Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Kids: it’s not only about Bunsen burners

High school science class was so boring! Remember all those endless experiments involving Bunsen burners and electric light bulbs? Remember all those meaningless equations that we had to cram for the end-year exams? Did we actually come away with anything useful? I think back to those years of high school and I’ve come to realise that as a student, I didn’t learn anything about science in science class.

As students we didn’t realise it, but the stuff we did at school was simply the end product of something greater: it was the product of a method of thinking that involves aspects of reason, hypothesis testing and critical thought. Although we learnt a lot about what science can do, we learnt very little about scientific thought. I wish that we did fewer experiments at school, and learnt more about developing a scientific mindset, a mindset that places emphasis on the pursuit of truth rather than the proclamation of truth.

The historian Richard Carrier writes an interesting article in which he describes a scientific mindset as being:

“. . . a system of beliefs that produces advances in knowledge, including a belief that public evidence and verifiable reason trump all authority in explaining what is and can be, that persuasion by appeal to observable evidence and sound logic is the only valid means of gaining consensus about the truths of this world, that this requires embracing everyone's intellectual freedom to accept, reject, or propose any idea they please, and that it is valuable and good to devote your life in this way to the pursuit of progress in understanding any aspect of nature or existence.” (emphasis added).

Let’s focus on the value of intellectual freedom. All religions have, at one time or another, suppressed intellectual freedom in favour of dogma. Intellectual freedom, the free market-place of ideas and thought, implies that everyone can make up their own minds regarding nature, religion and personal meaning. It is a threat to those institutions, such as religious fundamentalism, that aim to control the thoughts and beliefs of people.

Scientific progress can only be effective if it can operate within the context of intellectual freedom, if it is free to propose and test ideas that might seem blasphemous or heretical to the current status quo. Even now, religious fundamentalism is fighting against current advances and ideas in science. Biological evolution is but one example: the non-scientific approaches that creationists use – such as appealing to faulty arguments and trying to ban the teaching of evolution in schools – is cause for concern. Each time a school board in the United States votes against teaching evolution for religious reasons, I get nightmarish visions of what such actions can lead to if left to spiral out of control: another Dark Age of suppression, extreme censorship and persecution of non-believers?

We have much to learn from the Dark Ages, from what religion can do if it is given too much power. I think science class can be much more effective if it can teach children about the dangers of dogma, fundamentalism, and an unquestioning devotion to one type of paradigm. Reduce the number of textbook experiments; teach a little more about critical thinking and scientific thought. That’s my humble opinion.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Rejecting the concept of God

Since loosing my faith, a number of Christians that I’ve interacted with through email have implored me not to give up on God, with comments such as: “nothing and no-one should stop you from serving God”, “God still loves you”, and “I would plead with you to continue to follow Christ”. I know that those who wrote these comments mean well, and I truly appreciate their concern. However, I’m always somewhat perplexed when I read these kind of comments, simply because they are based on a faulty premise: the premise that I, an atheist, still believe – deep down inside – that there is actually a God out there who wants me to serve or follow him; that there is a supernatural being who I can “go back” to.

If I’m a person who still believes in God (as some Christians would believe), why don’t I follow him? Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, in their apologetic work I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, provide an answer that fits well with this faulty premise. When speaking about atheists, they write:

“. . . many believe that accepting the truth of Christianity would require them [atheists] to change their thinking, friends, priorities, lifestyle, or morals, and they are not quite willing to give up control over their lives in order to make those changes” (pg 30).

So, according to the Christian paradigm, I, an ex-Christian and atheist, still believe, deep down inside, that there is indeed a God out there, and atheism is simply an excuse for me to live a life free from the moral constraints that God has imposed on humans.

Is this true?

The simple answer is no.

Let me spell this out clearly: I did not leave Christianity because I wanted to snub God or his laws, or because I wanted to live a life of reckless abandon. I did not leave because I was angry with God, or for any other emotional reason. I left Christianity simply because I stopped believing the incredible claims of the Bible. I did not reject God as an actual, personal being (like a wife rejects her husband). Rather, I rejected the concept of God (like a growing child rejects the concept of Santa Claus). I did not turn away from God; I simply stopped believing in his existence. This is the subtle difference that some Christians have difficulty grasping.

How can I be angry at something I don’t believe exists? How can I reject the love of a being I don’t even seriously consider as being real? When a Christian asks me a question like: “Why did you turn your back on God’s love?”, I do not have an answer. It is like someone asking me: “Why did you turn your back on Apollo’s love?” The question makes no sense to me, simply because it assumes that I still have some sort of belief in the supernatural being under discussion. How can I turn away from God when I don’t even believe that there is something to turn away from in the first place?

In order to reject the love of a specific being – or express any kind of emotion associated with that being – you have to first acquire the prerequisite of belief in the existence of that being. Without this belief as a foundation, all talk of said being in terms of relationship, emotional rejection or anger is meaningless.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

One candle on the cake!

This blog celebrated its first birthday on the 12th October. I just want to say thank you to all that have sacrificed their time to make comments. I want to thank Tin Soldier, Roger, Peter, Lui, SuperSkeptic, Cori, eddie, Skywolf, Jason Hughes, tichius, Dar, Mike, Marc and many others for challenging my thinking and providing fascinating discussion on this blog. I hope to write many more articles regarding my thoughts on religion, atheism, God, evolution and philosophy; and I’m looking forward to another year of discussion with you all.

Looking back over the 60 articles that I’ve written over the past year, there are many that provide some detail regarding the reasons to why I left Christianity. But the one article that I think adequately captures – in just a few short paragraphs – the feelings I went through during my faith struggle, is an article I posted earlier this year. It is called One-way Mirror, and is posted below.

One-way Mirror
This is a little something I wrote up. It captures the feelings I went through when I lost my faith.

I could never see what was behind the one way-mirror, but I always believed and truly felt that there was an awesome presence there; a presence worthy of the highest respect, but also – to me – an intimate friend. I used to speak directly to the mirror, believing that that the presence – possibly in some adjoining room – listened, and cared for me. Sometimes I even thought that the presence spoke back to me, although not in an audible voice, mind you. Its messages had to be found and studied elsewhere: in a book, from other people, from a feeling deep down inside of me. There was never any direct correspondence.

One day I started to doubt that there was someone behind the mirror. I asked – and then cried – for the hidden presence to reveal itself. It did not, and in a final stroke of frustration I flung my chair at it. The mirror shattered into a thousand pieces, and I suddenly froze when I saw that there was no room behind the mirror. No friend. Just a blank, solid wall.

“But this is impossible”, I cried to myself, “I know, deep down inside, that someone was there. I could feel his presence. I could hear his small, still voice. If there was no-one there, where did all these impressions come from? Where did all the certainty and belief have its source?”

I suddenly looked down and found my answer. From one of the shards of glass on the floor, I saw a reflection – a face looking back at me.

The face was my own. . .