Converts, Wed, Jan 30 2013 #(1103)

Jan 30, 2013

I am a former radio journalist from Wisconsin(19 years in the business) and have some management experience in other fields as well. I am currently having weekly sessions with a Lutheran lay minister about my inability to make the leap of faith. I come from an athiest immediate family, my grandmother was very religious and my wife's family is very obedient relgiously.

I explore my large questions at the following two sites:

questionsaboutfaith.blogspot.com

and

lettertomychristianfriends.blogspot.com

I plan to write a book(similar to Sam Harris's book) about my problem with belief and how irrational thinking is harmful to the world in the long run.

I would be happy to be interviewed by any documentary you have in the making.

Here are some of my comments:

How could there be a God? Is there a caring being up there in the sky who has compassion for all of us and who can read our minds? I find it hard to believe this. Let's think about this. For a supreme being to be able to read our minds, there would have to be some sort of telepathy, some sort of creature so highly evolved that he/she/it could tell what we are thinking and could perhaps guide or predict our future. Logic doesn't support believing in a supernatural power. One has to break the bonds of logic in order to get there. One has to demand the most rigorous standards of evidence, especially to what's important to us. We don't have to accept the many fraudulent claims which are out there. Maybe pure faith is not enough, we may have to have some logical support too.

What we really need, which I have mentioned before, is more intellectual honesty. People can not just believe things because they want to. We should believe things because there is scientific evidence to support beliefs. The truth is that people don't always like to use their logic, and to me this is ironic because it appears to be what makes humans special and different from apes, dogs, goats, cats, etc. The real problem is that people who are afraid to use logic many times fear people who love logic and truth. This this causes an ugly schism, a political line in the sand between believers and non-believers.

So how do we show extreme respect for those who believe differently or perhaps less logically than we do? How do we help them believe in more down to earth ideas without crushing the fairytale, that God knows, God cares and God will save and that Jesus will come back to save the good people if there is a nuclear holocaust? It's like telling a child who believes in Santa that there is no Santa. We must with great compassion tell them the truth so they will not be hurt psychologically. My fear is that during this information explosion, which will increase exponentially over the next few years, the irrational thinkers will start to get it, will start to know they are on the wrong side of the question. This will cause them to feel very lonely that there is no God and perhaps no higher purpose. This greater agitation could also lead to more global unrest I fear.

This brings me again to my father's beliefs, which I mentioned earlier in this essay. He is an intellectually honest athiest who I love and respect very much. My Dad believes that the value of human life is in a sense exponentially enhanced given the fact of our mortality. The fact that life does not last forever makes every minute count. The fact that we don't live forever just makes life more special, and in a sense infinitely valuable. So a finite time on Earth makes us infinitely valuable. I like Dad's logic. What we DO on Earth becomes infinitely valuable and how we choose to love and what we choose to study—all infinitely valuable. If this idea was understood by Christians who think they have another life in heaven, would this be motivating or depressing? It is to the core of what President Obama and Dr. Martin Luther King said when they talked about “the fierce urgency of now.”

The emperor has no clothes and there is no God, but how as a human race will we manage this paradigm shift gracefully? How will we give comfort to those believers losing their belief in this information society, where the answer is written logically on the wall? Fairy tales are fun, but there are times when we should be giving up childish things and acting more like adults. When is religion harmful and when should irrational beliefs be challenged.

If you listen to Daniel Dennett speak he talks about the extreme defensive position that most Christians take when their faith, their God and their Bible are challenged. We see this in the story of the Miss USA Pageant contestant who said she lost the pageant sticking up for her beliefs that same-sex marriage was evil and was not biblically correct. She is now wearing her self-annointed badge of courage for her convictions. My 14 year-old son could tell you that she is being illogical and is ignorant about reality, but because her God is with her, she cannot be challenged. No logic can challenge her opinions and that is sad.

I recently was moved to tears watching the late astronomer and teacher Carl Sagan talk about Earth as “The Pale Blue Dot.” Seeing Earth from the hundreds of millions of miles away from the Voyager Space Craft, it is humbling. From this poignant vantage point, “our obsession with nationalism is nowhere in evidence. We are too small on the scale of worlds, humans are inconsequential, a thin film of life on an obscure and solitary lump of rock and metal.” It is up to us to save our selves. There is “no evidence that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.” During his last interview on May 27th, 1996 with Charlie Rose, he was promoting his book, “The Demon-Haunted World.” (Sagan died a few months later of a terminal illness.)

On the program, Carl Sagan talked about a combustable mixture of ignorance and power being dangerous. In this increasing information age with exponential leaps in scientific knowledge but with unfathomable ignorance about scientific thinking, there are bound to be misunderstandings which may lead to the destruction of the human race. Our minds have not kept up with our technology, and to that idea Sagan was extraordinarily perceptive.

There are sites on the web which tend to try to make people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens look unintelligent. On one such Youtube site, you see someone trying to portray Dawkins as someone who doesn't know how genomes evolve. He was asked how genetic mutations can occur which can increase the amount of information on the genome. It appears the video was spliced to make him look confused and indecisive. A response to this from a freethinker appears like this:

“To believe in theistic evolution means believing that God called billions of years of suffering, death, extinction, bloodshed and cruelty 'all very good' – and not the results of the Fall and the subsequent Curse on Creation, as the Apostle Paul understood it.”

As Dawkins explains, “People may be getting a little fed up with others shoving their imaginary friends down our throats.” Why are more people speaking out against organized religion? There are bright people out there who looking for newer ways of explaining things. Right now, the Bible is seen as so sacred, as the word of God, that criticizing it is totally out of the question.

I will try to organize my thoughts as clearly as possible as to not offend the good Christian intentions and purpose of the Stephen Ministry. It is not my intention to be playing with fire here for my own intellectual benefit, but for the elucidation of key ideas and points to bring us to a stronger agreement on what is at stake here.Growing up in a non-religious home has left me hungering for a spirituality I’ve never had before. When I was a child, we attended the Unitarian Universalist Church for a year or two and that was it. As an adult before I was married, I attended the Unitarian Society in Minneapolis, finding some spiritual sustenance in the breadth and the meaning of the sermons and from some fellowship. When married, I followed my wife’s wishes to the Lutheran Church, thinking there were many ways to find spiritual salvation and what people call the wisdom and word of the Lord.Many questions have stopped me from fully immersing myself in Christianity. Questions like: If there is a God, who created God? What about infinite space and time? What does the Bible say about space or is it too earth centered? Is the Bible stuck running in place in an anti-Copernican-like geocentricism which waits not for reason but for ignorant and arrogant believers? What is the purpose of life? To question with reason or to live in happy ignorance that there is some great Santa in the sky that will save us all, that Jesus will come down during a nuclear holocaust and save us all? A good faith should not, it seems, be involved in simple minded answers but the awesome complexity of the stars, of time and space and E=mc Squared. Isn’t something like the Krebs Cycle, the infinity of the night sky full of stars or the miracle of photosynthesis just as beautiful as something like Christ’s face or the manger scene. It seems that Christianity is afraid of the some of the questions— that is what troubles me. It seems like I shouldn’t be afraid to mention the name Carl Sagan or Stephen Jay Gould in a Bible study group that truly has an open mind about spiritual exploration. There are many ways to find beauty and sublime peace of mind, including in science.One can argue that it’s all about the interpretation of the Bible that is important—that it’s only how we see it for ourselves. But we also have to be awake to the fact that the Bible was written a long time ago and is in some sense a dinosaur, out of date and in desperate need of revision or a complete refashioning. Where does the holy word come from and couldn’t new portions be written and edited today? What would be more practical today in the age of the internet and space travel? What would be a good book for all of the races?There is a much bigger question to answer than who believes in the best religion. The real question is how we survive as a human race. To go in the direction of trying to answer that. we must stop warring between different religious factions and realize our own human decency and commonalities between us. There is a sense that the egos of the different religions all thinking they are the best are detrimental to human progress. Instead of colliding egos, we must concentrate on the goodness in all of us. War will continue to be strongly embedded in the character of mankind as long as we keep wearing spiritual chips on our shoulders. Organized religion needs to become more flexible and compassionate to the human struggle in order for it to be useful enough to save humanity.There is no question that religion has greatly enhanced the lives of millions of people across our fragile globe. People have thanked God for helping them through alcoholism, cancer, divorce and natural disasters. What I am very agnostic about is whether there is a God that has a personal interest in each and every one of us. You see sports stars thanking God for a home run or a touchdown. When you think of it, why would the king of all creation be concerned about a sports contest? There would be much more pressing matters for a deity of mankind. If there is a God does he just care about the Earth or the entire Universe? During early human inquiry, it was widely believed that the sun revolved around the Earth. Science helped us understand that the Earth revolved around the sun. We may yet learn that if there is a Lord that he/she doesn’t exclusively care about just for the Earth but for creation across the Universe. Many of the most intelligent scientists have stated that there is a good chance of life on other worlds. The most intellectually honest atheist would probably concede that we are infinitely important and not important given the sacredness of life and the infinite vastness of everything around us. Existence is a paradox. To meditate upon the Infinity of space and time and the infinite smallness of molecules makes me shudder in amazement. That is enough for me even there if there is not a God. The best way to characterize it is to say that there is infinite meaning in my world even without a deity. I admit I don’t know how to define a God as defined by many, but that there may be an entity beyond the five senses that exists and works through us in unknown ways. It is not scientifically knowable so I cannot describe it. I can only speculate about the "moreness."As atheist writer Richard Dawkins explains, to pretend to know something and not know it is something short of intellectual honesty. He takes it further by saying that a Christian saying he/she is saved and nonbelievers will go to hell is the height of arrogance and cruelty. A Christian will feel sorry for those who do not believe because they will not go to "heaven." What is heaven? I do know that extremist Muslims who flew the plane into the Twin Towers in 2001 thought they would get dozens of virgins in heaven if they did this destructive deed. The real question is: How much of a subtle destructive deed is belief in something so strongly that you are willing to calmly let others go to hell for your heaven? Strange indeed.Faith and reason are like apples and oranges. I'm just trying to get a clearer intuitive path to a healthy spiritual direction. I'm not saying I'm not spiritual.My father, a much more ingrained athiest than myself says he is jealous of people who have faith, who can make that leap joyfully and with a full heart. My father's mind will not let his heart take the huge jump. I empathize with Dad but think he may not be letting the whole spirit in. It's funny how I get a wonderful feeling when I hear the Smokey Robinson classic song “Tears of a Clown.” It started when I was ten years old. Every time I hear that tune, I go back to that point in my life of innocence and newness. You could call that spiritual, I guess. Same thing happens when I take a bite of strawberry ice cream. I get this spiritual feeling that I cannot explain. It seems to take me back to when I was three years old tasting my first every spoonful of the stuff. This is something I tell very few people. I told my wife about the strawberry thing and she laughed. As one friend used to say to me once in awhile…”Crazy kid.” (ha)I will mull over this which was recently shared with me by my friend Mike in West Virginia…”To those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. To those who need an explanation, none will suffice.” This is where faith and reason collide. You cannot reason somebody out of something they were not reasoned into in the first place.In many ways I feel like Robert Frost in the poem “The Road Less Traveled.” (life can confusing) I feel sometimes like I'm daring to go against the grain of organized religion to see things in my own way. It can be scary at times too.Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveller, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I– I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the differenceHere is a quote from an Amazon review of Michael Behe’s book "Darwin’s Black Box" which asserts that evolution cannot be correct because of the sheer complexity of the natural world, a dangerous call to throw one’s arms up and give up, sacrificing one’s powers of reason to the supernatural because the answer is just too tough. I think any God would want us to keep searching for answers to the puzzle he has put in front of us. Within the biochemistry of living cells, he argues, life is “irreducibly complex.” This is the last black box to be opened, the end of the road for science. Faced with complexity at this level, Behe suggests that it can only be the product of “intelligent design.”I feel it is dangerous to abandon reason and take the leap to believe whatever we want to. When reason is gone, then everyone is right, because no one is at the helm of reason. When reason is gone from the equation, we give the Jim Jones’s and the Waco people carte blanche to create their own irrational systems which lead in the long run to destructiveness of the human race. I think that any good God would want us to embrace reason with all our heart and soul, and humility. Dawkins argues that religion is the ultimate arrogance—that we are saved but someone who disagrees will suffer the infinite fires of hell. What about mentally handicapped people? Are they damned to hell if they don’t follow the rules of religious political correctness to the nth degree?? These questions just seem to be hanging out there and are not being addressed by the pious crowd. This rigidity of thought caused by a lack of reasoning ability in the brains of those who cling to fundamentalism is dangerous for the future of the world in my opinion. How many different ways can I say that? Religion can cause people to be comforted to a great degree, but ultimately it is the people who are doing the comforting in a humane and reasonable fashion.Behe’s assertations seem to me to be implying that we need to throw natural selection out of the window. And if, as he contends, that some intelligent aliens started Earth as sort of an experimental colony, then how do you explain who created the aliens? There is an infinite pattern of questions that (pardon the expression) evolve out of Behe’s direction here. Just saying…OK…..there was a creator and that’s it, gives power to those unreasonable folks who will say "See I told you. We were right all along!" To ask questions is all we can do with our brains which are the most evolved form of life on the planet. Let’s use our brains’ most highly evolved functions instead of going back to pacify more primitive regions associated with faith.I have more doubt about Behe’s claims when I hear about his the university he teaches at (Lehigh) putting a disclaimer on Behe’s website:"While we respect Prof. Behe's right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally and should not be regarded as scientific."Richard Dawkins says of Behe:”He's a straightforward creationist. What he has done is to take a standard argument which dates back to the 19th century, the argument of irreducible complexity, the argument that there are certain organs, certain systems in which all the bits have to be there together or the whole system won't work…like the eye. Darwin answered (this)…point by point, piece by piece. But maybe he shouldn't have bothered. Maybe what he should have said is…maybe you're too thick to think of a reason why the eye could have come about by gradual steps, but perhaps you should go away and think a bit harder.”With science there is a humility about the ultimate and complex questions. With religion, there is often arrogance about those questions.Another professor talks about Behe’s assertions:”Professor Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity depends on ignoring ways in which evolution is known to occur. Although Professor Behe is adamant in his definition of irreducible complexity when he says a precursor "missing a part is by definition nonfunctional," what he obviously means is that it will not function in the same way the system functions when all the parts are present. For example in the case of the bacterial flagellum, removal of a part may prevent it from acting as a rotary motor. However, Professor Behe excludes, by definition, the possibility that a precursor to the bacterial flagellum functioned not as a rotary motor, but in some other way, for example as a secretory system.”Going down the road of unreason certainly is a dangerous path. I’m finding reviews of Dawkin’s book "The God Delusion" interesting.A large portion of the religious reviewers of this work have obviously never read it, as they have restated objections to his arguments which he deals with in a far more elegant manner than I ever could. I respect your right to hold religious beliefs, but your arguments have been dealt with by Dawkins, yet you can still raise them, apparently with no knowledge of any of Dawkins' arguments. Please! Read the work before attacking him for his beliefs! Please! Raise intelligent points! Don't simply spout the faulty arguments he has already dealt with!Dawkins says, "I am hostile to fundamentalist religion because it actively debauches the scientific enterprise. It teaches us not to change our minds, and not to want to know exciting things that are available to be known. It subverts science and saps the intellect”Hey, guess what? You cannot fight reason with unreason. It will lose every time. You cannot just shake your Bible at me and expect me to say it is just because it is. There has to be something more than that to argue. Just believe and everything will be alright. I think people who criticize Dawkin’s book don’t like it because they have to really think when they read it. It’s far from an easy read but infinitely rewarding in my opinion.I hear things like, "Give up all of your control and God will be in the driver’s seat." That’s kind of a scary proposition—-that we can let go of the steering wheel. What if we crash? My father, who is a psychiatrist, counseled a woman who got in a car accident because she let God take the wheel. A father of an autistic son in Fond du Lac didn’t worry too much when his son wandered off down a busy street thinking that God would take care of it and if he died it was just God’s will. Comfortable thought for him perhaps, but not very logical or rational. This man’s comment bothered me.Taking the leap of faith is difficult and I’m not so certain I want to attempt it. I want to cling to reason. People who reason and use logic a lot are not cold hearted. I think this is a common misperception. Just like the geek, nerd or someone with Asperger’s Syndrome is ostracized for behavior not conforming to the norm, real conscientious thought and discussion about religion and its role in society is tossed off by adversaries as inappropriate and not what people want to talk about. People on their wavelength are simply shut off like a bad radio or TV station. Dawkins is most likely taking harsh criticism from the non-thinkers, from people who would rather watch "Dog Eat Dog" or chant "Jerry…Jerry" along with their TV sets than watch a thoughtful show on public TV about science, history or politics. It’s the mentality of the non-thinkers versus people who like to think. The ultimate battle is against a worldview that would rather bask in ignorance and some arrogance versus the people who roll up their sleeves and aren’t afraid to ask the really, really tough questions.Tonight I will go to church with my wife. I very much appreciate and respect Debbie’s ability to have faith, to solemnly believe she will go to heaven without any doubt. There is something magical about that that I’m a bit jealous of. How can one completely abandon reason to embrace a loving God with no questions asked. Maybe some of my religious friends will think I will go to Hell for questioning religion, but if they are true friends they should be infinitely compassionate in relating to my own special spiritual journey.When I go to church, I will happily participate in the hymns. There will be at least a half-dozen of them! A hymn has a way of getting me into such a joyous mindset. I like the melodies and the deep conviction on the faces of the believers. I feel good for them that they have found a mindset that is comfortable that helps them overcome life’s downers and travails. It may very surely be seen as a form of brain washing, but I guess a clean brain is close to godliness. My grandmother used to say she felt "cleaner" after going to church. I don’t doubt she did. We can wash our hands of all of the day’s problems and just keep it simple and contemplate a relationship with salvation, or what we conceive of what salvation is.I also like the part when people move about and shake one another’s hands. We greet each other and recognize the God within each other. This is a principle of goodness in action. That is something I DO BELIEVE IN—that if there is a God he works through other people. People can say the most profound things at certain times which makes me sometimes hunger for the hope of there being a messenger connecting that thought from the person that comes directly to us. That there is a possibility that a human thought is divinely inspired is kind of a cool idea. But, there is no scientific proof that any of that is happening. So why think about it? It is fun to use our brains, to be alive and to think of all of the possibilities. If objective and rationale Carl Sagan thought a lot about extraterrestrial life, then I can have the luxury of thinking of the .0000000000000000000000000001 percent chance of receiving a divinely inspired thought.I am a little troubled by the fact that religion is so deeply ingrained in the human psyche that it cannot be surgically removed like a tumor. But, then again, why can’t it peacefully co-exist with superior forms of thought? After all, humans exist with lower forms of animals and are able to live together peacefully. Look at all the useful and positive compassion that comes from members of the Humane Society. Why can’t people with differing thought patterns admit their differences and accept and be infinitely compassionate? That’s one great thing about Jesus. He preached this infinite compassion for the poor. That is a wonderful direction to go in if we are to survive as a species in the long run.Reviewer Harvey Ardman sums up my feelings very nicely:There are or might be moments when I am jealous of those capable of faith. I would love to believe, when a loved one dies, that he or she is going to a better place and that we'll meet again some day. What a lovely, comforting thought. Would that it were true, or that I could believe it. But I don't–and it makes this life and every moment in it more valuable to me. I once asked myself how a person totally unfamiliar with religion, might choose among the world's offerings, might decide to adopt one of the world's thousands of religions. I could find no way. They all claim they're right and all the other religions are wrong. But are any of them right? Now I'm thinking similar thoughts about God. I saw a website recently that compiled the names of all of the gods, worldwide and throughout history. They found 3800 different gods or supernatural beings. If I were inclined to believe, which one would I choose and why? Richard Dawkins points out that we're all atheists. We don't believe in Zeus, Thor, Apollo, Odin, etc., etc., etc. He just goes one god further.There is also the question of abortion. At what point does a soul become embedded in the a mother’s womb? When is it completely unethical to consider abortion? Author Sam Harris presents a critique of the pro-life belief that "a soul (person) is created at the instant of conception. Is an additional soul created when a 100-cell blastocyst occasionally divides to become identical twins?Humanist writer Paul Kurtz says in his book "Affirmations" that good conduct and wisdom in living can be combined in a person to make him or her a decent person with or without God. When I look at humanist values in "Affirmations" I hear ideas like "taking care of the Earth for future generations," "transcending divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity to work together for the common good of humanity," "the cultivation of moral excellence through rationality," "nourishing reason and compassion in our children," "supporting the disadvantaged and handicapped so they will be able to help themselves," "enjoying life in the here and now and developing our creative talents to the fullest," and "choosing hope over despair." It seems that too often religion chooses the laying on of guilt rather than the building up of hope.The concept of skeptical inquiry is a good one. People should not just accept ideas at their face value because that is the way "they are supposed to think." Children should be taught critical thinking skills in school, not just how to conform. It seems like the people who need religion the most are the ones who have religion as part of their lives. Those who can stand independently, at a higher level of moral reasoning, do not have to lean on the parent in the sky we call God.The leap of faith is a very tough hurdle. A reviewer of the writing of Christopher Hitchens says:"Anyone of intelligence would not believe because “taking it on faith”means believing in something without evidence, substantiation or support. Therefore, those who profess such belief do so without intelligence! Moreover, by implication, such a person cannot be critical of someone who “believes” in, say, the most absurd thing the imagination can concoct, say, the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny. It is time to take the next step in evolution and jettison the mystical explanation (“god”) now that science has finally progressed and triumphed."Another writer who likes Hitchen’s rational view of the world states:"Today's typical “justification” for religion involves charitable or humanitarian work – obviously this says nothing about the veracity of the belief systems involved. All religions must, at their core, look forward to the end of this world; atheists, on the other hand argue that this world is all we have and that it is our duty to make the most of it. It is one thing, per Hitchens, to believe that the magnificence of the natural order strongly implies an ordering force; quite another to say this creative force cares for our human affairs, and it is interested in with whom we have sex and how, as well as the outcome of battles and wars (and even athletic contests). Even accepting Jesus' birth, it still does not prove he was more than one among many shamans and magicians of the day. Einstein took the view that the miracle is that there are no miracles."Is Christopher Hitchens just an arrogant ego-maniac commentator or his he helping us look in a new brave and brilliant direction? I think the latter."People who are generally well read are much less likely to take to a fundamentalist reading of the Bible, whereas it is my observation that for many people who do adhere to the literal truth of the Bible, it is possibly the only book they have ever read, and so have no critical reading skills whatsoever."Anonymous Here we go again with the concept of critical thinking skills, or are we talking about pure intelligence here? Should we follow blind faith or reasoned discussion based on critical thinking skills? The answer seems obvious. Follow the intelligence. Following a God with an unclear definition makes about as much sense as voting for a president with a 95 IQ instead of one with a 195 IQ. Let’s get out of the stone ages and find new ways to find awe and wonder. We can find feelings of wonder and amazement and humility just by looking at the Big Dipper on a clear summer night. The fact that it is not all explained for us makes it even more wonderful I think.I believe that the human race is attempting to evolve past destructive thought patterns. My hope is that we will choose reason over antiquated ways of looking at the world. Just like war must be abolished, "good" versus "evil" type thinking must also be abolished if we are to survive on the Earth. But, the troubling question is, "Is religion far too embedded in our biology?"Gabriel Michael, a Yale divinity student who wrote an impassioned article about his deep concern about rabid atheists who are preaching physicalism, is actually practicing faulty thinking, He appears to shut out any possibility of comparing the patterns of thought coming from scientists and from theologists and postulating about the details. Scientists and theologians have radically different world views, and we cannot just push this aside as if it were the politically correct thing to do at the Yale Country Club. As I see it, Michael wants to have it both ways, to have the philosophy of science and of faith peacefully co-exist, when one is obviously a more advanced form of thinking than the other. What he calls evangelical atheism is actually so close to the truth that it hurts. He says I quote:Evangelists for atheism who link their philosophical positions to science end up doing that same science a great disservice by fueling the fire of fundamentalism here and around the world. Calling them evangelists is warranted, because if their true goal were the propagation of the acceptance of science, they simply wouldn’t focus so much on non-scientific implications. Instead, they spread their various gospels, pander to the popular hobby of religion-bashing, and even invoke a persecution complex — you can purchase a "Scarlet Letter" T-shirt at www.richarddawkins.net. In reality, though, Dawkins and his cohort are mostly preaching to the choir. In this argument, both sides lose: Reactionary religion marginalizes itself in the face of the modern scientific world, and evangelical atheism helps to produce more of the very enemies it most despises.I guess if everybody was nice, we could abandon reason and everyone would live in ignorant bliss. Is that what you want Mr. Michael? You are simply afraid of the scientific method and how faith is endangered by reason.I also believe in the concept of ahimsa, the principle of non-violence which motivated Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. I believe in sort of a karma that develops when ahimsa is practiced optimally. I see a bit too much violence in the Bible for my own comfort level. Even though Christ is portrayed a very peaceful man—some of the stories of the Bible seem to contradict his passivism. That is a contradiction that is interesting and definitely worthy of much more study.I think we should all be more tolerant of different world views. It disturbed me to hear that a classmate of my 12 year-old son Ryan told him he was going to hell because he didn’t believe that Jesus was his personal lord and savior. Ryan was hurt by that and I tried to explain to him that his friend was probably taught that in church, that he was not being tolerant of those who question. Ryan proceeded to tell me that he believed that each of us makes our own heaven or hell right here on Earth. (Pretty bright for his age I think.) When I was Ryan’s age, my friend Bobby Weber told me I would go to hell if I didn’t believe in God. I remember asking him if being a good person was enough. He replied, "No, It is not enough. There is much more to it than that." About 3 days before my Uncle Charlie died I tried to express to him about how Christmas gave me a sublime and mystical sense of hope. He said, "I don’t believe any of that Jeffrey." I said I respected that and I knew he respected my inclination to fully search out my own spirituality. Deep in my heart I DO NOT believe that kind and generous Uncle Charlie is going to hell. Charlie was a great person, always willing to give me advice when I needed it, always willing to help in any way he could. If there is a God that would send him to hell, we live in a cruel world. I’m not at all convinced, though, that we do live in a cruel world. There is much beauty and truth to reach out to. We can create our own heaven on Earth, and it is totally up to us.I have a continuing debate with my good friend Craig S. ho is avout believer. Craig is a person of excellent character who cares deeply about other people and about the Earth.Dear Friend Craig,you said:Creationists, of course, have not the slightest problem with naturalselection…creation and evolution are actually both outside therealms of science and, to know this, you need to know what scienceis…neither “process” is currently observable, testable orrepeatable. I have a problem with a statement saying that evolution is faroutside the scientific realm. Evolution is science and God is faith.They are two different things as far as I'm concerned. Becauseevolution is not testable directly doesn't mean we cannot use carbondating, fossil discoveries to sharpen our pool of evidence toapproximate the best possible understanding given our humanlimitations. It is arrogance to think we have all the answers. Whatreligion says is…”We can stop thinking now. Let's throu up ourhands because this world is too scary and complicated.” That is acop out I think. Let's use the reason we were given biologicallyand use it to the utmost limit. We only use 5 percent of our brainsright? Religion may be an outdated part of the cortex. Logical rflection is the advanced part in my opinion. You quoted this:I am also talking about the appearance of life startingfrom inanimate chemicals. When I am talking about evolution, I am nt speaking of natural selection.” This statement also doesn't make sense. When one speaks aboutevolution one has to speak of natural selection. It is the principleupon which it is based. It's like saying, “When you are talkingabout culinary arts, you cannot talk about recipes.” Of course Iknow where he is going. He is trying to make a deeper point…thathe is in touch with some sublime insight, that science must beinadequate given the conversion from inanimate life to animate life. What if there were 10 to the Google Plex years to get this done, itmay have happened this way. Humans cannot not grasp the concept ofinfinite time or space. It's with science that we humbly take thesteps, not with gross generalizations. If there is a God, I thinkhe would want us not to assume but to make one great discovery afteranother, walking not running.What about the scientific method of carefully testing hypothesis anddisregarding if there is the slightest inconsistency? Science isthe best method we have given our limited five senses. Having faiththat there is a creator and that nothing more needs to be looked intomeans we can just throw up our arms and say “God is in control.” What is the purpose of Free Will then? I’ll stick with science because it’s the best we can do to understand the world and how it works. I would rather have a cardiologist perform heart surgery on me rather than a priest. The cardiologist has science on his side. Let's continue the debate. This is fascinating. Your Friend, Jeff—- Original Message —-From: csather To: jeffdeb@milwpc.comSubject: RE: Yale Daily News – Popular anti-religion creates falsedichotomyDate: Sat, 26 Jan 2008 16:47:47 -0600Dear Jeff,In the book, “In 6 Days – Why 50 scientists believe in Creation”there is a statement by one of the scientists, “Creationists, of course, have not the slightest problem with naturalselection…creation and evolution are actually both outside therealms of science and, to know this, you need to know what scienceis…neither “process” is currently observable, testable orrepeatable. Please note that when speaking of evolution, I amtalking of the appearance of new (not rearranged) geneticinformation. I am also talking about the appearance of life startingfrom inanimate chemicals. When I am talking about evolution, I amnot speaking of natural selection.” The man who wrote this is Dr.Stephen Grocott, who holds a BS in Chemistry and a PhD inorganometallic chemistry from the University of Western Australia. He holds 4 patents, has published about 30 research papers. He is anelected fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute.This book is quite interesting, and points out the patently falsestatement by Dawkins about scientists not subscribing to creation.All 50 contributors have an earned doctorate from a state recognizeduniversity in Australia, the US, the United Kingdom, Canada, SouthAfrica or Germany. If Dawkins is wrong about this statement, howmany other statements are being made on his faith that God does notexist? It takes faith to believe in either proposition.CraigThis is what it all comes down to. It’s looking up into the night sky full of stars and becoming infinitely humble looking at the mystery of it all. In theological terms, every day is a miracle. The fact that we can live, love, think, care for one another share a laugh or a smile, that we can evolve toward peace using our minds. That is a miracle to me, that I was born during this time of history. That is fascinating to me.Are most with the atheist world view lacking compassion? A fair question. Most probably misinterpret atheists who have a deep sense of compassion and ethics. Some use the atheist label for themselves to express anger against overly religious parents or wrongs done in their lives such an aborted fetus, an uncle who died suddenly, or relatives dying in a car accident. I believe atheism can be a superficial reaction to authority or a carefully reasoned philosophy. The later I respect infinitely more.I think a lot of us are just plain uncomfortable with the idea that we evolved from apes and from lower forms of life. We cringe at the amoral laws of nature and that we came from that random primordial soup. Can we see the logic in why God would have designed snakes, scorpions or spiders. Charles Darwin said of wasps:”I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living body of caterpillars.”But as Darwin would remind us, the evolutionary process has produced wonderfully designed creatures, and that there are always new mysteries to uncover. We take the good with the bad, but what a wonderful mystery this Earth is. So much to discover with so little time. Some Christians who are mad at Dawkins say that evolution will always be a theory because we will never be able to directly observe what happened millions of years ago. One reviewer of Richard Dawkins wrote this:It is the grandest insult to human knowledge – to suppose that we have to observe something visually in order to know it sends us straight back to the Dark Ages. You can ask questions of this kind all you want and nothing will ever constitute a sufficient answer if you have already supposed that the answer must be mystical in some way.Again, you cannot reason someone out of something they were not reasoned into in the first place. Science uses exact terms and definitions in debate and the debate is rational. Faith uses inexact terms in debate and the discourse is often times irrational and directionless.This sudden intuitive dawning, this ah-hah experience at the age of 48 that I appear to be experiencing brings some mixed feelings. I feel like I have lost an innocence after having faith in a protector in the sky just a short time ago. The death of my Uncle Charlie is bringing on a feeling(stronger than ever) that an unexamined life is not worth living. To examine life to its fullest is to search out the most important question. The most important question right now is the God question, one we as humans seem to be the most conflicted about. I too am deeply conflicted about this question. Reading Sam Harris, Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins gives me hope in the rationality possible in the human race but also brings a sense of longing for spiritual belief, more than ever. It’s like a void that needs to be filled with something, but with what? This Amazon reviewer talks about how his life has gone into a sort of depressive tail spin after reading Dawkins. He talks about how his once pure spiritual outlook has been "battered." It is interesting that he admits that Dawkins is "too convincing" in his arguments against supernaturalism:The book renders a God or supreme power of any sort quite superfluous for the purpose of accounting for the way the world is, and the way life is. It accounts for the nature of life, and for human nature, only too well, whereas most religions or spiritual outlooks raise problems that have to be got around. It presents an appallingly pessimistic view of human nature, and makes life seem utterly pointless; yet I cannot present any arguments to refute its point of view. I still try to have some kind of spiritual outlook, but it is definitely battered, and I have not yet overcome the effects of this book on me.Richard Dawkins seems to have the idea that religion and spirituality are not only false, but ultimately unable to give a real sense of meaning and purpose in life. Their satisfaction is hollow, empty, and unreal, in his apparent view, and only a scientific understanding of life can give a real, lasting sense of wonder and purpose.Iwould question this. While I am not sure what (if anything) there is spiritually, I know that a scientific view of life cannot offer the slightest hope of life after death, and since we're all going to die and most of us don't want to, this is a crippling drawback to the kind of scientific vision Dawkins wants us all to have. If there is nothing beyond death, no spiritual dimension to anything, and everything is just a blind dance of atoms, I fail to see how this by itself can give one a real sense of purpose, however fascinating the dance that Dawkins describes – and it *is* fascinating; let there be no mistake about that.Because of this, I have the curious feeling of dichotomy about Dawkins' book that it is certainly fascinating on one level, but that I cannot give even qualified emotional commitment to the outlook on life that seems to lie behind it. I would in the end rather have the hope of something wonderful and purposeful that only some spiritual outlook can offer, even though it may be a deluded fantasy, than the certainty of a scientific vision that eliminates any possibility of long-term hope, that condemns us to an empty, eternal death of nothingness in the end. This scientific view may be completely rational; but rationality is not the only important consideration to shape our outlook on life.Anyone who has a narrow religious view of life, who is absolutely sure their religion is completely right, would be best off avoiding this book like the plague – it probably won't change their views, but they will quite likely get very upset and outraged. And anyone with an open-minded spiritual view had better at least be prepared to do a lot of thinking, and perhaps be willing to change some of their views, because this book *will* challenge almost any spiritual or religious viewpoint I can think of – whether it is of the open-minded or dogmatic sort.Some critics of this book have found its reasoning unconvincing, its materialist reductionism too superficial and shallow. But, from my perspective, the problem does not lie here; the problem with the book is that it is *too* convincing, that it is *entirely* convincing. The book makes it very difficult to continue to believe in anything that contradicts its basic premise, but which might be more comforting, and might give a greater sense of hope and inspiration, and provide a real sense of purpose in life.Such have its effects on my life been that, in my more depressed moments, I have desperately wished I could unread the book, and continue life from where I left off.It has been said that each of us has a God-shaped hole inside, and that we spend most of our lives trying to fill it with the wrong things. I firmly believe that God-shaped hole is there, that we have inner longings of a wonderful sort almost impossible to describe in words. Whether a God exists to fill it, I do not yet know. But what I am sure of is that, as wonderful as Dawkins' view of nature and of life may be on its own level, it will not fill that God-shaped hole.The question is—what to do with that spiritual hole. I say, fill it with wonderment about the natural world, be thankful for every single day, every single hour you are on the planet. Whatever this is, it’s more than kind of neat Just think of the scientific discoveries that await us having to do with time, space, genetic memory, etc. etc. The emperor has no clothes and conventional religion cannot begin to answer our questions anymore.I’ve started a book by John Updike called "In the Beauty of the Lillies." It is about a pastor who is losing his faith and cannot in good conscience go on preaching, because it is not what he feels in his heart. To the chagrin of his wife, he says he wants to quit the church. His life is in a tailspin because he cannot face the possibility of being a fake to himself, thinking that any meaningful life has to be grounded in truth first and foremost. This is a sort of the bind I feel like I’m in right now, to be true to myself or politically pacify my family."A Letter to Christian Nation" inspired me to write this essay. Here is an interesting comment about the book by a reviewer:The author's points about embryonic stem cell research and creationism in the public schools are extremely important for anyone who embraces modernity and progress. While a handful of other authors attempt to feebly argue the ridiculous idea that modern science was produced by Christian thinking, Harris explains what should be obvious — that religion is now, and has always been, a serious impediment to science. Some people are currently trying to force public schools to teach our children that their ancient creation myth — a fantastic story for which there is only contradictory evidence — is a good viable alternative to evolution, a well established scientific explanation of human development for which there is a mountain of supporting evidence. These same folks also wish to impede embryonic stem cell research, which could potentially result in cures and treatments for numerous human diseases and afflictions, simply because their prudery-inspired anti-abortion agenda has forced them into the absurd logical conclusion of contending that a 3-day-old blastocyst in a petrie dish is a full fledged person possessing the same rights as anyone reading this sentence. Now, these religious opponents of progress will insist until they're blue in the face that they're not against science. But watching them make every attempt to stop the advance of very important science like stem cell research and evolution while at the same time insisting that they support “real science” is like watching an obese man deny that he has a weight problem while he dines on a bucket of fried chicken.There are many very real contradictions in religious thought, because it is not logical. It is not rational.I find scientific statements like this fascinating….A sugar cube of neutron-star stuff on Earth would weigh as much as all of humanity!There is so much we don’t know about our universe. Why isn’t the Bible more humble and why isn’t marvelous universe addressed in this book of knowledge? There is no evidence of intellectual curiosity in the Bible. Maybe we need a new book. Why isn’t Michael Behe more humble when he throws up his hands and says everything is irreducibly complex? In "The Origin of the Species," Charles Darwin wrote:”If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case. No doubt many organs exist of which we do not know the transitional grades, more especially if we look to much-isolated species, round which, according to my theory, there has been much extinction. Or again, if we look to an organ common to all the members of a large class, for in this latter case the organ must have been first formed at an extremely remote period, since which all the many members of the class have been developed; and in order to discover the early transitional grades through which the organ has passed, we should have to look to very ancient ancestral forms."Albert Einstein once said, "The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed out candle. " He also differentiated between types of atheists, saying, "What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos."In his book "The End of Faith," Sam Harris says,"Our willingness to ignore reason and scientific facts as we maintain our beliefs, not based on sound science and reason, will lead the world into more peril because these beliefs not only legitimize intolerance, but they have also invaded most aspects of political and secular life and threaten to become apocalyptic in a world with weapons of mass destruction."Harris, who is now working toward a Doctorate in Neuroscience, seems genuinely concerned about the ability of mankind to save itself through rational means, inferring that no supernatural God is going to bale us out of current problems we have like over-populuation, terrorism, poverty, disease and pollution.A Mensa study in 2002 showed a very strong correlation between intelligence and the choice to have fewer religious beliefs. It found that the higher the intelligent or education level, the more probability that the person will not clinging to some preset religious rules for one’s own salvation. Studies also proved recently that there is no evidence that prayer helps people. A double blind study was done and it found that the lives of people in hospitals who were prayed for did not improve appreciably and sometimes got worse. The people who were not prayed for did not show any deviation from any normal curve of recovery and other health variables. Now, here is the very ironic point. Religiously inclined people tend would probably be chomping at the bit to interpret information that let’s say would prove that Jesus’s birth could not be tracked to any sexual intercourse before hand. Say that science was able to analyze the body of Jesus’s mother and determine that she could not have received sperm from any male contributor in order to give birth. The religiously inclined would flock to the evidence. As Richard Dawkins infers, one cannot see a fundamentalist Christian stating that it is "just science, I have enough proof in my own mind to know it is true." Something tells me that they would not ignore the evidence and that Pat Robertson would have it as a top story on his 700 Club, using science to prove his hazy points. Ironic. Truly ironic.Jerry Coyne recently wrote in the Guardian magazine:"Why is God considered an explanation of anything? It’s not. It’s a failure to explain, a shrug of the shoulders. An 'I dunno’ dressed up in spirituality and ritual. If someone credits something to God, generally what that means is that haven’t a clue, so they’re attributing it to unreachable unknown sky fairy. Ask for an explanation of where the bloke came from and odds are that you’ll get a vague, pseudo-philosophical reply about having always existed or being outside nature. Which of course, explains nothing."I have used the argument with deeply ingrained and somewhat militant atheists that there could be something outside of the five senses that we are not perceiving that could be true. But they counter with the argument that how can we know anything outside the realm of science? Good point. We can only speculate. We can speculate that there is a gigantic teapot that steams away up in the sky ruling all of our sub conscious experiences. There could be a huge banana in the sky that peels off pearls of vitamin-laced molecules of wisdom. You can make up anything if you don’t have logic. That’s the serious problem mankind is faced with here. Logic is our only way out even though we can speculate beyond logic.What’s so dangerous about belief in irreducible complexity or intelligent design is that we give up using our brains(which are most ironically the most highly evolved tools we have to reflect and logically analyze this beautiful diversity we have here on Earth.) I think if there is a God(oh, there I go again) he/she would want us to use every single cell of our brains to comprehend this complex and wonderful, beautiful world. Traditional faith, you are going in the wrong direction. Let’s appreciate the marvelous complexity of the one-celled animal or what salt looks like under a microscope or the colors of the rainbow. Even the religious could be taught to appreciate the 10 to the googleplex power of biologic beauty that has been dumped on us in our very very very short lives here on the planet. There is no time to waste reading and exploring all one can to get in touch which what we could call "the miracle of just being here." Where? On Earth of course! We are living in heaven right now. Let’s wake up and smell the coffee.Let’s for a moment bring the anthropic principle into the mix. At face value, it would seem that this would bring in more ammunition for the ID inclined. But the relativism which is inferred by it, only deepens my scientific curiosity. The fact that life could have evolved in a google-plex number of combinations lights the fire of my imagination perhaps like Douglas Adams was awe struck by the world beyond God. With our limited scientific minds, we are given the chance to figure things out. Truly amazing.This morning I prepared for a meeting with my Stephen minister. I picked out about a dozen Bible verses out of about 90 on a Christian calendar that I got from Miles Kimball. The key was finding things that were meaningful to me. I picked out several that really struck me as having some meaning that was applicable to real life. Words of the Bible must not be taken literally, but highly figuratively. It’s what it means to you and how a person can shape the ultimate life path. My song "Beyond Belief" to my wife Debbie has a line about meeting in heaven. It is figurative. I don’t really believe that I’m glancing at Debbie at the pearly gates. It means that in the infinite time there is a chance of anything. My mind is open to the remote possibility that we may see each other again.I picked out some psalms the other day and gave my interpretation to each one and then my Stephen Minister Tim and I had a very spirited discussion about their meanings.This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be gladin it.” Psalm 118:24 Be happy about each day, each minute for that matter on Earth. Thisis a very special experience…more special than you would everimagine. Rejoice and enjoy the entire experience! Live each dayto the fullest. That's the idea.”And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring youtidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” Luke 2:10 Don't forget about the great potential for giving that all peoplehave, that angels can be seen in the eyes of almost everyone in theright circumstances. Good things happen and good does notdiscrimminate between the lucky and the needy. We can all recognizeand take solice from our angels of mercy.”For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shalllose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.” Mark 8:35This simply means keep the spirit alive. The old future is gone,but it is up to us to shed the old unproductive ways and develop lifehabits that make sense for the long run. The Christian would say tobe come more completed in his/her faith. We are losing our oldselves in favor of the newly evolved self. New ways to interact andto think and to act. We are hopefully improving until the day weare 80, 90 or 100. If we save our life for our own sake withoutintegrating with a combination of our fellow human beings then it'sall worth nothing. We must be highly integrated in helping. Wemust learn to tap into the energy that enables us to rush ahead withlife with a high level of meaning and momentum and not wallow in selfpity when down or over involve ourselves with our own ego when up. Share the joy with others and your life will mean infinitely more.”And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath givenhimself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savor.” Ephesians 5:2 To walk in love….what a beautiful thought. For truth alone withoutlove wiil perish and love without truth is naive. To hear infinitelove and truth will propel us to greater heights and help us touchthe face of God. You will encounter the slings and arrows ofmisfortune when taking the hard road, but it will all be worth it ifwhen a higher purpose is embraced. Each person must choose his/herown spiritual path, but must be highly integrated with goodness andrighteousness. Have the courage to take your own brave. That iswhat that is saying to me.”A scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not, but knowledge is easyunto him that understandeth.” Proverbs 14:6 Have a good attitude and important life wisdom and knowledge tends tostick. Wisdom accumulates on wisdom and becomes infinitely morepowerful and yes I guess you could say closer to God, whatever yousee him/her as.”Where no counsel is, the people fall; but in the multitude ofcounselors there is safety.” Proverbs 11:14 I'm not sure what this one means. Maybe Tim or Craig can help me with this one. Maybe it means we have the responsibility to choose good friends who can be great counselors in the time of need.”And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of thefirmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever.” Daniel 12:3 Sharing wisdom is as true and beautiful as the stars in the sky. Reach out with faith and it becomes infinitely more meaningful andpowerful.”Seek the Lord, and his strength: seek his face evermore.” Psalm 105:4 Seeking out the face of goodness; that has a very spiritual meaningfor me. We are continually looking for God in others. Seek thegreatest truth and beauty every minute of our lives. We must allfollow our own roads to spiritual truth. It is truly the road lesstraveled. A Christian would always believe that the power of God isalways with him or her. That one is never alone—-what a powerful feeling.”For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world,and lose his own soul.” Mark 8:36 This is a powerful one for me. If we don't follow our ownconscience…that angel on our shoulder, then we are doomed to do thepleasureable thing, but not necessarily the correct thing. Life isseries of decisions. Jesus always has patience even when we fall offthe ladder. Worldly prizes don't mean anything in heaven. My purpose for writing this is to attempt to examine severalimportant passages in the Bible, throwing most out but keeping theprecious. Hold onto the precious ones dearly. I write this as Iprepare to meet with my Stephen Minister at Starbucks today. I continue to ask a lot ofquestions and Tim is very patient with my spiritual development. Oh, by the way, What exactly is spiritual development?Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around –Leo Buscaglia.Ryan(who just turned 13) decided to join us for church yesterday. It was an amazing turn around for Ryan who has rejected taking in the experience for some time. I have always emphasized the fellowship aspect of church to him and maybe he is realizing it will not kill him to experience something that Mom highly cherishes. Ryan willingly participated in sharing the peace and even in reading verses and singing part of the hymns. It was a grand effort from Ry and I deeply respect it. We talked to one of the church leaders(Paula Draves) after the service and Ryan was very appropriate with our friend. Does religion fill a gap in the brain, a need that needs to be satisfied wh
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