What came before the Big Bang?

God's Big BangThe Cosmological argument is one often put forward by the religious as logical proof of the existence of God. For anyone unfamiliar with the argument I’d suggest taking a quick look over the Wikipedia article of the topic:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_argument

In a nutshell, the argument is as follows (from Wikipedia):

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The Universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the Universe had a cause.

Naturally religious people put forward this argument and then call whatever caused the universe to exist, God.

Now there are all sorts of arguments that have been put forward to discredit this argument (most of which can be found in the Wikipedia article), but for the past month or so I’ve been working over my own argument that I hadn’t heard before. At no point did I think this argument was a new one (and reading Wikipedia now I can see that it isn’t) but it’s one I hadn’t heard and I thought was worth writing up a post about.

Arguments against the Cosmological argument usually take one of two forms. Either the question is asked “What caused the first cause?” or “How do you know the first cause is God?” Both of these are legitimate questions and worth pondering, but in this post I’m going to tackle something a little different, namely point 2 in the above definition, “The Universe began to exist”.

What makes people think that statement is true? Well the obvious answer is ’cause and effect’, whereby if ‘Y’ caused ‘Z’, and ‘X’ caused ‘Y’, then eventually we must get back ‘A’ (which is usually the Big Bang) and something beyond time and space must have caused that.

But here’s the thing people usually don’t realise when making this argument (and I’ve been making this mistake for years). Cause and effect only applies when transferring energy. Think about it. Every cause and effect event we’ve ever witnesses has been a transfer of energy, not the creation of energy. Now that’s not to say cause and effect doesn’t apply to a creation event, only that we’ve never seen one and have no reason to assume it does. Heck, we don’t even know if a creation event is possible!

Another phrase often put forward by the religious is “Something can’t come from nothing”. Well firstly, how do you know? When was the last time you saw a nothing? But more to the point “Something can’t come from anything!” Yes energy can be changed from one state to another, but to the best of our knowledge it’s never created.

Earth

Ha! Finally managed to get some of my own art in here!

This thought first occurred to me when I pondered the question of the post “What came before the Big Bang?” For the sake of argument let’s ignore String Theory and assume there is only one Universe and the Big Bang is at its beginning. The Multiverse Theory only pushes the question back after all.

The Singularity is said to be at the heart of the Big Bang and it is the point where all matter in the Universe is collected and when time = 0. Now if you want to talk about ‘before’ the Big Bang, how does this make any sense? To be able to have a past, present or future you need to have time. Without time there is no ‘before. So to ask about ‘before the Big Bang’ is basically asking what happened before time, which makes no sense as there is no time and therefore no ‘before’.

But that’s just the second part of the question. What about the first part. “What came before the Big Bang?” The ‘what’ here implies there is a ‘something’. But generally when asking this the questioner is asking what came before time and space. If there is no space, where exactly do you intend to put the ‘something’? This part of the question doesn’t make sense either!

So what can we figure out from this. Well honestly not a lot because it’s all hypothetical and based upon data from the forefront of science so it’s still all pretty up in the air. What we can derive from it though is that for the moment at least, there is no room for God in the equations. We can all but get back to the Singularity via math and observation and that logically, asking what came before ‘time=0’ doesn’t make any sense. Logically then, until additional information is presented we need to assume that the First Cause is in fact the Singularity, followed by its expansion, otherwise known as the Big Bang.

String theory jokeThis is the point where we need to return to subjects like String Theory and Quantum Mechanics to get any further. These theories really are the forefront of science and honestly we’re not even sure yet whether they’re in fact true or just mathematical masturbation.

What can be sure though is that the answer won’t be found by postulating an ancient sky man as a beginning. It will be found the same way we arrived at the Big Bang theory. By careful investigation and observation.

 

EDIT: And on a related topic, here’s a video I found about a year ago, lost and found again. It’s a lecture by Laurence Krauss in which, among other things, he tries to explain how something can come from nothing. It’s roughly an hour long, so strap on your thinking cap and get comfortable. It’s a long listen, but it’s a lecture that changed the way I see the Universe. Definitely a must see.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

-Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

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Stealing Christmas

How the grinch stole christmasThis is a much bigger issue in America, but it’s becoming an issue in Australia and I’m sure many other countries are having to deal with this as well. Considering the time of year, I think it’s time we tackled this one and set it to rest once and for all.

The ‘problem’ (and I use that word loosely) is that people of faiths other than Christianity are coming into our schools and insisting that the schools stop celebrating Christmas. (See the link at the bottom for one example). Generally the culprits of such actions are those pesky Muslims, and we know how the media loves to stigmatize these people, so I’ll use this religion as reference, however the same applies to any other religion.

This act is often considered an invasion by those of us who celebrate Christmas and many people, atheists/agnostics included, find it intolerable that these people have come into our country and are trying to take away our greatest holiday, depriving our children of the wonders of Santa, Rudolf, presents and pine trees. Oh, and Jesus. Can’t forget Jesus.

I mean, it’s one thing to have your own beliefs, churches and celebrations, but to come into someone elses country and try to take away theirs…well that’s just a step too far right? Right?

Well, that probably depends on the particular situation. If the school in question is private and religious, then yes. Sit down, shut the fuck up or go somewhere else. You put your child there, now suck it up.

However, I have a hunch that most of the time it’s not a private school that is being given the run around, but a public school, and this is where it gets a little different.

What people don’t understand is that Australia, the US and likely many other countries that are experiencing this debate are secular! For those playing at home, that means the Government is not allowed to endorse any religion over another.

By celebrating Christmas in public schools that is exactly what the Government is doing.

At this point there is two things the Government can do. They can celebrate the holidays of every religion, which means your child would probably spend more time at home than at school. Or they can celebrate none. Obviously the latter has to be the choice, as it would be impossible to celebrate every religions festivities.

These are the facts. Not only is it spelled out nice and clearly in Australian law (116), but it’s the way it damn well should be. You don’t get to force your religion (even the fun parts with fictitious characters that have little to do with the original religion) on other people, any more than they can force your children to attend their churches or wear a burka. Suck it up princess.

Here’s the quote taken from the ‘Commonwealth Of Australia Constitution Act’

116. The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

I still feel a good long break at the end of the year to spend time with family and take a well deserved rest is something we shouldn’t give up. The fact it happens to fall on Christmas (or more to the point, Christmas was moved to fall at the end of the year) is just a coincidence. But that’s no excuse for forcing your ancient dogma on unsuspecting children. And as commercialised as ‘Xmas’ has got, it can’t be denied its originals are buried in religion and is still celebrated as a religious holiday.

So to all you people who will be bitching and moaning again this year about those evil Muslims who keep trying to destory Australia’s traditions…shut the fuck up. Try actually learning Australia’s true traditions; those that embrace other people and cultures, and allowing people to practice their faiths without forcing any particular religion on them. That’s True Blue.

 

Sydney school accused of stealing Christmas – One such article accusing schools of stealing Christmas.

 

Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

The ultimate meaning of life…or 42

I’ve been playing with an idea lately and I wanted to try putting it into words to see if maybe I can make sense of it. Bare with me while I do some massive brain farts.

Meaning of life? Check Google.

Obviously as an atheist I don’t think there’s any profound meaning to life. To be sure, that doesn’t make life meaningless, it just means there’s no purpose.

But a thought occurred to me the other day that I thought might be worth playing with, even if there’s no factual reason to believe it.

 

Hypothetically, what is God’s purpose?Meaning of life? Shrug.

This thought came to me because I’ve thought for a while now that no one, not even a God can give meaning to your life. All they’re doing is making you a pawn to their ideals, which you may or may not agree with.

It’s often said that God’s ways are mysterious (which I consider to be the biggest cop-out, but that’s another post), and that we just have to have faith in Him. So maybe it’s just that my feeble little human mind can’t possibly conceive of the wonderous plans God has in store for us all, but I just don’t see how adding a god to the equation makes any damn difference.

What possible plan could a god have that would magically add purpose to life? Usually this is the point where the believer steps up and talks about heaven and how God wants all of us to be there with Him, happy for all eternity.

Now I have some issues with the idea of heaven, but let’s give the benefit of the doubt and assume heaven really is that wonderful. So what? Don’t get me wrong, happiness for all eternity sounds kinda nice. But what meaning does that add exactly? How is being happy purposeful?

A beer on a hot Sunday afternoon around the BBQ is my idea of true happiness, but I don’t consider that to be meaningful. And being in a place that offers that every Sunday for eternity, with the best tasting beer, snags dripping with flavour and tomato sauce, my Mum’s homemade potato salad and still not putting on an ounce isn’t going to add any additional meaning.

I worry that religious people haven’t stopped to consider this. When they think about the meaning of life they get to God and stop. But what meaning does your god offer to your existence?

Pretend for a moment you are your chosen deity. You have infinite power, infinite knowledge, a swarm of worshippers and all the potato salad you can eat. What would you do with all of it?…

No really, think about that. Seriously, I’ll wait…

I’m already fucking bored.

You see this is the problem. Give someone infinite power and it loses its appeal. This is especially obvious to me as someone who plays a lot of computer games. I can’t for the life of me understand why people use the ‘God mode’ cheats (for those not gamers, that’s the cheat that makes you invincible), it makes everything too easy and therefore dull. But God always plays with God mode on. He doesn’t really have a lot of choice in the matter.

Now aside from being dull, what meaning does this new-found ‘God mode’ power give you?

I don’t mind waiting again.

Maybe I’m just not creative enough, but I can’t think of anything. So you have the power to create life. Awesome, so what? Just because you can doesn’t make it meaningful. Really, you can even give these little saps free will and let them choose whether or not they like you? Neat party trick, but again, so what? You’ve done a good job at giving them the illusion of a meaning to life, but what about yours? Has it added any profound meaning to your existence? I’m mean sure it gives you something to do to kill time, but when you have the power to wipe them from the face of the universe with merely a sneeze, how important are they?

You see this is the problem; a god can’t add any meaning to your existence because the god itself doesn’t have any reason to exist. Any profound reason you find in your religion is just you doing the bidding of your chosen deity and trusting that there’s some point to it. But if you stop and think about it, having ultimate power doesn’t add any more meaning to life.

It would be like saying just because you’re really rich your life is more meaningful. Or because you have more degrees your life is more meaningful. Or because you own a monopoly on potato salad your life is more meaningful. It doesn’t make any fucking difference!

I’ve got to the point where I really, really hope there isn’t a god. Because if there is he/she must be the most lonely, sad and pointless creature in all of creation. Ultimate power. Ultimate knowledge. And still no meaning…

Oh screw it, we can’t leave it on that depressing note! Okay, here’s what I think you should take away from this. No one can add meaning to your life. Not your parents, not your government, not your peers, not even your God. There is only one person who can make your life meaningful and if I have to tell you the person is you then you deserve a good hit around the head.

Any meaning derived from an outside source is just doing the bidding of someone else, whose ‘meaning’ you may not agree with. And if you do happen to agree with it, then that’s your choice. Don’t assign that meaning to the outside source; all it did was made you aware of what you wanted to begin with.

Own your choices and own your own meaning to life. It’s the only one that really matters, because it matters to you!

 

Oh, and to all you idiots out there who think Douglas Adams was hiding something deep and profound behind his joke that ’42’ is the meaning of life…you don’t fucking get it!

Meaning

 

– Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

Roy Williams: What is your verdict?

Well it’s taken me about 5 months, but I’ve finally got through reading ‘God Actually’ by Roy Williams. Yes, this is a book from the perspective of a Christian believer. I think the question of a God and the meaning of life isn’t something to be taken lightly and as much as I feel pretty safe in my atheistic beliefs, hearing the point of view of the ‘other side’ is something I find very worth while. I think it’s put me in a position to better understand the believers perspective, even if I don’t share it.

And if nothing else it was fun to read a book that made me rave and rant. I’ve probably annoyed my housemates to no end!

To be fair, Williams presents a solid argument, and if you were already inclined to belief (i.e. want to believe) I can see how you could very easily buy into his arguments. Generally I don’t buy his arguments for one of three reasons:

1. Misinformation.

There are some arguments Williams pushes that seem to be based either on his own personal opinions (that he never backs up) or on information that I think is inaccurate or just simply made up. the entire second last chapter (Heaven and Hell) is little more than this. His entire view of Hell, although I freely admit it is a much better view than that depicted in the Bible, is a concoction of his own mind.

He simply cannot accept that the God he has come to love would invent such an atrocity as the Hell described by Jesus. And I agree with his assumption. If God truly is a just and caring individual then a Hell full of fire and brimstone doesn’t fit. But considering Jesus quite specifically describes this nasty place (and I don’t see any good reason to view it as a metaphor) I feel more inclined to call into question the existence of that god, rather than trying in vain to reinterpret the words of said god to suit my own desires.

2. He doesn’t push the argument far enough.

There are several arguments Williams presents that do actually come across quite well. The problem is that there is often one or two more steps he could take that I feel would invalided his initial assumptions.

3. He ignores certain information.

Several times throughout the book Williams brings up certain interesting ideas, then disregards them for absolutely no reason. He gives the impression he will return to them in future paragraphs (and sometimes he does) but quite often these ideas just get forgotten. If Williams were to return to them and think about them a little longer I think he would have to seriously reconsider his position.

In Chapter 8: Christianity and Politics (Pg 266) Williams writes:

“On the third of the ‘Big Four’ issues, human rights, there are also qualifying Christian principles to consider. Put to one side the Bible’s alleged ‘support’ for slavery and the subjugation of woman”.

Williams never returns to this point. He never bothers to explain why the Bible’s support of slavery is only ‘alleged’ or give his own take on what it actually says. To me this is an extremely fundamental part of why the Bible shouldn’t be taken seriously. No just god would ever say that one group should be slaves to another, and the idea that one sex is somehow inferior or should be entirely devoted to the other is absurd. I can’t help but feel that if Williams were to return to the point and follow it through to its inevitable conclusion he’d be forced to properly question the God he puts so much trust in.

 

But, as interesting as these points all are and as much as I’d like to spend several hundred pages tearing his arguments apart one by one, I actually want to skip to the end. The epilogue is entitled “What is your verdict” and asks non believers (it seems specifically directed at Atheists) to answer a large number of questions if they still fail to believe in a god. I thought I’d give it a shot.

 

  • Why is there something rather than nothing?

    Well said

We don’t know enough about the Universe to really answer this one properly. If there’s some truth to string theory it’s possible this universe may be one of an infinite number. Odds are one of them would hold something rather than nothing. Maybe we just lucked out?

Truthfully, we need more information on this question. I don’t think jumping to the conclusion of a god is the right way to go about answering it.

  • How did that something come into being?

Again, really not too sure on this one. There’s far too many gaps in our knowledge. There are however theories in quantum mechanics that say that if you start from nothing, you must end with something. I honestly don’t know enough to argue the point, but the point is that there are answers out there that we’re beginning to understand.

It may take many years, but having my nose buried in enough books for enough time I hope to understand these theories.

  • Why are the fundamental physical laws that govern the Universe just right for life?

I don’t quite understand why some people make this stand. The Universe as a whole is clearly not designed to hold life. To the best of our knowledge we have one very tiny spec of dust in our solar system that contains life. There may be many others, but considering how much empty space there is in the universe compared to the number of places that might contain life, it’s terribly obvious the Universe was not designed with us in mind.

  • How and why did life on Earth begin?

A fundamental assumption I find the religious jump to is that everything needs a ‘why’. I don’t think there is a ‘why’ to life on earth. It’s an inevitable progression of the way the physical laws govern matter.

Moon hitting the earth

A little early for biogenesis, but still cool

As to the how, again this is a question that hasn’t been fully answered. A solid understanding of abiogenesis will begin to lead you down the right path however. So far all the evidence we have points to this being the case. Just because the theory isn’t complete yet doesn’t mean we should turn our backs on the good progress that has been made.

  • Does Darwinian evolutionary theory fully explain the organised complexity of life on earth?

No, I don’t think it does, at least not yet. The more we learn about evolution the more we expand the theory. As well as mutations we have natural selection, genetic drift, genetic hitchhiking and a whole mass of others. The current theory needs to be expanded to truly explain life’s complexity. So right now, no. But I think in time, yes.

  • Why is the incidence of genetic mutation just right to enable the process of Darwinian evolution to work?

Do you not understand how evolution works? The process is just right because it evolved to be just right. If it hadn’t life would probably have died out quite quickly. If the rate of mutation is too high we end up with unfeasible offspring. Too low and species can’t adapt fast enough. This is one reason why we see species dying out, so clearly in some cases it’s not just right.

  • Why are human beings able to decode nature?

Because our brains have evolved to do so. What difference does it make either way?

  • Why do human beings have a conscience?

An evolutionary trait that allows us to reproduce easier. We are also not the only species that has one.

  • Why are there basic moral laws which all human beings recognise?Moral Laws

These laws are also solid laws for living long and prosperous lives. That makes them universal for survival and reproduction. Again, evolution is the key.

  • Why can human beings make and respond to music?

Believe it or not but music can be broken down and explained mathematically. I’m not versed well enough in the subject to properly explain it, but it’s quite incredible. Regardless though, what difference does this make to belief?

  • Is faith a mere incidental by-product of Nature?

Yes.

  • Is love a mere incidental by-product of Nature?

Yes. Many species develop something similar. It assists with child-rearing and is thus an evolutionary trait.

  • Will science ever be able to explain everything?

Maybe. Hopefully. What difference does it make?

  • Was Jesus of Nazareth merely an invention of human minds?

I don’t think so. There seems to be enough evidence to suggest he was likely a real person.

  • If Jesus lived, then who or what was he, if he was not divine?

There’s really only two answers to this one. Either he was a very well disguised alien, or he was human. I put my money on the latter.

  • How otherwise do you explain the reports of Jesus’s perfect life?

What reports exactly? We have exactly zero first hand reports of Jesus’ life, and those only focus on bits and pieces of a few years of his life. That’s hardly enough evidence to start claiming perfection. I also suspect these accounts may have been a fraction biased. Even then I don’t think these reports show Jesus as perfect. He got angry on a number of accounts and even violent (overturning the tables in the Temple).

  • How otherwise do you explain the reports of Jesus’ miracles?

Again, what reports? We have quite a few Gospels (including the ones not in the Bible), many of them with differing reports. None of these authors had the opportunity to meet Jesus or view these miracles personally. St. Paul doesn’t even mention miracles, aside from the resurrection which he didn’t have the privilege to see.

  • How otherwise do you explain the reports of Jesus’s large following among the common people, and the conversion even of some Jews and romans in positions of authority?

You assume that people of different faiths and in positions of power won’t buy into nonsense? That just seems silly. As for his large following I’m rather skeptical. There were apparently 5,000 people who he feed on a mountain with a measly number of fishes and bread loaves. Yet none of these people wrote about him or defended him at his trial. I really have no idea just how many followers he had, and I don’t think anyone else can definitively say either.

As for actually explaining them, there are hundreds of reports of groups of people following their chosen ‘messiah’-like prophet. Anything from the horrible Jonestown Massacre to the larger religions such as Islam. Although Williams does give credibility to other religions, he doesn’t accept them as the truth. Why should we accept his?

  • How otherwise do you explain the reports of Jesus’s arrest, trial and crucifixion?

Again, what accounts? There are the Gospels. Then there are some Roman reports that speak of Jesus’s crucifixion, but they all refer to what the Christians believed and don’t necessarily back up the actual event. Nevertheless, it’s quite possible this did happen. So what?

  • How otherwise do you explain the reports of the Resurrection?

This is probably the most challenging question Williams poses and the portion of his book that deals with it is probably the most persuasive I’ve read. There are many explanations though and it would take several posts to cover them all even at a superficial level.

The most recent I’ve heard though is that the Resurrection is actually a metaphor for ancient Jewish tradition whereby the tribe would metaphorically load all their sins onto a lamb or goat and send it out into the desert to die, thus relieving them of their sins. This is where the phrase ‘Lamb of God’ originated.

There are many other explanations though and I encourage people to read up on them.

  • If the Resurrection did not happen, how do you explain the Apostles’ conduct, St Paul’s conversion, and the establishment of the Christian Church in the face of overwhelming odds?

All religions have come into power in the face of overwhelming odds, so that’s not terribly surprising. St. Paul had a vision that led to his belief. Why should we take his visions any more seriously than those of the Islamic or Mormon prophets?

As for the Apostles, I refer once more to the Jonestown incident and will simple say, ‘Don’t drink the kool-aid’.

  • How do you explain the reports of personal religious experiences by many millions of people down the ages?

The same way you explain away the ones you don’t believe, such as those had by other religions or worse, those had by people in cults. Again there are any number of explanations depending on the experience. Often it’s as simple as a feeling of euphoria interpreted as God, other times a form of peer pressure and social acceptance and at worse, an exploited mental illness.

  • How do you account for the nature and incidence of suffering, and it’s many beneficial by-products?

How do you account for suffering that doesn’t have beneficial by-products? You don’t get to pick the incidents that back up your belief system and ignore the others.

  • How do you account for the phenomenon of grace?

I’m not convinced that there is a phenomenon of grace. You’ll have to read the book to properly understand where Williams is coming from and make up your own mind.

  • Why has Man not yet been destroyed by nuclear holocaust?Nuclear Holocaust

Because man is smarter than you give us credit for. And when and if nuclear holocaust does happen you’ll say it’s the predicted Apocalypse. Either scenario backs up your beliefs.

  • Is there really a fundamental dichotomy between Christianity and left-wing politics, or does Christianity reflect some seminal left-wing principles?

I honestly don’t care as I don’t see how this has anything to do with the truth of Christianity or any religion.

  • Why is it that Christianity as a whole does not conform to either left-wing or right-wing ideology?

See above.

  • Is there further evidence of Design in the operation of the democratic system of government?

Absolutely. Our democratic system shows a fantastic example of humanities ability to design good and moral legal and governmental systems. Of course they’re not perfect, but given more time man will make them better.

The monotheistic religions however, promote a dictatorship with the chosen god at the top.

  • How do you account for the fact that atheism is, and always has been, an unpopular minority creed?Arrogant Atheists

Firstly I call bullshit on it being a minority. I’m not at all convinced of this. Atheists have been persecuted throughout history, often violently when they have spoken out against the religion of the time. Many people avoid the term atheism, preferring to stick to the majority religion or at the very least calling themselves agnostic to avoid the issue. Atheism has been on the incline for a while now and with modern sciences, knowledge, morals and philosophy I think it’s only going to continue to grow.

But giving the assumption that Williams may be right, I’m still not surprised. Atheism offers very little while taking a lot. The idea that we are alone and there is no meaning to our existence is hard to come to terms with. I can easily understand why people would shy away from it. That doesn’t stop it from being true.

  • How do you account for the many commonalities between different religions, and in particular the commonalities between Judaism, Islam and Christianity? Is it more likely that all people of faith are completely wrong, or that they are all (to varying degrees) partly right?

Why do you stop at religions? Believers often have very similar morals to atheists, at least at the core values. Again, this is a by-product of evolution and most of humanity shares these commonalities.

I also think that most religions do have a great deal right. Care for each other. Don’t kill or mistreat. As an atheist I follow many of these philosophies. I just think they’ve got it wrong on the idea of a god. Heck, even some religions don’t believe in a god!

As for the three major monotheistic religions being so similar…fucking dah! They all stem from the same religion. I’d be dumbfounded if they didn’t share quite a few commonalities.

  • If you now better understand the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, would you at least agree that it represents a comprehensive attempt to explain God, and many earthly phenomena besides?

After reading Williams section on the Trinity I don’t feel I understand it much if any better, so no.

  • Is there any afterlife, or is does love die with our bodies? Will we never be reunited with our loved ones once we or they die?

No, yes, no.

  • If there is no afterlife, why is Man capable of imagining it?

I invoke the flying spaghetti monster. He doesn’t exist, but I can imagine him.

We can imagine an afterlife because it’s not that dissimilar to actual life. It’s actually not that far a stretch. We can imagine things much more out there than an afterlife.

  • If there is no afterlife, why did Jesus say there was?

Did he? All we have is third hand accounts of people saying that people said that Jesus said that. And if he did say it? Maybe because he was Jewish and the Jews had a belief in an afterlife. It was quite different from what Christianity speaks about, but maybe, like Williams, Jesus didn’t like the idea his religion taught him to believe in and just made up another one.

  • How do you explain the consistency of the visions of the afterlife reported by people down the ages, including people revived after clinical death?

What bloody consistencies? Again, you don’t get to pick and choose which reports you want to include. There are just as many reports of nothing in the afterlife as there are those of a heaven or hell. They just don’t get reported as frequently because they’re not news worthy.

How do you explain the visions of people of other religions who talk about completely different gods and prophets, with completely different ideas of heaven and hell? This is what I mean by Williams conveniently ignores very important information as it suits his beliefs.

 

So that’s it. An answer for every question. And I was able to answer them as I read them.

That said I do still think Williams has one of the better theological books I’ve read. The arguments as they stand within his book are quite compelling, although with additional study they begin to fall apart.

I would recommend Williams book for anyone looking to expand your knowledge. As a believer it’s likely to be quite compelling. As an atheist it will be a solid challenge for your lack of beliefs and a good way of getting an insight into a believers mind. Although I don’t agree with his conclusions I can at least understand how he’s arrived at them and for that he’s earned my respect. Give the book a shot. 

– Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

My beliefs

Okay, I’ve been promissing it for a little while now, and I think it’s about time I started to lay out what I believe and what I don’t believe. I will try and keep this as sucinct as possible but it’s likely to be an on going piece. I’m pretty certain about some things I believe, but unclear on plenty of others. Still others I’m fairly confident of where I stand, but wouldn’t have a clue how to go about explaining it (for example free will). Some of this is likely to be me trying to find the best way to word my position and I ask for your patience in that.

I also expect that writing this out and having people comment is likely to lead me to change my opinions, so this is hardly an ending to my beliefs; more likely a beginning.

And finally (and I guess also my first belief), nothing I write here is sacred. I do no believe opinions, beliefs or even faiths are sacred and everything should be open to question. I intend to go to town on others beliefs and I hearby give permission for people to tear mine apart.

Let’s begin…

I wanted to start by laying out where I stand with my atheism. To be clear, weak and strong atheism aren’t exclusive of each other. I’d say most if not all strong atheists are also weak atheists, and I fit into both categories.

As we discussed previously, weak atheism is simply hearing a statement akin to “There is a god / there are gods” and rejecting it, usually because it hasn’t met it’s burden of proof.

As well as agreeing with this, I am also a strong atheist, which means I think there is evidence that suggests gods don’t exist.

Since becoming an atheist I’ve become a lot more skeptical, and one thing I’ve found is there are a lot of sayings out there that are wrong. “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” is one such saying. The fact is if we expect there to be evidence somewhere, and that evidence is non-existent it is in fact evidence of absence. Not proof of course, but evidence. Many people have been sucked into believing this saying and the fact is it’s not true.

With that in mind I would argue there are massive amounts of evidence we would expect to find that indicate the existence of a god, but that evidence is not there. Just to list a few:

  • The effectiveness of prayer. The studies have been done and there is little doubt that prayer has no effect. All studies done come back with a 50/50 success rate of prayer, exactly what we would expect from a coin flip experiment.
  • Increased happiness. One would expect that being closer to a benevolent loving god would make one happier. Apparently it doesn’t and atheists have been found to be just as happy as believers. Ironically it is those that are unsure where they stand that seems to be the least happy.
  • Increased wellfare. Surely communities that believe in a god would experience better living conditons. Better health from all the healings. Less crime from better morals. The fact is there is a negative correlation between community wellfare and religion. Areas with greater numbers of believers also have a decrease in wellfare.
  • A lack of evidence for a soul. Experiements have been done and so far we have no good reason to believe they exist.
  • Some sense of Karma, where good people have good things happen to them and bad people are generally punished. Although I would say this does in fact happen, it is due to obedience to the law. If bad people don’t break the law they seem to be able to get away with just about anything. Good people tend to attract good people and this seems to be the sole reason for good things happening around them. Any true sense of Karma seems to be completely random.
  • Evil acts commited by ‘gods’ people. The most obvious example being pedophile priests, but of course there are many others. Surely a benevolent god would only allow the best of humanity to represent him, rather than harming his chosen people. Considering how these acts can often drive people from their religion you would expect a god to interviene and assist those in trouble.
  • Specifically for Christianity: Better evidence for the existence of Jesus. There is no first hand evidence of Christ and there isn’t ANY evidence for his existence until at least a couple of decades after his death. Despite feeding 5000 people no one bothered to write it down. Apparently not important enough. Outside of his followers no one bothers to write about Jesus for ages. I can’t remember exactly how many years, but there are decades and possible centuries before anyone who isn’t a believer decides he is worth recording. This alone is unlikely, but when you consider it is meant to be a message to all of humanity and that the only way to God is through Jesus it seems odd that an all powerful god wouldn’t have made sure there was a better standard of evidence available.
  • A world wide religion. Again a little specific to Christianity, but applicable to others. There are many people who will never hear of the various gods or prophets. Considering that a belief in the deity is often required isn’t it a little unfair that these people are condemned to the various versions of hell simply because they were unlucky enough to be raised in an area without that knowledge?
  • The number of ‘dead’ gods. Throughout history there have been literally thousands, probably millions of gods. And so far they’re all dead. All of them have died with the civilisations that worshipped them. So far everyone has got it wrong. After these hundreds of thousands of failed attempts to find gods, what makes people think the modern religions will be any more successful?
  • Better morality. None of the holy books I’ve read or been told about have even a good example of morality, let alone a superior one. Certainly there are decent morals to be found in the Bible or Quaran, but there are an equal or greater number of bad morals. Gods don’t appear to hire very good editors.
  • A lack of consistency. My best knowledge comes from the Bible, but I’ve no doubt the same can be said about the other holy books. Even the Gospels are inconsistent, let alone the rest of the books. I heard recently that there is more consistency between all the books related to ‘Star Wars’, and I believe it to be true. Maybe Jedi should be a major religion?
  • Evidence of altered texts. There is no doubt that the ancient texts have been altered. Again, supposedly being the word of god why is this necessary? Why does a god not interviene and make sure the texts are kept consistent?
  • All the answers we have aquired to date point towards a natural explanation for our universe. Although there are questions still to be answered, currently we have no good reason to posit a god.
  • In all of history every time supernatural phenomenon has been explored we have found a natural explanation. Throughout all of history there is no definitive example against this. The answer has never been ‘God did it’.

I’ve no doubt I could go on, and that there are any number of arguments I might still miss. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of the world is looking for some kind of god. After probaby 10,000 years (going back to the ancient shaman) we have no good reason to believe. How many years do we continue to look for something when after all this time we have nothing solid to offer? At what point do we throw in the towel?

As for strong atheism I am limited to Christianity. Given enough time I intend to study all the major religions and I expect to find similar proofs, but for now I haven’t had the years to dedicate this study.

  • There is zero evidence for Moses outside the Bible. There is no written or archiological record of the early Jews living in Egypt, nor is there any evidence of a people wondering the desert for forty odd years. To be fair, the Egyptians often didn’t keep records when their Pharoah was defeated (Pharoahs were considered gods, and nautrally a god could not be defeated), but this is hardly evidence for the exodus. Also,it rained frogs! I don’t care how strict their record keeping was, that gets written down by someone.
  • There is however evidence of Jewish people living in the holy lands around the time they should have been in Egypt. Jews were the only people of the time that didn’t eat pork, so spotting their campsites isn’t terribly hard.
  • Now, assuming Jesus is meant to be divine, shouldn’t he have know the story of Moses was just that, a story? Why they did he speak of Moses on multiple occasions then? He either knowingly lied, or he didn’t know. Neither of these are consistent with a divine being.
  • We have no evidence to think the Genesis story is true, and accepting evolution and the age of the earth suggests it probably isn’t. However the story of Jesus doesn’t make any sense except in the light of Genesis. Jesus was meant to die for our sins, but not just current sins. More importantly he was meant to have died for the one sin God hadn’t been able to forgive, original sin. But original sin isn’t only relevant if the story of Adam and Eve is true. Without Genesis, Jesus’ sacrifice is ultimately pointless. Taking this into account the entire Bible doesn’t make a great deal of sense.

These are just a sample of my atheistic position. I’m sure given time I’ll come up with better ones and think of better ways to phrase what I’ve so far written. I’ll try and keep people posted whenever I make an edit to the above.

As for other things I don’t believe in. Basically, if it’s a skeptical question I almost always side with the skeptics. I don’t believe in

  • The paranormal (ghosts, spirits, ghouls, weigi boards etc).
  • Astrology.
  • Cryptozoology (Bigfoot, Lockness monster, chipocarbra etc).
  • Psycic abilities.
  • Fortune/Future telling.
  • Speaking to the dead.
  • The vast majority of conspiracy theories (eg. 9/11 being an inside job).
  • Most alternative medicines, although not necessarily all. They need to be taken on a case by case basis.
  • Homeopathy
  • I’m unconvinced that acupuncture works, although I don’t know enough to be certain.
  • Aroma therapy (although I’ve no doubt it can be relaxing, not unlike meditation).
  • Karma
  • Magnetic healing
  • Hypnosis
  • Minds. There is no evidence that people have anything more than brains.

For all of these things I am a weak non-believer about, in the same way I could be called a weak atheist. I just don’t think these things have met their burden of proof. Like gods, many of these claims have been around for decades, centuries or even thousands of years and so far we have no solid evidence that any of them work. After all this time I would expect something!

I think rather than going into each of the above seperately I’ll wait and see what responces I get from you readers. If people have a particular interest in one of the topics I’ll consider dedicating an entire post to it.

What I do believe.

  • Meditation does work. Certainly there will be claims in this field that are just ridiculous, such as levitation. But we know that people can in fact lower their own heart rates. Obviously meditation can do something. For the most part I think it’s just relaxing ones body and brain to a point of light sleep. Especially in todays society, taking a moment of the day to relax and reflect has to have some kind of positive effect.
  • Thought crime is stupid. The idea that people should be punished for what they think, or that thoughts should be restricted is abhorent to me. This is another reason I reject a few Biblical passages. I think people should be allowed to believe what they want, I’d just prefer it if people had good reasons to do so.
  • As long as it harms no other, do as you will. The closest thing to an atheist creed, this is a general idea (although not a rule) that I try and live by.
  • People are inherently good. Most people seem to do the right thing. Although sometimes indifferent, when presented with choices people usually try and do the most good. The idea that humans are inherently evil or insufficient in some way doesn’t seem to be justified.
  • There is no meaning. Not only to life, but to anything. Not only does this not depress me, I find it infinitely more rewarding. There is no meaning to my life, therefore I get to make my own. I get to carve my own destiny. We all do. It’s not governed by any external force and the choices we make matter. This to me is more meaningful than completing someone elses, even a gods meaning to existence.