In a world dominated by magical thinking, superstition and misinformation, give yourself the benefit of doubt. This is one skeptic's view of the Universe; natural wonders and supernatural blunders.

"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

 

If ISIS Is Not Islamic, then the Inquisition Was Not Catholic: There is no such thing as 'true' religion

…ISIS has an extreme and fundamentalist interpretation of Muslim doctrine. But in exactly the same way, dogma about the immorality of abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex, and divorce have become part of Catholicism. They are theological interpretations of scripture that appeal to some people’s sense of morality. Others disagree. Whose faith is “truer”?

In the end, there is no “true” religion in the factual sense, for there is no good evidence supporting their claims to truth. Nor are there “true” religions in the moral sense. Every faith justifies itself and its practices by appeal to authority, revelation, and dogma. There are just some religions we like better than others because of their practical consequences. If that’s what we mean by “true,” we should just admit it. There’s no shame in that, for it’s certainly the case that societies based on some religions are more dysfunctional than others. Morality itself is neither objectively true nor false, but at bottom rests on subjective preferences: the “oughts” that come from what we see as the consequences of behaving one way versus another.

By all means let us say that ISIS is a strain of Islam that is barbaric and dysfunctional, but let us not hear any nonsense that it’s a “false religion.” ISIS, like all religious movements, is based on faith; and faith, which is belief in the absence of convincing evidence, isn’t true or false, but simply irrational.

People will tell us that without the consolations of religion they would be intolerably unhappy. So far as this is true, it is a coward’s argument. Nobody but a coward would consciously choose to live in a fool’s paradise. When a man suspects his wife of infidelity, he is not thought the better of for shutting his eyes to the evidence. And I cannot see why ignoring evidence should be contemptible in one case and admirable in the other.

Bertrand Russell. 1952.

(Title: Is There a God)

Everyone who is religious picks and chooses their morals from scripture. And so, too, do religious apologists pick and choose the “true” religions using identical criteria: what appeals to them as “good” ways to behave. The Qur’an, like the Bible, is full of vile moral statements supposedly emanating from God. We cherry-pick them depending on our disposition, our politics, and our upbringing.
In the end, there is no “true” religion in the factual sense, for there is no good evidence supporting their truth claims. Neither are there “true” religions in the moral sense. Every faith justifies itself and its practices by appeal to authority, revelation, and dogma. There are just some religions we like better than others because of their practical consequences. If that’s what we mean by “true,” we should just admit it. There’s no shame in that, for it’s certainly the case that societies based on some religions are more dysfunctional than others. Morality itself is neither objectively “true” nor “false,” but at bottom rests on subjective preferences: the “oughts” that come from what we see as the consequences of behaving one way versus another. By all means let us say that ISIS is a strain of Islam that is barbaric and dysfunctional, but let us not hear any nonsense that it’s a “false religion”. ISIS, like all religious movements, is based on faith; and faith, which is belief in the absence of convincing evidence, isn’t true or false, but simply irrational.

Jerry Coyne. 2014.

(TitleWhat is a “true” religion?)

ancientart:

An Egyptian snake coffin.
Made of bronze, dates to 664-30 B.C.E..

Egyptian religion frequently adopted a mulitplicity of approaches to explain or represent different aspects of a single divine concept. The sun god, for instance, had a morning aspect called Khepri, commonly depicted as a scarab beetle pushing the sun disk across the heavens much as a beetle rolls a ball of dung across the desert floor. The noontime sun was Re or Re-Horakhty, often shown as a falcon or falcon-headed man with a sun disk on his head. Atum, who personified the sun that set over the western horizon to travel through the underworld, could be represented in many guises, including those of a human-headed cobra, a ram-headed man, or a weary old man.

Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum, via their online collections: 36.624.

ancientart:

An Egyptian snake coffin.

Made of bronze, dates to 664-30 B.C.E..

Egyptian religion frequently adopted a mulitplicity of approaches to explain or represent different aspects of a single divine concept. The sun god, for instance, had a morning aspect called Khepri, commonly depicted as a scarab beetle pushing the sun disk across the heavens much as a beetle rolls a ball of dung across the desert floor. The noontime sun was Re or Re-Horakhty, often shown as a falcon or falcon-headed man with a sun disk on his head. Atum, who personified the sun that set over the western horizon to travel through the underworld, could be represented in many guises, including those of a human-headed cobra, a ram-headed man, or a weary old man.

Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum, via their online collections36.624.

Ask an Astrophysicist

Looking through the Ask an Astrophysicist archives this morning, this one was my favorite. A super tactful way of saying, “yeah, we actually understand quite a bit about the origins of the universe and of life. It’s not a tie between religion and science. We have actual methods and theories, with actual observations.”

The Question

(Submitted February 17, 1997)
I am puzzled between my beliefs and religion. I do not know what to tell my child about the creation of the Universe. She seems really interested in knowing how all that we know exists.

I personally believe that no one knows for sure how the Universe was created or how we were created. Why are we here, a place in the Universe, this infinite Universe. Where did we come from?

The Answer

This is a pretty big question! I admire both of you for struggling with it.
Our work — like those of scientists everywhere — is concerned with the ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ of the Universe, rather than whether or not there is a ‘why’. While it is not our role to discuss beliefs or religion, we can help you by telling you what astronomers have learned about the creation of the Universe. The scientific method (based on testing and modifying explanations until they agree with observations - and then making more observations to be explained!) has been astoundingly effective in investigating the history of the Universe and showing how one event followed another in a way understandable and predictable from a small number of physical principles (such as Newton’s Laws of Motion and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity).

We now have a very good picture of how the Universe has evolved since the so-called Big Bang (some 15 billion years or so ago) to the present. Even twenty years ago, Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg was able to write a popular book “The First Three Minutes” which describes in some detail the particle interactions likely to have occurred during the first 180 seconds of the Universe!

Many non-scientific groups in human history have also thought they had a good picture of the Universe, but the crucial difference was that their explanations were either not tested or not testable. The scientific view is tested by many thousands of scientists every day and wrong ideas cannot survive very long. Of course there are still many mysteries remaining, but most of them concern quite fine details of galactic and stellar evolution.

Even the origin and evolution of life are much better understood than is usually realized. The mechanisms causing the simple life forms present on the earth more than 3 billion years ago to diversify into the tremendous biological variety we see today are well known. Many of the chemical steps required to produce the first life forms from simple and abundant molecules have been reproduced in the laboratory. Others have not, but the evidence for life in the oldest rocks we have examined (and the recently discovered similar evidence for ancient life on Mars) suggests that life may begin readily when the right materials and conditions are together for enough time.

To explore the work of our laboratory go to: http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ Note that the StarChild part of our site has been written for children between the ages of 4 and 14.

For other discussions concerning the origin and evolution of the Universe, books by Hawking (“A Brief History of Time” and others), Gribbin (“In the Beginning”), and Abrams (“The Birth of the Universe: The Big Bang and After”) are worth a look.

For discussions of the origin and evolution of life, books by Steven Jay Gould might give you a place to start.

For more on the scientific method, Bronowski’s “The Ascent of Man”, Morrison’s “Nothing is too Wonderful to be True” and Sagan’s “Cosmos” and “The Demon Haunted World” contain interesting discussions of how science works. You might also want to check out the bi-monthly magazine “Skeptical Inquirer”.

I had hoped to be able to recommend a much longer list of sites for you to visit on the World Wide Web, but I was very disappointed when I explored what is currently available. The average quality of information for the areas you are interested in is extremely low — because anyone can make material available on the Web, so the few good sites are lost in the noise. I suggest that you will make much more progress by visiting good libraries and bookstores and reading widely.

I hope that both you and your daughter will continue to enjoy reading about, thinking about, and discussing these important questions.

Paul Butterworth
for Imagine the Universe!

godlessmen:

Rick Santorum Says Secularism Is A Religion & Should Be Banned From Public Schools

Wow. I forgot what an affront to reason Rick Santorum is.

godlessmen:

If only all our Christian and Muslim friends would watch this 2 min video on morality - and THINK..

They ask this question as if “religious morality” was absolute and unchanging… A simple look at the history of religion and morality will reveal a dynamic evolution of moral philosophies with all of its tenets originating in human minds.

It is surely harmful to souls to make it a heresy to believe what is proved.

Galileo Galilei (via whats-out-there)

They have set out for the benefit of the world, for the ease of the world, out of pity for the world. They have resolved: “We will become a shelter for the world, the world’s place of rest, the final relief of the world, islands of the world, lights of the world, the guides of the world’s means of salvation.

The Prajna-paramita Sutras (Sermons on the Perfection of Wisdom), which were compiled at the end of the first century BCE, explaining the Bodhisattvas (Buddhist teachers who forego their own nirvana in order to help others reach enlightenment)

Now, replace “they/we” with “He/I” and who does that sound like? This is but one small example of how Jesus was unoriginal. The notion of spiritual teachers sacrificing themselves for humanity has a rich and varied tradition that neither began or ended with the character “Jesus” in The Bible.

Born again, again: how YA literature affirmed my faith and the Bible killed it

….I am no longer the girl with A Time to Cherish and my Bible on my night stand, searching for all the answers that my mother couldn’t give me. In fact, when I sat down the other day to re-read “A Time to Cherish,” I was so perplexed and troubled by it, I wrote the author herself to ask her some questions. One was her advice to me, a reader who had not only lost her faith, but in the parlance of Born Agains, her testimony – her love for God and desire to share the good Word. “Turn to God,” she replied. “Every life is redeemable. … Shame off you, grace on you.

Her answer made me ineffably sad.

How could I explain? I don’t feel that I need redemption. I don’t feel ashamed. I don’t feel lost, or scared or worried about my eternal soul. I don’t even think I have an eternal soul.

I no longer even value faith; I value doubt.

I do know why, as a young girl, I wanted answers: I was angry, like a lot of teens, and I was learning that growing up doesn’t give anyone solutions, only more complicated questions. I loved Gunn’s book so much because, even as Christy struggles with faith, with being a young woman, having crushes and maintaining friendships, her faith allows her to know that everything happens for a reason, and that everything will be OK.

Somewhere along the way I lost interest in everything being OK.

There’s a moment in Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet in which the German writer urges a young and struggling author, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love questions themselves, like locked rooms and like book that are written in a very foreign languages.” More than my politics changing (which they did) or my mother passing (which she did), what separates me from the girl who looked to A Time to Cherish for direction is that I became vastly more interested in questions rather than answers.

Which is not to say that I don’t still try to find meaning in my life, or that I begrudge anyone else their own search. A Time to Cherish is still on my shelf, next to my pink Bible, my Quran, Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, Leon Lederman’s tomes on particle physics and collections of Keats. Reading them all gave me more questions than anyone could ever answer.

I used to live in a world of miracles. Now I live in a world of wonder.

The Sacred Texts of Various Religions

There’s quite a few, to say the least.

And you know your particular book is the true one because you must have evaluated the truth claims of all of the others and weighed them against the evidence. Right?

Either that, OR you were just raised to believe in one and to be ignorant of all the others…

Wash. state megachurch closes branches after founder is caught calling women ‘penis homes’

Washington megachurch Mars Hill announced that it is closing several branches, and has dismissed a pastor after he recently called for the resignation of founder Mark Driscoll, who had created controversy with his anti-LGBT and anti-woman views.

In a letter posted to his Dropbox account, Pastor Mark Dunford said that he had been dismissed from the church’s Portland branch after calling for Driscoll’s resignation, saying that the founder created a “culture of fear” inside the church.

An August profile of Driscoll published by The New York Times explained that he had been accused “of plagiarizing, of inappropriately using church funds and of consolidating power to such a degree that it has become difficult for anyone to challenge or even question him.”


A month earlier, it was revealed that Driscoll had posted hundreds of inflammatory Internet comments almost 15 years ago.

Although the media focused on his comments about the U.S. being a “pussified nation,” bloggers who followed Driscoll closely argued that his views on women and sex were the larger problem.

On Monday, “Love, Joe, Feminism” blogger Libby Anne pointed out one of the more disturbing notions from Driscoll’s Internet trolling days.

“Ultimately, God created you and it is his penis. You are simply borrowing it for a while,” Driscoll wrote under the name William Wallace II in 2001. “Knowing that His penis would need a home, God created a woman to be your wife and when you marry her and look down you will notice that your wife is shaped differently than you and makes a very nice home.”

“Therefore, if you are single you must remember that your penis is homeless and needs a home,” he continued. “But, though you may believe your hand is shaped like a home, it is not… And, if you look at a man it is quite obvious that what a homeless man does not need is another man without a home.”…