think that’s just religion taking credit for something it didn’t invent.

5.       If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

How would there being a god make you not free to do those things?  Plenty of religious people do those things all the time, the fact that they think there is a god watching doesn’t stop them.

But I’m not free to murder and rape if I want to live as part of a community of other people.

6.       If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

I create my own meaning in life.  Being told what my life is supposed to be by some superbeing would be awful.

7.       Where did the universe come from?

I don’t know.  But we are developing some good ideas about what happened right at the start, and those come from looking at the evidence and following where it leads.  I don’t pretend to know stuff that I don’t, that’s what religion does.

8.       What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

Look up confirmation bias.  Humans are really good at paying attention to the things that match up with their preconceptions and ignoring everything that doesn’t.  And we’re really good at fooling ourselves.

9.       What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

You left out Dennett!  I agree with some of the things they say, and disagree with others.  There are other atheist writers and speakers I find more often in line with what I think, including Greta Christina, Matt Dillahunty, and Hemant Mehta.

10.   If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

If there were a god, then why do we have thousands of mutually contradicting religions?  If there were an all-intelligent super-being who wanted people to know what he wants from them, why has he done such a lousy job of communicating it?

People are superstitious, due to patternicity, agenticity, confirmation bias and credulous childhoods.  From that beginning, religions coalesce and grow and compete for followers, and those that are the most successful endure and spread.  (OOOOH- there’s that Darwin again!)  The other, less successful ones die off, which is why nobody is still worshipping Marduk or Osiris anymore.  Nowadays most people are stuck with some form of the mental malware of religion, but some of us are recognizing it for what it is and getting rid of it.


There, that’s enough for now.

God, you’re fired! August 2, 2013

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Humor, Questions, Responses.
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Over on her blog, Astreja asked this question:

Armed only with a vivid imagination, assume the persona of a god and come up with one or more god-like responses….We hear about gods who hear the *thud* of the sparrow when it hits the living room window, chirps feebly and staggers off muttering rude things about the idiot who left the drapes open.  Then there are the gods lurking “outside time and space,” wherever the Sam Hill that’s supposed to be, supposedly controlling reality without actually touching it.  Finally, there are the gods who do things like wandering into the Inn and starting a riot, or arguing with a tree…. Where do you fit on this continuum?


So that got me thinking, if there actually were a god, and I could fire him and take his place, what would I do?  And could I do a better job?  So here’s my “perfect plan”:


Veggies or Ponies? April 30, 2012

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Humor.
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The Problem of Evil and Morality, a Humanist Answer, Part 2 April 20, 2012

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants.
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1 comment so far

From Part 1:

So back the xians come, inevitably, with something like this: ‘Well, you can’t explain it either, smarty-pants!  And anyway, without god and the bible we woudn’t have morality at all.  We’d all be running aroung killing everybody, so you’d better be grateful there’s a god!”

So how does a Humanist explain the presence of Evil in the world?  And how to explain the existence of morality?  My answer covers both of these isues. 

First – as to all the natural disasters, etc.  The absence of any benevolent god covers this one.  The universe simply does not care about us.  This is actually really comforting!  When something bad happens, there is no reason to agonize about what one might have done to “deserve it”.   Crap happens, and it happens randomly to the good and the bad alike.  Nobody deserves a tsunami or a tornado or Alzheimers.  These things just happen, and it’s nothing personal.  (Of course, there are some things that happen that people do bring on themselves, by deliberately putting themselves in harm’s way.  If someone has lung cancer from smoking, or loses their house to a hurricane because they built it on a barrier island, it is largely their fault.  But it’s not some divine retribution, or bad karma, it’s just playing the odds and losing.)

So, why do people sometimes treat each other very badly, and why are people, for the most part, not running around like homicidal maniacs? 

First, a side note.  It should be abundantly obvious to anyone who is paying attention, and whose life is not ruled by confirmation bias, that the origin of “moral” behavior is not the christianity, the bible, or any particular religion.  Social animals have behavior codes, and for the brainier ones this is not instinctual but learned.  Read what Jane Goodall writes about chimpanzees, and you can see this.  Ancient peoples had “moral” codes, and some of those were much superior to the ancient Hebrew patriarchal nonsense that appears in the OT.  And many of the most stable, peaceful, healthy and happy countries in the world today are also some of the least religious.  Check out Sweden, for instance.  So the claims of morality originating from some god or some book are obviously invalid.

So here is my personal explanation for the origin of both “evil” and “morality”: 

 Human beings are the product of evolution.  This means that we are the desendants of the winners in the fight for survival that has been going on since the origin of life.  We are scrappy survivors.  We  each must agressively pursue our own self-interests, as must all other organisms, because if we don’t do this, we don’t survive or reproduce.

AND – we have evolved to be social animals.  That’s our niche, our survival strategy.  Each of us is incredibly dependent on the other members of our community.  So we each must also aggresively pursue the welfare of our social group if we are to survive and reproduce.

So, it’s a balancing act.  To be successful as a human being, it’s necessary to balance individual interests against social interests.  And it’s necessary to be aware of what that “social group” is, and who it includes.  There is no one perfect balance, because the right mix depends on the situation at the time.  Sometimes the best survival strategy is complete cooperation with your society, and sometimes it’s not.

And sometimes people get that balance really wrong.   Whether it’s putting your own interests too far ahead of the interests of those you depend on, or whether it’s blind obedience to a social group that has been misled by a destructive ideology, there are ample opportunities to get it really wrong, and either one can cause human suffering. 

Human morality is a set of rules that we have developed over thousands of years that are practical for helping us achieve that balance.  Mostly, these rules concern how to best get along with other people, how to rein in individual interests, because we make these rules as a social group for the smooth functioning of the social group.  These rules have changed over the years, but in general we keep the rules that work, and eventually chuck out the rules that don’t. Rules like “don’t kill each other” and “don’t steal stuff” have likely been around  longer than homo sapiens has.  And those basic rules are common to all successful cultures around the world, not just the ones with an Abrahamic religion.

Religion hijacks the basic moral rules that all cultures use, adds some additional arbitrary rules for distinguishing “us” from “them”, and then takes credit for all of morality.  As a result we get comments like “Well without the bible, we’d all just be totally amoral!  I’d just be going around killing everybody if not for Jeeesus!”  To the people that say that I say “Well, if you genuinely believe that, I think you should stay with your religion.  Please!”   For everybody else, before you act think about what effect your actions will have on you, what effect they will have on those in your immediate social group, and what effect they will have on your community, given that our whole world is now one enormous  interconnected community.  And remember that there is no divine fix or forgiveness coming to clean up your mistakes, and you only get one chance at life, so please try really hard not to screw it up.

That’s my personal thoughts.  Subject, of course, to modification over time as I run into new ideas and new evidence.

How many facepalms in one day’s newspaper? April 19, 2012

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I was going to finish up my post on the Problem of Evil tonight, but today’s Washington Post has pre-empted that.  There are THREE different items that took me from facepalm to complete headdesk.

First, today’s Ask Amy: http://www.washingtonpost.com/todays_paper?dt=2012-04-19&bk=C&pg=4

That link is to today’s facsimile edition, I’ll update the link when it’s properly posted to the archive.  The writer was discussing a conversation with her primary care physician, where the physician broke confidentiality to discuss the patient’s spouse.  OK, that’s not so unusual, but then there was this:

During my appointment I told her his symptoms and shared my frustration, and she proceeded to tell me that she thought that “the enemy” might be attacking him. She also told me about an experience she had at church in which a woman was told she’d receive a heart transplant in her sleep brought by angels…

Angels, right.  This is a physician we are talking about here?  If my physician tried that, I’d be out of there immediately.  There’s no way that a medical doctor should be advising their patients like that.

But the paper got better (or worse depending on how you look at it).  In the Metro section was this:

Joel Peebles, megachurch pastor, is fired from church his parents founded


This church has been squabbling for a long time now.  The son of the last preacher has been fighting with the Board for control of the church.  What got my attention though, was this:

But the issue seems far from settled. Wednesday evening, hundreds of members converged on the church, demanding to be let into the locked sanctuary and Peebles’s reinstatement. Many in the crowd spoke in tongues or wailed during an impromptu vigil at the time they normally attend Bible study.

“All the work he’s done, and they are trying to kick him to the curb like this?” one woman shouted. “The devil is alive!”

Said another: “We don’t have time to talk. We need to get on our knees and pray!” The woman asked that everyone in the crowd fast on behalf of Peebles.

So some members of a church are accusing other members of the same church of doing the work of the devil.  And these are the people who claim the moral high ground, and that religion makes you a better person?  How can they begin to preach this when they can’t even clean up their own house?  All that prayer, fasting and speaking in tongues, and they can’t even figure out how to get along with each other?

But, speaking of claiming the moral high ground from the bottom of a pit, there’s nobody that can beat the Catholic Church for it.  And the last story that caught my attention was of course about them:

Virginia priest who headed child protection office is accused of abuse


The Catholic priest who headed the diocese’s Northern Virginia office responsible for protecting children from sexual abuse was placed on administrative leave Wednesday while he is investigated for alleged sexual misconduct with a teenage boy…

Now I’m headdesking.  *Bonk  Bonk  BONK!*  All of this, all in one day,  in one paper.  ARRRGHH!

The Problem of Evil and Morality, a Humanist Answer, Part 1 April 15, 2012

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The “Problem of Evil” that atheists often pummel christians with was well summed up by the Epicurus:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

So, let me tackle my thoughts on this thoroughly, so I can just point people here instead of having to rehash this a thousand times.

First, I’d split this “evil” into two types.  First there is the “evil” that people do to one another.  This is the part that xians excuse claiming “free will”.  Somehow it would violate our free will for god to intervene when one person is treating another person horribly.  Even if I accepted that anwer (which I don’t), that does not cover all the bad things that happen in the world.

The rest and to me bigger part of the problem is the so-called “acts of god”.  All the natural disasters that befall humans without regard to what religion they follow.  How could it possibly violate our “free will” to stop sending tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, earthquakes and tsunamis, epidemics, childhood diseases, and all the rest of this sort of thing our way?  And why do they hit so indiscriminately?  For all the strutting and posturing of the evangelists who claim that this is god’s wrath, why would god’s wrath hit so many innocents and true believers?  Shouldn’t an all-powerful god have better aim?  If some god were wanting to send a sinner a “message”, a well-placed lightning bolt would be much more effective.  “Mysterious ways” the preachers claim.  Well bollocks on that.  If a god exists and wants believers, why be so mysterious?  I think it’s a cop-out answer.

So back the xians come, inevitably, with something like this: ‘Well, you can’t explain it either, smarty-pants!  And anyway, without god and the bible we woudn’t have morality at all.  We’d all be running aroung killing everybody, so you’d better be grateful there’s a god!”

My analysis of this in Part 2.