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I hear a voice in my head.  It is mine, and I know it is.  Knowing this though does not mean I do not wonder about it.

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I wonder, can consciousness exist without words?  Yes, some animals have at least some level of consciousness.  Apes, dogs, elephants, dolphins and whales, and many others. However, is there a limit to how far consciousness can be developed without words?  I know that those born deaf also carry on internal conversations, but in sign and gestures, not with words created in sounds.  So, do animals have a consciousness that communicates with itself through smells, gestures of the trunk, jumps out of water?  And can such communication of the self to self be considered language?  I wonder if the development of this, our, level of consciousness, was dependent upon language?  Did language come first and then consciousness?  Or did one go this far and then the other hurried to catch up and then pushed the other further?

From there I wonder at this need to communicate with ourselves.  We are our body, we are our brain.  So, why the words as if in conversation with another?  Even to the extent that many of us of talk out loud to ourselves.  What does this mean?

And I wonder what it means when sometimes this inner voice wonders what decision I am about to make. I resolve to not get pizza to eat for lunch.  And then my voice sometimes wonders if I will have pizza or not, resolving the question with the words “We’ll see”.  This last wonder may be about something particular to me, this uncertainty about what I am going to do as if I were observing the behavior of another person and not myself.  But, I do not think so.  I think it applies to many.

Which then leads me to wonder, is this part of the reason why our ancestors believed in spirits and gods.  Every time I read the Iliad  I am struck by how often the gods take control of individuals.  Or consider the world wide practice of shamanism in which a special person can become possessed by a spirit, or can contact and talk with such.  Is did this conversation with ourselves, when combined with dreams, hallucinations, fear of not existing and desire to know and understand all, lead to the creation of the supernatural and gods?

And then I wonder, is this why religion came first?  Many atheists like to believe that if religion had not come about and a secular alternative had come about instead that humanity would be hundreds or even thousands of years ahead of where we are now.  Yet, to me, this seems just an empty what if.  Just as it is impossible for a group of light sensing cells to make a jump to the eye of an eagle in one generation, so too with developing secular socials structures before religious ones. Secular social structures that could do the job that religious ones did not and could not exist in our ancient history.  Such structures needed time to develop.  Instead, due to our evolved nature, religious structures came first.

Inevitably so I believe, for many reasons.  One of which is the voice in my head.

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The belief that religion, in this case Christianity, is responsible for slowing down the progress of science, and that if not for Christianity science would be hundreds of years further advanced than it is now, is almost an article of faith for many atheists.  Perhaps most.  However, like most articles of faith, it is wrong.

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The reality is something much more complicated with the evidence showing that Christianity (and for this blog I will stick to this religion) and Christian organizations being a strong net benefit to science rather than a net harm.  I have discussed this before, most notably in my blogs Religion vs Science Part 1: Its More Complicated Than That and Part 2: Copernicus and Galileo.  But, this is one of those subjects that is worth visiting again since it is still very actively believed among  atheists.

Let’s start with what I am not saying. I am not saying that the Church has always been supportive and has not at times suppressed science and knowledge.

I am not saying that the Church has not on many occasions muddled minds and society in regards to science and knowledge.

I am not saying that Christian culture has not at times pushed against and tried to shout down science.

They have.

I am also not saying that without Christianity there would be no science.  There would have been.  Although I think it likely science would have been slower to develop or been developed by another religious group if Christianity did not exist.

In other words, what I am saying is that the Church has done many things that have helped science. I am saying that overall, when you look at the pluses and minuses, the Church has provided a strong net gain in the development and promotion of science.

I am fully cognizant of Copernicus and Galileo and Darwin; the big three that are usually used to illustrate the “truth” of the above meme.  Along with that is a more theoretical argument that believing in a God shuts down science and doesn’t allow for questioning.  However, those who make this argument overlook three facts.

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First Fact: The Church as an organization, as well as its religious individuals, supported science and knowledge, and made significant contributions to science.  In fact, just looking at Catholic clergy who have made significant contributions to science is impressive.   Here are just a very few.

  • Roger Bacon: Considered one of the foundational people in the creation of the modern scientific method.  He also made significant contributions to optics and mathematics.
  • Georges Lemaître: Came up with the big bang theory. He was also the first to derive Hubble’s law and made the first estimate of the Hubble Constant.
  • Bonaventura Cavalieri: Worked on the precursors of infinitesimal calculus and in optics and motion.
  • Gregor Mendel: founder of modern genetics.

This is just four important contributors to science out of literally hundreds if not thousands among the Catholic clergy.  .

And let us not overlook the contributions of religious people other than Catholics to science.

  • Theodosius Dobzhansky: one of the creators of the modern evolutionary synthesis.
  • Lord Kelvin: Did important work in thermodynamics, electricity, and physics.
  • James Maxwell: Formulated the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation which for the first time brought together electricity, magnetism, and light.
  • Robert Boyle: Widely considered to be the first modern chemist.

Then there is the fact that the Catholic Church strongly supported science for centuries.  The American historian of science J. L. Heilbron, in his book The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories, wrote that “The Roman Catholic Church gave more financial aid and support to the study of astronomy for over six centuries, from the recovery of ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enlightenment, than any other, and, probably, all other, institutions.”

In fact, it was the Catholic Church and other religious schools which provided education and supported learning and the libraries that were so necessary for the creation and furtherance of science

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Fact 2:  It was often not as simple as a religious disagreement with the findings of science.

Much of Catholic beliefs on science were taken from Greek thinkers such as Aristotle, and not the Bible.  It was the conflict between the Aristotelian tradition and the new findings there were often the issue, and not a conflict with the Bible per se.

Even more important is that many of these discoveries were not obvious and were not fully supported by the evidence available at the time.  Just as when new discoveries are made today, the available scientific evidence often does not fully support one side or the other.

For example, there were serious problems with  Galileo’s proposal that the earth revolved around the sun, some of which were not resolved until the 19th century.  “The Case Against Copernicus” by Christopher Graney and Dennis Danielson, published in a 2014 issue of Scientific American highlights what those problems were, and though focusing on Copernicus does discuss Galileo and applies to his work too.  One interesting item to note here is that there were not just two competing theories – the geocentric model and heliocentric model – but three.  The third one was a geoheliocentric model, or Tychonic model, put forth by Tycho Brahe.  While Galileo’s observations were a problem for the  geocentric model, they were fully consistent with the Tychonic model.

In 1674 Robert Hooke, curator of experiments for the British Royal Society admitted, “Whether the Earth move or stand still hath been a problem, that since Copernicus revived it, hath much exercised the wits of our best modern astronomers and philosophers, amongst which notwithstanding there hath not been any one who hath found out a certain manifestation either of one or the other.”

By Hook’s time a growing majority of scientists accepted Copernicanism, although, to a degree, they still did so in the face of scientific difficulties.

Or take Darwin and evolution.  Yes, many religious groups and people condemned it.  However, there were many who supported it.  In fact, in the United States, evolution’s strongest supporter was a very religious scientist, Asa Gray.  In fact, much of the arguments against evolution came from other scientists using the science of the day to argue against Darwin’s findings.  However, even with all of this, by the time of Darwin’s death, Cambridge University, a church run university, told its students to assume ‘the truth … that the existing species of plants and animals have been derived by generation from others widely different.”. Not to mention Darwin being honored by being interred in Westminster Abbey  near to John Herschel (another religious scientist) and Isaac Newton.  Religion did not seem to hinder evolution’s ascendancy in science here.

Let me also point out that there was a strong element of empiricism in the Church, even early in the Medieval period.  Scholasticism for example, believed in using empiricism, reason, and logic in their secular studies  and use such to support Catholic doctrine.   It is one reason why so much of modern science grew out of the work of priests.

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Fact 3:  Modern social structures are not the result of immaculate conception.  They have a history.

This meme seems to believe that without the church and religion secular thought and science would have taken root instead and we would be much more advanced.  However, just as in evolution where a new structure cannot just arrive in one step (say the eye), but instead must start with what is and be modified over time, so too with social structures.

It is noteworthy that every ancient civilization arose with organized religion being integral to its structure.  Many scientists have argued that organized religion was essential in the creation of social structures larger than tribes of family groups.  That organized religion was necessary to give the larger groups consisting of many different family groups a new identity beyond that of family that would help resolve conflicts without causing the collapse of that society, among other benefits.

Given this necessity, there was no chance of a secular origin for science and our modern day society.  Just as the eye of an eagle is not going to appear within a generation to a creature with nothing more than a patch of light sensitive skin, so too this idea of science having a virgin birth is wrong.

 

To close this blog let me say that, long as it is, it is much too short to provide a complete response to this meme.  Nowadays I am trying to keep my blogs around 1000 words (unsuccessfully so in this case).  That is one reason I added the two links to my blogs mentioned earlier – Religion vs Science Part 1 and 2 as well as a link to The Case Against Copernicus.  I also wrote another blog of relevance here, Some Thoughts on Religion.

If you are really interested in getting my full arguments I would suggest reading them in addition to this blog.  I am also including a link to two short articles, Science Owes Much to Both Christianity and the Middle Ages by  James Hannam, PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge and a short article from the  PBS series Faith and Reason.

Or, take the short cut and instead of reading ask questions and challenge what I have written and discuss with an open mind.  And for those who agree, would love to hear that too, especially since I have a feeling mine is a minority position among my fellow atheists and that I will be hearing a great deal from them.

 

 

 

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Note: This is a blog I wrote just after Sandy Hook in 2012.  I was reminded of it recently when I had an atheist thank me for writing this.  On re-reading it I found that I still agreed with its message and liked the way it was written.  And so I decided to bring it forward to today.

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Charlotte Bacon, (age 6)                                            James Mattioli,  (age 6)

Daniel Barden,  (age 7)                                               Grace McDonnell,  (age 7)

Olivia Engel,  (age 6)                                                    Emilie Parker, (age 6)

Josephine Gay,  (age 7)                                              Jack Pinto,  (age 6)

Ana M. Marquez-Greene,  (age 6)                          Noah Pozner,  (age 6)

Dylan Hockley,  (age 6)                                              Caroline Previdi, (age 6)

Madeleine F. Hsu,  (age 6)                                         Jessica Rekos,  (age 6)

Catherine V. Hubbard,  (age 6)                               Avielle Richman, (age 6)

Chase Kowalski,  (age 7)                                             Benjamin Wheeler, (age 6)

Jesse Lewis,  (age 6)                                                    Allison N. Wyatt, (age 6)

Since Friday there have been, I imagine, millions of parents who have hugged their child just a bit more tightly, who have said I love you a bit more often, who have wiped away tears as they watched the news and who have felt the always lightly sleeping fears about their child’s safety stir and terribly awaken for a moment.

Since Friday there are many parents who will someday – not now for the pain is too fresh and too great, too coldly hot for any ideas, words, thoughts, or beliefs to provide comfort – someday take some comfort in the thought that though their child was taken too soon from them and this world, that their child will not experience all the many joys of living, that they will not be able to watch and experience the person that child would have become, that their separation is not forever.

Someday they will be reunited; reunited in a place without pain and sorrow and where there is no threat of parting again.  And until that happy day comes their child is safe, loved, and free from the pains and sorrows that are now all too present for those parents.

Atheism cannot offer that.

I have written about atheism and death before, but it was from the viewpoint of both my own death and that of older people, my parents.  Not the deaths of six and seven year old children.  Children who had not yet grown, who had not yet experienced even a fraction of the joys that life offers, that never had a chance to become the person they could and would have.

No fascination with a part of the world whether silly or serious that grows to become a passion – the stars, the earth, other people, butterflies, unicorns in statues and paintings, art, music, all the infinite wonders of the world.  No first date and no first kiss.  No more school, no more learning.  No playing the violin or guitar or piano.  No finding the first love of their life.  No finding the second, third or fourth love.  No hikes in the Appalachians, no playing again in the surf.  No marriage, no children.  No growing old with the person they love.

No.

That realization is all that atheism has to offer in this case.

For someone older you can celebrate the life they did have and their impact on others around them.  For someone who was only six or seven, you can do the same but it is not nearly enough to offset the loss.  In fact, it only makes the loss greater as you realize how little time they had.

Atheists talk about the freedom from fear that atheism brings.   We talk about how we are free to follow reason and logic and science wherever they may lead without the fear of a jealous and petty God.  We talk about the strength of our morality and compare it favorably not only to that of believers but also to that of God whose universe contains too much pain and suffering to be the work of a loving and moral God.

Atheists talk about the emotional strength that they have so that they can face the thought of their own death without flinching and, sometimes, without fears; the joy they can take in the life they have lived and with who they lived it with.

We talk about how the shortness of life does not detract from its beauties and its joys, that length neither adds nor subtracts from the value and joys of living.

But that is for a life more full than six or seven years.

A child’s death has a special pain and sorrow.  One that the atheism has no comfort to provide, no way to alleviate except to say life goes on, to remember your child as they were and to take that memory and do something with it – whether great or small it does not matter, but do something in remembrance of your child lost much too soon.  But that is a cold comfort that provides no heat to a world grown cold and bitter, no healing for a heart broken.

In my previous blog I wrote about one of the few real benefits of prayer – the grief and pain shared, the comfort provided from that sharing and the strength built upon that sharing.  Although atheists can and do also share grief and pain and provide comfort to each other, this established ritual and shared ritual on the part of believers is one reason that religion continues on today.

Another is the belief in a world after this one where those lost, especially those lost too soon, will be re-united with us and live forever.

Many atheists may scoff at this as a sign of weakness.  They will say that believers do not have the strength of will, the strength of personality, the commitment to unflinchingly face reality in all its wonders and horrors and compare believers unfavorably with the clear eyed and pure beliefs of the atheist.

I do not and will not.

I agree that there is some comfort to be taken in remembering the happiness of the short time they had together.  There is some comfort to be taken in remembering the happiness their child had in living for the short time they had.  There is some comfort to be taken in using those memories and doing something with them that makes a difference, whether great or small, in the world.

But it is not enough, not near enough to deal with the searing pain that I imagine comes with the loss of a child who was only six, only seven.

Atheism is not in all ways superior to that of a believer.  In some ways, the believer who is rational, who is accepting of differences of others, who is accepting of the findings of science; that believer’s views, at times such as these, seem superior in some ways to atheism:  the only flaw being that there is no God and no life after death.

Yes, the truth is important and I am not about to give up my atheist beliefs.  However, we by and large accept lies that do no harm in social situations daily.  Yes, Aunt Clara is only 49 instead of 60; that dress looks beautiful on you; no George, your thinning hair is not as thin as you think, your newborn baby is so cute…….

While in most ways I believe atheism is superior to theism, that it has more to offer just by virtue of being true if nothing else.  But it is not superior in every way, not even in every way that matters.

Atheism has nothing to offer here, no way of easing the pain of losing a six and seven year old child.  Because of that I do not begrudge or belittle them their beliefs, beliefs that do offer some help and some comfort during a time of unimaginable pain.

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I was in the process of writing a blog about something else when I came across this bit of news and couldn’t resist.

Dennis Prager, founder of Prager University, has written a book showing that the Bible was written by God!

Wowsa.  The founder of a University has written a well  and thoroughly  researched book showing that God wrote the Bible!

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Never mind that his university has no brick and mortar buildings.  Nor any on-line courses.  Nor degrees. Nor certification.  No professors or teaching staff.  No required reading.  What is does have….ummm.  Oh yeah, it has a series of short videos narrated by various people on various subjects.   The ones I have watched have almost always contained serious mistakes and inaccuracies.

But, never mind.  I am sure that the book is of better quality than Prager’s university.

Now, I know that it is not really the thing to do to review a book solely based on what is being said about it.  But, this is from Fox News, so I am sure it must be right.

So, here is what  Fox said Prager said about his  book, The Rational Bible: Exodus.  Along with my commentary.

“The Bible is the “greatest book ever written,” according to Dennis Prager, a nationally syndicated conservative radio talk show host and writer…”

Well, technically, the Bible is a collection of books of varying types and styles.   Rather like a short story collection.

As for being the greatest, depends on your definition of greatest.  If you are talking about literary quality, that is debatable in regards to the Bible as a whole.  Now, there are certain books and passages that are indeed great.  And possibly the greatest.  But, those parts would have competition.  So, no cakewalk.

If you are talking about influence on the world and affecting world history, then you have a good case.  The Bible has been and still is highly influential.  However, the case could be made that the Qur’an is the greatest.  It too has had a rather sizeable impact on the world.  Of course, you could say that the Torah is the greatest since it predates both the Bible and the Qur’an and is the basis for both books.  Without the Torah neither book would exist.

So, there are definitely questions about this statement by Prager.

Next reported statement.  Or rather series of related statements.

“This is the first generation in human history … that is being raised godless.”

Considering that most people are Christian and are taught by their parents and relatives to believe in God, I think this is a great overstatement.  It also confuses schools being neutral, which involves being secular, with teaching that there is no God.  Not quite the same.  Further, I do not think many of us would like having God actually taught in the schools, not when it is not our god that is being taught.

“And the results I believe are the end of Western civilization as we know it.”

So Western civilization wasn’t done in by slavery, tyranny, basic enslavement of women, oppressive child labor, imperialism, and several other things.  But having a secular government that doesn’t teach god in school will do it iin.

Wowsa.

“People go to church or synagogue, they hear the Bible and most of them don’t know how to make heads or tails of it,” Prager said. “[Exodus] has the Ten Commandments and I am using reason alone to explain everything in there … [to] show how this is life transforming — that this was the source of wisdom in American for good reason,” he said.

Funny.  Those who wrote the Constittuion consulted a great many books to create this country. The Bible was not one of them.  In fact, the Constitution contradicts the Ten Commandments and is fundamentally in disagreement with it.  The freedom of religious belief and the requirement to have no other god before me don’t go too well together.  Roger Williams knew that.

But wait.  According to the headline of this Fox News piece Prager’s new book says that God wrote the Bible.  Where are his statements about that?  Oh, here it is.  At the end.

“The great way in which non-Jews are depicted in these five books and the negative way Jews are often, not always obviously… that is one of my many arguments for ultimately a divine author,” he said.

Wowsa again.  Might have to read this book again to see how he pulls that magic trick off.  The way non -Jews and Jews are depicted is evidence of a “divine author”.

Wowsa.

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In the beginning, humanity hunted, humanity gathered, and they did so in family groups.  These groups were the earliest and most basic human social structure.

As time advanced, these groups grew larger through natural processes at work even today.  This natural increase was furthered and quickened by humanity’s growing knowledge and technology which allowed them to die less often and live longer.  And to support more people.

lepenskivirart2Larger groups had several advantages. With more people, some could be spared to become craftsmen or tradesmen – pottery, weaving, knapping, trade, etc.  This benefited the now enlarged family group.  Another important benefit is that having more people meant that it was harder for other, often competing, family groups to force you to move from favorable locations.  Or take away your resources and access to needed and important minerals and water.  Or, to just wipe you out.

And, being bigger meant that if felt it necessary, you could do that to them!

However, as primarily a hunting and gathering society, there were limits to how large your group could grow.  But, then along came agriculture.  Suddenly, those limits were gone.

But, as with most advances, there were problems too. Now a society could grow larger, but family groups could only grow so far and so fast. However, several family groups working together could grow quite quickly and with fewer limits.

But, you knew there was going to be another but, there was another problem.  How to hold these different family groups together when one family group became upset and mad at another. After all, their primary loyalty had been and was to their family.  Family feuds back then were often deadly.

The answer – Religion.  Well, really, the answer was to create a new identity that E0702 KLENZE 9463transcended  family loyalties so  that even when family groups got pissed at each other the society stayed whole and the conflict was largely worked out within the new, larger society instead of tearing it apart.  But, an essential part of that identity was religion.

This was a religion grown from the beliefs of these family groups but organized and made bigger.  And then used to create a new identity and to not only resolve potentially societal suicidal disputes, but to provide a means and motive to redistribute resources (even though abused, a necessity too – for example, irrigation).

For the most part I do not think this was consciously done, although at times I am sure that aspects of it were. But, rather, this was a natural growth.  Also, I would imagine that the attempt to create this new unity with religion failed often and the nascent society fell apart. But, some succeeded and when they did, well they were bigger with all the benefits mentioned above.  Further, they were more organized and able to have people do things not related to just providing food – arts, trades, trading, soldiers, etc

Religion was a success.  And nothing else worked as well.   It is why you never find an early civilization in which religion was not an essential part of its structure.  It had to be for such structures to exist.

Nothing human is static.  We change and grow and react in response to the non-static world around us. This holds true for religion too.  Religion started to move beyond largely societal commands and strictures and assume a more and more moral aspect to it. Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad and others are aspects of this changing nature.

One other aspect of this use of religion as national identity: those who were not of the same religion were then not a part of us, and thus dangerous and suspicious.  Reading the history of England as it switched from Church of England to Catholic and back again is an interesting read and an illustration of this truth.  It is why I say it is not so much religion that is the cause of so much violence, but its wedding to the state.

Which brings us to the gradual divorce of that married couple, once joined as one.  As Religious-Affiliationhumanity was more able to easily travel to other countries with other beliefs, and as humanity became better able to communicate about those other peoples – the printing press being the biggest boost to that – people within countries started to question their beliefs.  Which was a threat to the state – as mentioned earlier.

This warfare and violence though was abhorred by many good men, including some very religious believers.  And the idea started and grew and was developed that religion and state should be divorced, and then kept separated in order to control and lessen the violence and hatred.  Interestingly enough, the earliest proponent of a complete separation of religion and state was a Puritan theologian and founder of the Baptist Church in America, Roger Williams (he also founded the state of Rhode Island with that principle in mind).

A couple of hundred of years later a country was born in which the state and church were explicitly separate and forbidden to join together.   Note, by state I mean government.  And that is not the same as a society and culture.

Now, this was such a good idea that over the next two hundred years (a bit over actually) this idea spread and became the norm, or at least given lip service.  Secular non-religious institutions also grew that provided the same functions that only religion used to provide – education, healthcare, providing for the poor, etc. Abulcasis-blistering

However, a bit over two hundred years is a very short period of time. I imagine the transition from family groups to cities with religions took considerably longer.  Which is why we still see the remnants of the older attitude of identifying the state with a specific religion rise up.  It is why Buddhists in Myanmar are persecuting and committing genocide upon Muslims there.   Or why Muslims in many Islamic countries do not allow conversions.  Or why religious people in communist and officially atheistic countries were persecuted (what is the issue here is the identification of one religious view with the state, no matter what that view might be).

And why we still see it rear its head here in the United States.

Immediately after 9/11, the city of Fort Worth decided to hold a grand meeting of city employees to allow a sense of grief to be shared and supported by our shared unity. However, this meeting or ceremony was decidedly Christian, complete with the police Chaplain giving a prayer in the name of Jesus Christ amen.

My wife, who is an atheist, and a Buddhist friend of hers  were left with a sense of betrayal, of being left out. Were they not Americans too?  Did they not feel shock and grieve?   Instead of unifying all Americans, it divided.

It was just after this that God Bless America became a traditional 7th inning stretch song at baseball games.   A way to provide unity and show you were a true blue American. My wife and I, as atheist, refused to sing it, and even refused to stand for it because it came to symbolize the United States as a Christian nation.

Last Thursday was the National Day of Prayer, itself a relic of the old religion as national identity. Many presidents in the past have worked to offset that by trying to include other faiths in these prayers.  But, it still is a relic of the old identifying of the state with one religious view. 170x170bb

More recently our government has been more and more influenced and pandering to one specific religious group. Towards that end, they are working to make it easier to use religion as a justification for discrimination and injustice

I mentioned culture and society earlier and how they are different than governments.  But, while they are different, they do influence it.  This is especially true in a democracy and cannot be any other way.  It creates a bit of tension at times a lot of tensions at others, and it provides a challenge in regards to politicians and government workers at times.  For the most part though, the government has managed to stay secular and maintain that wall of separation. However, I believe that we are now undergoing one of those times when that wall will be attacked, and will be cracked.  Not destroyed, but cracked.

What this shows though is that the replacement of religion as a glue holding people together, as a way of providing a national identity and unity still exists and is still a powerful force.  However the difference between today and the past is that the population is diverse whereas in the past is was largely homogeneous.  That means instead providing a national identity and unifying us, it provides an identity for some and serves to divide us.

I do not think that religion will ever disappear (after all, the family has not disappeared, that primal beginning of all human societies) – nor should that be our goal (very far from it). But, I do think that our secular government with its secular institutions needs to be protected.  It is a necessity for the continued growth of a more peaceful and just world.

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Today I took my wife’s car in to get the oil changed.  They told me it would be about an hour before they could get to it, which I expected, and was properly prepared for, having brought a book to read.  However, the woman sitting across from me who was also waiting for her car had other ideas.  She talked to me.  Even when I was reading.  Even when I was texting.  And having been raised to be polite, I every now and then responded, especially when she asked direct questions about me.

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However, from this frustrating experience (if Dante had experienced this he would have created another circle of Hell just for such people) I wound up making a couple of interesting observations that are now in the process of becoming the subject of this blog.

My epiphanies occurred when the mechanic came out holding the cabin air filter of her car.  It was absolutely filthy.  The mechanic asked the woman if she wanted to have it replaced.  When asked how much, he said 75 dollars.  The woman almost freaked.

She said she could not afford 75 dollars. That due to Hurricane Harvey she was already having to live in a Motel 6, that she had no extra money to pay for anything, couldn’t he just wash it and put it back in, that she had asthma and her medications were expensive, why was it so expensive, couldn’t see go and get it from someplace cheaper and have them put it in (the answer was no), if she paid for that she would wind up sleeping on the streets, and on for a bit more.  Upshot was that she told him to clean it off as best he could and put it back in since she couldn’t pay for it to be replaced.

Afterwards, she just sat there for a few moments.  While studiously reading I watched her; she looked as if she were about to cry.  Then she composed herself, and started talking to me again.  This time though it was about God and Jesus and how they control everything.  About how she knew she did not need to worry as they would look out for her and provide her what they thought was best for her, even if she may not always understand.

She went on in this manner for quite a while, mixed in with how could that small filter cost 75 dollars and about her medical issues .  What was interesting here is that also mixed in all of this is the fact that she came up with a way to take care of the problem.  She found out the cost of the filter at an auto parts store (I think 20 dollars) and, after a quick veer into human greed and it couldn’t be that hard to put the part in, she talked about a friend she had who was a shade tree mechanic who would put it in for free.

My first observation is that her religion allowed her to maintain control.  A loud and talkative and complaining control, but control nonetheless.  And, unlike what many atheists like to claim, despite her talk about God and Jesus controlling everything and being in charge, she took actions and formulated a plan to take care to the problem.   I would say that her beliefs allowed her to calm herself and not get caught up in a loop of worry and despair.  And, because of that, she was able to come up with a plan that sounded to me as if it should work.

Now I know many atheists would like to say that we should all be strong and not need the “crutch” of religion,  I am not one of those.  People are different.  Even strong people need crutches at times.  This, along with other reasons I have talked about elsewhere, is another reason why religion will never totally disappear.

My other observation came about as she continued to talk and talk and talk to me. This time about her religious beliefs.  About how God and Jesus were in control of everything.  We humans just think we are in control, but we are not   Satan and his demons (the fallen angels, one third of all angels) also had a role to play, but they were not in control.  They too often controlled our behaviors, but only because we let them and do not call upon God.

upload2She related this down to even everyday tasks and decisions.  While she was doing so, at great length, I had a flashback to a paper I wrote while getting my MLA.  It was about the Iliad and the role the Greek gods played in it.  More specifically, did the Greeks actually believe that the gods took over and controlled people in the manner written in the Iliad.

 

What most attracted my attention during my reading of the Iliad is the prominent and varied roles of the gods in the story.   They are active in the activities of the war and often are the initiators of those actions; they act upon men for both good and evil; and they are used to explain sudden fortunes and misfortunes.  They also are the ones who make the final decisions on who wins and who loses, who lives and who dies, and on whether Troy will be overthrown and destroyed or not.

In reading the Iliad one gets the feeling that the Greeks did not believe that they controlled their fate, that instead larger forces determined their destiny.

When I wrote this paper I had no thought of applying this to modern times, considering this a relic of ancient thinking.  However, from what this woman said, which many religious people would also agree with, I saw that such thinking had not died out.  Her beliefs are a close relative to the same sort of thinking seen in the Iliad and the Odyssey.   Not the same, but close.  And both though arose from the same sources- that so much of life is a mystery, that we want one thing but behave another way despite ourselves;  and the realization that much of life is also beyond our control, which can and often does create great hardships on us.  Thinking in this way, whether it involves many or a single god, allows us a way to control our response, at least on an emotional level, to such events beyond our control.  As I noted in my first observation above.

 

One final note.  She quite often said I was a nice person and talked about the importance of God in people’s lives, that without God they are adrift and helpless.  Somehow I managed to avoid mentioning that I am an atheist.  And by doing so confirmed that I must be a nice guy after all.

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My last blog, “We Are All Born Theists” generated a great deal of gratifying discussion, even though most of it was in disagreement with me.  Which, though, was what I expected.  What I did not expect was that most of the discussion and disagreement was on something I had thought the minor point of the  blog:  whether a person who does not even have the concept of God is an atheist, as per the meme in my blog, which had stated babies are born atheists. rf_detail_174_0

So, given the number of discussions this topic on atheism generated, and the fact that I did not really get to fully explain my position (and, indeed, until I had seen all the arguments against it, did not really know how to do so), I am continuing it in this blog.

Now, for my position – I do not believe that a person, in this case a baby, can be called an atheist if they do not have even the concept or idea of God.  And by God, I mean any sort of supernatural entity invoked to explain natural and/or human events.  This includes nature spirits such as water and wood entities, ancestors, pantheon of Gods, our own solitary God, etc.

Now, let me be clear what I am not saying.  I am not saying that:

  • Atheists have to be materialists and/or naturalists. A person can believe in life after death, in ghosts, in psychic phenomena, in reincarnation and karma, etc.  and still be an atheist.
  • I am not saying a person cannot be ignorant and still be an atheist. An atheist can be a flat earther.  An atheist can believe contrails are chemicals being sprayed down by the government to better pacify and control us.  An atheist can believe all sorts of irrational and ignorant things and still be an atheist.

I think this covers the main areas of misunderstandings of my position.  Which is, again, F16-SEP-do-nothing-borderthat a lack of knowledge about even the concept of God does not make a person an atheist.

Those who disagreed with me argued that it is only a lack of belief in God that defines an atheist, not the cause. dark

To a point, I agree.  Why a person became an atheist is immaterial.  It could be trauma, rational thought, rebellion, or just finding the whole idea silly.  Whatever  the reason, if they lack a belief in God, then they are an atheist.

However, to me, to not even have the concept of God, is different.  The why of this hinges on the word “belief”.  To believe or not believe something you have to first know of it.  For example, can you say that a person who has never heard of or seen pictures of dragons really does not believe in dragons?   I guess you can, but I think a much more accurate statement would be that they are ignorant of the idea of dragons. A lack of knowledge of is not the same as a lack of belief in.

The same holds true for atheism.  Ignorance of God would be a much more accurate description of a person who has no concept, never heard or read of God than would be atheist.

And then I look at who this definition of atheism as including even those totally ignorant of the concept of God would apply to in real life. Babies.  Do you really want to say that babies who lack the ability to understand anything or reason at that age are atheist just because, along with everything else, they have no concept of God?

Or what about persons with severely intellectual and developmental handicaps?  So severe that they cannot talk and understand little to no words?  Do you really want to call them atheists?

15-ask-polly.w710.h473

Sorry, this does not pass my silly test.  And sorry  for how dismissive that might sound, but it really does describe my initial reaction to this. To put this another way,  I mean it does not make logical sense to say that they are atheists.  Ignorance and belief/lack of belief are not the same.

To equate ignorance of even the concept of God to being an atheist is, basically, equating ignorance and atheism.

 

 

 

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