Chronicling the follies of religion and superstition, the virtues of skepticism, and the wonders of the real (natural) universe as revealed by science. Plus other interesting and educational stuff.

"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."

-George Carlin

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.

-Albert Einstein

“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

-Carl Sagan

The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.

-Christopher Hitchens

 

Top 10 Resurrections

Death fascinates humans, and probably always has. The oldest extant epic, that of Gilgamesh, directly addresses the question of why death exists. With Easter on its way, it seems timely to remember a religious figure who died and came back to life—I’m just not sure which one to choose. World mythology is full of religious figures who have undergone resurrection. Here are ten of the more interesting stories

Lessons of Immortality and Mortality From My Father, Carl Sagan | BY SASHA SAGAN

…One day when I was still very young, I asked my father about his parents. I knew my maternal grandparents intimately, but I wanted to know why I had never met his parents.

“Because they died,” he said wistfully.

“Will you ever see them again?” I asked.

He considered his answer carefully. Finally, he said that there was nothing he would like more in the world than to see his mother and father again, but that he had no reason — and no evidence — to support the idea of an afterlife, so he couldn’t give in to the temptation.

“Why?”

Then he told me, very tenderly, that it can be dangerous to believe things just because you want them to be true. You can get tricked if you don’t question yourself and others, especially people in a position of authority. He told me that anything that’s truly real can stand up to scrutiny.

As far as I can remember, this is the first time I began to understand the permanence of death. As I veered into a kind of mini existential crisis, my parents comforted me without deviating from their scientific worldview….

The world will go on without us after we die—a monstrously heartless thing for it to do.

Jennifer Ouellette, The Science of the Self

religiousragings:

Grief Without God-The Thinking Atheist Podcast #16

This was sent to me in reference to a recent post I made.  I recommend it very highly.  I should warn you that it’s pretty heavy though.  :/

You might also want to check out the Grief Beyond Belief Facebook page.

Sigh.

deconversionmovement:

Neanderthals Buried Their Dead, New Research of Remains Concludes
Dec. 16, 2013 — Neanderthals buried their dead, an international team of archaeologists has concluded after a 13-year study of remains discovered in southwestern France.
Their findings, which appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirm that burials took place in western Europe prior to the arrival of modern humans.
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deconversionmovement:

Neanderthals Buried Their Dead, New Research of Remains Concludes

Dec. 16, 2013 — Neanderthals buried their dead, an international team of archaeologists has concluded after a 13-year study of remains discovered in southwestern France.

Their findings, which appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirm that burials took place in western Europe prior to the arrival of modern humans.

Continue Reading

Climbing Mount Immortality: Death, Cognition and the Making of Civilization

By Michael Shermer

Imagine yourself dead. What picture comes to mind? Your funeral with a casket surrounded by family and friends? Complete darkness and void? In either case, you are still conscious and observing the scene. In reality, you can no more envision what it is like to be dead than you can visualize yourself before you were born. Death is cognitively nonexistent, and yet we know it is real because every one of the 100 billion people who lived before us is gone. As Christopher Hitchens told an audience I was in shortly before his death, “I’m dying, but so are all of you.” Reality check.

In his book Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization (Crown, 2012), British philosopher and Financial Times essayist Stephen Cave calls this the Mortality Paradox. “Death therefore presents itself as both inevitable and impossible,” Cave suggests. We see it all around us, and yet “it involves the end of consciousness, and we cannot consciously simulate what it is like to not be conscious.”

The attempt to resolve the paradox has led to four immortality narratives: Staying alive: “Like all living systems, we strive to avoid death. The dream of doing so forever—physically, in this world—is the most basic of immortality narratives.” Resurrection: “The belief that, although we must physically die, nonetheless we can physically rise again with the bodies we knew in life.” Soul: The “dream of surviving as some kind of spiritual entity.” Legacy: “More indirect ways of extending ourselves into the future” such as glory, reputation, historical impact or children.

All four fail to deliver everlasting life. Science is nowhere near reengineering the body to stay alive beyond 120 years. Both religi­ous and scientific forms of resurrecting your body succumb to the Transformation Problem (how could you be reassembled just as you were and yet this time be invulnerable to disease and death?) and the Duplication Problem (how would duplicates be different from twins?). “Even if DigiGod made a perfect copy of you at the end of time,” Case conjectures, “it would be exactly that: a copy, an entirely new person who just happened to have the same memories and beliefs as you.” The soul hypothesis has been slain by neuroscience showing that the mind (consciousness, mem­ory and personality patterns representing “you”) cannot exist without the brain. When the brain dies of injury, stroke, dementia or Alzhei­mer’s, the mind dies with it. No brain, no mind; no body, no soul.

That leaves us with the legacy narrative, of which Woody Allen quipped: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve it by not dying.” Nevertheless, Cave argues that legacy is the driving force behind works of art, music, literature, science, culture, architecture and other artifacts of civilization. How? Because of something called Terror Management Theory. Awareness of one’s mortality focuses the mind to create and produce to avoid the terror that comes from confronting the mortality paradox that would otherwise, in the words of the theory’s proponents—psychologists Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski—reduce people to “twitching blobs of biological protoplasm completely perfused with anxiety and unable to effectively respond to the demands of their immediate surroundings.”

Maybe, but human behavior is multivariate in causality, and fear of death is only one of many drivers of creativity and productivity. A baser evolutionary driver is sexual selection, in which organisms from bowerbirds to brainy bohemians engage in the creative production of magnificent works with the express purpose of attracting mates—from big blue bowerbird nests to big-brained orchestral music, epic poems, stirring literature and even scientific discoveries. As well argued by evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller in The Mating Mind (Anchor, 2001), those that do so most effectively leave behind more offspring and thus pass on their creative genes to future generations. As Hitchens once told me, mastering the pen and the podium means never having to dine or sleep alone.

Given the improbability of the first three immortality narratives, making a difference in the world in the form of a legacy that changes lives for the better is the highest we can climb up Mount Immortality, but on a clear day you can see forever.

X

I don’t understand religion. I don’t get it at all. I understand why people need it, but I think they’re wrong. They don’t. I do see that on a crude-ish level, when someone dies, it’s nice and comforting to think that they’re going to heaven and that they’re going to be wrapped up warm for eternity. But they’re not. Heaven doesn’t exist. If you just think about it for a minute, the person is dead, they’re gone, they’re not coming back, and you’ll never see them again. And when you go, you’ll never see anybody again. Just face it. I feel stronger because of it. Knowing that I can’t lean on religion to get through life. If you are leaning on it, you won’t be living your life to the fullest.

Ian McKellen (via hyper-analytical)

jtotheizzoe:

Guts and Gory (Whale Edition)
This sperm whale of viral fame recently washed up on shore in the Faroe Islands (presumably, it was already dead). Weighing in at around 40 tons, a dead sperm whale can become a very serious - and very smelly - public health problem in just a couple of days. Picture a Brain Scoop episode the size of an Olympic swimming pool. 
When a whale dies (or a human, or possum, or pretty much anything with guts), the bacteria that live inside them get hungry. With nothing else to consume, they literally begin to eat themselves out of house and home. Within the oxygen depleted innards of the deceased cetacean, microbes begin to munch on the blubber and tissue, turning them into a host of simpler organic chemicals. Finally, a family of microbes called anaerobic methanogens go to work. And that’s when it gets gassy.
As their name implies, these bugs thrive in juicy environments devoid of oxygen, breaking down organic molecules into methane and carbon dioxide. They reside on the ground floor of the skyscraper that is decomposition. And inside of a whale, with nowhere to go, those gases build up to explosive pressures. If that balloon of death gets punctured, well, you know what happens next.
Of course, a whale doesn’t always disappear in explosive fashion. Until just decades ago, though, no one knew precisely what happened when whales died out in the open ocean. Thanks to robotic submarines, we now know that a “whale fall”, a deeply decomposing cetacean carcass, can anchor a rich ecosystem of crustaceans and other marine invertebrates, who can munch away at the leftovers of a single whale for decades. 
Radiolab did a great episode all about these deep, dark oases of decomposition. Sharon Shattuck adapted that story in a delightful cartoon:

And finally, don’t miss this fascinating look at what curious humans do with a pile of whale bones, thanks to our friends at AudioVision: 

In 1970, some folks in Oregon decided to blow up a similar whale carcass, so it would be easier to clean up. Instead, this happened (turns out 20 cases of dynamite is a little much):

jtotheizzoe:

Guts and Gory (Whale Edition)

This sperm whale of viral fame recently washed up on shore in the Faroe Islands (presumably, it was already dead). Weighing in at around 40 tons, a dead sperm whale can become a very serious - and very smelly - public health problem in just a couple of days. Picture a Brain Scoop episode the size of an Olympic swimming pool. 

When a whale dies (or a human, or possum, or pretty much anything with guts), the bacteria that live inside them get hungry. With nothing else to consume, they literally begin to eat themselves out of house and home. Within the oxygen depleted innards of the deceased cetacean, microbes begin to munch on the blubber and tissue, turning them into a host of simpler organic chemicals. Finally, a family of microbes called anaerobic methanogens go to work. And that’s when it gets gassy.

As their name implies, these bugs thrive in juicy environments devoid of oxygen, breaking down organic molecules into methane and carbon dioxide. They reside on the ground floor of the skyscraper that is decomposition. And inside of a whale, with nowhere to go, those gases build up to explosive pressures. If that balloon of death gets punctured, well, you know what happens next.

Of course, a whale doesn’t always disappear in explosive fashion. Until just decades ago, though, no one knew precisely what happened when whales died out in the open ocean. Thanks to robotic submarines, we now know that a “whale fall”, a deeply decomposing cetacean carcass, can anchor a rich ecosystem of crustaceans and other marine invertebrates, who can munch away at the leftovers of a single whale for decades

Radiolab did a great episode all about these deep, dark oases of decomposition. Sharon Shattuck adapted that story in a delightful cartoon:

And finally, don’t miss this fascinating look at what curious humans do with a pile of whale bones, thanks to our friends at AudioVision

In 1970, some folks in Oregon decided to blow up a similar whale carcass, so it would be easier to clean up. Instead, this happened (turns out 20 cases of dynamite is a little much):

Dead Sylvia Browne is fair game.

When you make a living scamming grieving people out of thousands of dollars to “communicate” with their dead loved ones, you don’t get a free pass from criticism when you die.

NPR | Every Child Is Born A Scientist

This morning I had to turn the radio off. It was all about death: suicide bombers in Iraq killed 75 people; a bus exploded in India, killing 72. My 7-year-old son, sitting in the back, was horrified.

"Geez dad, and you think video games are violent?"

It occurred to me that we are a society obsessed with death and dying, as opposed to nurturing life and living. On Nov 1st, Showtime will air a documentary on death, focusing on the experiences of dying people. It’s all about endings and precious little about beginnings. Should dying and death really sell that well? What does that tell us about what we have become as a society?

It seems to me that we are looking at things in the wrong way. My trip to Brazil last week really brought this home to me. It was their National Week of Science and Technology and more than 800 cities across the country produced some kind of event about science. The goal was to attract children to scientific exhibits and activities. The centerpiece was in the capital, Brasília, where a huge pavilion was filled with all sorts of interactive science experiments that focused on sports and healthy living.

It was, in total, a focus on life through science….

thenewenlightenmentage:

Life After Death? New Techniques Halt Dying Process
The line between life and death is not as clear as once thought, now that developments in the science of resuscitation have made it possible to revive people even hours after their heart has stopped beating and they are declared dead, medical experts say.
"Historically, when a person’s heart stopped and they stopped breathing, for all intents and purposes, they were dead," said Dr. Sam Parnia, an assistant professor of critical care medicine at State University of New York at Stony Brook. "There was nothing you could do to change that," Parnia told an audience at the New York Academy of Sciences last week.
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thenewenlightenmentage:

Life After Death? New Techniques Halt Dying Process

The line between life and death is not as clear as once thought, now that developments in the science of resuscitation have made it possible to revive people even hours after their heart has stopped beating and they are declared dead, medical experts say.

"Historically, when a person’s heart stopped and they stopped breathing, for all intents and purposes, they were dead," said Dr. Sam Parnia, an assistant professor of critical care medicine at State University of New York at Stony Brook. "There was nothing you could do to change that," Parnia told an audience at the New York Academy of Sciences last week.

Continue Reading

godlessmen:

I am genuinely confused as to why this guy is worshiped by millions…


Hundreds of children and thousands of animals? Those numbers seem low for a global flash flood. The Indonesian tsunami alone killed like +/-300,000 and that was a relatively local event compared to the scope of the biblical flood.

godlessmen:

I am genuinely confused as to why this guy is worshiped by millions…

Hundreds of children and thousands of animals? Those numbers seem low for a global flash flood. The Indonesian tsunami alone killed like +/-300,000 and that was a relatively local event compared to the scope of the biblical flood.