The Air Force Scandal Shows Secular Americans Still Need Equal Rights

Sep 20, 2014

Image Credit: Getty Images

by Richard Dawkins and Robyn Blumner

Too many religious Americans are convinced they can’t trust people who don’t subscribe to a faith—it’s time for the secular to make themselves known It took the threat of a lawsuit before the Air Force agreed on Wednesday to allow airmen to omit the phrase “So help me God” as part of a required oath. Until then, they claimed an airman stationed at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada was ineligible to reenlist after he crossed out the phrase on his reenlistment form.

The objection to forcing the oath on nonbelievers should be obvious. It’s not.

But a new campaign is hoping to change all that. Openly Secularlaunching today, is a new coalition of more than two dozen secular groups—one of the largest of its kind—coming together with the goal of raising awareness of the numbers of nonreligious people in the country. We include not only atheists and agnostics, but our allied organizations include religious people of many denominations who cherish the Founding Fathers’ ideal of church-state separation.

Secular Americans make up a huge and growing stratum of society. Atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers and the nonreligious make up 20 percent of Americans overall and fully a third of Millennials under 30 years old. But until secular people come forward and introduce themselves, the misconceptions marginalizing them will persist.

The polls are pretty startling. A Pew poll this year found that nearly half of Americans say it’s necessary to believe in God to be a moral person. Another recent poll found Americans would rather vote for an adulterous or pot-smoking candidate for President than one who is an atheist.

Many religious Americans would be startled to discover how many nonbelievers they already know and like. Too many religious Americans are convinced they can’t trust people who don’t subscribe to a faith. The truth is, they are constantly trusting nonbelievers, they just don’t realize it.

Secular people are not just academics and scientists—although most academics and 93 percent of members of the National Academy of Sciences are nonbelievers. Secular people are in police departments protecting streets from crime. They are taxi drivers, waiters, shopkeepers. They are doctors and nurses treating the sick. And they are serving in the military, putting their lives on the line to protect the country.

Watch the videos on OpenlySecular.org to see average, hardworking Americans come forward and talk about their lives as nonbelievers.

The Openly Secular coalition hopes to eliminate the social costs of coming forward. It is lamentable that people fear they are risking their jobs, businesses and personal relationships, simply through being true to who they are.

One day soon, the stigma and disdain will be so diminished that allowing an airman to reenlist in the Air Force without swearing to a deity he doesn’t believe in, won’t have to become a federal case.

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and internationally best-selling author. He has published eleven books, all still in print, including The Selfish Gene, the blockbuster The God Delusion, and his magnum opus The Ancestor’s Tale. Dawkins is a fellow of both the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Literature. He was the inaugural holder of the Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and is the Prize of Japan.

Robyn Blumner is the executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science in Washington, DC. She was a nationally syndicated columnist and editorial writer at the Tampa Bay Times newspaper (formerly the St. Petersburg Times), where she was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize with colleagues. Blumner was executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and of the ACLU of Utah.

74 comments on “The Air Force Scandal Shows Secular Americans Still Need Equal Rights

  • 2
    TwoReplies says:

    Too many religious Americans are convinced they can’t trust people who don’t subscribe to a faith

    That’s a failing on those religious people’s part, and is in no way any reflection on the morality or character of non-theists (atheists/agnostics/apathetics).



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  • Gods are but myths. Mandatory acknowledgement of any such myth is an affront to honesty and is the death of freedom. I reside in the land of the free, not the land of the god.



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  • Believers have distrust of atheists simply because it has been relentlessly taught to them. Think of religions as scams whose greatest enemies are those who would debunk the delusions and topple the nonsense. Systematic vilification of nonbelievers is a deliberate strategy to retain membership while ostracizing critics. Turf war.



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  • Why the Law in charge of guarding the Constitution throughout the years have permitted to let things go so out of control as to permit that a national institution such as the Air Force, which belongs to all citizens of a country, can dictate its own rules of admittance based on just one religious belief without taking into account the creed of the rest of the community which pays, after all, the expenses of that institution ? Legal action against such an outrage by the Air Force has been long time overdue.



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  • I wonder if the Air Force appreciate the irony that,
    If enlisted, this airman could be sent to Syria/Iraq to fight IS. Why?
    Because these “terrorists” want to force everyone to swear allegiance to THEIR god (same one actually but that’s a different argument…)



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  • No, the irony is lost on most.

    I work at a small aviation museum outside of my regular work, and while I love planes, the Air Force/Air Guard mentality is very black and white, with the personnel demonstrably unable to put themselves in others’ shoes and see any similarities with their enemies. Despite many people there being easy-going and humorous (I truly think that personality is the real divider, rather than politics or even religious beliefs vs. atheists), fun to joke with and real decent sorts, people with whom I would trust my life, they are straight arrows and their imaginations have been tamped down.



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  • i imagine agnostics wouldn’t have a problem with ‘so help me God’ , because if God exists, then he might help the agnostic, and if God doesn’t exist, he doesn’t have much to lose anyway,

    as an agnostic, i’ve found that while it is true someone without faith shouldn’t be trusted, it is equally true that someone with faith shouldn’t be trusted. none of them should be trusted. an agnostic believes neither in the religious party, nor the irreligious party.



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  • i imagine agnostics wouldn’t have a problem with ‘so help me God’ , because if God exists, then he might help the agnostic, and if God doesn’t exist, he doesn’t have much to lose anyway,

    Pascal’s Wager. Look it up.



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  • none of them should be trusted. an agnostic believes neither in the religious party, nor the irreligious party.

    What is the atheist agenda. What is the party line. World domination. Forcing women to wear stuff or hand over sovereignty of their bodies. Banning books. Teaching myths to children. Requiring an irrational belief before you can be in the US Air Force. Killing believers. Forcing everyone on the planet to believe in their particular version of god. Can you tick off on the atheists plots. You cannot equate an atheist, who has no desire to impose anything on anyone, and the religious, who all believe that they, and only they have the one true version of god, and are prepared to kill to defend it. Atheists are not equal and opposite of the religious.

    A secular state is not an atheist state. I don’t care what people believe, but I do care if they want to use it in modern decision making contrary to evidence, or they want their particular version of god to have special privileges. In my secular state, all religions exist, but they are practiced by consenting adults in private. That is where mystical beliefs belong.

    An atheist is an agnostic with courage.



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  • I’m for a secular state. no ifs and buts.

    there is no proof that God exists (theism), and there is no proof that God doesn’t exist either (atheism), therefore agnosticism.

    also, even tho I may doubt that God exists, if other people do believe in God, thats OK with me. I don’t want to offend them, even if i don’t share a belief with them. In the unlikely event that I had to join the USAF I would not have a problem with the term ‘God help me’, if it helps others who do believe, then so much better for them. However, i think it would be better if the USAF rewrote their prayer in such as manner as to make it more inclusive:

    Oh, God, Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Krishna, Shiva, Horus, Apollo, Thor, universal life force, nature, the ground of being and any other names which signify the idea of God to you
    help me ( to bomb those pesky terrorists)

    this kind of prayer would be more inclusive, including atheists and agnostics, as well as Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans. the Christian can pray to Jesus, the pagan to Thor, and the atheist can contemplate nature or the ground of being. Wouldn’t this be better than abolishing prayer altogether, instead to allow everyone in with prayers that include everyone. I’m sure even a Dawkins could pray if it means contemplation of nature.

    theists believe in God all of the time
    atheists don’t believe in God anytime.
    agnostics believe in God on Sundays, and special occasions. ie sometimes, for practical purposes.

    a theist pretends to know what he doesn’t know
    an atheist pretends to know what he doesn’t know
    an agnostic knows that the doesn’t know, and doesn;t pretend. who is the more scientific and rational?



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  • Josh Oct 6, 2014 at 10:43 am

    However, i think it would be better if the USAF rewrote their prayer in such as manner as to make it more inclusive:

    Oh, God, Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Krishna, Shiva, Horus, Apollo, Thor, universal life force, nature, the ground of being and any other names which signify the idea of God to you
    help me ( to bomb those pesky terrorists)

    . . .. No effect whatever! – as is usual with prayer!

    However those who believe science and engineering describe the workings of the material universe, can provide answers! + Aircraft and bombs!



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  • Bravo, David! You nailed it.

    I don’t know why some people think that we wish to impose an atheist hegemony, when it is evidence that humans are diverse and that pluralistic, democratic societies offer the best protection of individual liberties. Some people’s mentalities seem to be stuck in the 1930s and 1940s Europe and Russia, or in Pol Pot mode, whereas the primary aims of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot were not atheism, and certainly not rationality, but power. Fine, do not trust anyone then, question everyone – but let go of this image of brown- or black-shirted atheists marching in unison to some quacking voice over a loudspeaker.

    A secular society is one in which the government takes no position on the existence of God. After all, I live in the United States – after what I have seen of religion meddling with government, if our government were to suddenly “go atheist,” I would bang my head on a table and make plans to emigrate elsewhere. Bureaucrats using governmentese to speak for me – no thanks. (I say this as an employee of government myself – if I hear the word “branding” one more time I fear I shall puke!) No one represents my atheism but me. I am free, even from “the movement.”

    I am an individual and have my own ideas.



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  • of course prayer has an effect, if it didn’t they wouldn’t do it. it has an inner psychological effect that reinforces certain ideas and ways of thinking. what is the effect of a muslim praying five times a day, psychologically on him and those close to him? prayers have effects, which are psychological in nature, changing the person who prays and their habits of thought in subtle or not so subtle ways. even the UK national anthem is God save the Queen. Does anyone want to change the British anthem because of the mention of God, or the Queen for that matter? Im agnostic about it, I don’t mind either way, whatevers cool with me.

    The agnostic prayer is rather good. i recommend it.

    Oh God, if there is a God
    save my soul, if i have a soul

    If neuroscience is true, then there is most probably not anything like a soul to be saved. this is a scientific prayer.



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  • Evidence for and against God is not 50-50.
    Let me assure you that, as an atheist, I do not “contemplate” or worship nature as a “ground of being.” I question nature, even accuse it at times. There are things that I do not particularly like about evolution, the exile of young blue-footed boobies from the nest by their mothers in favor of the “stronger” sibling being one of them.
    What is this that I “claim to know”? An atheist does not need, as Eric Hoffer puts it, a net of certainty thrown over the entire cosmos.
    I dwell in uncertainty, shades of gray, and accept things that are provisionally true. I try not to have beliefs, preconceptions, and a “worldview.”
    Do not presume that Dawkins would ever “pray to nature,” or that I would. The only “prayer” I would make would be, “Thanks to Margaret Sanger, legalized birth control, and my own good judgment in never having become pregnant! Thanks to me and my nonconformity!” So much for “nature,” for we are also nature, and the unnatural act is that which cannot be done – but we cannot know what cannot be done until we, naturally, attempt it. As a woman who knows that many, many human females died in childbirth before the adoption of modern medicine, I am not sentimental about a nature that did not make us marsupials.
    Let’s be done with “nature” as a preconception. The earth’s ecosystem has changed radically over the 4.5 billion years of its existence, and even the “nature” of time changes as one attempts to measure what we call time back to the Big Bang.



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  • Josh Oct 6, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    of course prayer has an effect, if it didn’t they wouldn’t do it. it has an inner psychological effect that reinforces certain ideas and ways of thinking.

    Well yes! It has the effect of allowing them to delude themselves they are participating in doing something when they are not !

    The point I was making was that no prayer has ever delivered bombs or anthing else. Only material mechanisms can do that.

    If neuroscience is true, then there is most probably not anything like a soul to be saved. this is a scientific prayer.

    The physics and chemistry of the brain are entirely material.
    http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html

    There is no evidence whatever of fairy-dust or immaterial ethereal magic spirits or souls.
    (The whole concept becomes ludicrous if we ask: “When during the course of evolution – between LUCA and HOMO did this soul arise, and how many other organisms have souls?” – bacteria? viruses? plants? fish? lizards, cattle? monkeys?)



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  • Hi,

    I think either you have misunderstood or i have expressed myself badly. I do not presume that you or Dawkins pray to nature. however, in the revised prayer i suggested, all the gods are honoured, as well as anything else that might have have a similar designation in your mind. So, would you object to a prayer such as this
    Oh, God, Jesus, Allah, Thor, Osiris, Vishnu, universal spirit, life force, ground of being, nature, truth, love hope, universal reason etc
    help me, (bomb them back to the stone age)

    so, if instead of praying, we can use the term contemplating, and then it would be a contemplation of the truth, or God, or Goddess, or universal reason, or any other word which might describe your highest conception of life. that was what i meant. surely there would be a word that can be included in the inclusive prayer that would enable atheists to pray next to Muslims, Jews, and Christians. you could pray/contemplate universal reason and truth.

    there is no 100/0 victory for atheism over faith. it is not 50/50 either. Take reincarnation, I’m agnostic about it, I dont know. I don’t rule it out, but i dont believe it either. God, maybe, maybe not. ghosts? out of body experiences? I’m agnostic, which is the truly scientific attitude.



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  • All right, I’ll bite. “Dear God –

    “The fact of your existence demonstrates that you, of all beings, also had no say in your existence, did you?

    “Did you choose to be God, or did that simply happen to you? If you chose it, whom did you usurp, and why should you and that other loser not be subject to a general election, like any other democratic leader? Why, after all, should I accept your chosen existence when I did not choose it?

    “And if your alleged existence as God simply is a fact, then aside from raw power, what is the real difference between you and me, the human atheist? Having no god to pray to or to guide you, don’t you make your own existential and moral way, as I do?

    “If that’s the case, then if you wish to be my companion, and to spend eternity arguing and debating points – such as, 1. Is there truth existing beyond you or did you just make it up, in which case why should I care that you exist, and 2. What do you think Andre Breton’s concept of the surrealist object, which simultaneously exists and not 3. And can you yourself simultaneously exist and not, and if you cannot do this, why not? – then I welcome your presence, as long as your admit that the fact of your existence really solves NOTHING! You are no more a final truth than anything else is. So we embark upon uncertainty together.

    “But if you expect me to obey you, and accept you as revealed ‘truth,’ then I’m sorry, but we have a problem.

    “Pointed questions without end,

    “What am I wearing?” Wink!

    There. Like it?

    Josh, it is you who is not understanding. Even the fact of God’s existence solves nothing. Not a thing. What is the context for God, then? Is it turtles all the way up? What “truth”? I would not pray to reason. Even if God exists, so what?



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  • Kristine Oct 6, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    “Save my soul” from what?

    Or save it from those mean vengeful gods, when someone who is playing 50-50 Pascal, chooses the wrong one from the thousands of gods, and seriously upsets the “TRrrroooooo god(s)”!! !!!



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  • Josh Oct 6, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    there is no 100/0 victory for atheism over faith.

    There is however a 100 to 0 victory of scientific reasoned methodology, over faith-thinking.

    Science starts with material evidence, and improves the probability of its understanding, by independent objective repeat testing until its laws and theories are well supported.

    The world of engineering runs on this knowledge.

    Faith-thinking – Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence., starts with preconceptions and goes around in circles of illogical verbosity, so is merely asserted by believers without evidence.

    It consistently fails on test, or equals the results of random chance at best!



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  • there is no 100/0 victory for atheism over faith. it is not 50/50 either. Take reincarnation, I’m agnostic about it, I dont know. I don’t rule it out, but i dont believe it either. God, maybe, maybe not. ghosts? out of body experiences? I’m agnostic, which is the truly scientific attitude.

    Sure, but give us your ratio of certainty. Mine is such that it would never occur to me to write about it unless irritated into it.

    There is currently no evidence. I wasted my teenage years upon it when I should have been studying what we do know. Real is more awesome than any lazy-assed wish-thinking maybes. And it is lazy-assed. Real has a squillion times more information about it than made up shit. Mastery of the non-existant was ever a doddle.



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  • look, i;m an agnostic not a theist. I don; think there is evidence either for god or against god. i agree it solves nothing for you, but for other people i have met, it does solve everything. so, religion depends on the person, and their outlook. in this way, everyone can be included in the inclusive prayer.
    an agnostic tho, doesn;t mind if someone does believe in god, or not.

    in an inclusive prayer, you could take part, whether or not you believe in God. there is some other word that will fit whatever your ideal is. maybe you can suggest a word which you would be happy to say in a prayer.
    oh santa claus,
    if you exist
    bring me an ipod,
    if you can afford it.



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  • I don; think there is evidence either for god or against god.

    Once god did it all. It was written. There is an incalculable amount of evidence now to say he didn’t, evidence against all the various accepted figures of God and gods.

    For there to be no evidence against him he must shrink to something ineffectual, so reduced are the narrative gaps he can hide in.



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  • why is it that atheists are so intolerant of agnostics? those who say honestly we dont know.

    let me be more provocative, what if a new biological theory comes out which disproves Darwin, and a new physical theory comes out which disproves the big bang. well, it is possible. what then?

    as an agnostic, i hold that this is a possibility, even if it seems unlikely.
    i have not researched reinarnation, but this is also a possibility, even if it may seem unlikely.
    any honest person, i believe, would have to say the same.
    can you say with 100 certainty that reincarnation doesn’t exist? the most you can say is that it is unlikely.
    what about the spaghetti monster? well, again, we cannot say it does or doesn’t exist. however, nobody actually believes in the spaghetti monster.



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  • Josh, if you were reading my facetious little “prayer,” you would see that it is the atheist who truly faces uncertainty, whereas the agnostic still clings to the idea of there perhaps being “a final truth.” I have demonstrated that even the existence of God does not demonstrate a final truth. In the face of a deity, what make truth true? That deity’s will, which is fantasy, or a reality larger than that deity? Agnostics don’t seem to even conceive of that question.



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  • I can say for certainty that, for every truth we discover, there are at least hundred questions about it. Answering them in turn only multiplies exponentially the questions. The only certainty is questions. If that is intolerance, so be it.



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  • not really, the agnostic is agnostic about the final truth, maybe there is one, maybe there isn’t, but we can’t really know.

    to be certain about question is to be agnostic, because one comes across so many answers, that one can’t really accept any one in particular. that is agnosticism, you are really an agnostic.

    there is always one certainty in atheism, and that is the necessity of having a god to rail against.
    if you are agnostic, then there is no need to rail against anything.



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  • But of course I am an agnostic too. And I am open minded and expect all scientific theories to be revised to some degree or be thrown out altogether in some cases.

    Why don’t you give me the number I’m asking for on say, re-incarnation?

    For me I am very confident on where “me” resides, how my attributes as experienced were formed and when, so my ratio is 10e4:1 or greater against the existence of re-incarnation of my identity from an earlier existence. This as a decider of what I do with my life, what I choose to look out for, spend my time on, and is functionaly indistinguishable from 1:0.



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  • Josh Oct 6, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    why is it that atheists are so intolerant of agnostics? those who say honestly we dont know.

    What individuals don’t know is of no consequence if the information is available but they have not looked for it, or their thinking is just too woolly and incoherent to have any meaning.

    While technically atheists may accept some very improbable possibility of some god or alien technology being involved in creating the universe, there is no difficulty in refuting many theistic claims for supernatural events or the thousands of gods with contradictory properties, which humans have worshipped at some time or other. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_deities

    let me be more provocative, what if a new biological theory comes out which disproves Darwin,

    You are talking about refuting MILLIONS of well evidenced theories of the evolution of individual particular species. The odds against this happening are vast! The details of ideas on some particular species may have mistakes on DETAILS which will be corrected in future.

    and a new physical theory comes out which disproves the big bang. well, it is possible. what then?

    Again the evidence of the main principles is strong, although new details may lead to modifications of interpretations, but multiple checked objective observations remain facts.

    Gods on the other hand, either have either simple refutable properties, or are too vaguely defined, and descriptions are too incoherent, to analyse or test!

    Claims that science does not know everything, therefore it knows nothing, are fallacies. There are distinct constraints imposed by the laws of science, so a claim that “anything is possible”, is just silly!
    ( Anyone who steps on to air outside of a tenth-floor window in the hope that some “new physics” will turn up, will have a only few remaining seconds in which to contemplate the foolishness of their thinking!)



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  • Comment:

    there is always one certainty in atheism, and that is the necessity of having a god to rail against.

    That doesn’t even make sense. I was speaking hypothetically, and with humor.

    It seems that you, while claiming agnosticism about a “final truth,” would accept one if you thought you found one. I would not. I would question it. I would find the paradox in it. You are partly right to say that I am by method agnostic, but again, the prospect of God existing and not is not 50-50.

    If I rail against anything, it is unquestioning obedience, to anyone or anything. That has been true about me since I was born.



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  • why is it that atheists are so intolerant of agnostics? those who say
    honestly we dont know.
    Josh,

    You’ve heard the logical arguments now I will give you a personal one. Mine!

    It is because I feel you are almost there. I feel you are like my brother who will not give up smoking and says things like, ” what if someone finds that smoking is actually good for you”, ignoring all the facts. “It calms my nerves so it must be good for me”. Ignoring the fact that it is the dependency on nicotine that makes him nervous in the first place.

    The balance in your wording is possibility on one side and unlikely on the other. This is not balanced but weighted heavily on the unlikely but still you cling on just like my brother does in the face of cancer. That is where my intolerance comes from personally as well the heavily weighted facts.



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  • Josh Oct 6, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    there is always one certainty in atheism, and that is the necessity of having a god to rail against.

    This is just polarised thinking about one god, which comes from religious misinformation claiming atheists deny THEIR god! Atheists don’t think any gods are probable and certainly don’t single out any particular one “to rail against”!

    if you are agnostic, then there is no need to rail against anything.

    Really? Do you accept ALL the thousands of gods with all their contradictory claims and claims refuted by science, or are you just confusing agnosticism with ignorance?

    (Have you made any human sacrifices to Huitzilopochtli lately?)



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  • ok, but as an agnostic, I don;t see it as my job to go about refuting peoples beliefs. only, i do not share them.
    some people like jesus, others like darwin. these are both interpretations of reality, different paradigms for understanding reality.

    science is of course important, but we also have philosophy. Philosophers such as Thomas Nagel and Jerry Fodor have raised some problems with Darwinism. These arguments make a strong point, but perhaps only enough to raise questions about the finality of darwinism, to doubt darwinism. thus agnosticism.



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  • Has anyone here ever read the writings of the surrealist poet Antonin Artaud, when he was in the throes of his paranoid schizophrenia?

    He believed in God, but he thought that Christianity was BS because it denied its pagan roots and ultimately the polytheist origin of three-gods-in-one. He contended that the trinity was three different gods and that Jesus Christ was going to overthrow God the Father (this is Gnosticism – Artaud was a modern Gnostic) just as the Greek gods had, because the Old Boy was oppressive and restrictive. However, Artaud also believed that Jesus was a harsh taskmaster opposed to the natural world and its sensuality, which is under the protection of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Holy Spirit was going to team up with the Antichrist to overthrow both God and Jesus, and that the Antichrist frequented a Paris cafe that Artaud frequented. It’s a mess of a phantasmagoria and a hell of a lot more fun than bible study. (Like me, this man had a lifelong “authority problem.”)

    So, who wants to claim agnosticism in the face of that? I’d love the Air Force to read it too and try to compose an ecumenical prayer!



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  • I want to claim agnosticism in the face of that. it may be true, but i doubt it, but at the very least, it was true for antonin artaud himself. agnosticism vs the gnosticism of Artaud.

    I think Artaud would love the ecuneminal inclusive prayer, if he ever considers joining the USAF



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  • . Hi Kristine.

    Evidence for and against God is not 50-50.

    The false balance in the proposition is the thing that irritates me the most. The chance of any deity being true would be minuscule knowing what we know, and yet it’s put up as a viable suggestion.
    Imagine if it were true and a voice boomed from above, telling us that we (atheists) have been on the wrong track all along. Suddenly illusionists would be seen as working real magic, quack remedies would be embraced by the health system any far fetched supernatural happening would be perceived as having merit.
    We need to hold onto our rational way of thinking because once the fanciful is allowed to slip in, there’s no end to the nonsense we would be obliged to treat with respect.



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  • Josh Oct 6, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    ok, but as an agnostic, I don;t see it as my job to go about refuting peoples beliefs. only, i do not share them.

    You do not seem to be making any attempt to evaluate the validity of those beliefs. A critical open mind is one which is open to new evidence. It is not one like a bucket with no lid into which anything, or any nonsense, can be poured.

    Science works on evidence of reality, not on choosing what you would like to believe.

    some people like jesus, others like darwin. these are both interpretations of reality, different paradigms for understanding reality.

    They are however not evidenced equally. Darwin definitely existed and the records of his voyage and investigations are clear.

    There is no contemporary evidence of anyone called Jesus even existing, let alone carrying out amazing magical feats! None of the Jesus myths were written within decades of supposed events and most were edited or written centuries later. Neither the Jesus character, nor any of his disciples left any written records of their activities.
    We know some later authors stuck their names on their own writings to add weight to their stories, as did the authors of other gospels which the Romans rejected when putting together “The Bible” 300 years later!

    science is of course important, but we also have philosophy. Philosophers such as Thomas Nagel and Jerry Fodor have raised some problems with Darwinism.

    If they did, it can only be because of their ignorance of science, but as you do not itemise the supposed “problems” it is difficult to comment. Vague reference to imagined problems make no useful contributions to discussions.

    These arguments make a strong point, but perhaps only enough to raise questions about the finality of darwinism, to doubt darwinism.

    That evolution happens is a fact. The details of particular features have been updated in the light of new methods and new knowledge many times since Darwin originally wrote his theory of evolution by way of natural selection.

    thus agnosticism.

    Religious belief with slight doubts, is not agnosticism. Neither is ignorance of subject matter.
    Agnosticism is concluding the issue is significantly uncertain after looking at the evidence and giving it careful consideration.
    There are no “default gods”. All claims require evidence to support them.
    Most believers happily dismiss (ie. are atheistic towards), all gods and god-myths except their own, but strangely think everyone else should treat the claims of their religion as credible.



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  • Josh.
    . people like jesus, others like darwin. these are both interpretations of reality, different paradigms for understanding reality.

    Once again you’ve proposed a false balance; likelihood of Jesus, 50/50, likelihood that Dawin’s methodology was correct, 50/50. But this is not the case!
    It should be Jesus, highly unlikely, Dawin almost certainly right!

    Perhaps if I could use horse racing as an example. The odds of a favourite horse ( with lots of previous wins, plus good condition) winning a race, are very high so the bookmaker calculates the odds so that in the likely event that the favourite wins the race, he is not out of pocket. The bookmaker understands the odds! The foolish ‘punter’ doesn’t understand this and thinks the unlikely horse has a one in twelve ( or whatever) chance of winning! I ask you, which one of these two people is more likely to have the Rolls parked in the car park?



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  • not really, because there is no race, and possibly no truth to be found. just interpretations of reality.
    if jesus is true for one person or a community, it is true for them, at least psychologically. i did not com up with the 50/50. however, if you look for evidence of things, you can find them. research ufos. there is evidence, but not compelling evidence. ghosts. likewise.

    some philosophers say the mind and brain are the same, others say they are different, if different, where is it? I don’t know the answer to this problem, but i can learn from both.



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  • . Josh. if jesus is true for one person or a community, it is true for them,

    No, I don’t hold with that form of argument. If followed to its ultimate conclusion any misguided, delusional ragbag idea is deserving of respect because the individual believes it to be true. True for them! This could be expressed differently without the use of the word “true”. “Believed” by them perhaps, but the word “true” has connotations for the English speaker that are at odds with the intention of that statement.



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  • Even Nagel thought Fodor hopelessly muddled by his own argument, whilst Nagel himself freely admitted he was offering-

    just the opinion of a layman who reads widely in the literature that explains contemporary science to the nonspecialist.

    His complaints hinge mostly on simple incredulity of the scientific facts and a belief in objective morality, the which is yet to be proved (and never will be 10e5:1). He appeals to the impossibility of evolving and using logic and reason but neglects to note the standard refutations of how our heuristics themselves evolve through greater utility and cultural corroboration into (so far) irrefutable algorithms. It all falls to bits over his introduction of teleology into the subject. Like the earliest minds we have a tendency to think that everything is purposed, that it is there for a reason. Instead of recognising this is an evolved strategy as part of our agency detection, he uses it to derive the conclusions he has already decided upon. Worst of these is the howler that the extraordinary experience of conscious cognitions (the so-called “hard problem”) could not have been evolved towards, which he assumes to be a purpose of evolution. He evokes the concept of (something like) the evolutionary process having a “bias towards the marvellous” failing to realise that our sense of what is marvellous is an evolved entity also derived almost entirely from utility or otherwise of our environment.

    This is poor stuff from someone, almost completely ignorant in the field, afraid for his place in the universe and with a mortgage to pay. Please don’t think this worthy of putting into the balance.



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  • Josh. not really, because there is no race, and possibly no truth to be found. just interpretations of reality.

    I think you’ve misunderstood the intention of my ‘horse racing’ analogy.
    I think chance and probability are the most poorly understood concepts in the community. Lack of understanding in this area can be the cause of much suffering as a result of gambling. Even on a minor scale it’s an area of much faulty thinking. The pregnant woman ‘just feels’ that she’s expecting a boy/girl. Another feels that they’re going to win lotto this week ( because they need the money), forgetting the odds against this being the case. There are a thousand examples.
    As with the odds regarding the existence of any deity, the emotional component has nothing to do with the reality or the chances of it being ‘true’.



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  • look, the main argument against Fodor and Nagel is that they got it wrong. maybe. maybe not. I am not qualified enough to judge, however, it does raise questions about the theory of evolution. enough for there to be a doubt about it. attacking doubters doesn’t make them go away, just as attacking heretics doesn’t make them go away.

    regarding emotional bias, it must be asked also if there are any judgements that are made without emotion? humans are emotional creatures. there might be emotional reasons why atheists are virulently anti-god and religion, reasons to do with relations with ones own father for instance, or being hit by nuns at catholic school or growing up in Saudi arabia or whatever. the atheist rejection of god is as emotional as the christian acceptance of god. another emotional bias in atheism is the presumption of superiority over the believer, the belief that the atheist is cleverer, more intelligent, better read in science etc. hence, Dennett wants to call atheist kids ‘bright’ presumably to contrast them with the religious ‘dullards’.

    with agnosticism is the bliss of not knowing, the freedom to not always be a know it all with all the answers, the clever clogs, to say, I might not know it all, but neither do you, you just think you do, but i dont mind what you think either. its your mind.

    agnosticism is freedom from fixed ideas.

    God exists for those who believe, and not for those who do not. it is a mystery to me.



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  • however, it does raise questions about the theory of evolution. enough for there to be a doubt about it.

    This is the very root of our collective concerns. In areas beyond our expertise we should tend to trust the concensus of the scientific process and those people who use it. Where dismissal is as total as it is for Nagel and Fodor’s musings, we would do well to not waste our time or promote such warrantless ideas.

    In judging there to be a question to answer just on an unqualified questioners say so is exhaustingly time wasting. At least find one mainstream expert to endorse the thing before dabbling.

    Your version of agnosticism seems to be freedom from acquiring useful knowledge at all. You don’t know Nagel and Fodor’s views and you don’t know what they are “refuting”. You are, however, happy there is a “refutation” so you can maintain this fantasy of a freedom to reasonably choose from either side of any question.

    This I propose is the more dogmatic position than, say, accepting from the evidence available, things are sometimes just wrong.



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  • Agreed wholeheartedly. There has to be a fact of the matter. Those of us who serve the public in an educational setting cannot “teach all sides” equally, and I in my research simply cannot give all sides (which would be infinite in number) equal weight. That’s folly, not open-mindedness.



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  • Josh Oct 6, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    not really, because there is no race, and possibly no truth to be found. just interpretations of reality.

    All interpretations can only be viewed as equal by someone equally ignorant of all of them!

    Lets me assure you that in investigating material reality there is a race between thinking processes, and the odds are far from even.

    One the one hand is science with objective methodology and perceptions enhanced by technical equipment giving a macro and micro view, with multi-spectral analysis and multiple independent tests.

    On the other there is backward-facing introspection with eyes closed, thinking about mythological stories!

    No contest!

    if jesus is true for one person or a community, it is true for them, at least psychologically. i did not com up with the 50/50. however, if you look for evidence of things, you can find them. research ufos. there is evidence, but not compelling evidence. ghosts. likewise.

    You are confusing hearsay and speculation with evidence!

    (The Earth is not flat because Flat-Earthists believe it to be so!)

    some philosophers say the mind and brain are the same, others say they are different, if different, where is it? I don’t know the answer to this problem, but i can learn from both.

    You will only learn ignorance from uncritically fudging views from the confused ignorant.

    Who gives a damn about what word-shuffling would-be philosophers or theosophers say?
    Physicists and neuroscientists provide the answers!



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  • Josh Oct 6, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    God exists for those who believe, and not for those who do not.

    Some have the god-delusion in their brains some do not.

    it is a mystery to me.

    It would appear from your comments on evolution, that the science of biology is also a mystery for you! That does not mean it does not exist or provide definitive answers about the working of life.

    with agnosticism is the bliss of not knowing, the freedom to not always be a know it all with all the answers,

    You seem to be confusing “not having ALL of the answers”, with “not having ANY of the answers”!
    Ignorance is indeed bliss – until you try to use it for making critical decisions it in the real world.

    the clever clogs, to say, I might not know it all, but neither do you,

    In the real world there is such a thing as scientific and engineering knowledge. Being competent in using this is NOT being a “clever-clogs”. It is being scientifically educated.

    you just think you do, but i dont mind what you think either. its your mind.

    I think you do mind whenever you use technology or medicine.
    Do you use high-voltage electrical devices, dangerous chemicals, or fly in aeroplanes designed and built by witch-doctors using magic?

    agnosticism is freedom from fixed ideas.

    Nope! That description is just a detachment from concepts of reality. Some ideas work in the real world! Others do not!

    Anyone acting in denial of Newton’s Laws of motion, or the theory of gravity, is likely to come back to reality with a hard bump!



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  • Josh Oct 6, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    with agnosticism is the bliss of not knowing, the freedom to not always be a know it all with all the answers, the clever clogs, to say, I might not know it all, but neither do you, you just think you do,

    You could try telling this to a flight instructor….

    agnosticism is freedom from fixed ideas.

    . . . . and then try to find the airport and land an aircraft, while being “free from any fixed ideas” about which controls operate which systems, or how to use the communications and how to read the instruments!



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  • i think the attitudes amongst the New Atheists mirror those of the Christian fundamentalist movement. Both are trying to win converts to their gospel, whether it be the good news of Christ, or the good news of Darwin, and disbelievers and doubters in these respective gospels are attacked.

    If i get proof of reincarnation, I would believe it, there is 50/50 per cent chance of it being true, i think. you can believe in reincarnation and not believe in god, so in theory, an atheist can still believe in reincarnation. as an agnostic, i am open to this possibility, but also as an agnostic, I do not believe it due to lack of evidence. an atheist writes out reincarnation out of hand without investigation.



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  • Josh. If i get proof of reincarnation, I would believe it, there is 50/50 per cent chance of it being true, i think. you can believe in reincarnation

    What are you saying? There’s a 50/50 chance of reincarnation being true? Where did you get that figure? How does it work ( exactly). An unsubstantiated claim is worth nothing!
    Just because a person is capable of dreaming up some philosophy doesn’t give it a 50/50 chance of legitimacy!



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  • Josh, back to your statement about certain positions being “true” for the people believing them. I’ve heard it described thus; someone may hold the belief that there is no rock in the river on which they’re travelling.( it’s true for them). When their boat crashes on the rock and is torn to shreds, it makes no difference whether it’s existence was true for them or not. The reality of the situation was that the rock was there!
    It may sound like a slick answer, but it’s of no consequence. Reality is not determined by one’s belief or otherwise.



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  • If I get proof of fairies I will believe in them. You don’t understand, proof is everything for those for whom rational thought, evidence and corroboration matters. This is what proof is.

    Atheists have no gospel, but many atheists are also generally skeptics and accept the scientific method as the best means of understanding the world and managing the faultiness of cognitions. Not all though.

    Being open to the billion possibilities that may actually exist out there could be very time consuming unless you prioritise their probabilities.



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  • If i get proof of reincarnation, I would believe it, there is 50/50
    per cent chance of it being true

    If you believe it is 50/50 Josh, would you be as comfortable telling a person who believes it to be 100% true that they too could be wrong?



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  • Hi Josh. The title of the journal says it all; it’s pure pseudoscience! Look at the other articles…Proof of Past Lives. Really!! Anyone is entitled to write anything, but it’s hardly ‘peer reviewed’ in a respected journal. It’s tosh, written for the eyes of gullible readers.

    Are you a student? Perhaps you’re running ideas up the flagpole to gauge the response?



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  • Josh. I do understand where you’re coming from in respect to atheists trying to win over converts just like the religious. It should not be so, but it is. I plead guilty to this failing (online,) though it’s not something I do in my everyday encounters ( well, not very often and with absolutely no success). I do like to score a point or two in debate, however.
    Mostly, I figure that a grown up is entitled to their own ideas, however irrational they may seem to me. On the other hand I certainly stand up for myself when an attempt is being made towards my conversion.



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  • do only things that appear in ‘ respected peer reviewed journals’ be considered true? as i see it, reincarnation is an ancient belief found in many cultures around the world, with some, though not conclusive evidence for.

    Mainstream science has its own bias and interests. or to put it another way, you cannot disprove reincarnation, so it may be true, altho it hasn’t been proved either. if we do not know what the origin of consciousness is, then how can we say that we know what happens to consciousness after we die. I like to think that my old pet cat, which died when i was boy, has been reincarnated, but i;m not sure. i had an out of body experience once, after I ingested some, erm, herbal substances a few years ago. So, I can understand where the reincarnation people are coming from, and the out of body experience are coming from. It is not easy to dismiss as pseudo science and therefore bullshit. there is some truth to it, and esp, psi etc.

    there is some scientific proof for psi. i think. see Dean Radin and Rupert Sheldrake.



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  • Josh. There is so much in the comment above with which to disagree. Unfortunately I just lost a lengthy reply when my screen ‘froze’. Perhaps it’s a sign ( ha ha!)
    I’ll be brief. Sheldrake: held in very low regard. ( I think he was banned from TED).
    Consciousness from a dead brain? I think not. Show me evidence.
    Respected scientific journals vs popular pseudoscience journals. No contest.
    Strange brain states after ingesting mind altering drugs: go easy on those because the confusion could be permanent.



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  • do only things that appear in ‘ respected peer reviewed journals’ be considered true?

    Yes. This is the highest standard of proof in society.

    Mainstream science has its own bias and interests.

    No. It has information, data, analysis and conclusions which can be, and is checked during the peer review process so while some scientist may have bias, they are soon exposed as frauds.

    you cannot disprove reincarnation

    No. Just like you can’t disprove god or the flying spaghetti monster, or Phil’s favourite, fairies at the bottom of the garden. To be unable to disprove anything, is not evidence that that something exists or is true.

    i had an out of body experience once, after I ingested some, erm, herbal substances a few years ago.

    You were stoned and hallucinating. That’s what “Herbal Substances” do.

    It is not easy to dismiss as pseudo science and therefore bullshit. there is some truth to it, and esp, psi etc.

    Yes it is. No evidence. No belief. That’s why its called Pseudo Science. Pseudo is defined as not genuine; sham



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  • Josh Oct 7, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    You don’t seem to have a reply for the flight instructor who tells you defined procedures on how to navigate, fly and land an aircraft, – and don’t seem to understand that opinions based on ignorance or fancy, are not equivalent to expert opinion based on objective testing.

    i think the attitudes amongst the New Atheists mirror those of the Christian fundamentalist movement.

    That would be because you show no idea of understanding how science works, despite earlier explanations.

    “This person says the Earth is flat. This astronaut says the Earth is global. As a “moderate” person with an open mind like a bucket with no lid (and no “fixed ideas”), a good mix would be to believe the Earth is saucer shaped like a discus!” – If fudging viewpoints is the only thinking process you can manage!

    Both are trying to win converts to their gospel, whether it be the good news of Christ, or the good news of Darwin, and disbelievers and doubters in these respective gospels are attacked.

    Science attacks and debunks flawed ideas, using EVIDENCE, MATHEMATICS and REASONING which have been independently checked and re-checked many times.
    It also accurately describes how things work in the real world.
    Fundamentalists just attack anyone who disagrees with their dogmatic preconceptions.
    You really should learn the difference.

    If i get proof of reincarnation, I would believe it, there is 50/50 per cent chance of it being true,

    No there isn’t!
    You think that, because you have no about the biology of death, or the physics of energy transfers, and have no idea how to calculate probabilities.
    You just make a wild guesses based on “fudge in the middle”, between viewpoints – rather like a motorist who when the SAT-Nav says turn right, and the old map says turn left, – compromises and goes straight ahead through the hedge because he has no idea which (if any) direction is correct.
    Indecision based on ignorance, is not a virtue when evidence is readily available.

    I think. you can believe in reincarnation and not believe in god, so in theory, an atheist can still believe in reincarnation. as an agnostic,

    Some atheist Buddhists do believe in reincarnation, but that adds nothing to validate the claim.



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  • Josh Oct 7, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    take a look at this:
    http://reluctant-messenger.com/reincarnation-proof.htm

    Dr. Ian Stevenson’s scientific proof for reincarnation. He is a medical doctor by training. Well, what do you think of that? not 100 proof, but some evidence.

    Just because some quack magazine quotes some ancient writings from a psychiatrist who went nutty about reincarnation years ago, and calls his writings “scientific data”, that does not make them “scientific data” or his methodology science!

    @your link – Born in Montreal on October 31, 1918, Ian Stevenson was the son of a Scottish lawyer, John Stevenson. A writer at heart, the elder Stevenson became chief correspondent in Ottawa for Times of London. His wife, Ruth Preston Stevenson, had an extensive library on psychic phenomena.
    . . . .. . .
    . . . . . .Wrote Dr. Harold Lief in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases: – “Either he is making a colossal mistake, or he will be known as the Galileo of the twentieth century.”

    This interview was published in 1988

    I think the experts of the medical world have had plenty of time since 1988, to decide if he was the wonder of the 20th. century, or just making a fool of himself wasting his life on a colossal mistake!



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  • Josh Oct 7, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    do only things that appear in ‘ respected peer reviewed journals’ be considered true?

    Peer-reviewed journals have articles repeatedly independently checked and retested by competent people, comments on errors published and mistakes pointed out if they are found.

    Pseudo-science magazines just make stuff up, make it sound plausible to the uneducated, and try to find some old refuted claims in out-of-date science papers which look like they support their viewpoints.
    Most scientists just laugh at their claims, as many of the claims could be refuted by schoolchildren using basic textbooks.



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  • i had an out of body experience once, after I ingested some, erm,
    herbal substances a few years ago.
    .

    I too have had an “out of body” experience Josh but it was not because of herbal substances but of an illness and a fever. I was given my medication in the morning before my wife left for work. Sometime after my brother in law came round with a bowl of my mums lentil soup. I ate it and he left. Some time after that, I woke up with an acid stomach, something that always happens to me after eating this particular soup. As my brain began to clear, I started to wonder how my brother in law had gotten into the house. I could taste the soup and had acid so it must have happened. But it hadn’t. The truth is that my medication had given me the acid stomach and my hunger had caused me to dream about food and my illness gave me my mums soup I used to have when I was ill as a child. Comfort in my fevered state. The taste, when I bothered to reboot my tastebuds, was that of medicine and an empty stomach. My brother in law was part of it because….it was his favourite soup and I always associated it with him because he ate until he nearly burst and it gave him stomach problems too. All you have to do is stand back and access the situation and the truth will out.

    I have also experience mass hysteria in that a group of us saw a “Ghost”. It was in my late teens and we had gone to a grave yard on halloween night. We were already tense because word had got out that cars where breaking down outside this graveyard in their dozens. We took the back way in through a golf course. We snuck over a high wall and entered the graveyard hiding behind gravestones. Suddenly one of the girls shouted “Look, a ghost” and as we looked in the direction she was pointing, we all at one saw a figure in white running towards us about four feet in the air and about twenty feet away. We froze. It took a few seconds to realise this figure was running at us but it never got any closer. It ran and it ran. One of my friends who was nearest to this abomination suddenly got up and started waving his arms at this thing and at that point our vision seemed to come back into focus and we realised it was an optical illusion caused by the moon shining through a large tree behind us and, as the leaves moved in the slight wind it created this effect. It was really amazing the way this tree did this and was far more interesting that it made us all see the same thing because when focused properly it looked nothing like a figure in white running towards us. That was more fascinating for me.

    So when you question reality, well….Reality is the focus and the rest is just the fuzziness that makes people see things.



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  • Do you believe in Zeus? If not, why not? If you are not positive, what is the reasonable source of your doubts? Determine what basic principle is at work here and apply as needed.

    This works for me.



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  • Hi Olgun. I’ve had a similar out-of-body experience with a fever and I’ve mentioned in these comments a couple of times in the past. IMO it means nothing except that the mind can play tricks. Nothing supernatural about it, just all in keeping with the chemistry of our brain.
    I liked my ‘rock in the water’ analogy because it exemplifies the total lack of relevance our indivual perceptions have when considering reality.
    50/50 evidence for reincarnation? Bah, humbug!



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  • . Hi Alan. Pseudoscience magazines just make stuff up.

    That’s my objection too. The writers are not answerable to anyone! They can say what they like, make up examples galore and have people believe they’re telling the truth. No reputable studies cited; no-one on the sidelines to verify their outrageous claims. Emotive, baseless claims designed to engage with our love of mystery.
    Give me the evidence. The claim for a 50/50 likelihood of a physical phenomena is testable. A number has been given and should be able to be backed up. I actually think that the 50/50 business simply refers to the true/false nature of the claim. This drives me mad!



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  • Nitya Oct 8, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    I actually think that the 50/50 business simply refers to the true/false nature of the claim.

    A 50/50 perception, is just a middle position in the mind of someone who has no idea about either stated position – or any of the other possibilities which do not even cross their minds.
    It has absolutely nothing to do with evidence based calculations of probability!

    It is the false dichotomy of “Pascal’s Wager” in a mind where the possibility of odds involving choosing from numerous gods does not even occur!



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  • Josh Oct 7, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    Mainstream science has its own bias and interests.

    WRONG!!!!

    Mainstream science has its methodology for eliminating bias and individual interests by transparent multiple independent checking.

    It is pseudo-science which starts with preconceptions and assembles verbosity and obfuscation into circular thinking, so as to appear like deductive reasoning and con those who lack training in logic.



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  • Hi Olgun. I’ve had a similar out-of-body experience with a fever and
    I’ve mentioned in these comments a couple of times in the past. IMO it
    means nothing except that the mind can play tricks. Nothing
    supernatural about it, just all in keeping with the chemistry of our
    brain.

    I agree and hope that is what came out of my story. I find these experiences much more interesting than any story that religion can throw out. How the mind works is fascinating and when it pulls little tricks, like that of my experience, and you can actually put the pieces together, its quite exhilarating. Dreams are very personal and only the person having them can truly explain them and I have great fun doing so. Well, mostly.



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