« January 2016 | Main | March 2016 »

Friday, February 26, 2016

Answering Some Questions About Atheism

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismThis entry is another I've recycled from Quora, but unlike all of my previous recycled Quora material, this one comes from the comment thread to one of my answers, and isn't the answer itself. The Quora question was What questions (and answers to these questions) led you to become an atheist, or to denounce your belief in religion?. If that sounds familiar, it's because it was the subject of a blog entry of the same name not too long ago. Just recently, someone left a reply with a series of questions. I responded in that thread, but figured that since these are someone common questions from religious people, I'd repost them here on the blog. The person who posted these questions has followed up with a few more, which I plan to answer on Quora, but the new questions, in my opinion, aren't as interesting or informative, so I don't plan to re-post them here. Still, if you want to follow along with more of this discussion, go check it out on Quora.

1.I don't get it why people always say that God is only to explain the unknown. God is the source of the unknown and the known. i.e. why is that drinking water quenches your thirst, while drinking oil will not? How is that water has the water-ness, if you say because its made of H2O, then how is that H2O has its H2O-ness?

There is an Arabic saying from Ali: camel crap* leads you to a camel, a building leads you to an architect, how is it not that a whole universe with such delicacy in its creation shall not have a creator/architect?

We have countless examples of camel crap*, and can use that experience as a great predictor of where a newfound piece of crap came from. Likewise for buildings - we have lots of experience seeing buildings coming from architects. We only have one universe, and so don't have any experience to draw from to say where universes come from.

To add to that - canyons come from erosion. Snowflakes come from freezing water molecules. Rivers come from water flowing downhill. We have plenty of examples of 'things' that form without conscious creators. Why require a conscious creator for the universe? (Then there's also the standard question of who created the creator? A creator creator? Is it turtles all the way down?)

Also, I wouldn't say people always use God to explain the unknown, but God of the gaps arguments are pretty common. And reading through a book like Genesis really does seem like a collection of just-so stories.

2.We as humans have wisdom...and an accident or bing bang is wisdom-less to create us--humans who have intellect. For us to be created by something that doesn't have wisdom is as if a robot would create something that has life from it's own robotical tissue( birth, sickness, fear, love, hatred, pain, anger, sex, death, etc.)whatever created us must have had wisdom as well or perhaps even a higher level of wisdom.

You're making an unfounded assumption. Evolution is a fact, and explains perfectly well how we evolved to become intelligent without an intelligence guiding the process. (Please don't tell me that you reject evolution.)

Even from a gut feel, I just don't understand this. Which makes more sense - that our universe had rather simple beginnings and over eons and eons the interaction between all this matter gradually led to increasing complexity, until eventually evolution produced organisms as intelligent as us; or that the very first thing to exist was a super-intelligent, super-complex, super-powerful being that just was out of nothing? Does the second answer really seem more satisfying?

And like I pointed out in response to your first question, if something with wisdom or intellect requires a creator with wisdom or intellect, does that creator then require a meta-creator with wisdom and intellect? And then does that meta-creator require a meta-meta creator? And on and on. Obviously, both of us accept that something with wisdom and intellect can come about without a prior being with wisdom and intellect that created it.

3.We as humans have free-will, and again that is beyond the level of reach of an accident or bing bang, whatever created us must have had free-will as well. Or perhaps even a higher level of free-will

I reject your premise - I don't think humans have free-will in the sense that most people understand that term.

4.I can not imagine a God who is not just, this is probably the only point where you took it too far! I think you have read too much of Zeus and Hades. :|

Many people believe in unjust gods, even if they're unwilling to admit it. Any god that would massacre every last man, woman, and child on Earth other than one family doesn't sound particularly just to me. Neither does infinite punishment in response to a finite life.

5.Do you only believe what you see? Do you see jealousy? joy? Karma? love? pain? Do you see hope? Do you see luck? Do you believe in good and bad? right and wrong? [None of these are scientific]

Do you believe that working making money with your own money and working with money stolen from orphans are same and there are no scientific outcomes when you steal from orphans?

I try my best to only accept as objectively true things for which there is sufficient evidence. There is plenty of evidence of jealousy, joy, love, pain, and hope. They're emotional states of people (and perhaps other animals). My personal experience is evidence enough for me that I feel them, and the actions of other people around me is strong enough evidence to convince me that those people experience the same emotions. Karma in any type of cosmic sense is something I haven't seen evidence for. Luck is just a word we use to describe good things happening outside our own control. Good, bad, right, and wrong are similar to the other emotions I already talked about. They exist in people's minds as subjective feelings, and we can see evidence that people have these feelings. They do not exist objectively outside of that.

I don't understand the point about scientific outcomes from stealing from orphans. Since science deals only with the objective (and not morality), of course there are scientific outcomes - the orphans have less of whatever was stolen from them. If you're looking for a moral judgment, then science isn't the right place to look. Instead try philosophy, like secular humanism.

6.Other than Christianity disapproving homosexuality, did it provide any reason? [ you can ask me a single question and I can give you 100 different answers. My point is how do you conclude such easily]

CARM.org - What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

7.Did you try any other priest? Or you just said 'I'm done with all religions'? HOW can you be sure that there is no out there that has an answer to your questions?

I did try a few different Christian sects. I also read a bit about a few other religions. But honestly, without being indoctrinated into religions from childhood, most don't seem to have any compelling reasons to accept them. Do I really have to examine all 4200 of the world's religions to say I'm reasonably sure none of them are true, even though atheism seems to fit so well with the evidence I've seen? If so, are religious people under the same obligation to examine all 4200 of those religions to be sure that they've chosen the right one?

8.Why is that people always challenge religion, but never challenge atheism? Isn't atheism identical to that of religion which also requires to be challenged? If you are challenging then go out and read about other sects/doctrines/approaches...

First of all, the onus is on a person making a positive claim to back up that claim with evidence. If you claim that something exists (gods, souls, afterlives, demons, fairies, unicorns, leprechauns, etc.), then it's up to you to provide evidence for your claim. Otherwise, it can simply be dismissed along with all the other myths people have dreamt up over the millennia.

Second of all, you must interact with a very different community than the ones I interact with. Here's just the very first result that came back from Google when I searched 'atheism is wrong', 7 Things Atheists Get Wrong About God. And believe me, there were a lot more results than just that one. It's also not as if Americans have very positive feelings about atheists, as revealed by several public opinion polls (e.g. How Americans Feel About Religious Groups). In my experience, atheism gets challenged plenty. (And rightly so from a skeptical perspective, even if I think most of the challenges against atheism are unconvincing. We still need to examine the reasons why we believe things and always be open to changing our minds given new evidence.)

*Actually, camel 'crap' wasn't the term used, but I've had this site blocked a few times by network admins who had set up prudish firewalls, so I went with the PG term on the blog.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Ken Ham to Bring About Destruction of Kentucky

Gustave Doré's The Confusion of TonguesOkay, maybe Ken Ham isn't really going to bring about the destruction of Kentucky, but I do find this amusing. I just read an article, Noah's Ark takes shape in Grant County, describing Ham's biblically themed amusement park, the Ark Encounter. As the headline and name of the park suggest, the centerpiece is a life-sized 'reconstruction' of the ark. Of course, 'reconstruction' is a pretty fanciful term for a mythical item. Anyway, what I found so amusing is that the article mentions how one of the next stages of the park might be a reconstruction of the Tower of Babel (I saw this confirmed in an older article - Ken Ham's Latest Plans: Solomon's Temple and the Tower of Babel). Is Ham so sure he wants to do that? Last time mankind supposedly tried to build the tower, God was none too happy about it. You'd think a Biblical literalist like Ham would be a little more reluctant to poke God in the eye like that.

Related Entries:

Image Source: Wikipedia

Friday, February 19, 2016

What Would Technologically Advanced Aliens Be Like

Alien Clip ArtRecently, I came across various versions of the question that's the title of this post, such as this Popular Mechanics article, What Would Aliens Actually Look Like? We Asked 7 Experts, and multiple Quora questions (Would aliens look humanoid and if so, why?, What are the odds that if aliens exist, they would look like how they are portrayed in science fiction?, What might alien life look like?, Is it possible that aliens look like humans?, and What do aliens look like?). People's responses range from thoughtful to idiotic (even in the Popular Mechanics article among so called experts). But, it's an intriguing question, so I thought I'd give it a go at an answer.

First of all, I'm focusing specifically on intelligent, technological alien life. Just a look at all the varied life forms that exist and have existed on this planet shows all the crazy paths life can take, from giant sequoias to mantis shrimp to sponges to pterodactyls to clams to flying fish to dolphins to snakes to bombardier beetles to mushrooms to ants to Venus fly traps to amoebas to orchids to cuttlefish... There are seemingly endless ways to go about the business of survival and reproduction. But the type of intelligence and body that can produce technology is something a bit more specific, and perhaps something where I can conjecture a bit more constructively.

Venus Fly Trap Cuttlefish Amoeba Mantis Shrimp
Click any image to embiggen. All above images from Wikimedia Commons.

To be clear, I'm not saying it's likely that we'll ever discover technologically advanced aliens. In fact, I think it's distinctly unlikely. Life existed on this planet as solely single-celled life for billions of years. And even after multicellular life appeared, it was nearly another billion years before us humans evolved with our technologically advanced civilization. And our civilization has only been around for mere thousands of years - note even a drop in the bucket compared to the total history of life on this planet. This entry is looking at the prerequisites to developing technologically advanced life.

One thing to keep in mind is that, just like on Earth, aliens, or at least their original natural form if they've entered into a realm of genetic engineering or artificial intelligence, are going to be the products of evolution, just like us. And we know from the way evolution works here, that it doesn't produce anything miraculous. Sure, there are very, very interesting forms that have evolved. But evolution is limited by contingency, and every feature of an organism is a tradeoff between advantages and disadvantages, not least of which is the nutrition needed to grow and maintain that feature. And everything everywhere is still governed by the same natural laws - physics, chemistry, etc. So we shouldn't expect aliens to have any 'superpowers' relative to what's seen on this planet - no magic levitation abilities, no telekinesis, no telepathy, no absurdly strong muscles, etc. And we shouldn't expect features that are nearly impossible to imagine evolving in a stepwise manner, like wheeled axles. Aliens will be organisms that evolved naturally to fit a niche.

With the caveats out of the way, let's start at the most basic level, first. Aliens will most likely use carbon based chemistry. Carbon simply offers the richest chemistry of any element in the periodic table. To quote Wikipedia, "The most important characteristics of carbon as a basis for the chemistry of life are, that it has four valence bonds, that the energy required to make or break a bond is at an appropriate level for building molecules, which are stable and reactive. Because carbon atoms bond readily to other carbon atoms allows for the building of arbitrarily long complex molecules and polymers." In fact, many of the building blocks of life, such amino acids, have been found naturally occurring in non-biological conditions, such as in comets. The fact that these basic building blocks will spontaneously form given the right conditions certainly suggests that they could be present in some primordial body of water and, given further appropriate conditions, give rise to life. About the only other element with a chance of being the basis for life is silicon, but its chemistry isn't as rich as carbon's, and nobody has yet found the type of naturally occurring large molecules and polymers with silicon as what occurs with carbon.

Alien life will more than likely have some type of long chain molecule (a polymer) similar to DNA. There can be lots of interesting chemistry without this type of molecule, but probably not to the same complexity, and not with the same basis for duplication with slight mutations that's the foundation of evolution. But that DNA like molecule need not necessarily be DNA. In an interview for the Guardian article, DNA alternative created by scientists, Phillip Holliger, who's studied alternatives to DNA, stated, "There is nothing Goldilocks about DNA and RNA. There is no overwhelming functional imperative for genetic systems or biology to be based on these two nucleic acids." Holliger has created and studied alternative polymers, collectively known as XNAs. Perhaps one of these would be the basis for alien life.

Moving past the basic level, I'm going to jump quite a bit ahead in the aliens' evolution. They'll almost surely be terrestrial. As I said before, keep in mind that we're focusing on technologically advanced, not just intelligent. You can certainly have intelligent animals evolve in any environment (e.g. dolphins). But it's hard to imagine how advanced technology could develop in an aquatic habitat. For one thing, so much of our technological development has hinged on fire, from cooking, to smelting metals, to combustion engines, etc. Without fire as an energy source, it's hard to see how many of those technologies could have been developed. Then there's materials science and chemistry. In a terrestrial environment, it's easy to isolate solids and liquids in different containers, allowing chemistry to get started. How do you isolate liquids when you're underwater.

The overall size of the aliens would probably be in the ballpark of us, but would depend an awful lot on the specifics of the planet they're from. As a first cut, we can probably say that they wouldn't be much smaller than us. Being smart takes a certain amount of raw brain power, and brain power that can be devoted to general intelligence, not just the normal 'housekeeping' chores of processing nerve impulses or controlling organs. There's no telling just how exactly an alien brain would work, but assuming that it's about as efficient as the brains that have evolved on this planet, it will be proportionately sized to the organism. For example, a spider will never be as smart as a person, because it's just too small to have a brain big enough to do the job. To have a brain big enough to have a high level of intelligence, the aliens will have to be reasonably sized. As far as an upper limit on size, that's probably going to be very specific to the planet and the organisms' physiology. On this planet, gravity and the square cube law place upper limits on how big terrestrial organisms can get. If aliens came from a planet with lower gravity, they could probably grow larger. But even on this planet, humans are nowhere near the upper limit for how big terrestrial animals can get. The largest land mammals ever probably weighed around 20 tons, while the largest dinosaurs were probably around 70 tons. Moreover, ancient elephants are contenders for largest land mammal, and they also happen to be among the smartest mammals. So, I think about the best range I can estimate is from a low end of several dozen pounds to a high end of several tons, or even larger if the planet has lower gravity.

Big Animals Compared to a Person
Click image to embiggen. I got that from a forum - not sure of actual original source.

It's hard to predict what type of skeleton aliens would have (not even getting into the chemistry of it, just the basic structure), but we can narrow it down somewhat. There are four types of structural support that animals on this planet use - endoskeletons (like us), exoskeletons (like insects), hydrostatic skeletons (like earthworms or starfish), and muscular hydrostats (like octopus and squid). Considering that we've already narrowed down our technological aliens to terrestrial organisms, I think we can rule out those latter two types of support. While they're sometimes used in certain structures of large terrestrial animals on this planet (like our tongues or an elephant's trunk), the only terrestrial animals we know of that use them for their entire structure are rather small. It seems that to support large bodies, some type of hard skeleton is required (assuming that gravity isn't drastically lower on their planet). But whether aliens would use endo- or exo- skeletons is tougher to answer. The largest known terrestrial animal from this planet to use an exoskeleton was Arthropleura, an 8 ft long millipede that weighed several hundred pounds (one site I saw said 1000 lbs). So, it doesn't appear that an exoskeleton is necessarily a limit to growing large. In fact, most of the articles I've seen describing why insects don't grow larger explain that it's mainly due to how they breathe. They rely on small tubes and diffusion, rather than lungs (e.g. Why can't insects grow much bigger?). If an organism had an exoskeleton AND lungs, it might just be able to grow to much larger sizes than current insects. So, I'm going to say that we can't narrow this down any further.

I've already discussed that the aliens would require a certain sized brain, but there's another aspect about brains worth considering - they take a lot of energy. Now, perhaps alien evolution would strike on a nervous system that was more efficient than ours, but I think chances are that naturally evolved biological computers will always take a lot of energy, especially if the organisms are using those brains full-time to think about things. And that type of energy means the organisms will probably be warm-blooded - chemical reactions and metabolism can be much more efficient when they're operating at a consistent warm temperature. And the vast, vast majority of warm blooded terrestrial animals on this planet have some type of insulation for a body covering - hair or fur in practically all mammals, feathers in birds and other dinosaurs, and pycnofibers in pterosaurs. Humans are one of the rare exceptions to this pattern. So, more likely than not, intelligent aliens will have something similar to fur or feathers covering their bodies for insulation.

Speaking of energy requirements, one of the reasons we can have such energetic metabolisms is oxygen. Oxygen is very reactive. That's very clear from watching a fire burn. The metabolism that takes place within our cells is a more controlled version of those types of reactions. So, in order to have the metabolisms to support those energy intensive brains, technological aliens will probably be living on a planet with lots of free oxygen in the atmosphere, which also goes back to what I mentioned before about the importance of fire for driving technological development. (And as an interesting aside, this also tells us something about the other life on that planet - go read about the Great Oxygenation Event to see how Earth got its oxygenated atmosphere.) And to get that oxygen distributed throughout their bodies, aliens are going to need some type of circulatory system (and some type of respiratory system, as well). And a circulatory system needs blood. But what type of blood? Here's an article discussing different types of blood in creatures on this planet, Crabs have blue blood; why don't we?. In short, iron and copper appear to be the best suited elements for transporting oxygen, and so intelligent aliens would probably have blood based on one of those elements. Though the article also mentions vanadium based blood, so I suppose there's a small chance their blood could use some other element.

Aliens will have various sensory organs. From physics, many will probably be similar in function to ours - touch, taste, and smell as very obvious senses, interacting directly with the matter in their environment. Hearing to detect sound is also pretty likely, seeing as how that has evolved in many lineages of animals on Earth (insects use a tympanal organ). Sight also seems very likely, considering how many animals on this planet have eyes. But what type of eyes would aliens have? Eyes have evolved numerous times on Earth, but almost all fall into two camps simply because of the constraints of physics - compound eyes and camera-type eyes. In fact, as complex as camera-type eyes may seem, even they have evolved multiple times, in both us and molluscs. And while camera-type eyes may offer potentially higher resolutions, both camera and compound eyes are effective means of forming an image. There is a third possibility that we know of from telescopes, and that I just learned is actually used in scallops - a reflector eye. But, out of all the eyes in the animal kingdom, reflector eyes seem to be pretty rare, so I think we can narrow down our aliens to either compound or camera-type eyes, but no further than that.

Cuttlefish Eye Dragonfly Eye Cat Eye Trilobite Eye
Click any image to embiggen. All above images from Wikimedia Commons.

Aliens will need mouths of some sort. They're going to need to eat, and a mouth, by definition, is the orifice that gets food into the digestive tract. But from there, who knows what those mouths might look like. Chances are decent it will have some type of hinge to facilitate biting, but even that's not a given. Really, just take a look at a small sampling of the mouths from organisms on Earth.

Horseshoe Crab Mouth Starfish Mouth Butterfly Mouth Ant Mouth
All of those images are available in their full glory on the websites I stole them from just by clicking on the thumbnails. And while they're all good, you really, really have to click on that fourth one.

These aliens are going to have some types of limbs or appendages, if only for the reason that they'll need something to manipulate their environment very finely to be able to develop and build their technology (again, because we're looking at prerequisites to technologically advanced aliens, not that there's any inherent reason why this type of feature would necessarily evolve on an alien planet). We have hands. Elephants have trunks, and it's very easy to imagine that if they had two trunks, they'd be building things. Squids have tentacles that they're very adept at using. And while it's conceivable these aliens could be slug-like with muscular tentacles, since we've previously determined that they're probably going to be warm-blooded, energy hungry organisms, they'll probably be more active and need to get around faster than what slugs can do. So, at least some of their limbs are probably going to be for locomotion. So, how many limbs will they have? For an interesting discussion of limb evolution on Earth, check out this article, A Tale of Three Arms. It discusses the independent evolution of limbs in vertebrates like us, arthropods (including insects), and molluscs. A lot of the reason life looks they way it does now is because of those evolutionary histories and contingencies. We have four limbs because our lobe-finned fish ancestors had four fins. If they'd had six fins, we'd likely have six limbs. And if they'd had segmented bodies like millipedes, we might have a hundred limbs. To set a minimum, I'd say terrestrial animals will almost always have at least four limbs. It's the minimum required to make walking easy for the first organisms to venture onto land. Above that, there's no telling. If their manipulatory limbs were modified from locomotion limbs like us, they could still have as few as four limbs. If they evolved from six- or eight- or ten-limbed ancestors, they'd probably retain that number. And if they had so many limbs, there's no reason to think they'd only be limited to two manipulatory limbs. Or, like I already hinted at above, their manipulatory limbs might have evolved from something other than locomotion limbs, similar to an elephant's trunk.

As far as behavior, they'll almost certainly be social. Developing technology depends on building on the knowledge from others that came before you. And you can't share that knowledge effectively without being social and interacting with others. And that sharing will require some type of language - not necessarily spoken with sound waves, but some way to transfer concrete and abstract ideas from one individual to another.

So to summarize, my best guess is that if any intelligent technologically advanced aliens have evolved, they will probably be carbon based, with some type of polymer genetic chemical, though not necessarily DNA, terrestrial, either similar in size to us or much larger, have some type of hard skeleton, either internal or external, warm-blooded with some type of fur or feather like insulation covering their bodies, oxygen-breathing with iron or copper based blood, with various sensory organs similar to ours and either compound or camera-type eyes with a slim possibility of reflector eyes, mouths that we can only narrow down to being some type of orifice to take in food though a hinge of some sort is possible, have at least four limbs if not more, and will be social with language. Now, take all that and try to imagine what it would look like coming together, and there's a near limitless number of possibilities.

Title Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Updated 2017-11-07: Add paragraph about technologically advanced alien life being unlikely, along with related caveat in final paragraph.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Happy Darwin Day 2016

Darwin's BirthdayToday is Darwin Day, the 207th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. To quote one of my previous Darwin Day posts, Charles Darwin was "the man who presented evolution in such a way and with sufficient evidence that it became obvious that it was the explanation for how life developed on this planet. Others had ideas of transmutation before Darwin, and Alfred Russel Wallace even came up with a theory of natural selection very similar to Darwin's at around the same time, so it's apparent that humanity would have eventually recognized how evolution works. But Darwin's genius in presenting all the evidence for evolution in the way he did certainly gave the field a huge head start."

If you want to see if there's anything specific going on in your neck of the woods, you can check out the list of events at DarwinDay.org. I couldn't find anything for Wichita Falls, this year. Maybe I can talk my family into watching Inherit the Wind.

To celebrate Darwin Day on this site, I'm going to provide links to a few of my previous entries. This first set of links is entirely to entries specifically relevant to Darwin or written just for Darwin Day.

And while I write way too much about evolution to list all of my evolution entries, here are a few highlights since the previous Darwin Day:

Friday, February 5, 2016

Answering Quora - What questions (and answers to these questions) led you to become an atheist, or to denounce your belief in religion?

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismOnce again, I'm going to recycle a Quora answer for this website. This time, the question was, What questions (and answers to these questions) led you to become an atheist, or to denounce your belief in religion? (follow the link to see other people's answers). My answer was similar to things I've said on this site before, but I do like the way this essay turned out.


I can't say there was one single question or moment of epiphany that led me to abandon Christianity, but in hindsight, I think I can identify some of the first major seeds of doubt that led me down that path.

First, let me be clear that prior to becoming an atheist, I was a devout Christian. My family went to church nearly every Sunday. I attended CCD and was an altar boy. We were active in church activities. I read the entire Bible. I prayed privately every night, not to mention innumerable small prayers throughout the day, and truly thought I could feel God's presence when I prayed. I wasn't faking it or just going through the motions. I was very sincere and earnest in my religious beliefs.

Like most Christians, I had minor doubts throughout my life, but I did my best to either rationalize them, or simply push them to the back of my mind and ignore them. I think the big moment for me came when the Intelligent Design movement was around its peak popularity. Prior to that, I'd always accepted the mainstream scientific view of the history of Earth and the rest of the universe. And I rationalized it with the Bible by assuming that the Genesis accounts were figurative, though without ever giving those accounts any real scrutiny. I naively assumed that most other Christians also accepted mainstream science, and that it was only fringe types that took creationism seriously as a literal story. It was the Intelligent Design movement that finally made me aware of the extent of creationism. And that realization made me wonder if I was being a bad Christian by accepting the scientific view of the history of the planet & the universe when so many other Christians were saying that you had to accept creationism. So, I began to research the topic from both points of view, particularly in biology. I learned a whole lot more about evolution than what I was ever taught in high school biology class, and I read various creationist websites to see their arguments. Needless to say, there's a reason why evolution is so overwhelmingly accepted in the scientific community, so this only strengthened my acceptance of the scientific viewpoint. And the outlandish and many times dishonest arguments put out by the creationists greatly tarnished the reputation of Christians in my view.

But, that wasn't enough by itself to make me leave my faith. After all, I'd already accepted the mainstream scientific view prior to that - I just didn't realize how many other Christians didn't. So, with a bit of hubris, I thought I might be able to reconcile this conflict. I decided to study the Bible even more closely to figure out the best way to reconcile it with reality, since by this point I was aware that my figurative interpretation was a bit strained. I didn't read the Bible cover to cover again, but I did focus in on certain areas, read commentaries and studies by others, and allowed myself to notice and acknowledge the contradictions that my faith didn't allow me to see clearly before. And I'm not just talking about Genesis Chapter 1 vs. science, but all the books, including the discrepancies in the Gospels. I eventually came to realize that the Bible wasn't divinely inspired, but even this wasn't enough to make me abandon my faith. After all, there's no logical requirement that the Bible has to be divinely inspired in order for God to exist. But at this point, having gone so far as to question the divine inspiration of the Bible, I was well on the path to questioning all of Christianity.

There were a few other big questions & issues that happened somewhat simultaneously with the above. The first was how the Bible dealt with homosexuality. From secular ethics, I could see nothing wrong with homosexuality. It was just something two people did that didn't affect anyone else. Further, it seems almost certain that people's sexuality is innate, and people don't choose who they're attracted to (not that sexuality is necessarily purely genetic, but some result of development that we have no conscious control over). So, if homosexuality wasn't all that wrong, and people had no choice in who they were attracted to, how could a just God condemn it so vehemently, and have commanded punishments as harsh as stonings?

Another question was the whole concept of Hell. This one actually predated my investigation of the creationism vs. reality debate, but I didn't let myself fully consider it until I was questioning everything about religion. I recall reading a book by Douglas Adams while I was still a Christian. It was after Adams had died, and I remember feeling so bad that a man that good could be suffering in Hell because he was an atheist and hadn't accepted Jesus. It made me lament all the countless others who would suffer similar fates. At the time, I blamed Adams - how could he have been so stupid as to not accept Jesus, knowing the consequences. Later, once I'd begun to question things, I wondered how a supposedly loving god could inflict that type of punishment on anyone, let alone for a crime as minor as disbelief.

And granted, those issues about homosexuality and Hell are arguments from consequences, or emotional appeals, rather than evidence. After all, there's no reason a god would have to be fair or just or loving. But they certainly made me question the traditional representation of the Christian God.

The final issue wasn't a question about religion, but a life change for me. I became a father. I hadn't fully abandoned my faith, yet, but with the responsibility of raising my daughter, I wanted to be damn sure that I raised her properly and didn't teach her falsehoods or indoctrinate her the way I had been simply out of tradition. So, that gave me extra motivation to look deeper at religion and try to get to the bottom of it.

Of course, that's far from the full extent of the questions and issues I considered. At the risk of shameless self-promotion, I'll include a link to a collection of essays I wrote during my process of deconversion, Leaving Christianity: A Collection of Essays. But the original question was about the issues that led me to become an atheist, and those were the initial ones that put me on the path to leaving religion behind.

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for January 2016

Top 10 ListThe first month of the new year is over, and with the end of a month, it's time again to look at the server logs to see what pages from this site have been popular.

There were several newcomers to the list this time around, but all the newcomers were actually older entries from a few years ago. One of the newcomers sort of made sense, Rick Santorum (an entry where I criticized Santorum - and reading over it again, boy is he a despicable politician). Given the current presidential race, I can understand why people might have been researching Santorum. The other newcomers to the list are a bit more puzzling why they just recently became popular - Arguing on a Website - Explaining Evolution, E-mail Forward - Obama's Reaction to Ft. Hood Shootings, and Ray Comfort's New Movie - Evolution vs. God. The Ray Comfort one's a little surprising because I had later entries where I reviewed the movie in depth, and those entries had made this list before,

Overall traffic was in line with what it has been for a while.

Anyway, here's the list for last month.

Top 10 for January 2016

  1. Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  2. Response to Rabbi Steven Pruzansky - Why Romney Didn't Get Enough Votes to Win
  3. Retroactive Soapbox Entry- Fed Up with U.S. Public, Part II
  4. A Skeptical Look at Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy
  5. Rick Santorum
  6. Arguing on a Website - Explaining Evolution
  7. E-mail Forward - Obama's Reaction to Ft. Hood Shootings
  8. Letter to Pharmacy about MBT Shoes
  9. Response to Global Warming Denialist E-mail - Volcanoes and Global Cooling
  10. Ray Comfort's New Movie - Evolution vs. God

« January 2016 | Main | March 2016 »