I would like to say first of all that I have been an atheist for the past two years. I am a bit of a stinker and was "attending" a Baptist church a year back to talk to a girl. The girl came and gone (no pun intended), but what idiocy I saw and heard there was appalling.
With the way Murphy's Law is present in my life (more than what I could say for certain deities), I just so happened to start attending that church when they started a whole month long segment of why Evolution, the Big Bang, Abiogenesis, Atheism, etc. is wrong (literally, not in the moral sense of the word). Because I am open and like to hear the other sides arguments and opinions (mostly opinions as very few religious can offer a decent argument without Ad Hominems and such) I listened. Immediately I realized the man had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. (He had me at "Evolution doesnt do a good job of explaining where the universe came from.")*
So I continued to listen, and they had the concept of Evolution completely wrong. Other than the aforementioned, he made these extravagant claims of humans coming from Chimpanzee, the changes that happened as being wild and random and sporadic, completely ignoring the validity of the fossil records, intermingling Evolution with other scientific theories such as the Big Bang and Abiogenesis, ignoring all scientific evidence, and so on.
He had no idea about what the Big Bang really was and events as time lapsed for the first few seconds after the Big Bang. He threw Ad Hominems like it was going out of style towards Atheists (which, this alone made me want to start to argue with him in front of an entire Southern Baptist congregation). And he used the "fact" that because Evolution, the Big Bang and such were wrong that obviously Abiogenesis was wrong. I have no idea what kind of logical fallacy that is besides the one called stupid. It offended me because I hate when lies are spread about as truth and when amazing advances in science are slandered and libeled upon. It particularly hurt me when i realized how many children were (and still are unfortunately) still hearing these lies and misconceptions.
To digress further back to my childhood, I attended a Baptist private school for 4 years (luckily it shut down after my fourth year, else I still be there today). They were worse. (I had a chemistry teacher who took an entire block of pure sodium and threw it into a Tupperware container of water... I had chemical burns on my arms and he was fired.) They used textbooks from the 90s in 2007 (textbooks that still said Pluto was a planet and used outdated models for Evolution and the Big Bang and such.) One of my science teachers for Biology and Geology (she taught both...) was only a person with an associates in math, that Chemistry "teacher" was also my choir teacher.**
I add all of the humorous, and true, stories to say this simple concept. All people, of all faiths, wanting to obtain a leadership position in the church (mosque, or whatever other religious meeting place) should be required by law to have classes on basic courses of these sciences and theories or at least required to pass a test that demonstrates true proficiency of understanding these topics. As Christopher Hitchens put well in an infamous book, this is another way "religion poisons everything".
*Exact quote, I will never forget it...
**Everything I stated here is true. I still dont know how they got away with it...
the Establishment Clause protects civic institutions from religion but also religion from civic institutions. the law can have nothing to say about how people worship the way they see fit so long as that worship doesn't infringe upon the rights of others.
so the same law that protects you as an atheist from having religion shoved down your throat by the state protects them from having the state dictate to the religious how they must worship (or what qualifications the religious must have in order to worship, or lead others in worship).
I do sympathize with you Charlie. Although I never attended a religious school during my formative years, for many many years I would have termed myself an atheist just as you are now. I thought, how could religion, any religion, dispute the big-bang theory, evolution, Darwinism and the like.
Well, I don’t think that most religions would argue that dinosaurs roamed the earth, visit any large museum and you would see evidence of their certain existence. The big-bang theory, there is scientific evidence that this is likely the way that the universe was created. The list could go on and on.
Now taking the religious side of the equation. As background, I was raised as a Christian, specifically a Lutheran, was an alter boy, taught Sunday school, and was active in the church. Then shortly before I got married, back in the late 80’s, I grew weary and skeptical of religion and stopped practicing completely. Then about 4 years ago I had a new found interest in religion from an academic point of view. This has now lead me back to a renewed belief in God and an interest in all religions, including Atheism which I believe is as much a religion as the traditional God-centered religions. If you look up the definition of religion, Atheism fits the definition just as well as Christianity or Judaism does.
Now for the things that I question. I don’t dispute the big-bang theory, however what existed before the big-bang and where did that come from and assuming that there was something even before that where did that come from? Obviously this line of questioning can go on and on with no possible definitive answer. Would you agree that you cannot create something from absolute nothing? That is unless something was created from nothing by a Higher being which I will call God.
Next, I honestly do question how basic elements could so perfectly align, in exactly the right proportions, to create the complex animal and human life that exists on this planet. Is it possible, maybe, but the odds would be so astronomically high that it would be practically impossible. I don’t see how anyone can conclusively say that we were not created by a Higher being.
In conclusion, I guess part of the reason that I have returned to faith in God is that as I get older I would like to believe that there is something more after I die. I realize that death is inevitable, but believing that “this” is all there is and then we are gone is not something I am willing to concede.
In answering your question: “Should All Religious Leaders Be Required to Study Basic Courses on Topics Like Evolution?”, I would have to answer no. You cannot regulate religious thought or speech and by doing so would infringe on the individuals freedom of speech. To mandate that individuals, because of their affiliation with a religious organization , take courses that may conflict with their beliefs, would be wrong, and possibly trample their civil rights. By attending a religious school, although presumably not by your own choice, you are subscribing to the beliefs of the religious denomination running the school. Regulating religious institutions and the beliefs of their employees would violate their first amendment rights
I absolutely respect your position and those of your fellow Atheists, and do not hope to change your opinion. I only hope that you have the same respect for those that hold opposing points-of-view and that you will keep an open mind to the fact that there may be some things that cannot adequately be explained by science.
A few rebuttals, to be going on with:
Atheism is not a religion. It is exactly the opposite - a complete absence of religion. A set of beliefs, yes, but a religion - no!
What existed before the big bang? Nothing? Maybe - who knows? Something from nothing proving God? Who created God? Who designed the designer? It's the exact same question. I prefer to think that we just don't yet know the answer (and maybe never will) rather than leaping to wild conclusions, and then just being permanently happy with that.
The sheer number of galaxies/systems/planets (and maybe even universes) out there make it extremely likely that the conditions to support life (as we know it, Jim) will exist somewhere. And there are probably many more such outposts of such conditions and life forms out there. How lucky we are to be here, then. Attributing it to a divine being makes no sense. Indeed, if we are the sole and central occupants of the universe, we aren't much of an achievement for an almighty being that can do whatever he wants, after so many billions of years/ Six days to create everything and then billions of years messing about with the occupants of one tiny, insignificant little planet? I don't think so.
I understand completely your WANTING to think that there is something else after death, but wanting it doesn't make it true. I can't definitively say that there's no life after death, but what if you're wrong (as I believe that you are)? Why waste you one opportunity on Earth waiting for something better later. Live your one life to the full, give it your best shot. Spread as much love and happiness here while you can, don't wait for something that just isn't going to happen.
If you don't approve of requiring religious leaders having to demonstrate that they at least understand the basics of science and evolution (whether they choose to believe it or not) based on it violating their civil liberties, how about stopping all religious indoctrination of impressionable and intellectually vulnerable children, until they're of an age to understand the significance of what they're being told, and able to make reasoned decisions about their beliefs? It's the other side of the same coin, but the religions aren't going to do that now, are they? Childrens' civil liberties are already being grossly violated, by parents, schools and churches. But we mustn't violate the religious leaders' rights to continue doing so, must we?
Science can't explain everything - yet. But at least it's trying, and moving forward all the time. It's not stuck unquestioningly in pre-history and in denial. Science uses questions and evidence. Religion (ab)uses unquestioning faith and gullibility.
I know which path I choose.
That's just it, God by definition has no being and no end. The complete tapestry of our existence has been set in place by him from a vantage point outside of this tapestry.
Questions like, who created God or when did God evolve have no meaning with this argument.
The problem is that this argument is hard to believe. In our universe. at least, everything has a beginning and end. Can something exist outside of causality?. Well the circumstantial evidence posed by Theist is the anthropic principle; the universe appears to be fine tuned for life across scores of salient parameters. some of these parameters, if they deviate in some ridiculously small decimal place, the conditions conducive to life would not exist. This problem has fueled speculation that we live in a multiverse. Thus there is an infinity of universes in existence simultaneously and we just happen to be in the one where these parameters align. So, no matter whether you are an Atheist or a theist it boils down to an unfalsifiable postulate. :(
And I agree, but now give me the evidence to attribute this to any of the gods man put in their religious texts. I am NOT a deist, but merely pointing out you could attribute this to anything. Ive read the KJV Bible from cover to cover 8 times before and as I stated had Bible class every day for four years. I cant think of any sufficient "evidence" that would come from the Bible to support this claim.
Atheism does not base its beliefs on faiths. I can agree and disagree with various aspects of why it could be considered a religion, but ultimately its not. If you went up to an average person with any particular stance and asked them if they thought atheism was a religion, almost immediately you would receive a reply of no. And almost always, the attribution of that no belongs to the fact that atheists do not believe in a supernatural holy man. Others would say no becuase we dont "believe" (in the sense of faith) in anything, but trust (by true evidence) that the men in the white coats have a better idea of things than the wackos in the white robes.
According to Encarta, religion is:
1. beliefs and worship: people's beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature, and worship of a deity or deities, and divine involvement in the universe and human life
2.system: an institutionalized or personal system of beliefs and practices relating to the divine
3.personal beliefs or values: a set of strongly-held beliefs, values, and attitudes that somebody lives by
I already address the aspect in my own way about the divine, but if you go by definition number three, then I suppose that Atheism is religion. But there are other words for that definition, such as "morals", that suit that definition much better than "religion".
To attribute the lack of knowledge of Pre-Big Bang conditions to the god of any modern religions is giving any of our modern gods too much credit. I can meet you half way on the idea of a higher power, but definitely not any of the "caring" gods of our religions. The thought of this almost caused me to take a deist stance at one point, but that is still giving too much credit to something that most probably doesnt exist. To further elaborate, for you to ask me if something can come from nothing has several issues. One: The Big Bang states that all the known matter and energy (which are one in the same; E=MC^2) in the universe came from an initial point of singularity, not from nothing. Two: To say something can come from nothing implies the same for god. Try your best to imagine absolutely nothing (no one can), then tell me where the room for god comes from.
Now as far as elements go, if you want to understand where the various elements (particularly the 92 elements that occur naturally), look no further than the furnance inside of the stars. The nuclear reactions taking place have enough energy to produce heavier elements from the hydrogen and helium gas. Everything here on earth, at one point in time, was inside of a star some place.
To ask how such things can act together the way they do other than from divine intervention is quite easy at a basic level, but beyond that is quite frustrating for me as I have not gotten to college to study chemistry yet (which is my planned major). There are four major elements for life as we know it: Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Carbon and Oxygen. These alone make up 96% of life. The next 3% belongs in elements like phosphorus, calcium, potassium and a couple of others. Anything else makes up the remaining one percent, which are trace elements. Things such as iodine (necessary in our thyroids). All in all, 25 elements are responsible for life. Now to look at the molecular construction of such things, we need to look at the electrons. Nothing bonds like Carbon does. Carbon is tetravalent with a very low electronegativity. So it usually forms covalent bonds (the ones that life require) and can make a whole lot of them (tetra means four). It can also bond to itself, so it can make even more bonds. Literally, between H,C,O and N, there are an inexhaustible number of molecules that can be formed.
To explain the complex-ness of everything going together like it does and working (my example is l-dopa, found in plant's and animal's DNA, and d-dopa which is an enantiomer of l-dopa and is biologically inert), is quite simple. Evolution. It was all gradual changes over the last 3.8 billion years, so its easy to see how such complex things can come together over time. As for how life started on Earth, look into abiogenesis. I will not attempt to dive into this as there are several theories on this, but take a close look into Oparins work, Miller's-Urey's work and Robert Shaprio's summarization of the two. I havent got to study this closely, so anything I would attempt to speak on would be speculatory at best.
And as for the astronomically high part... there are billions of known galaxies with trillions of stars. Each star could possibly have a solar system. Each solar system could have one or more planets that support life (both as we know it and possibly in other forms). You do the math, and then tell me if you still think it is impossible for something like this to happen on at least one of those planets.
Now to become a human again and speak with you more emotionally, I can sort of understand why you would like to believe in life after death. We are all getting older and will one day be dead. But I think, purely personally and with no intended offense to you, that to believe in god because you dont want to admit that this is it, is weak. You cant be afraid of death in and of itself. It is unknown to us, but it is ok to be afraid of that unknown. Everyone is afraid of the unknown, just some are more than others. I take my comfort in the way Mark Twain put it, "I am not afraid of death. I was dead billions of years before I was born, and suffered not the slightest inconvenience from it."
You stated how astronomically unlikely it is for us to be here. And to that I do concur, that is why the life we are given is so beautiful. Why waste it on things, hoping it will be better later? We live on through what we do for the world and through our children. We need to let go someday, and let life continue its course. Be thankful for the off-chance of you being here, and enjoy that.
The awe inspiring mystery that reaches from the inner mind to the outer limits-The Outer Limits SciFi series.
You have entered a dimension of mind, look out, next sign post ahead, The Twilight Zone, -The Twilight Zone series
How so often discovery is heralded in SciFi. Roger Penrose and others, postulate that conscientiousness is rooted in the quantum mechanical processes occurring along the axioms of the neurons everything an electrical potential is induced down the sheath by the neuro-transmitters. Moreover, there is quantum mechanical entanglement occurring that interacts with other neurons and space-time itself, due to the prevalence of quantum mechanical fields. This has lead to all sort of metaphysical conjectures in regard to how the universe interacts with the mind.
Thus the mystery of universe becoming conscious of itself touches all things and expands beyond the outer limits.
I am glad that we have a sane religious person on the forums. That alone is a rare treat as the crazies among Christianity tend to be attracted to atheist forums like flies to honey.
However... I must object to your calling atheism a "religion." Atheism is not a religion. Bertrand Russell came up with the most workable definition of religion I have ever found:
“By religion I mean a set of beliefs held as dogmas, dominating the conduct of life, going beyond or contrary to evidence, and inculcated by methods which are emotional or authoritarian, not intellectual."
Under this definition, atheism is not a religion.
Atheism is an umbrella that covers many different philosophies within it.
The only thing all atheists have in common is this statement: "I don't believe in God."
PLEASE NOTE! There is a difference between the one who says "I don't believe in God" (a negative statement) and the one who says "I believe that there is no god" (A positive statement)
There are many atheists who believe that there is no god... but they are only a "group under the unbrella."
There is a large group of atheists that fall into the category of most of the atheists on this site: actively deny the existence of a god, dislike religion, actively state opinions and debate religious people, etc.
BUT THAT IS NOT ALL ATHEISTS!!
Among atheists are: anti-theists, humanists, "natural" atheists [never heard of god], agnostic atheists, non-confrontational atheists, closeted atheists, etc.
Since atheism is only a single statement of lack of belief in god, it is neither a religion, nor a belief in of itself.
Second.. about how we can disbelieve in god. Well... the problem of evil. The gods of the major religions are supposed to be good. The very nature of reality is incompatible with a good god with a plan. Nature is: Chaotic, wasteful, merciless, uncaring, savage, and sometimes... evil.
Nothing worthy of the name "god" would create a world where 90% of all life that has ever lived suffered extinction, where many animals are forced to kill others to survive, where disease violence suffering and pointlessness are so prevalent. The only type of creator that would make this would be sadistic and evil. There is no way around it!
So that this point hits closer to home, I will illustrate one of the many cases of completely pointless suffering in the human species alone. Every year about 250,000 Americans are admitted to the emergency room with a life threatening condition called "Acute Appendicitis." Between 18,000 and 20,000 of these people will die from this condition or complications due to surgery.
Now this suffering and death is COMPLETELY pointless... given that the infected organ, the Appendix, has absolutely no purpose in humans... except to get infected and explode... or so it seems.
Many victims of appedicitis are children.
This phenomenon makes absolutely no sense with the idea of a perfect good creator who takes an interest in humanity.
However, in the context of an unguided, chaotic, godless, natural world... this makes perfect sense... even if it doesn't make you feel any better about it.
The human appendix is what evolutionary biology calls a "vestigial organ." What this means is that at some point in our evolutionary past it served a purpose... but it does not in our current form as homo sapien sapiens.
Nature is imperfect. It left behind a useless and potentially dangerous "thing" attached to our colons. But this is what chaotic godless nature is. Unperfect.
An alternative context for the Judeo-Christian God is that, Spiritual rebellion brought futility into existence prior to our creation and thus lead to the primal chaos on earth, which occurred long after the Genesis of the original Earth. "The earth became (was) void and without form"; This actually is an alternative rendering of the Hebrew text as confirmed by the Strong Exhaustive Concordance.
"...the sons of God were manifested to destroy the works of the devil. "
Judging from the scores of dead end hominid species that precede us, the powers of darkness have been busy long before our appearance, under this Theist argument.
And because of the principalities of the air, ruling in the affairs of man, with one single minded purpose, to induce lawlessness such that it incurs punishment from God, to hasten the destruction of our species just as all the species before us.
As recently, as 20,000 years ago there were 4 hominid species walking the earth simultaneous in the age of the Mega-Fuana; Homo Habilis, Neanderthal, Hobbit man and Cro-Magnon ( Homo Sapien Sapien, but taller and bigger brain capacity). the world of the Mega-Fauna appears to have ended with a cataclysm, with hairy Mammoths found quick frozen as they were chewing their last meal in Siberia.
Hmmm... well... religious leaders leading sectarian groups NOT funded by taxpayer money.... no. The separation of church and state goes 2 ways. We must allow those religious groups that keep their proper role in a secular society the freedom to believe whatever they want and teach their children and members whatever they want. HOWEVER! Any religious person working in a secular institution or a taxpayer funded sectarian institution (unfortunately b/c of Bush's faith-based initiatives that Obama hasn't eliminated - yes we are paying for religious institutions) if the public is funding a group or institution run by religious individuals... then these individuals are responsible for adhering to the best interests of the secular society that funds them. Therefore:
I propose this set of rules for religious-run tax-payer funded institutions:
If an institution is payed for in full or in part by tax-payer dollars then they must adhere to the following or lose their tax-payer funding:
1. You shall not discriminate against minority religions and the non-religious in hiring practices, fair treatment in the office, or salary.
2. You shall not discriminate against or harrass clients, students, patients, or customers based on religious or political beliefs.
3. No person working for or receiving services from the institution shall ever be required to participate in or even attend any religious service or activity, including, but not limited to: Mass, church service, synagogue service, mosque, organized prayer - by staff or clients, organized reading of religious scripture, recitement of religious creeds or pledges, etc.
4. No funds appropriated to the institution by the state shall ever be used for prosthelitizing.
5. No classes, therapies, counseling, assemblies, events, or practices shall ever promote an idea or set of ideas that have been debunked by modern mainstream science, medicine, and history.
6. No person shall be denied the right to leave the institution (within the limits of the law) at any time.
I think that this is reasonable. Make them follow the rules, or revoke any funding by the state or the taxpayers.
If they are not funded by the state or taxpayers, they can do what they want... within the limits of the law. (i.e. criminal activity is not okay.)