Richard says: How children view the indoctrination experience
I have often written about the narratives people who are struggling to recover from their religious experiences post on the web. Many of the narratives contain common themes. For example, children are often puzzled and confused and don’t know why the answers they get don’t make any sense. (A well known failing of religious dogma.) Those who manage to break free usually do so when they go away to college, and very often the college is a Christian institution. You can read all the apologetics you like, but if you want to get to the truth of the religious experience the apostates are the best source. For the simple reason that they have spotted the weaknesses and after they make the decision to leave they have nothing to lose. In fact I think many are happy to blow up religion for the benefit of others who are still locked in their self imposed cages.
The following snips are clipped from a web site that posts personal narratives (names omitted) of people recovering from religion. By this point they are adults or young adults.
As I am sure, most, if not all, of you know, I am struggling with the fact that I will have to completely change my life and will be labeled as the outsider by all those people with whom I have built close friendships. There is still a lot of confusion, but every day I am realizing that rational, reasonable, concrete truth is what I long for. I no longer want to give myself over to imaginary, confusing, irrational ideas that only immerse the believer in a pit of fear and guilt.
I had to memorize and recite Bible verses until I was 13 years old. I went to all the camps, knew all the songs, and probably got “saved,” literally, 6 times. I think I might have even been baptized twice. I was a good little Christian soldier. I remember going around telling stories to my childhood friends about our imminent doom if we didn’t “ask Jesus to come in to our hearts.” I tried to save them. I look back now and wonder, “Save them from what? Happiness?”
I remember specifically sitting in Sunday School when I was around the age of 8 and the teacher was yammerin’ away at some story. Then he said something that whipped me around. He said, “That’s why putting any kind of Christian, or Jesus-like bumper sticker on your car is not a good idea. Because if we do or say something that we shouldn’t while we are driving, we don’t anyone to know that we are Christians.”
Our Sunday school teachers and youth pastors would always encourage us to bring our friends from school to church, but I never wanted to. First of all, I didn’t have any friends at school, because I was taking to heart the whole “You are in this world, but not of it” ideology. I also took on God’s view that anybody who was not a believer was “wicked.” So, anybody at school was to me a potential convert, but nobody for me to actually be friends with, other than to potentially witness to. But I didn’t want to bring these people to church, because church was my safe haven, free from the evil, evil world. I realize now, looking back, that I would even try to figure out if my teachers were Christians or not, and if I determined by what they said or did that they must not be, I don’t think I learned from them as well because I would subconsciously discredit what they — or anybody who wasn’t a Christian, for that matter — had to say. This indoctrination was very subtle and I didn’t even realize I had this mentality and how unhealthy and off-base it was at the time.
My faith never grew stronger or weaker throughout the years. I believed every word was true and never doubted any of it. Sometimes I’d worry more about the fate of my soul (what if I died right now and didn’t have a chance to ask forgiveness for my latest sin?); sometimes it would slip my mind that my soul was in constant danger. It wasn’t until I got to college that I questioned any of it at all.
Despite the fact that I have freed my own mind from the shackles of belief, the venom of Christianity still flows through my life. In the mind of my beloved wife, I am now the enemy – to be hated and feared. I am less than human because I cannot bring myself to accept that it is right to send most people in the world to a lake of eternal fire and torment.
If there is anything I’d like to say in closing, it would be that Christianity isn’t harmless. It really is that bad. It may be too late for me to live free of the damage it can cause. Perhaps by sharing this, I can impress upon those for whom it is not too late the importance of not allowing this hideous disease of the mind to gain any foothold in your life.
The first recollection I have of realizing something was wrong was when I first legitimately considered the question “where did God come from?” I was probably 13 years old and assumed somebody would have an answer to this fairly basic question. I posed it to my Mom and she had nothing to give me. I asked other people with a fair amount of shame, assuming that I was either not supposed to be asking these things, or at the least, I was stupid for not knowing the answer. It didn’t take long to realize that this was, in fact, a GOOD question to ask, and that began the unraveling of the tall tales I’d been fed. Unlike Santa Claus, for which I have no recollection of the time the news was broken to me, this one seemed a bit more important, even in my barely adolescent mind, since the stakes were quite a bit higher. I mean I would still get presents under the tree, so no big loss there, but on the other hand, there was the vague understanding that I was going to die and NOT come back to life.
I grew up going to a Methodist church every Sunday. We did Sunday school and the worship service. I learned all the stories, and knew all the songs. I didn’t hate it, but I don’t think I ever “got it” either. It just seemed like something you did. Of course there’s a god, we go and talk about him every Sunday.
In Junior High, one of our coaches told me about Evangelism Explosion and then took me through the story of sin and redemption. He lead me through the sinners prayer and told me I had made a great decision. I still didn’t really get what was going on though. That was 1991.
So, under the pressure of my mother, who was contantly switching churches like other’s change their socks, I got to see how every one of them was correct, just, righteous, and surely the apple of God’s eye. All “those others” were wrong, they didn’t have Christianity right. My education was steering me to ask, ask, ask…then to follow it up with introspection. Finally, a crucial moment came when I was about 13 or 14. I decided I could only trust my own judgement on God and faith, and not anyone else’s. I rejected the idea of God. My belief system came crashing down on me.
My first recollection of religion was being in Baptist Bible Camp at about age 5. It was much like any bible camp, run by people who think they know what God/Jesus are, but usually incapable of providing a lot of explanation. I remember being told all these wonderful things about God/Jesus and I don’t remember seeing him anywhere — certainly not on television — and I asked where he was? The young woman pointed up in the air. I looked up and she was pointing at the ceiling. I thought she wasn’t making any sense. I asked if he was upstairs (in the sanctuary), and she said no, up there in heaven. I still didn’t get it and thought that she meant God was in the ceiling. For a 5 year old, the thought of God being in the ceiling was scary and confusing. It lead to some other forms of mental paralysis as time marched on. Later, when I approached the subject again and asked where God was, the finger pointed up in the air again but this time we were outside and it was almost dark. The person was pointing up at the stars and said that God was in heaven. I asked which star was heaven and I got some obtuse, confusing explanation. I really thought these people were nuts. I decided to stop asking where God was because it was obvious that no one knew. I was born a skeptic and the reality is that my position never changed throughout my life no matter how hard I tried, and boy did I try.
WHY CHRISTIAN KIDS LEAVE THE FAITH By Tom Bisset, link is to Amazon.com
The title is a little misleading. The case studies Tom Bisset offers are actually about young adults. Children as a rule are commonly not offered the option of dropping out. It does occur in the more liberal denominations, but would be rare for evangelicals. Bisset is a Baptist.
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Liars for Jesus
February 18, 2008
Amazon.com reviewer: Steven L. Roberts (Madison, WI)
Liars for Jesus by Chris Rodda is one of the best written and most important books about contemporary American politics that I have read in years. The only problem with this book is that it was apparently published with the author’s own money, making its availability somewhat limited. This book should be widely read and discussed, because it helps explain why the Christian Right seems so incomprehensibly loony to most of us who are not part of that movement, and, conversely, why they attack the rest of us with such unfettered zeal.
There has been a series of revisionist “history” books published since the end of WWII which give a “Christian” version of American history that attempts to paint the Founding Fathers and subsequent American culture in a way that is in agreement with contemporary Fundamentalism. We have now had a couple of generations of conservative Christians who have been buying into this version of history and reacting angrily to an America that assumes fundamental principals like the separation of church and state to be at the core of what America stands for.
Author Rodda systematically lists and then busts a series of myths that these spurious history books have generated. She leaves no stone unturned in doing so.
Things get really scary when she starts quoting Supreme Court opinions written by Rennquist, Thomas and Burger, and it becomes apparent that members of our highest court do not know the difference between real history and Fundamentalist wishful thinking.
The book is a fascinating study in how the desire for a different set of facts can, over time, morph into an alternative if deluded “reality”.
There is an insidious clandestine effort underway driven by Christian fascists to pollute the common person’s understanding of American history and the part religion plays in that history. This is not merely the usual difference of interpretation that ethical historians normally write about. As Michelle Goldman explains in her book, “Kingdom Coming”, what is dangerous is that a gradual shift has occurred so that what would have been unthinkable rubbish ten years ago is now embraced by the fascists as absolute truth.
Others, trained from childhood to follow authority blindly, accept the lies as truth. Since kids in sham homeschools never encounter any other point of view they readily accept the lies. Which is exactly why their misbegotten parents sequester them in their sham schools to begin with.
Accordingly, this propaganda posing as history is being freely passed around over the Internet and incorporated in textbooks sold to the child abusers engaged in lying to their children. Revisionist history books by several different authors (David Barton, Peter Marshall, Mark A. Beliles (Author), and Stephen K. McDowell to name a few) are widely used in sham homeschools along with grossly distorted books on science that are teaching ID and creation myths and calling it science.
Intelligent Design (ID): somewhere, at some point in time, someone did something, somehow, for some reason, that affected the history of life somehow – Michael De Dora Jr, CFI in a Tweet
Parents do this because they trust the likes of James Dobson, Michael Farris, Phylis Schafly, and Pat Robertson and they have no critical faculties. James Dobson, the high priest of religious child abuse, insists the most important quality a child can have is obedience. According to him children are inherently incorrigible and they must be whipped to convince them to obey what they are told to do. These are the methods totalitarians use.
We know from engaging parents on public discussion forums how deranged these people are and how futile it is to try and hold an intelligent discussion with them. A constant retort is, “well that is your opinion”, facts mean absolutely nothing. Their brains are reduced to a worthless pile of rotten cells that serve no function. Thus, we see the result of The Rise of Idiot America.
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The Rise of Idiot America
The following excerpt is lifted from the first chapter of the book, “Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free”, by Charles Pierce.
The rise of Idiot America, though, is essentially a war on expertise. It’s not so much antimodernism or the distrust of the intellectual elites that Richard Hofstadter teased out of the national DNA, although both of those things are part of it. The rise of Idiot America today reflects—for profit, mainly, but also, and more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power—the breakdown of the consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people we should trust the least are the people who know best what they’re talking about. In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a scientist, or a preacher, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.
This is how Idiot America engages itself. It decides, en masse, with a million keystrokes and clicks of the remote control, that because there are two sides to every question, they both must be right, or at least not wrong. And the words of an obscure biologist carry no more weight on the subject of biology than do the thunderations of some turkeyneck preacher out of the Church of Christ’s Own Parking Structure in DeLand, Florida. Less weight, in fact, because our scientist is an “expert” and, therefore, an “elitist.” Nobody buys his books. Nobody puts him on cable. He’s brilliant, surely, but no different from all the rest of us, poor fool.
How does it work? This is how it works. On August 21, 2005, a newspaper account of the intelligent design movement contained this remarkable sentence:
“They have mounted a politically savvy challenge to evolution as the bedrock of modern biology, propelling a fringe academic movement onto the front pages and putting Darwin’s defenders firmly on the defensive.”
“A politically savvy challenge to evolution” makes as much sense as conducting a Gallup poll on gravity or running someone for president on the Alchemy party ticket. It doesn’t matter what percentage of people believe that they ought to be able to flap their arms and fly: none of them can. It doesn’t matter how many votes your candidate got: he’s not going to be able to turn lead into gold. The sentence is so arrantly foolish that the only
real news in it is where it appeared.
On the front page.
Of the New York Times.
Read chapter one at the following Amazon URL.
The current town hall meeting spectacles are a direct result of the rise of idiot America, as well as the phenomenon of Sarah Palin, and worst of all eight years of George Bush.
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The Essential Role of an Enlightened Witness in Society
The Essential Role of an Enlightened Witness in Society
by Alice Miller, Ph.D.
Since adolescence I have always wondered why people take pleasure in humiliating others. Clearly the fact that some people are sensitive to the suffering of others proves that the destructive urge is not a universal aspect of human nature. So why do some tend to solve their problems by violence while others don’t?
Philosophy failed to answer my question, and the Freudian theory of the death wish has never convinced me. It was only by closely examining the childhood histories of murderers, especially mass murderers, that I began to comprehend the roots of good and evil: not in the genes, as commonly believed, but often in the earliest days of life. Today, it is inconceivable to me that a child who comes into the world among attentive, loving and protective parents could become a predatory monster. And in the childhood of the murderers who later became dictators, I have always found a nightmarish horror, a record of continual lies and humiliation, which upon the attainment of adulthood, impelled them to acts of merciless revenge on society. These vengeful acts were always garbed in hypocritical ideologies, purporting that the dictator’s exclusive and overriding wish was the happiness of his people. In this way, he unconsciously emulated his own parents who, in earlier days, had also insisted that their blows were inflicted on the child for his own good. This belief was extremely widespread a century ago, particularly in Germany.
I found it logical that a child beaten often would quickly pick up the language of violence. For him, this language became the only effective means of communication available. Yet what I found to be logical was apparently not so to most people.
When I began to illustrate my thesis by drawing on the examples of Hitler and Stalin, when I tried to expose the social consequences of child abuse, I encountered fierce resistance. Repeatedly I was told, “I, too, was a battered child, but that didn’t make me a criminal.” When I asked for details about their childhood, I was always told of a person who loved them, but was unable to protect them. Yet through his or her presence, this person gave them a notion of trust, and of love.
I call these persons helping witnesses. Dostoyevsky, for instance, had a brutal father, but a loving mother. She wasn’t strong enough to protect him from his father, but she gave him a powerful conception of love, without which his novels would have been unimaginable. Many have also been lucky enough to find enlightened and courageous witnesses, people who helped them to recognize the injustices they suffered, to give vent to their feelings of rage, pain and indignation at what happened to them. These persons never became criminals.
Anyone addressing the problem of child abuse is likely to be faced with a very strange finding: it has frequently been observed that parents who abuse their children tend to mistreat and neglect them in ways resembling their own treatment as children, without any conscious memory of their own experiences. It is well known that fathers who bully their children through sexual abuse are usually unaware that they had themselves suffered the same abuse. It is only in therapy, even if ordered by the courts, that they discover, stupefied, their own history, and realize thereby that for years they have attempted to act out their own scenario, just to get rid of it.
How can this be explained? After studying the matter for years, it seems clear to me that information about abuse inflicted during childhood is recorded in our body cells as a sort of memory, linked to repressed anxiety. If, lacking the aid of an enlightened witness, these memories fail to break through to consciousness, they often compel the person to violent acts that reproduce the abuse suffered in childhood, which was repressed in order to survive. The aim is to avoid the fear of powerlessness before a cruel adult. This fear can be eluded momentarily by creating situations in which one plays the active role, the role of the powerful, towards a powerless person.
But this is not an easy path to rid oneself of unconscious fears. And this is why the offense is ceaselessly repeated. A steady stream of new victims must be found, as recently demonstrated by the pedophile scandals in Belgium. To his dying day, Hitler was convinced that only the death of every single Jew could shield him from the fearful and daily memory of his brutal father. Since his father was half Jewish, the whole Jewish people had to be exterminated. I know how easy it is to dismiss this interpretation of the Holocaust, but I honestly haven’t yet found a better one. Besides, the case of Hitler shows that hatred and fear cannot be resolved through power, even absolute power, as long as the hatred is transferred to scapegoats. On the contrary, if the true cause of the hatred is identified, is experienced with the feelings that accompany this recognition, blind hatred of innocent victims can be dispelled. Sex criminals stop their depredations if they manage to overcome their amnesia and mourn their tragic fate, thanks to the empathy of an enlightened witness. Old wounds can be healed if exposed to the light of day. But they cannot be repudiated by revenge.
A Japanese crew shot a film of therapeutic work in a prison in Arizona, where the method was based, inter alia, on my books. I was sent the video cassette and found the results very revealing. The inmates worked in groups, talked a lot about their childhood, and some of them said, “I’ve been all over the place, and killed innocent people to avoid the feelings I have today. But I know that I can bear these feelings in the group, where I feel safe. I no longer need to run around and kill, I’m at home here, I recognize what happened. The past recedes, and my anger along with it.”
For this process to succeed, the adult who has grown up without helping witnesses in his childhood needs the support of enlightened witnesses, people who have understood and recognized the consequences of child abuse. In an informed society, adolescents can learn to verbalize their truth and to discover themselves in their own story. They will not need to avenge themselves violently for their wounds, or to poison their systems with drugs, if they have the luck to talk to others about their early experiences, and succeed in grasping the naked truth of their own tragedy. To do this, they need assistance from persons aware of the dynamics of child abuse, who can help them address their feelings seriously, understand them and integrate them, as part of their own story, instead of avenging themselves on the innocent.
I have wrongly been attributed the thesis according to which every victim inevitably becomes a persecutor, a thesis that I find totally false, indeed absurd. It has been proved that many adults have had the good fortune to break the cycle of abuse through knowledge of their past. Yet I can certainly aver that I have never come across persecutors who weren’t victims in their childhood, though most of them don’t know it because their feelings are repressed. The less these criminals know about themselves. the more dangerous they are to society. So I think it is crucial for the therapist to grasp the difference between the statement, “every victim ultimately becomes a persecutor,” which is false, and “every persecutor was a victim in his childhood,” which I consider true. The problem is that, feeling nothing, he remembers nothing, realizes nothing, and this is why surveys don’t always reveal the truth. Yet the presence of a warm, enlightened witness – therapist, social aid worker, lawyer, judge – can help the criminal unlock his repressed feelings and restore the unrestricted flow of consciousness. This can initiate the process of escape from the vicious circle of amnesia and violence.
© Alice Miller, 1997.
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Science vs. Religion: Ideology and Methodology
I’ve had several private correspondences over the last couple of days dealing with what I’ve started calling the Church of Dawkins. A significant number of theists and atheists seem to believe that there’s some sort of cult forming around everything that comes out of the mouth of the “King of Atheists,” or some nonsense like that. This also ties into the hubbub over the New Atheists and The Four Horsemen and all the other monikers earned by various atheist writers over the last few years.
To begin with, let me say a few things about what is happening in atheism. I’m tempted to put atheism in scare quotes because atheism is not a philosophy or a worldview, but I will let that stand for the moment. Just please realize that when I talk about “atheism” in this sense, I’m talking about a vaguely defined social movement, not the ordinary epistemological position.
Atheism is a movement of a sort. We have conferences and book signings and student associations. There are “factions.” Some atheists don’t believe in the in-your-face style of Dawkins and Harris. Writers like Michael Shermer favor a much more passive and accepting approach to spreading freethought. Ayn Rand was an atheist, and promoted objectivism, which is fervently espoused by a small number of atheists, but discarded as so much claptrap by most rationalists and positivists.
There are “leaders” in atheism. Margaret Downey has been at the forefront of many social and free-thinking issues for years, and is the founder of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia. She was largely responsible for taking on the Boy Scouts for discriminating against atheists and gays. Richard Dawkins is a prolific author and a compelling speaker, and he has an extensive speaking circuit as well as a very popular website. Sam Harris frequently editorializes in the country’s most widely read newspapers.
It’s relatively easy for me to understand why a lot of people see what’s going on in atheism and think it’s cult-like. Had I been a theist when a lot of these folks became big news, I’d probably have thought the same thing. The thing is, it’s not a cult. Certainly every popular author has his or her fanboys. That cannot be avoided. But the thing that makes this movement special, and I believe unique in Western History, is that it is a seemingly paradoxical movement. Hundreds of thousands of people are working together to encourage every individual to think for himself and not follow the group! How can this be possible? There are two main reasons I can think of: The Principles of Science, and The Convergence of Truth.
The Principles of Science
If you haven’t read my article on the scientific method, now would be a good time, as I will only summarize briefly here. If you understand science, you know that its greatest strength is its independence from authorship. That is to say, if I give you a list of instructions for performing a scientific experiment and you follow the instructions precisely, you will get the same results as anyone else on the planet who followed the same steps. There need not be any attribution or author’s name on the study for you to know the facts demonstrated by the experiment are true.
As humans, we admire scientists who make breakthrough discoveries. We all know the name Albert Einstein, and we all hold him in high reverence, as we do Isaac Newton, Marie Curie, and Jonas Salk. It is important to remember, though, that the discoveries made by these men and women were truths waiting to be discovered. Einstein did not create general relativity. He described it. Salk was the first to observe the truth that a dead polio virus would successfully immunize children against polio. Curie observed that uranium radiation made the surrounding air conductive.
The important point here is that had any one of these scientists not been born, the scientific truths associated with their names would have been discovered by someone else. Perhaps Einstein was ahead of his time, but it is hard to imagine that no human would have put the same pieces of the puzzle together and reached the same conclusion — ever. That’s the beauty of science. The pieces of any puzzle are available for anyone to see. If a thing is true, it is true for Einstein and Hambydammit and Joe Plumber. Neither of us needs the other to see the truth. We just need the scientific method.
The “Four Horsemen” of atheism, as well as most of the lesser known authors, and most bloggers like me, are staunch advocates of the scientific method. In many ways, we are not so much concerned with converting someone to atheism as we are convincing them of the truth that science is the only reliable way to discover truth. Indeed, there are atheists in the world who believe wacky things. As many theists are quick to point out, Stalin was an atheist. So was Mao Tse-tung. These people believed in a political ideology that doesn’t work. They caused immense suffering because they believed an ideology instead of empirically verifiable facts.
As a matter of fact, Sam Harris himself has been quite critical of using the word “atheist” to describe this movement. Paul Geisert and Mynga Futell co-founded the term “Brights” in an attempt to unite everyone who believes in naturalism and science. I only refer to myself as an atheist because the word is accurate in describing my lack of belief in a deity. Given the choice, I call myself a naturalist or a materialist, for both of those words give a far more detailed description of what I do believe, rather than simply mentioning one thing I don’t believe in.
Science, then, is the central support of the growing atheist movement. Since science is results-based instead of personality based, we should expect the movers and shakers to come and go. We should recognize that so long as any particular figure in the movement is espousing independent, empirically verifiable science, we will not be heading down the road towards a cult of personality. Similarly, we should demand that no matter how well-established a particular figure is, he should back up every positive claim he makes. Tenure does not reduce the burden of proof.
The best example I can think of is the laughable tactic used in the movie Expelled. In one scene, Ben Stein is interviewing Dawkins about the origins of life, and Dawkins explains that even if life were seeded on earth by aliens, it would only push the question of origins back one step. We would still have to account for the beginning of the alien life, and the only plausible explanation is gradual increasing complexity as described by evolution. Theists have jumped on this bandwagon in an attempt to discredit Dawkins. “SEE!” they proclaim. “The Grand Poo-Bah of Atheism Believes in Aliens!!”
Granted, this is stretch, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s suppose that Richard Dawkins believes aliens seeded life on earth. Fine. He needs to get to writing, because he’s got a HUGE burden of proof to overcome before anybody believes him. Oh, sure. There will be a few thirteen year olds who will hang their hats on alien seeding without demanding proof, but every scientist worth his dissertation will demand overwhelming proof.
When Antony Flew succumbed to dementia and espoused belief in a deistic god, the reaction from the brights and atheists and naturalists was mostly sympathy. He has been a prominent figure in the freethinking movement, and it is sad from a human perspective to see that his faculties have dimmed and that he cannot form coherent arguments anymore. He is still highly respected as a member of the freethough community, and his serious work still stands as strongly as it ever did.
The broad point is a simple one. This movement, unlike any other ideological movement, has its roots in something outside of the word of man. Ironic, isn’t it? For centuries, men have told us that the word of God was outside of the word of man, but there was no way to verify that except for trusting the word of men. Now, with the discovery of science, we truly can discover reality without trusting men. The independence of the scientific method is the escape hatch from the cult of personality.
The Convergence of Truth
If you know something about evolutionary biology, you know what convergent evolution is. Simply put, some solutions to problems are better than others, and evolution, being based entirely on the success of design, tends to discover particularly good solutions over and over. The eye is one of the best examples. At least eight independent times, evolution has stumbled upon the solution of light detection. In many environments, creatures that can detect and react to light are significantly better equipped to survive than those who can’t. The eye has developed in different ways. Just as there are multiple ways to build a camera lens, there are different ways to build eyes. At the heart of all eyes, however, is the inescapable truth: Seeing is better than not seeing.
I want to take the same principle and apply it to living as a human. When we look around the entire world, we see many remarkable convergences of truth. As a very mundane example, we observe that virtually all cultures go out of their way to make tools designed for human rear ends to rest upon. The truth is simple: Humans expend less energy while resting than standing, and sitting on one’s rear end is one of the best forms of resting. Of course, there are thousands of designs for sitting devices. I’m sitting in a faux-leather office chair with wheels. There are rocking chairs, swings, settees, pillows, lumbard support cushions, and divans. The angle of inclination, comfort, height, and other variables change significantly between designs, but all of them address the same truth — it is good for people to sit sometimes.
We should not suppose for a minute that one human thought up a chair, and every chair since has been a copy or adaptation. How foolish that would be! When anthropologists discover a new tribe of humans that has never had contact with the outside world, they observe sitting devices of some sort. Shaping the environment to make a comfortable sitting surface is so obvious an action that we hardly think of it as requiring intelligence. Even so, this is a good analogy for more complicated convergences of truth.
I have mentioned before that a naturalist philosophy essentially demands atheism, if followed to its logical conclusion. This, of course, is because of the incoherence of all god-definitions when applied to naturalism. This understanding hasn’t been easily accessible for most of human history. Modern epistemology, ontology, and symbolic logic have given us the tools we need to make the observations of naturalism with justification. Therein lies the key to this growing movement of diverse yet convergent atheists. Any one of these fields demands answers to questions that lead to other related fields. If I begin with logic, I must at some point address the question of how far the rules of logic apply. To answer that question, I must study ontology. To study ontology, I must study epistemology. If I thoroughly grasp these subjects, I will be pulled very strongly towards naturalism. (It’s my belief that naturalism is the only justifiable position, but that’s another blog topic.)
You can probably see where I’m going with this. Atheism is a convergent truth. It may be reached in a variety of ways, but it is the logical conclusion to a great many lines of thinking. Most importantly, it is the position demanded by the scientific method. If there is a god, there is evidence for this god. Science has yet to uncover one scrap of evidence for god, so it must conditionally conclude that god-belief is unjustified. Put simply, anyone who meticulously and precisely follows the scientific method ought to arrive at atheism if he ever addresses the question of god(s). In the same way that any two people on earth, given a description of a basic science experiment, will achieve the same results, the rejection of the god theory is also a predictable result of the application of the scientific method. It is a truth accessible to anyone on the planet, independent of whether it has been discovered elsewhere before.
The Uniqueness of the Atheist Movement
“Atheism” (or “New Atheism, if you must) is a unique movement in human history. Never before have we had access to so much information about the universe and the nature of reality. I don’t see the atheism movement as a political movement, or an ideological movement. Instead, it is in large part a realization by millions and millions of people that science gives them the freedom to shake off the yoke of personality. They need not follow Sagan or Dawkins or Dennett. They can instead avail themself of the independent and objective yardstick of science and logic. The truths they discover may have been previously discovered, of course, and if it turns out that they find like minded people who have also made the same discoveries, so much the better.
This isn’t about atheism. It’s about realizing that we have the justification as humans to throw off religion and superstition and do the best we can at working out the nature of reality ourselves. There will be quacks and fakirs who will come and go. They will gather their own followers, but in the end, their ideas will be discarded when it becomes obvious that they cannot stand up to independent scrutiny. If ever there was a movement that was truly about the individual, this has to be it. It is about belief in the reliability of truth outside of the word of any man, no matter how intelligent or powerful he might be. It is what religion has claimed to offer and failed. Where religion only offers the word of man to testify to the “Truth,” science offers itself as the path to truth, and anyone can discover the truth without indoctrination or threats of punishment.
Ironic, isn’t it?
I realize that I’m setting myself up. Theists will jump on the bandwagon and say, “See! It’s just like a religion! You’re religious!” When they do that, I will quietly explain to them — again — that there is no end to the chain of heresay in religion, and science is its own end. There is an unethical experiment we cannot perform in reality, but can easily imagine as a thought experiment. Suppose we take a hundred children and raise them in complete social isolation. That is, we ensure that they are not taught any religious concept whatsoever, or ever hear the word “god” or “science.” When they are old enough to manipulate their environment creatively, we put them in an isolated environment with various problems to solve. They must find shelter from the heat and rain. They must find food. They must not defacate where they sleep or they will soon have to find new shelter.
Most of the children will solve these problems, assuming there are things to eat and places to hide. Most of them will use tools to accomplish their purposes. Supposing we leave them existing tools, they will probably discover their uses. If, for instance, we leave a lens to focus sunlight, some of the children will learn to start fires. Not all, of course, but many. If we leave an umbrella, most of the children will figure out how to open it, and will use it as a portable shelter.
Now, let us ask ourselves: How many of these children will come up with the Gospel of John? How many will come away from their isolated existence believing firmly that Jesus Christ is the son of god, and they must believe in him or suffer eternal hellfire as punishment for disbelief? The obvious answer is that not one child will come to that conclusion. Not one. Yet all of them, to some degree or another, will convergently discover truths of science. Nobody will discover Allah, or Thor, or Zeus, or Ahura Mazda. To discover these gods, we must learn of them from other men.
After this objection has been dealt with, atheists and theists alike will aver that there is more to life than scientific observation. Human life is about culture and love and emotional entanglement. Science can describe these things empirically, but it cannot tell us what to do with them. To that, I will reply, “Precisely my point!” Science can and does describe culture, love, and emotional entanglement. We discover truths about being human. We are evolved creatures with instincts and intelligence. We all desire companionship, mating, and social acceptance. We all tend towards conspicuous consumption. All of this information is useful to us in deciding how to act.
Human culture is diverse and in some ways quite unpredictable. Science doesn’t promise utopia. It promises truth. Sometimes the truth is ugly, and that is one of the scariest things about abandoning myth for truth. Tsunamis will strike. Hurricanes will devastate cities. Charlatans will rob people of their life savings. But science at least gives us a clear window into why these things happen, and offers us the chance to potentially change what we want to change, based not on guesses about what Jehovah might want us to do, but on the way the world works, as verifiable to anyone who cares to look.
There will always be questions to answer, and there will always be people and cultures we disagree with. Science will not give us a One World Government, or a universal code of ethics. Instead, it will give us a way to understand the necessary and dynamic diversity we see in different cultures. It will give us the justification to call for the end of demonstrably harmful cultural practices. It will demand evidence before embarking on grandiose social engineering projects. It will demand that we give an empirically verifiable reason before imposing this or that law on a populace. It will demand an end to blind faith.
The Science Movement is about ending that which is demonstrably false and harmful, and about enabling us to find the best ways to pursue what we believe is right. This is no different from the religious movement in one very important sense — it’s still about doing what we believe is right. The crucial difference, however, is that it finally gives us a yardstick to test our beliefs against. It is literally a reality check to guage whether our intentions match our actions. It’s fine and good to intend good or to wish people happiness. It’s quite another to act in a way that actually promotes happiness. Science is the tool for determining the effectiveness of our actions. It is the only reliable tool. THAT is what makes science different from religion.
Why More Equality – The Effects of Inequality
The following is from The Equality Trust web site:
Until recently, most of the argument about the scale of income inequality in modern societies has been about fairness and unfairness. But it has recently become possible to compare the scale of income differences in different societies and see how the social fabric of society is affected by how much inequality there is. Research using this data carried out since the early 1990s shows that many of the most pressing health and social problems are worse in more unequal societies – often much worse. Societies with bigger income differences between rich and poor seem to suffer more of a very wide range of health and social problems. These web pages outline the evidence and tell you where to find more detailed summaries and research reports. A straight forward outline of all the material can be found in a book written by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, called The Spirit Level, published by Penguin. Buy the book from Amazon. [external link]
Health, Homicides and beyond
The first indications of the harmful effects of inequality came almost simultaneously from research on health and on homicides. A review of 168 studies summarises the evidence internationally among rich and poor countries as well as for regions, states, and cities within many different countries. The tendency for more unequal societies to have worse health has been found for many different health indicators, including age-specific death rates, infant mortality, life expectancy, and illness.
More recently we have found that the same pattern applies to most of the social problems which, within countries, tend to be concentrated in the most deprived areas and become more common further down the social ladder. Like violence and ill health, they are all much more common in more unequal societies. So far the evidence covers mental illness, drug abuse, teenage births, obesity, the proportion of the population in prison, educational performance of school children, levels of trust and strength of community life, and social mobility.
Some of the relationships with inequality have been demonstrated many times in peer reviewed research publications. Almost all have been shown in at least two different tests beds: internationally among a group of the richest countries, and independently among the 50 states of the USA. We should emphasise that when we talk about the effects of inequality that we do not mean the effects of poverty or low average incomes.
Big differences, everyone affected
One of the most striking and important features of these relationships is that the differences in the prevalence of the various social problems are so large. Some are two or three times as common in more unequal societies, but others are as much as ten times as common. The evidence suggests that this is partly because inequality affects the vast majority of the population – not just the poorest.
Finally, it tends to be the same societies which do well on each of the different outcomes just as it is the same ones which do badly. Because inequality affects so many different outcomes, if you know that a society does badly – for instance – on health, it is likely that it also does badly on a wide range of social problems: it probably has high levels of violence, high teen birth rates, a high prison population, lower levels of trust, more obesity, and a bigger drug problem. It looks as if societies with large income inequalities become socially dysfunctional.
Overviews of the bare facts and statistical evidence can be found in:-
Wilkinson RG, Pickett KE. Income inequality and health: a review and explanation of the evidence. Social Science and Medicine 2006; 62: 1768-84. [PDF]
A fuller discussion of the evidence and of the causal social processes through which inequality has these effects can be found in:-
Wilkinson RG. The Impact of Inequality: how to make sick societies healthier. Published in USA by New Press, New York, and in the UK by Routledge, London, 2005
The Root of All Evil
In The Virus of Faith, Dawkins opines that the moral framework of religions is warped, and argues against the religious indoctrination of children. The title of this episode comes from The Selfish Gene, in which Dawkins discussed the concept of memes. The Root of All Evil? is a television documentary, written and presented by Richard Dawkins, in which he argues that the world would be better off without religion. The documentary was first broadcast in January 2006, in the form of two 45-minute episodes (excluding advertisement breaks), on Channel 4 in the UK.«