Friday, July 20, 2007

Why Complete Materialist?

Why did I name this blog Complete Materialist?

Simply this: I'm convinced beyond all doubt that all phenomena in the universe result from all-natural -- that is, 100 percent supernatural-free -- material causes, with "material" meaning "matter and energy." So, for me, "materialist" encompasses not just physical matter as in quarks, chemical elements, polysaccharides, or diamonds, but also energy, the flow of which animates matter, permits life through chemistry, gives us light, and makes possible backyard weinee roasts.

And, when I say "all phenomena" I mean exactly that, all phenomena, no exceptions. Me, you, indeed all life, nuclear energy, gravity, consciousness - human and non-human alike, all chemistry, all physics.

"All phenomena" also includes derivatives of these resulting from the nearly infinite ways these phenomena can combine, connect, rearrange, and interact. Additionally, I see more abstract ideas like friendship, devotion, string theory, courage, concern, and integral calculus as being completely natural consequences of specific neuronal interconnections: less concrete and oftentimes more transient than a physical object, but nonetheless having completely materialistic causes. This even holds true for those things people would refer to as "spiritual." Human spirituality experienced as senses of awe, wonder, transcendence, or oneness with everything, springs from the structure of our most amazing but still all-natural brains.

A corollary to all of this complete materialism is that nothing exists that is supernatural. Nothing supernatural. Zippo. Zilch. Nada. Not one iota. I began this post saying, I'm convinced beyond all doubt that all phenomena in the universe result from all-natural -- that is, 100 percent supernatural-free -- material causes, and I mean it. When I say "beyond all doubt" that's precisely where I stand. I am not at all closed-minded, but I know enough to know that I can't be convinced that anything supernatural actually exists.

But, how, you might ask, can I say in one breath that I am not closed-minded, and in the next say that I can't be convinced of the existence of supernatural stuff? It's a fair question that just screams to be asked. I think the question deserves a fair response, so I'll share my two main thoughts on why I can't be convinced that anything supernatural exists.

1. Under most circumstances, I agree completely with the notion that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," but in the case of the supernatural, I invoke a special exemption since the claims of supernatural power and influence have been pouring in for millennia and not one shred of credible evidence has been produced to support the idea that any supernatural something whatsoever has ever existed. I'll get deeper into this in later posts, but if we restrict ourselves to religion alone among the myriad supernatural concepts, we have tens of thousands of failed hypotheses if we consider only the gods.

2. One of the great interests I've had throughout my life has been in human sensory and perceptual systems and under what conditions they can and do lead us to a false sense of the world. We humans are quite susceptible to misperceiving the world for a variety of reasons: optical and auditory illusions and hallucinations; dreams that are indistinguishable from reality; hypnotic induction; effects due to the presence or absence of drugs like insulin, THC, or cocaine; physiological stresses like starvation, dehydration, heat stress, hypothermia, allergic reactions, infections, fever, poisons; psychological stresses like fear, uncertainty, anxiety; organic brain defects like tumors, schizophrenia, or Alzheimer's disease; erroneous or misleading information like that disseminated by many religionists about evolution, geology, and radioisotopic dating; lack of information like the earth is spherical, the earth orbits the sun, or the fact that how magic tricks are performed is not generally available to the public; intentional deception like the stage magic used by faith healers and psychics; lack of understanding of randomness, coincidence, probability, statistics, science and the natural world; the employment by media of techniques resulting from university and industry research into how to best influence the human mind for marketing purposes(note that it works very well); social-group-induced credulity which treats the willingness to accept the ideas of others without evidence as a desirable trait; and, sufficiently advanced technology that defies the best efforts of even highly techno-savvy individuals to detect its presence and use.

We can be and are easily led into seeing the world as different than it really is. Knowing this, if something appeared before me claiming to be a god and providing as evidence, "miracles," I would have no means whereby I could ascertain that I was not being deceived by an all-natural charlatan using a difficult-to-decipher technology designed to abuse known deficiencies in human perception. I would reject the claim of supernaturalism since my own perceptual shortcomings would provide a more adequate explanation for any purported "miracles."

I will gladly entertain arguments to the contrary, but, frankly, I do not know what case an alleged deity could make that would convince me that it was anything other than a 100 percent supernatural-free purveyor of an advanced technology.

So that is why I've named this blog Complete Materialist.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Questions for my readers

Over at Atheist Homeschooler, I posed the following questions to Fiery Ewok on the Open Forum 3 post. Since Complete Materialist is a new blog and I don't have an established readership, I'd like to get some idea of who's reading, what interests them, fires 'em up and makes them tick. Then, when my choice of blog topics is up in the air, I'll let my reader's interests tip the scales in favor of one to their liking.

Answer any or all. As you address these topics, feel free to toss in whatever creative spin you have on the question at hand.
  • What's the latest book you've read?
  • What's your favorite area of science?
  • What's the most recent thing you can think of where evidence new to you has forced you to accept a new understanding of an idea or to simply discard an old understanding?
  • What one fact about the natural world do you think would benefit humankind the most if it was known by every person on the planet?
  • Can you prove?: for an arbitrary integer greater than zero, the sum of its digits is evenly divisible by 9, if and only if the integer itself is also evenly divisible by 9.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Why Religion Is Immoral

Religion is Morally Wrong

Most people do not concern themselves with the workings of nature, nor do they attempt to understand how their experience of the world compares to other’s experience of that same world. Observation shows us that most persons are quite content to unquestioningly maintain whatever worldview they were handed as a child. In most cases, that worldview involves some form of belief in the supernatural combined with the notion that questions, doubts and skepticism are moral undesirables.

Religions, the most common form of supernaturalism, espouse faith as a virtue and most religions encourage it by using statements of faith as the basis of their regular rituals. In fact, religions must encourage faith since they can’t exist without it. In the absence of faith, people see religious authorities as fools spewing nonsense, but with faith, those same clergy are seen as revered sages.

Specifically, regarding theistic religions, throughout history, human minds have created thousands of gods; imagined them having great powers; believed, feared and worshiped those imagined powers; and, then, as fashion or conquest dictated, simply cast them aside. What, then, did those gods with all that imaginary power do about being ignored or abandoned? Absolutely nothing.

Today, man’s god-creating machinery still cranks out fresh new gods by the dozen. For instance, among the more than 23,000 Christian denominations worldwide, the hundreds of different notions labeled “God” conflict so significantly in their powers, influences and attributes that it’s crystal clear that Christianity has, not one unique God, but, actually many distinct gods all using the same name. These hundreds of one-of-a-kind Christian gods run the gamut of what humans wish their god could do.

The powerlessness of history’s more ancient gods coupled with man’s observed tendency to continually create them, even under the rubric of monotheism, tells a thinking individual that gods are not real. So, despite the claims of the clergy, no one need fear the wrath of a god. More importantly, no one should hope for the divine intervention of answered prayer. But, most importantly, no one should be poisoning young people’s minds with these false hopes and fears to sustain archaic mythologies.

Religions make many claims of benefits they offer, but none of them hold up under scrutiny. Here, I’ll address a few of the Christian claims, though the argument applies almost universally.

Christianity claims that they make people more moral, but the claim itself is a lie. For comparison, Americans count themselves as religious believers about ten times the rate that Canadians do, but Americans kill each other one hundred times more often than Canadians. The same comparison holds true for other violent crime statistics with the US having significantly higher crime rates in all categories. If we agree that violent crime is not moral, then, clearly, religion’s claim of making people more moral is not true.

Sometimes the religion itself causes or even requires the immoral behavior. The 9/11 attackers are a good example, but so is modern Catholicism.

Throughout its history the Catholic Church has used its human-created doctrine to justify its own inhumanity. Today, for example, the doctrine on birth control provides Catholics justification for allowing millions of African people to die of AIDS by denying them access to a proven HIV/AIDS preventive measure, condoms, through Catholic aid agencies. Orphaned children, destroyed families, and debilitated societies are among the collateral damage of the dehumanizing moral policy required by the religion.

According to the WHO, NIH and CDC, condom use reduces risk of HIV/AIDS infection by 10,000 times over not using one. Yet, the Pontifical Council for the Family falsely claims that condoms are ineffective against HIV, African bishops and priests spread the lie that condoms cause AIDS, and Catholic workers in Africa recount burying and burning of condoms by the truckload. Such is the corrupting influence of religion that the aid workers, despite personally witnessing a human catastrophe, cannot make a moral decision for themselves. They cannot defy the church.

Denying people access to this simple means of AIDS prevention underscores a deep flaw in Catholic moral decision-making. For those aiding the spread of AIDS in Africa, when making the choice to be either a moral human being or a Catholic dogmatist, the moral human being loses. To get good people to do evil things requires religion.

Christianity claims to provide individuals with greater contentment in life, more purpose, more meaning, and higher self-esteem. Americans participate in religion almost fifty times the rate that the Swedish do, while having much higher rates of alcoholism, tranquilizer use, anti-depressant use, heroin and cocaine addiction. Again, the benefits that the religious claim are not true.

In summary, the same impotence apparent in ancient religions and their deities is just as apparent in modern religions and their deities. The same human imaginations which contrived the more ancient ones, also created the modern ones. Claims of benefit made by religion are verifiably untrue.

Modern humanity faces some very real problems in need of very real solutions - not wishful thinking. From AIDS to global warming, we need well-informed people to know how to address the problems. But, we need those same people to be of high moral integrity to stand up to those who would otherwise obstruct the process.

Religions clearly can’t look at themselves and see that they are failing the ones they claim to serve. Religions, as the Catholic example underscores, often stand in the way of doing what is morally right for mankind. In fact, with only a bit of inspection, we can see that religions are morally wrong.

Welcome to Complete Materialist

During my several decades of life, I have never experienced, nor have I witnessed in others, any phenomenon one could consider supernatural. Like most people, in my childhood I was surrounded by adults who had been taught that supernatural explanations - religion, psychic powers, card reading and the like - were to be accepted right along with the naturalistic explanations of science. Those same adults, having no sense that their supernatural explanations were in direct conflict with the world at large and the conduct of their own lives, no doubt expected that I, too, in a childhood act of follow-the-leader, would embrace as true those implausible inconsistent explanations.

As I matured I realized that people accepted those sincerely-held supernatural explanations for all the wrong reasons: tradition, authority, personal revelation, ignorance of the natural world, lack of understanding of coincidence and probability, among many others. For most people, I'm convinced that they consciously choose the path of lease resistance, the easiest row to hoe, the path of ignorance.

On this site I'll explore some of these ideas in more detail. I'll look at consciousness, spirituality, religion and other aspects of the human experience through a lens of reason. Rational thought, the fruits of science, and reasoned argument will be the tools of choice here since humans and all they experience are the products of natural processes which, by using the tools of reason, man more fully understands every day.

Some of what I consider here will be theoretical, in the scientific sense, with strong evidential footing - evolution, germ theory of disease, atomic theory - while others things will be more speculative, more hypothetical - consciousness, emotions, chemical communications, memetics, morality. Sometimes the ponderings will be right on and sometimes they will be full of holes. Those holes will provide opportunities to exchange ideas that might fill them in.

I don't fear the unknown. I'm not afraid of being wrong. I'm a fallible human who makes mistakes. I enjoy civil exchange of reasoned ideas with those who view things differently. By exchanging ideas we can each improve our understanding of the world.

I'm looking forward to sharing with you why I'm convinced that supernaturalism, in all its guises, debases humankind. I'm looking forward to exchanging ideas about making the world a better place by considering the human experience from a 100 percent supernatural-free perspective.