Monday, January 25, 2010

Can't you just feel the spirituality?

I recently received this email from a reader:

Hi. I'm a fan of your website, and since I have recently ran into a bit of a predicament, I was hoping I could ask you for advice.

I have some friends which are religious, and since there's pretty much nothing that could break our friendship (at least in the foreseeable future), we like to sometimes argue about the existence of God, with me on the "he does not exist" side. I was hoping you could help me figure out a way to make a valid point against some of their "spirituality is something that cannot be measured but just felt" "how could you have a spirit/soul without god giving it to you, etc" ?

While I realize that I could answer some of these myself, it becomes hard to discuss if they fall back to the same old tricks. So I am asking you for a bit of help, since it seems I cant make an argument without having to correct myself.

Thanks in advance!

I'm not sure what you think you could accomplish here.  They haven't provided any falsifiable claim that you could use to latch an argument on to.  Their case is bullet-proof in that it cannot be refuted, mostly because they haven't made any verifiable claims.  But much like it cannot be refuted, it also cannot be used to demonstrate to anybody else that their claim is true, again because they haven't made any claims.  They've constructed their own little fantasy world which doesn't have to answer to reality.

But there are some points/questions which I'd make.  I'm making some assumptions here, because you didn't specifically say that they were Christian, and also didn't explain exactly what it is that they claim they can feel, but here goes:

1.  What does 'spirituality' mean anyway?

2.  Why do Hindus and Buddhists claim to feel spiritual but not feel Jesus or the Christian god?  Are they sure they don't feel Vishnu?  How can they tell?

3.  Feelings don't teach anything about the reality of the Universe.

4.  What is the difference between your friends and a mentally-ill person who hears voices?  What about those who claim they hear their god telling them to do bad things?

5.  Even if we do have souls, is it not possible that they are a quality of the Universe and not of their god?  Why do they think we can't have souls without gods, but can have gods without anything else?

6.  What would they accept as proof that their feelings are deceiving them, or they're just fooling themselves?  We have real proof that the brain is deceptive (see related example in my last post), but no proof at all of the existence of the supernatural.

Sorry it wasn't much help, but it sounds like your friends are not giving you anything to use here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dental pain and a deceptive brain (it rhymes)

Two years ago, I went to a dentist near my apartment.  He told me that I had two cavities.  I was pretty upset, as I'd always taken good care with brushing.  He offered to drill and fill the cavities for me right there.  I declined, as I was going to visit my hometown 2 months later, and would get it done by my dentist there.  He told me it wasn't urgent, and it would be alright to wait.  He and his wife then tried to preach Christianity to me, which was strange and unprofessional of him, but is besides the point of this post.

For the next 2 months, I had a rough time.  I used a mirror to detect the small cavities on my back molars.  They caused me discomfort and pain.  I couldn't wait to get them taken care of.

When I arrived back in my hometown, the first thing I did was go to the dentist.  I didn't say anything about the cavities before the appointment, and just went in for a regular check-up.  When we were finished, the dentist said it all looked good.  I was a bit surprised and asked him what we were going to do about the cavities.  He replied that I didn't have any cavities.  Now I was very surprised.  I told him that the other dentist said that I had 2 cavities, and that I'd seen them in the mirror.  He told me that those weren't cavities, they were something else that he was able to scrape off with his tools.  I was pretty relieved.

What's the point?  Is it that Christian dentists who preach in their offices aren't very good at their jobs?  Perhaps, but no.  What about the pain I was experiencing in those teeth?  Where did it come from?!

The human brain is amazing.  It has been found to be capable of a degree of healing, as in the placebo affect.  We have also seen what can happen to a person when a few things go wrong in their brains. But what I experienced for myself is how the mere suggestion that I had cavities, which I knew to cause pain in people, was enough to trigger months of pain in my own mouth.  The cavities were not there, but the feeling of pain was real.

This is the same way it works for religious people who claim to feel the presence of gods when they are told that they should.  For example, they're in some sort of religious building, surrounded by all kinds of crazy, chanting people, and then they're asked if they can feel whatever god it is that they're interested in.  There's a good chance they will.  It also works for all sorts of claims about seeing ghosts, etc.  If I plant the suggestion in your mind that a certain shadow looks remarkably like a ghost, you might see it too.

The brain is a mysterious, powerful thing, and can play all sorts of tricks on us.  This is the number one reason why 'personal experiences' should not be taken as evidence of anything at all.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Earthquake in Haiti

Haiti is one of the most Christian countries in the world.  Faith in an imaginary being cannot protect you, and praying to that imaginary being will not help you.  For anybody who is offering prayers to the people of Haiti, they don't need your prayers, they need your help.  Give $20 or $50 to the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders, then pray all you'd like.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Atheism, Religion and Genocide - Part 2 - The Khmer Rouge

I've heard and read a lot of religious people argue that atheism leads to genocide, on the grounds that some of the most genocidal regimes of the 20th century were atheist movements.  (I object to that assertion and will get to it in another post.)  They invoke the names of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot of the Khmer Rouge, and argue that a large-scale atheist movement will no doubt lead to millions of deaths, as caused by these people/groups.

History is not my forte.  I know some of the basics, but not too much else about Hitler, Stalin and Mao.  However, I'm a bit more knowledgeable of the Khmer Rouge and their reign in Cambodia, as I traveled there 2 years ago.  For the less-intelligent religious population out there, I want to explain some of the many ways in which the vast majority of atheists are different from the Khmer Rouge.

The Khmer Rouge were radical communists and an oppressive regime.  Among their acts were the following:

  1. Executing intellectuals.  This included people who could speak foreign languages, had educations, or even people who simply wore glasses.  Ironically, the Khmer Rouge's leaders were foreign-educated intellectuals themselves.
  2. Expelling all foreigners from their country.
  3. Closing down all schools.
  4. Closing down hospitals.
  5. Closing down all banks.
  6. Eliminating currency.
  7. Closing down the postal system.
  8. Destroying private vehicles and other private property.
  9. Forcing the entire population to move out of the cities and work in forced labour camps in the countryside.
  10. Setting up secret prisons in which prisoners were tortured and made to confess, before being sent off for execution.  Being found innocent of charges was not possible.  In the most famous prison, S-21, only 6 or 7 of more than 12,000 prisoners survived, and that was because they had skills which were useful for running or maintaining the prison.
  11. Breaking off relations with foreign countries.
Now, it should be clear to you that the average atheist in society is not like this.  If you happen to know any atheists who think the above actions are good ideas, then that person is a freak.  If you think all atheists are like this, or that people becoming atheists in large numbers would lead to these actions taking place, then YOU are a freak (and an idiot, and shit-for-brains, etc.).

If you still don't get the point, then here are some ways in which I, and all atheists I know, are different from the Khmer Rouge:

  1. I like intellectuals.  I consider myself to be one.  I have a good education.  I occasionally wear glasses. 
  2. I like foreigners.  In fact, I am a foreigner for an average of about 51 weeks a year.
  3. I like schools.  I believe that education is important, and that all people should have it.
  4. I like hospitals.  They're helpful.
  5. I like banking.  Note that I didn't say that I like banks.
  6. I like currency.  It's useful and necessary for my life.
  7. I like the postal system.  Note that I didn't say that I like post offices.
  8. I like private vehicles.  I don't own one, but I respect your right to.  Although, I'd like to see a large-scale movement to mass-transit in the near future.  I also believe that people should be allowed to have private property.
  9. I like that we have cities.  I don't believe in forcing people to live in any particular place.  I don't believe in forced labour.
  10. I don't like secret prisons.  I don't like torture.  I don't think confessions made under torture are useful or reliable.  I believe in an open court system and fair trials in a speedy manner.  I believe in the principle of innocent until proven guilty.  I don't believe that capital punishment is helpful.
  11. I believe that international relations are important.

I hope you can see that the Khmer Rouge might have been atheists, but they were also extreme radical communists, bent on complete control of the population, demanded a population too ignorant to oppose their ideas, feared foreign influence, and didn't have any respect at all for human rights or life, not caring if the majority of the population died in order to create their utopia.  Perhaps it was those latter factors which contributed more to the situation in Cambodia from 1975-1979.  If you still think it was the atheism, then could I suggest that it might have also been the fact that they had dark hair?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Back now

Wow, you guys sure talk a lot when I'm gone!  I'm going to admit that I'll never catch up with all of the comments that have been added recently, so I'm declaring comment bankruptcy.  I'll try to follow the new comments.  If there's something in particular you want me to look at or respond to, add a comment to this post and direct me to it.

I also have a couple of people who wrote to me looking for a response on particular issues, which I acknowledge receiving and will get to soon.  And I still have 2 or 3 more posts on genocide to write.