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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Every now and then I think it’s a good idea to rehash the reasons why I write, and why I am “open” about my lack of theistic beliefs. Just why do I run The Skeptical Magician Blog, and what is my end goal? What do I hope to accomplish in my writing, and what do I expect or want people to take away from reading it?

It might be a good idea to start with why I am open about my lack of belief in the existence of gods. First and foremost, I am open because it is relatively safe for me to be open. For some people this is not the case. History as well as present day is filled with examples of individuals who have lost their families, their livelihoods, and their lives because they did not fit within what was considered by many to be the expected religious framework of society. Now, I’ve had my share of headaches and hassles from time to time as a result of what amounts to being honest with people, but these are all storms that I am able to weather relatively well. As a member of the non-theistic community, one becomes quickly aware of how this is not the case for many who have endured mental, emotional, and physical abuse as a result of them making known (or it being discovered) that they do not share the religious beliefs of friends or family. My being open about my lack of belief makes it easier for others to be open about their lack of belief, and it helps them to realize they are not alone in their doubts. It is also important for me to be open about my lack of belief so that others can see that skeptics/agnostics/atheists/non-theists/etc. are not the boogeymen that they were warned about in church. We don’t worship Satan (we don’t believe in him either), we don’t eat babies, and we’re not evil. We are simply people who disagree with others when it comes to metaphysical claims.

So, what do I hope to accomplish with my writing? Well, I would have to say that I have a couple of goals/reasons for writing. The first is that it was only a little over 2.5 years ago that I really started to critically examine my (Christian) beliefs, and as I began to examine my doubts I found myself thinking, “Am I the only person who’s ever considered this?” when I considered one thing or another. After compiling a pretty good list of these issues I went in search online, and of course discovered that I was far from original in my questions/observations (with a couple of exceptions). However, if those doubters hadn’t bothered to share their ideas, then questioners like me would have felt even more in the wilderness than what I did. Instead I discovered that I wasn’t alone, and not feeling alone is important, which is why it’s important for me to write. That way I can be one more voice among many saying, “Yep. We were in your shoes once too, and while the journey isn’t easy – it is far richer, and far more rewarding when you take the time to critically examine your beliefs and think freely without the fear of divine punishment to stifle your questions.” My second reason is to hopefully get people to think a little more critically about their beliefs and the positions they hold. I’m under no illusion that someone is going to read one blog post and instantly change their mind, but I at least hope to get them to think, “Wow – I never considered that before. I’m going to need to think on this a little further.”

Sometimes people mistakenly think that atheists like myself are “cramming our lack of belief” down the throats of others, and this really isn’t the case. I don’t go knocking on doors on a Saturday afternoon spreading the “good news of atheism” door-to-door. However, I do have thoughts and positions on issues that I make known from time-to-time here, or on Facebook, or wherever else, and if people really don’t want to know what I think, then they obviously don’t have to read what I write. What can be frustrating at times for me, however, is when someone states something in a public forum and I ask some challenging questions and suddenly become the bad guy when they are not able to defend what they’ve written. I freely welcome critique to that which I put forward, and while it would be nice if others felt the same way, this seems to seldom be the case. I’m of the mindset that one of the best ways for me to discover if I’m wrong is to have a good conversation with someone I disagree with.

I think that will about wrap it up. If I keep at it I just might actually get back on some sort of regular blogging schedule now that I’m done with school. Maybe that will be my next blog post: An atheist graduates from a Catholic university. Yeah, that might be a good one to tackle. 🙂

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A few weeks back my wife and I received a letter from someone in the mail who we don’t know personally, but who knows someone else we know. Apparently this individual became aware that my wife and I were “not saved” and felt compelled to send us a letter. She asked that we read it to the end (which we did), and that if we got nothing from it we should wad it up and throw it away. I’ll say this – we certainly got something from the letter – but I’m sure it wasn’t what she was hoping we would get. What follows is the letter, though I’ve made an effort to conceal the identity of the person by changing names, places, jobs, etc. I’ve included the letter in its entirety to show that my comments that follow after it are not mischaracterizing or misconstruing what she had written.

You don’t know me but I know Mark and Carol. My name is Margaret Smith and I am sending this letter to share a little of my story with you for no other reason. All I ask is that you read it to the end… after that wad it up and throw it away if you get nothing from it.

My husband and I raised our children as most couples do. We tried very hard to teach children respect for themselves and others and to take pride in working hard and being honest. Our kids were in 4-H and, as parents, John and I were very involved. We served on the 4-H council, we were administrative leaders for our club and I was a co-superintendent for the pig project at the county fair. Our kids also played hockey and we spent many weekends in hotels and on the road to games and tournaments. We had a small flock of goats and raised a few lamas, pigs, and chickens. The kids worked hard taking care of them, and we have some wonderful memories. Our lives were pretty much centered on raising our children to become responsible productive adults and we thought we did a pretty good job.

Both John and I worked 40+ hours per week and we were able to provide for our family fairly well. Time went by and our children graduated from high school and proceeded on to college. For reasons that you will understand later I’m going to concentrate mostly on Tommy [their son] from this point on.

Tommy attended the lawful citizen academy before he graduated from high school and followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming an auxiliary EMS and a member of the Army National Guard. He worked with a small township ambulance company for around 4 years. He attended college and received his associates degree  before transferring to a large university. He graduated with honors in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. When he returned home he became a full-time police officer with the city department. Tommy had a heart of gold and never met a stranger. He worked very hard and had his whole life ahead of him. He was engaged to his high school sweetheart and they were set to be married in August of 2002.

All of his plans changed on May 15, 2001. The spring of 2001 had been very warm. One of his friends from the police department decided to put their dock in early and Tommy and a few others took the day to help him. They had spent the majority of that day working on the dock and drinking. Tommy fell asleep at the wheel on the way home that night and crossed over the center line. He hit another car head on and he and the 2 teenagers in the other care were killed instantly. Our life fell apart. As hard as it was to go on without Tommy, there was one thing that was even harder. You see, Tommy had never been baptized and I did not know whether or not he had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior. When they came to our door that night to tell us that Tommy would never be coming home again the first thing that I thought was, “is he going to go to heaven?” We thought we had done a wonderful job raising our children but we had neglected to do the ONE thing that would make the most difference in their lives. Although we had sporadically attended a church here and there, and I had talked to them a little about God, we had not properly introduced them to our Savior Jesus Christ and taught them HIS word. And for Tommy, it was too late! It has been 12 years and for those 12 years I have been filled with regret. There is nothing I can do to change it now.

Local Community Church and all of my wonderful brothers and sisters in Chist have helped me understand that God loves me and I am forgiven through the blood that Jesus Christ shed for me on the cross, but what about Tommy? All I can do is pray that God will not hold my mistake against my son and that somewhere along the road he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior and asked for forgiveness for his sins.

I just wanted to share this with you. I pray that you never suffer the loss of a child, but more importantly, I pray that if you do you will never have to struggle with regret about whether or not they were saved. God put it on my heart that I send this to you. You may throw it away and never think of it again or do whatever you wish with it. I just felt the need to share my story with you. May God bless ou and your family.

Love in Christ, Margaret Smith

Poison.

Christianity is a poison to this woman and she calls it a medicine, and encourages my wife and I to drink it down too. Not only that, but she wants me to feed it to my children. Now, I’ve been accused of being an emotionless scientific robot before, but I’m going to have a bit of an emotional response here… I would have to be completely out of my fricking mind to teach my children to embrace a system of belief that has lead to this woman being filled with that sort of regret for the last 12 years of her life!!!

Why in the heck would I indoctrinate my kids to believe something that brings about a constant state of emotional and mental turmoil for this woman??? She raises her children to to be honest, respectful, hard-working individuals – and by her account her son was this – and the god she said she loves and serves is going to toss him into a burning lake of fire because he didn’t believe the right thing, or say the right magical prayer of repentance before he died??? What’s the harm in Christianity???? It’s right here!!!! It’s bad enough this poor woman loses her son, but now she gets to spend the rest of her life tormented by the thought of her son burning in hell forever, and if she’s right – watching him burn in hell forever!!!! Jesus – “the god who loves you so much that he made hell just in case you don’t love him back!”

I pity this woman more than you can know. I feel so terribly bad for her – both for losing her son – and for having to endure the constant feelings of guilt because she didn’t teach him to love the cosmic Hitler that she believes has tossed him into an oven that never stops burning. I’m glad that all of the evidence points to that god as not existing, but if he did, he’d be one more monstrous dictator worth standing up to and fighting against.

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The ruling dictator of a county cooks people in an oven for a relatively short amount of time and people call him a monster. The purported ruling dictator of the Universe cooks people in an oven forever – and people call for his praise and adoration, demanding that he be worshiped. It’s interesting how ramping torture up to a cosmic level suddenly makes it virtuous.

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I recently finished up a philosophy class called, Technology and the Human Condition, and for our final paper we had to write about whether or not we would want to live forever in a young body if science made it possible. It was a fun topic to write on, and I thought I’d share my thoughts on it here.  Enjoy…

As Long As There Are Still Questions

Everyone says they want to live forever – at least most people do. Entire religions are built around the idea that you can live forever if you just adhere to their teachings. Of course, you have to die before you get the opportunity to experience immortality, and there really isn’t any way to cash in on that whole “eternal life in a perfect body” thing until your dead. This, of course, is a huge buzzkill to a lot of people who would like to experience living forever in the here-and-now, instead of in a hereafter that nobody is sure even exists. However, what if science could deliver eternal life in a young body – now? Would I want it? Would I want to live forever in a young body? The short answer is a tentative, “Yes – as long as there are still questions that need to be answered.” (more…)

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Let me start off by saying that while I appreciate the willingness of people like Rob Bell or Brian McClaren to re-evaluate some of Christianity’s most despicable traditional positions on things like eternal punishment, they are far from orthodox, and I don’t think their positions hold up to interpretive scrutiny.   I was discussing Rob Bell’s book Love Wins recently with some nice chaps who happen to be believers, and that discussion prompted me to write a little on the issue of a “2nd chance” after death for belief, which is one of the main ideas Bell puts forward in the book.

The whole idea of a 2nd chance goes like this… You’re someone who has not accepted Jesus for whatever reason in this life and you die.  Once you die, you’re face to face with Jesus who says, “Guess what — you were wrong, but you can accept and believe in me now, and I’ll welcome you into heaven.”  Faced with Jesus after death, Bell supposes everyone who did not accept him in life will get the glorious opportunity of accepting him in death once they’re faced with the truth.  That’s what a merciful god would do right?  There’s only one problem with this idea, and it’s not something a Christian is likely to see unless the story is changed a little bit…

Let’s say you’re a Christian (if you happen to be one then you won’t have to pretend as hard), and as happens to everyone — you eventually die.  You take a trip down the tunnel with the light, and at the end you are faced with the throne of the Almighty.  This supreme and magnificent being looks down upon you and says, “In life you blasphemed Allah by claiming his servant Jesus was his son, and indeed a god himself.  There is no god, but me, Allah, and Mohammad is my true prophet.  I am merciful, however, and all you have to do is reject this Jesus as your king and god, and I will usher you into eternal paradise.”  Would you do it?  Would you reject what you had lived your whole life as a lie to embrace the real truth, or would you think this was perhaps one last test to get into heaven?  I’m pretty sure the Muslim would think it was a test or deception if the roles were reversed, just like you would likely do in this situation.

While the idea of a 2nd chance after death may seem good on the surface, ultimately it just does not work, at least not for the “true believers” of the varied religious traditions.  So, as much as Rob Bell would like to say that ultimately Love Wins in this way, when explored just a bit further, it’s easy to see why love (as described by Bell) actually…loses.

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Sam Harris has a new book due out on March 6th called, Free Will, which is about (you may have guessed it) free will, or in reality, the lack there of.  I’ve got my copy on pre-order ($3.99 for Kindle Version), and it should be delivered to my Kindle the day it comes out.  If you think you have free will, I would encourage you to read it, but if you don’t, the choice wasn’t yours to begin with.  😉

Many people are disturbed by the idea that they do not have free will, though I don’t think they should be.  Like any other bit of knowledge gained that challenges previously held thoughts, beliefs, and convictions – reality itself did not change, only your awareness of it did.  When people discovered the earth was round, it did not therefore mean it was flat before their change in perspective.  They simply made a discovery that gave them a more accurate view of their place and position in the universe.  Learning that free will is an illusion is no different.

Some individuals are concerned with potential social impacts as a result of people being aware that they do not have free will.  The philosopher Daniel Dennett is one such person, who has criticized neuroscientists like Sam Harris for writing books that show free will to be an illusion.  He considers it reckless, and is concerned that people will use it as an excuse for antisocial and destructive behavior.  Instead of “The devil made me do it,” he’s concerned people will say, “My brain made me do it.”  I think his fears are for the most part unwarranted, but also understandable.  Human beings are seldom worried about their own actions in given situations, but are almost always worried about what “the other guy” will do.  While there may be people who latch onto a deterministic view as an excuse for their misdeeds, I think for the most part, people in general will be quite reasonable, and their behavior is not likely to change for the worse.  I’m hoping Sam will address and respond to some of these concerns and criticisms from people like Dennett in the book, and possibly alleviate understandable, but ultimately unwarranted fears.

Again, I highly encourage you to pick up Sam’s new book when it comes out in March.  If you believe you have free will currently, I’m sure Sam will challenge you a great deal on that belief.  In the meantime, you can watch the video below as an introduction of sorts to get you thinking, and possibly entice you to pick up the book if you weren’t planning on doing so already.

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