College and the Amish Descendant Scholarship Fund


It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything to this blog. I am currently enrolled in a local college, so most of my time is taken up by work and study. I love college, and I wish I had enrolled years ago. Better late than never, I guess. Many of you readers have encouraged me to enroll, and that’s largely why I finally took the leap. Thank you! You are amazing!

Of all the ex-Amish people I know (hundreds), less than a handful have gone to college. Why don’t more of them seek a higher education? I believe there are several reasons:

  1. Many of them don’t think it’s necessary. Many of them believe they can make a decent living and enjoy life without going to college. In a way they’re right. The Amish are taught to be hardworking and entrepreneurial. Many Amish and ex-Amish start businesses, and whether it’s a furniture shop or a construction company, they often succeed fantastically. It is not uncommon to find college-educated people working for an Amish employer that has no more than an eighth-grade education.
  2. Another reason for not going to college, I suspect, is that the ex-Amish don’t set set their dreams very high relative to the general population. For them, just being out among the “English” is so much of an adventure that going to college and doing even greater things doesn’t seem that much of a step up.
  3. For many ex-Amish, college sounds like an intellectual hardship. Many of them didn’t enjoy Amish parochial school, and most have been away from the world of study and exams for so long that they shudder at the idea of returning.
  4. As for myself, I’ve always planned on going to college some day. The only thing holding me back was time and money. I thought that if I could only put in a few more years of work in my entrepreneurial pursuits, I would have both the time and the money I would need. If I could only make a bit of money at an ‘okay’ job, then I could move on to pursuing my dreams.

While college does take a lot of time and money, I’m happy to report that it doesn’t take nearly as much as I had anticipated it would. If you lack time, you don’t have to enroll full-time. You can take one or two courses at a time, if you like. As for the money, if you go to an instate community college where tuition is a lot lower, financial aid may cover most of it.

Then, of course, there are the scholarships. There’s actually a scholarship specifically for the ex-Amish seeking a higher education. The Amish Descendant Scholarship Fund was started by two ex-Amish women, Emma Miller (featured in Devil’s Playground 2002) and Naomi Kramer. This year they’re giving out several hefty scholarships (from $1,000 to $5,000) to ex-Amish students.

I think what they’re doing is amazing. If you’re an ex-Amish person thinking about going to college, be sure to head over to their website www.amishscholarship.com and apply. Don’t think that you won’t have a chance. If you’re ex-Amish and want a higher education, you’ve already distinguished yourself from the pack. If you qualify, I think you’ll have a very good chance of getting a scholarship. If perchance, the scholarship is $5000, that will cover the tuition and fees at some community colleges for a whole year.

If you’re not an ex-Amish student, consider donating to the cause or publicizing the scholarship by ‘Liking’ their Facebook page and sharing posts.

College is much more than just a crapload of exams and then a stressful job. In college you can learn so many interesting things. In college you  can direct your education, to some extent. You can choose many of your own courses, and study what interests you. In college you will broaden your horizons and begin to understand so much more about our society, our history, and where we’re going. With a college education, you won’t be limited to mindless, back-breaking, labor–you can follow your dreams.

Note: I am not receiving anything other than satisfaction for promoting this scholarship. I promote it only because I think what they’re doing is amazing.

About these ads

God Exists Because the Alternative Sucks?

Tags

,


The other day I was going through some of my old notes from years ago when I found this gem that I had written back in 2007 (almost 6 years ago):

“The following is the closest that I can come to proving the existence of God. It’s good enough for me.

If there was no God and no heaven, there would be no true purpose or goal in life or the universe. If there was no God and no heaven, whether or not you live, die, or had never been born in the first place, would eventually make no difference to anyone or anything. It would mean that everything that exists isn’t just insignificant, but totally worthless as well.”

That reasoning “proved” to me that God exists. In fact, it satisfied me enough that I was able to put the question of God’s existence from my mind for some months at least.

I don’t remember if it occurred to me or not that I was making an assertion based only on how the alternative would make me feel. If it did occur to me, I guess I never realized how fallacious such reasoning is.

philosophy-professor

Perhaps deep down, I realized that this reasoning never actually proved anything about God, that it just made me feel a little better about unquestioningly accepting his existence. As time went on, I learned more about epistemology and the scientific method and it didn’t take me long to discard this reasoning as an embarrassment.

In the years since I wrote those words, I’ve found P to be false but luckily for me, I found “I will be sad” to be false too.

Just to be clear, there is a lot wrong with this kind of reasoning that I engaged in six years ago. The universe isn’t here just to make us happy and reality doesn’t magically reconfigure itself based on our emotions. The fact that you find a hypothesis to be emotionally inconceivable says nothing about the accuracy of that hypothesis.

Why Christians should be Killing Babies

Tags

, , ,


Every once in a while I exercise my right to post something that most people find utterly repulsive. This is one of those posts.

Most Christians believe in a God that judges people for their sins and sends them to eternal heaven or hell based on his judgment. Let me show you how it logically follows from those beliefs, that we should kill all newborns.

To the Christian I ask, do you believe that a newborn goes to heaven if he or she dies? If not, then you cannot claim your God to be a benevolent God. What did a newborn ever do to deserve eternal hellfire?

I’m going to assume that you believe newborns go to heaven if they die. Here is the problem with that belief: Since living life beyond the newborn stage increases the chance that a person sins, thereby reducing the chance that he or she will get into heaven, shouldn’t you take it upon yourself to kill all newborns to ensure their eternal happiness? Sure you would go to hell for your troubles but wouldn’t it be the right thing to do? Wouldn’t it be better for one person to go to hell for killing thousands of babies than for half of those babies to grow up as sinners and go to hell when they die?

The beliefs that; 1) God is benevolent, 2) God is more likely to send grown people to hell than babies, and 3) One shouldn’t kill babies, is not a coherent set of beliefs. At least one of these beliefs must be wrong. If you disagree, please tell me where my reasoning is faulty.

Thoughts on the Semantics of Free Will

Tags

, , ,


Based on some of the comments left on my earlier post about free will ultimately being an illusion, I think I didn’t adequately explain myself. Hopefully this post will help convey my perspective and not just further muddy the waters.

In short… When it comes to human choices, if you can explain why one option was chosen over all the others, then you cannot believe it was a “free” choice. Like a computer, the human brain made the final selection based on the external circumstances and the internal state(s). In other words, given the circumstances and the internal state(s) of mind, the choice was inevitable. On the other hand, if you cannot explain why one option was chosen over the others but you still attribute it to free will; that is an argument from ignorance.

 ============================

There is more than one way of looking at free will–more than one way of explaining the process of making a decision or selecting an option. For example, let’s look at the process of selecting one shirt to wear from a whole row of options in your wardrobe.

If you are the average guy, your selection might be based on a few simple rules such as; Is it comfortable, or is it of appropriate quality for the job at hand? While the average guy might narrow his selection down to half a dozen shirts based on these rules, there is a good chance that he’ll choose at random from those remaining options (i.e. grab the closest one at hand).

If you are the average girl, your final choice will likely be the result of the application of a fairly complicated set of rules with no element of randomness at all. Your rules, for instance, might be based on questions like; Does it go well with my pants? Does it go well with my shoes? Does it make me appear slimmer? Is it appropriate for the function I’m wearing it to? Does it make me feel pretty?

There are two different ways of looking at this selection process. The most common way of looking at it is to claim that ‘they exercised their free will and each chose a shirt’. Another way of looking at it is that ‘selections were made based on the application of rules, randomness, or both’.

What if the situation was a little different? What if a man was holding a gun on these people and threatening them with death unless they wear shirts of his choosing. This time, both the guy and the girl will likely select the shirt that the maniac wants them to wear.

Again, there is more than one way of looking at this selection process. Instinctively you might think the couple had no free will–that they were forced by the maniac to wear specific shirts. That is not the case, however. They could have defied the gun-toting madman. The first way of looking at it is that they exercised their free will and made the choice to select the shirts they were ordered to select, rather than to risk death. The second way of looking at it is that they simply made their selection based on external circumstances and internal rules (i.e. man with gun + I don’t want to die = do as he says).

What I’m slowly but surely trying to get at is that one way of looking at the choices we make is to think of them as a selection process that utilizes a set of rules with perhaps an element of randomness involved. You could call this process “free will” and many people do, but it’s not truly free will–it’s a (perhaps unconsciously) calculated selection based on pre-existing internal rules and external circumstances.

Let me use the analogy of computer software here. Suppose that I am writing a computer program and this program needs the ability to choose from several possible options. The outcome of the program depends on which option the program chooses. I can code the software to select from any given options in several different ways. I could code it to select randomly from the available options, I could code it to select an option based on the values of variables within the program as well as data from external sources, or I could code it to select based on a combination of both (rules and randomness). I could even call this section of code the “free will module”.

Now you might argue that the software doesn’t actually have free will–that it makes its selections according to randomness or a set of rules based on the external circumstances and the internal states, or a combination of both, and you would be completely right. That is after all; my argument. It is often useful to refer to the concept of free will but there’s no true freedom of will involved in our decision making process. We are just very complex computers that aren’t quite smart enough yet to understand all of the “rules” written into our “code”.

The first and most common way of looking at choices and the human decision making process, is the concept of free will. The second way of looking at it is that given the external circumstances and the internal state(s) of the decision-maker, the final decision was actually inevitable, and thus; not truly a free choice. At first glance, the second way of looking at it seems more complicated and harder to follow. However, I believe it is a better explanation of the human decision-making process because it removes the complex and under-defined concept of ‘free will’, thereby being overall; a more parsimonious explanation.

Just to be clear; I consider the “rules” (that our brains use when selecting from a number of possible options) as being part of our internal state(s). Our internal states are constantly changing as we experience new things and as a result, the choices we make are changing as well. We make different choices than we would have years ago, given similar external circumstances, because our internal states have changed.

Within the context of humanity–that is, when speaking about people and their choices in everyday language, “free will” is a useful concept. When in the wider context of all existence and trying to understand how it all works together, it becomes apparent that free will is an inaccurate oversimplification of the human decision-making process. It becomes apparent that no part of the human mind (e.g. the will), is truly free. All parts are constrained to act in accordance with the laws of nature. The human mind is just another part in the tightly interconnected machine that is the universe. There is no room in  the gears of nature for true freedom.

For the human will to truly be free it would require that the human mind (or a portion thereof) operate independent (i.e. outside) of nature. This does not seem to be the case. The human mind is a part of nature and I have not found any evidence that it somehow transcends it.

In a way, ‘free will’ is simply a semantic artifact that arises from the way we tend to oversimplify the human decision-making process. That being said, it is often useful to use this concept. It is easier to attribute a choice to someone’s free will than it is to analyze the choice, enumerate the external circumstances, and deduce the internal states of the person. “Free will” is useful in everyday language but it is an oversimplification–an example of a sort of lossy semantic compression.

The concept of free will is also helpful in assigning blame and determining intent in morality and law. Saying, “He committed the crime of his own free will,” is just a simple way of saying, “Given the same external circumstances and internal state(s), it is inevitable that he would do it again.” The justice system can then go on to estimate the probability of that person finding himself in the same circumstances and take the appropriate steps (e.g. prison, therapy, etc.), to either reduce the chance that he’ll find himself in the same circumstances, or change his internal state(s) so that he reacts more appropriately when he finds himself in those circumstances again.

That concludes this rambling collection of thoughts on the semantics of “free will”. I hope it has been helpful in conveying the ‘other way of looking at it’.

The Illusion of Free Will

Tags

, ,


This morning I went to work. I don’t really like the job and often it doesn’t seem worth the money. That being said, I didn’t lie awake in bed faced with the difficult choice of whether or not to get out of bed–I just did.

I didn’t make my morning coffee because, being the just-in-time procrastinator that I am, I just plain didn’t have time. I didn’t even give coffee a moment’s thought. I haven’t made my morning coffee in a long time because I’m so used to not having enough time. I could have had coffee this morning and been a few minutes late at work but it wasn’t a choice that I engaged in. I just didn’t give it any thought.

About a mile from my house, where I usually make a right turn to continue on towards work, there is a traffic light. I can see the light for a while before I get there and if I see it turn red, I take a different, smaller street to bypass the light. It adds two more turns to my route but it saves a little time. If the light is red when I first see it, I continue on to the light because chances are, it will be turning green right around the time I get there and it’ll be faster in that case than taking the route with two additional turns. As I drove towards that traffic light this morning I could see that it was green. I hoped that it would remain green until I reached it but I kept a sharp eye on it and prepared to take the secondary route should it turn yellow. It did turn yellow and I turned on the secondary street without giving it a moment of thought. A long time ago, I reasoned through this plan and now the route that I take doesn’t feel like a choice anymore. It depends only on the state of the traffic light.

Of course I could defy my earlier reasoning and the choice to take the secondary route based on the state of the traffic light and intentionally deviate from my normal morning travel plan but what would be the point? Would it be worth it just to prove that I actually have a choice in the matter? If I defied my normal travel plan would that have been a real choice or would it simply have been because my reflection on the nature of free will caused me to feel disconcerted causing some inner instinct to force me to prove something to myself? Would that really be a choice or would it just be my brain once again controlling my mind?

Before I reached the fourth traffic light on my route, the vehicle directly in front of me braked suddenly. Almost instantaneously I pushed on the brake pedal of my own vehicle. When I saw the vehicle brake in front of me, I wasn’t faced with the difficult dilemma of whether or not I should brake. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I just braked… instinctively.

Later today I was asked if I could work a little later than normal. Finally I was faced with what seemed to be a real choice. I deliberated on the matter for a moment and made the decision to work two extra hours but not the full three that had been asked of me.

Of course once I looked a little deeper at my choice I realized that I didn’t actually have a choice in the matter. I don’t like working late at this job (because of other responsibilities) but I felt that I needed to. The last two times I was asked I had refused. It was time that I compromised and worked a little later to stay on the good side of my employer. Given my circumstances, and my state(s) of mind, I took the only possible action.

Free will is an illusion. True freedom of will does not seem to exist because if my choices have a reason, then obviously I can trace the causality of my actions to a point prior to my “choosing” to take that action. If I have no reason for an action that I took–if I just selected randomly from the available options, how is that free will?

It seems that I am just another cog in the grand machine. I am a special cog, though, because I have the ability to look inward and reflect upon myself.

When I feel happy, it is not because I decided to be happy. It is because the complex biological system that is my body, moved certain chemicals around in my brain which caused it to experience what I call “happiness”. That thing which I call “I” had no choice in the matter. Similarly, when the mind is faced with what seems to be a choice, it is chemical and electrical interactions within the brain that decide the outcome. There really is no room for or need of anything like free will.

When I am faced with the dilemma of choosing pizza or a sandwich for lunch, my brain runs algorithms which I have barely begun to understand. This algorithm may factor in my prior experiences with sandwiches and pizza, a financial comparison of the two, my current financial situation, whether or not I’ll be eating alone, the comparative ease with which these foods can be acquired, the amount of time since I have experienced either of these foods, and many other factors that I don’t even know. Within seconds, the algorithm has completed and pizza is the winner. It feels like I decided to get pizza instead of sandwiches but after thinking through all of the above, it no longer feels like it was really my choice. My brain makes all of my decisions. I really have no choice in the matter. Before I realize that I want pizza, my brain has already made up its mind (I’m not even sure what to call that. Is it a pun? It seems like so much more).

Science seeks natural explanations for questions. Naturally, since there is no other kind of explanation (‘supernatural explanation’ is an oxymoron). Our universe, at least at the macro level where we live and play, appears to be deterministic. In other words, every event within the universe appears to have a cause. Quantum mechanics seems like it could be a whole different story but there seems little indication that events at the quantum level are relevant to the question of free will.

We can take any event (e.g. Uncle Bob died) and find its cause, (e.g. car wreck), find the cause of that (e.g. brakes were bad), find the cause of that (e.g. Uncle Bob was a procrastinator and never got around to fixing his brakes), and so on and on. Theoretically, if we were smart enough, we could take any event and trace it back through causes until we reach the beginning of time. Even the actions of people can be traced to causes which were caused by prior causes, and so on. If Uncle Bob procrastinated because his father never taught him the benefits of getting things done right away, can we blame Uncle Bob’s father for the car wreck? No wait… Why did Uncle Bob’s father not teach Bob about the dangers of procrastination? Can we trace the ultimate cause back even further?

If you believe in God and you believe that God is omniscient, then you run into the same problem with free will. If God knows everything, including whether or not you will end up in hell, then what could you possibly do now to change that destination? If God knows everything, then the future must be predetermined which means that free will is only an illusion.

It seems that no matter how you look at it, whether it’s from an introspective, a scientific, or a religious perspective, free will is ultimately an illusion.

Note: I believe that free will is ultimately an illusion. I also believe that free will is an important and useful concept. This apparent contradiction seems to be caused by mere semantic confusion which I’ll try to address in a future post.

Amish Mafia: Fact or Farce?

Tags

, ,


In December, the Discovery Channel came out with another outrageous “reality” show about the Amish. This time, they (their parent company also operates TLC which put out Breaking Amish last summer) claimed to be filming the Amish mafia (which is nonexistent, by the way) as it went about its business. The show is called Amish Mafia and I believe the finale has aired already.

I’ve been asked about the authenticity of the show and why I haven’t written about it like I did with Breaking Amish. Well, there are several reasons why I haven’t written about it. First of all, after seeing previews of the show, I didn’t think anyone would actually believe any of it. Secondly, while I was successful in putting the truth about Breaking Amish out there, it felt a little counter-productive because the resulting controversy increased the show’s viewership. Something is seriously wrong with us and our entertainment industry when lying to us makes entertainment companies more profitable than telling us the truth.

I was wrong about nobody believing the show. One Facebook poll (which is likely biased) of more than 2000 viewers, had rather surprising results. A full 41% of the voters believe the show is totally or mostly real, 45% think the show is totally or mostly fake, and 14% don’t care whether it’s real or not.

Another reason I didn’t write about the show is that I don’t personally know any of the cast. Often when there is a television show about the Amish, with ex-Amish cast, I know one or two of them. This time I didn’t. I’m going off on a little tangent here so bear with me; The world of Amish and ex-Amish is fairly small. Wikipedia puts the Old Order Amish population around 250,000. Any Amish person who gets around, knows people or has some connection to someone in almost every Amish community. If an ex-Amish person tells you that they know someone on one of these shows, then there’s a good chance he or she is telling the truth. I personally know about half a dozen Amish and ex-Amish kids that have appeared on a variety of these shows and I know quite a few more that declined parts in those shows. So far, I’ve only been asked by one production company to appear on an Amish reality show. I politely declined. End of tangent.

So on to the authenticity of Amish Mafia… The cast of the show appear to be real ex-Amish people but the reality of the show seems to end there. The whole idea of there being an “Amish mafia” that protects the Amish is ludicrous. I watched several of the episodes and found them to be highly amusing–the basic plot of the show is that amazingly farcical.

The Discovery Channel openly admits that the Amish deny the existence of an Amish mafia. Of course they’re just capitalizing on a conspiracy-oriented, fantasy-prone viewership that believes denial is proof of truth.

Before I get myself all worked up about it, I’ll just let a pair of renowned Amish experts tell you in their own words:

“My own view is this is trash TV. To call these shows documentaries is a fraudulent lie.” ~Donald Kraybill, professor at Elizabethtown College  and a prominent researcher of the Anabaptist lifestyle [link]

“When I first saw the trailer [for the show], I thought maybe it was a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit on reality television because it was so far fetched. My sense is this Amish mafia is about as real as the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company in The Office.” ~Donald Weaver-Zercher, professor at Elizabethtown College and expert on the Amish [link]

I conclude this post with an update on Breaking Amish: The word on the street is that the production company is working on a second season of the show and they are currently filming in Pinecraft–the Amish community in Sarasota, Florida.

Life through the Eyes of an Atheist

Tags

, , , ,


Things have changed a little now that some of my friends know about my lack of faith. This post and perhaps more to come are geared a little more toward helping them and others understand atheism.

It seems the popular belief is that atheists are miserable people that have nothing to live for. When many Christians think of atheists, they think of someone who is bound for eternal hell and knows it deep down. They think of someone with a pointless existence, somebody that is just trying to make it miserable for everybody. Some of them think it’s impossible to truly believe that there is no God–that we must be followers of Satan and are actively trying to trick everyone else into damnation and eternal torture.

There are several reasons why Christians view atheists as a sorry lot. Often, when a Christian hears from an atheist they hear negative words. This is quite simply because the atheist is disagreeing with the Christian. Atheists also talk about a lot of other things–you just might not realize that they’re atheists when they’re talking about other things. Another reason is that Christians attribute so much of their happiness to their faith that they can’t imagine how someone without that faith could be as happy as they are. I, on the other hand, suspect that happiness is a little more about chemicals in our brains and a little less about our metaphysical beliefs.

When I was a Christian, I believed that my purpose in life, in fact, the objective purpose of everyone’s life was to earn that ticket into heaven. As I entered into that transitionary period between Christianity and atheism, I often struggled with a seeming contradiction. On the one hand I felt that life was worth living but on the other hand, I couldn’t think of an objective reason for me to feel that way. My life had lost its purpose, but weirdly enough, my zeal for it remained.

I eventually decided (i.e. realized) that there is no objective purpose to life–that we each find our own. Did life suddenly become more pointless for me? In all honesty, I would have to say that yes it did. But life also became less serious and a little more whimsical and fun.

The Christian is never alone. Often the Christian feels the presence of God, Jesus, and even angels. In times of fear, these feelings can be helpful in staving off panic, in gaining a feeling of security. I remember as a child, I would always pray when I was alone and afraid. After praying, I would feel the omnipotent presence of God, and I would immediately feel more secure. I don’t feel the presence of God, Jesus, or the angels anymore, and I am glad for it. I realize now that they were never there–that my brain tricked itself into feeling safer and more powerful all on its own.

Christians pray for various reasons ranging from material possessions, to finances, to world peace. It helps them clarify their goals, wishes, and desires, and it helps them deal with the difficulty of achieving them. If these goals, wishes, and desires do not come to fruition, then they feel secure in that God’s will is being done. Praying also allows Christians to feel like they’re helping others without actually having to do anything.

I no longer believe in the efficacy of prayer and as a direct result of that, I am more confident and have more self-esteem. I believe that prayers sometimes do come true, but I do not believe it has anything to do with anything supernatural. It’s simply the result of self-fulfillment and coincidences. I believe the idea that prayer has a direct effect on our lives (via supernatural means) is a mistake resulting from various interpretive biases (e.g. confirmation bias, placebo effect, etc.). Many of my prayers had come true but now I believe it was I that accomplished those things, and not some supernatural being that is watching over me and doing all the difficult work for me. Realizing that I deserve the credit for my successes and the blame for my failures, rather than God, gives me more self-confidence and a feeling of greater control over the course of my life.

Church provides many psychological and social benefits for the Christian. Being a member of a church provides the Christian with a greater sense of community, frequent fellowship, and the knowledge that they have something in common with a large number of people. As an atheist, I have yet to find secular equivalents for these things, and it is something that I miss. I do periodically go to church with my friends but the large difference in worldviews makes the experience considerably less enjoyable for me.

A lot of Christians have faith, but what is faith? It seems to me that faith is a cultivated optimism based on beliefs that can’t be proven. Faith provides a means for Christians to accept their limited control over their lives and environments while at the same time believing that there is a grand reason to it all. They see the world through these colored lenses and I see it affect their understanding of and explanations for events all the time. As an atheist, I don’t really have anything equivalent to this cultivated optimism and I’m glad that I don’t. I want to see the world as it is and faith seems a little too much like willful self-delusion.

A little note about semantics here: If faith is defined as ‘belief in God despite a lack of evidence’, then I most certainly do not have faith. However, if faith is defined as ‘a belief that concerns questions for which there are no answers’, then I might have faith in various things (although I would not consider it logical). In that sense, faith could be another word for optimism. I consider both optimism and pessimism to be illogical, tainted frames of mind. I do not have faith that the sun will come up tomorrow morning. I have a reason to believe, based on past experiences, that the sun will come up tomorrow morning.

When I was a Christian, I believed that the Bible and my fear of eternal hell were why I tried to be a good person. I was being forced by God, to be a good person. Now that I’m an atheist, I feel a lot more free. I feel free to steal, and kill, and rape as much as I please. But I don’t. I realize now that I try to be a good person because that’s how I am. It had been me all along–not God or a fear of hell. As a result, my morality feels deeper and more personal. Here’s a quote by atheist and magician Penn Jillette that seems relevant:

“The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero. The fact that these people think that if they didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing, raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine.” ~Penn Jillette

When I was a Christian, half the stuff I did made me feel guilty. Every time I smoked a cigarette or drank a beer I was destroying a little bit of Jesus’ temple. Every time I drove a car or wore “English” clothing, I was breaking the rules of the church and God. Every time I questioned the existence of God, I was committing blasphemy–the worst possible moral offense, or so I thought. Without God, I have no more of that religious guilt. I still try to be a good person and I feel guilty every once in a while when I do something that I shouldn’t, but a lot of that stuff that caused me to feel guilty years ago, I realize now are neither wrong nor right and it’s a waste of time and energy to fret over the ethics of them.

The Christian is in constant awe of his God and the mighty powers attributed to him. As an atheist, I feel much the same way about the universe. I often look up at the starry night sky and marvel in awe and wonder at the scale, the mystery, and the absurdity of it all. It just blows my mind that things exist, but unlike the Christian, this feeling does not compel me to believe in a supernatural creator.

Supernatural explanations seem to help those that are seeking only to ease their fears but they don’t actually provide meaningful information about our universe. The idea that disease is caused by demons or that it is punishment for some earlier “immoral” action by the victim, was never helpful in treating or preventing illness. In fact, such thinking probably prevented mankind from discovering the true causes of disease for a long time. The natural explanation–the germ theory of disease, on the other hand, has been extremely helpful in preventing, curing, and mitigating the effects of disease for over a hundred years. Evolutionary theory is a lot harder to understand than Biblical creation stories but once you put in the effort and actually learn about it, you realize that it explains so much more about life. Similarly, modern cosmology is a lot more meaningful when it comes to understanding the larger universe, than the idea that God created it all in six days. Saying, “God did it,” has never been helpful in reaching a deeper understanding of any process. As an atheist and a science advocate, I am always seeking the natural explanation. It takes a lot more energy and effort to understand the natural explanations but the result is far more meaningful. I look up at the night sky, out at the universe, and it all makes a lot more sense than it did when I was a Christian. That alone is worth all the social stigma of being an atheist.

I couldn’t complete this post in all honesty without touching on the worst thing about being an atheist–the social stigma. As an atheist, I belong to a tiny minority of people that has metaphysical beliefs that are in diametric opposition to the majority. We face a lot of intolerance and discrimination for it and it can make our social life a little more unpleasant than it needs to be. I hope that with time, atheism becomes more widespread and more accepted and this intolerance will fade away.

I do not believe in an eternal life after death that will redeem me for all the good things I do. I do not believe in an eternal hellfire that will punish those that do harm to me and to others. As an atheist, I believe that this life is all I have and it is my goal to make the most of it.

As an atheist, I do not live in a dark and gloomy and pointless world as you might think. All in all, I believe that I am exactly as happy as the average Christian with a solid faith in God. I am certainly a lot happier than I was as a Christian with doubts.

A Letter to my Friends

Tags

, , ,


Some of my Christian friends have recently discovered my true beliefs about God and I will likely be telling more of them over the coming days and weeks that I do not share their faith and love for God. Understandably, some of my friends do or will feel hurt and betrayed by some of the things they read on this blog. This post is intended to be an honest and heartfelt letter to those friends.

I know that I’ve said some harsh and condescending things about you on here. I humbly apologize for that. With this post, I want to give you an honest look at who I am, why I felt the need to keep some things hidden from you, and what my hopes are for the future now that you know my true beliefs.

It was almost a year ago when I realized that I was an atheist. My transition from Christianity to atheism didn’t happen overnight. It took about 12 years–during most of which I still considered myself a Christian. The path from Christianity to atheism was so long that I don’t think of the two as being black and white opposites like most people do. In fact, I sometimes have a hard time understanding why Christians think atheists are so different from themselves. I’m still a moral (or I hope so), person with desires, dreams, and fears.

Toward the last of those 12 years, I began thinking of myself as agnostic. I was comfortable admitting to myself that I don’t know if God exists or not or what his true nature really is. It was less than a year ago that I began self-identifying as an atheist and that was more of a semantic thing than a radical shift in belief. At the time, I didn’t like thinking of myself as an atheist but I realized that my agnosticism was so complete that almost everybody else would define me as an “atheist”.

There were no significant life events that caused me to question the existence of God. I didn’t become an atheist because someone died, or because I was depressed, or because some other traumatic event occurred that made me hate God. I am not an atheist because life was hard on me, or because I’m weak, misguided, ignorant, or in need of help. I am an atheist because I spent 12 years seeking truth. During those many years, I probably spent more time thinking about God and religion than I did thinking about any other subject.

I do not reject all of Christianity. I still believe that there are a lot of good things in the teachings attributed to Jesus. Just to be clear, here are a few ways that my beliefs are different from yours:

  • I do not believe that the God of the Bible exists. I believe that if this universe was “created” it was most likely via some process or event that bears little resemblance to the God of the Bible.
  • I do not believe that Jesus was the son of God or that he will return to save us all.
  • I believe the Bible was written by fallible man. I do not believe that the Bible is as historically accurate as most Christians assume that it is.
  • I do not believe that one must have religion to be a good, moral person.
  • I believe that if the world (as we know it) ends in our lifetime or our children’s lifetimes, it will be because man is a stupid animal and not because an omnipotent being decided it was time for it all to end.
  • I believe in making the most of this life because I believe that death is complete–I do not believe there will be an afterlife.
  • I believe that admitting ignorance is fine and that it is much better than preaching as fact, that which one has no evidence for.
  • I prefer natural, scientific explanations for all things. I find natural explanations far more helpful and meaningful than supernatural ones.

I am not searching for God anymore. I am, however, still seeking truth, and I hope that I will always be learning new things. But to say that I am still searching for God, would be like you saying that you’re still searching for Santa Claus–as if you’re still hoping that he exists.

There are many reasons why I haven’t told you about my lack of belief in God, most of them have to do with the fear of losing you as my friend. I was afraid if I told you, your respect for me would plummet. I was afraid that you would begin to think of me as evil. I was afraid you would begin to think of me as stupid. Worst of all, I was afraid that you would consider me in the clutches of Satan and would try to “help” me. I was afraid that you would be fine with it, that you would still call me your friend but that you would find less in common with me and over time I would see less and less of you. I was afraid that every time I said something, you would know that you can’t believe everything I say, because I’m an atheist. I was afraid that I would lose you instantly, but worse yet, I was afraid the process of losing you would occur over months or years.

The Amish and ex-Amish are fairly intolerant of alternative beliefs and practices. Most of them talk condescendingly about gays, atheists, and pretty much any person or group of people that thinks or acts in a manner that does not conform to their specific Christian belief set. I am barraged non-stop by words like “sad”, “pathetic”, “ridiculous”, “evil”, “Satanic”, “stupid”, “ignorant”, etc. Of course they don’t realize that they’re talking about me and they probably wouldn’t say those things if they realized that I was an atheist (at least they wouldn’t say it to my face), but I have to assume that it is what they think of me. If any of you could admit to your friends that you’re something that most of them think is “sad”, “pathetic”, “ridiculous”, “evil”, “Satanic”, “stupid”, “ignorant”, etc., then you’re a truly courageous person.

I am a deeply introverted person, and as a result, it is difficult for me to talk to people that I’m not comfortable with. Obviously, you know that about me, you’re my friend after all and I am more than comfortable talking with you about most things. What I find truly difficult to talk about, even with the very best of my friends, are subjects that I believe will cause confrontation, controversy, or could in some way damage our friendship. That is one reason why I haven’t been open about my religious beliefs with you.

I am also an intellectual–I enjoy thinking about things that most people find boring or of little consequence in real life. I have always found comparatively easy, those subjects that many people find difficult to understand. I have many questions about life and the universe and when after long periods of sustained thought on one of these questions, I reach a new understanding, I experience a most wonderful emotion. It is probably an emotion that most people would experience if they won the lottery. I get all excited and jittery, become absurdly happy and playful, and my heart flutters and skips beats. It is this feeling that drives me to seek more of an understanding of this amazing universe. On my path from Christianity to atheism, I encountered a few of those wonderful feelings.

I am often told by those few that I talk to about my ideas, that my perspective is utterly unique. Sometimes I feel (perhaps wrongly) that there is a large intellectual gap between me and those I’m talking with, and I feel that it would be very difficult to really explain myself–and that’s at least partially because I am simply not good at explaining things. Furthermore, I find it much easier to explain myself in writing than in spoken conversation. For these reasons I will often remain silent during a religious conversation, rather than giving my perspective on the subject.

All that being said, I would like nothing more than to tell the world that I don’t believe in their God. It would be a huge weight off of my shoulders. However, I am not the only person whose life this revelation would complicate. Because of that I will continue to keep my beliefs to myself except on the semi-anonymous world of the internet.

My lack of belief in God is founded upon a greater than average knowledge of philosophical subjects such as logic and epistemology, and scientific subjects such as biology, complexity, chemistry, and cosmology. I have always been a thinker and the nature of and existence of God has been one of the things I’ve focused on. I’ve been thinking this through for 12 years or so and only in the last couple years have I made what I believe to be true breakthroughs in understanding.

Most of you, I believe, know little about and have very little interest in these subjects. Since my beliefs are founded upon my knowledge of these subjects, I hope you understand why I might be skeptical that you would understand what I’m talking about without making a determined and long-term effort to learn about these subjects. I often feel that it is useless for me to begin explaining my beliefs because I don’t think I can explain it to someone that hasn’t been thinking very, very hard about it for many years like I have.

That being said, I am more than willing to discuss my beliefs with you if you’re interested. You may simply want to learn more about my beliefs and that’s fine. On the other hand, if you wish to go into deeper discussion and analyze the validity of my reasoning, I think it would benefit both of us if you developed an interest in learning more about science and philosophy.

I grew up believing that atheists are the most evil people that exist–that they’re worse than murderers–right up there with Satan worshippers. Now that I’m an atheist, I realize that most of the people I’ve ever known will probably rank me a little lower than murderers. They can believe what they want. I may have lost my religion but my morality only grew. Most of you probably think morality and religion are so intertwined that I could not possibly believe that I could be an atheist and still be a good person. I guess I can only hope my actions are those of a moral person and that you will consider only my actions and not my metaphysical beliefs when deciding whether or not my intentions are good.

Some of the things that I write on this blog will be truly offensive to you. I know this because I was once a Christian. It may seem like I am belittling your beliefs and mocking your God but that is not my intention. To remain honest to myself, I must write these things. I cannot continue using this blog as an emotional and intellectual outlet without occasionally writing things that some will think is blasphemous. I just hope that you’ll understand. I hope that you don’t take these things personally, and I hope you know that I still value your friendship.

My goal with this blog is not to convince Christians that they have it all wrong. If you read my posts, please don’t take them as an attempt to convert you. I use this blog as an emotional and intellectual outlet, as a way for me to share my experiences and knowledge, and as a way for me to record and clarify my thoughts. I also hope to help bridge the seemingly tremendous gulf between the atheist and Christian mindset. I hope I can give a few Christians and a few atheists a glimpse into the mindset of the ‘other side’ and help them see that we’re not all that different from each other.

I believe that we can remain friends. I won’t try to convert you and I hope you’ll give me the same respect. I don’t want your “help” or your pity. If your desire is to help me “see the light” then I feel that you are not giving me the respect that an intelligent person with well-reasoned beliefs deserves. In exchange, I won’t try to convince you that your beliefs are wrong.

I hope you can forgive me for betraying and insulting you. I would like nothing more than to remain your friend. If what I’ve done or who I’ve become is unforgivable, I understand. If that’s that case then I’m truly sorry to see you go.

The Semantics of my Atheism

Tags

, , , ,


What really is my position on the existence of God? Am I really an atheist or am I more of an agnostic? The question isn’t as simple as it seems.

I personally dislike the atheist/agnostic labels because I feel that my position isn’t clearly defined by either. I don’t consider myself agnostic because in most cases, I think those who believe in God are making a mistake. I don’t consider myself a pure atheist because in most cases my position would not include the unequivocal statement that ‘God does not exist’. My references to “most cases” I hope will become clear soon–once I discuss the definitions of “God”. If we drill deeper, my beliefs are probably closer to agnostic atheism or atheistic agnosticism than to either atheism or agnosticism. It just didn’t sound right to call my blog, “X Amish Agnostic Atheist”.

My position is quite simply that; the available evidence for the existence of God, as most people would define God, does not warrant the belief in such a being. Note that the above position applies to anybody that doesn’t ascribe to the common definition of God; be they atheists, agnostics, pantheists, Buddhists, or what have you. For a period of time, I actually considered myself a pantheist and there may still be pantheistic ideas out there that I would consider.

My position is also; if you believe in God, as most people would define God, then A) you must have evidence that I do not, or B) your belief in such a God is unjustified. I am of course assuming that my determination of what makes a belief justified or not, is valid, and that I have not made a mistake in the reasoning with which I concluded that the available evidence does not justify the belief in such a God.

Now, on to definitions… With all the different religions and belief systems, God and gods are ascribed many different characteristics. Some of these Gods, I am more inclined to discard as foolish given the ready natural explanations for the things that are ascribed to them. Many cultures have believed in thunder gods and almost all of us consider the notion foolish now that we have a natural explanation for thunder. I am as atheistic about such Gods as most people are willing to unequivocally state that, “Santa Claus does not exist.”

On the other hand, if we consider a pantheistic God, such as; the universe itself is God, then I tend to be more agnostic than atheistic. However, I would consider such a God to be so ill-defined as to be almost meaningless. Is God; mathematics and the all-pervasive mathematics only? If that’s how you want to define God, then sure, I have no problem believing in mathematics.

Now, on to the semantics of the supernatural… According to many definitions of God, he is supernatural, existing outside of time and space, outside of our universe as we know it. We will never be able to detect such a God with our natural instruments and while they will never be able to prove that such a God exists, we will never be able to prove that such a God does not exist (I’m not even going to go into the whole burden of proof issue). I consider such a God; meaningless. If something is in principle undetectable, then it is by definition; nonexistent. Otherwise, the concept of existence is meaningless. Check out my older post about the Nonexistence of Undetectable Things for a more in-depth explanation of what I’m referring to.

Let’s take a break from God and talk about aliens for a moment. Do they exist? Are they out there? I don’t know. On the subject of aliens I am agnostic, but not at all atheistic (I know the word technically doesn’t apply to aliens) because they are detectable in principle. I hope they exist.

What if you were to define God only as our creator? Would I believe in the possibility of that? Sure, if you’re willing to think of abiogenesis + evolution as your God. Oh, it has to be an intelligent creator? Hmm, what about those aliens? Could aliens have created us? Well, not really… it doesn’t make sense that animals are so genetically similar to us if we humans were created by aliens (unless they created the animals from the same stockpile of DNA). Well, maybe the aliens just brought the first cellular lifeforms and allowed evolution to take its course–creating us in that sense. Could I believe in such alien Gods? While I would consider such a God not out of the realm of possibility, I do think abiogenesis is a more likely explanation. While, I believe such alien Gods are far more likely than the Christian God, I’ll remain fairly atheistic about both.

Then there’s the idea that we live in a simulation. Could an advanced species have created computers powerful enough to simulate a universe and could we be living therein? Probably! While such a God is interesting to consider, it is once again, one of those undetectable Gods that just isn’t very meaningful in our natural universe.

So what really is my position on the existence of God? It all depends on what your definition of “God” is.

Why do I call myself an “atheist” then? I don’t believe the evidence for the existence of God, as he is commonly defined, justifies a belief in God. Could I be wrong? Sure, but I think the likelihood of such a God existing, based on our current evidence, is so low that my beliefs are much more like the pure atheist than the pure agnostic. That is why I call myself an “atheist” even though in some cases I am not an atheist.

Despising God

Tags

, , , , ,


As atheists, we are sometimes posed the question; If the positive existence of God was proven to your satisfaction, would you worship him? My answer to that question is; No.

Now, before you assume that my reason for rejecting God is personal, rather than epistemological, let me assure you that I believe wholeheartedly that the God of the Bible does not exist. My reason for believing so is quite simply that I do not find that the evidence warrants a belief in the existence of such a God.

When I first began questioning the existence of God, I was racked with guilt. I believed that my questions were blasphemous and that blasphemy was an unforgivable sin but I could not quell them.

As time went on and the questions became more pronounced, I began to wonder how a being intelligent enough to create this universe, could torture someone like me for all eternity. According to the Bible, I was headed straight for hell. I didn’t feel evil.  All I ever wanted was to know the truth. How could an all-powerful being, torture me for following the truth? Was it really my fault if circumstances conspired to make me question his existence? How could he hide from me and then punish me for not believing in him? If he was God, could he not easily convince me beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he exists?

At the time, I still wanted God to exist. I feared an existence devoid of such a protector. I concluded that if God really did exist, then he must be nothing like he is portrayed in the Bible. I could not believe in a benevolent God and in hell at the same time. I could not believe that an omniscient being would resort to eternal torture.

As time went on, my definition of God shrinked until it vanished into nothingness. I no longer believe in the existence of God, benevolent or otherwise. I do not believe that the God of the Bible exists. I do not even believe that anything remotely god-like exists. If something god-like actually does exist, I would find it hard to believe that it would be like the God of the Bible. However, I can look at the hypothetical, ‘What if the God of the Bible really exists’ and develop an opinion of such a God.

The God of the Bible can be blamed for the mass murders of hundreds of thousands of people. He can be blamed for rapes, pillage, plunder, slavery, child abuse, and rampant destruction. He tells us that happiness can be achieved by smashing children against rocks, and he tells us that homosexuality is evil. Since he takes credit for it, we might as well blame God for all the natural disasters, evil, and suffering that humanity and the animal kingdom have ever endured. It doesn’t stop there. God claims that he’s really a nice guy and we have to worship him or else he will torture us for eternity.

After I stopped believing in God and my case of Stockholm Syndrome faded away, I stopped seeing the God of the Bible as a benevolent being, and started seeing the things that are really written therein. Any person or being that engages in the things that are attributed to God, is unimaginably evil in my opinion. As a matter of moral principle, I would never worship such a being. At this point, I believe I would rather be a martyr and be tortured for eternity, than to worship a narcissistic terrorist like God. Oh, and by the way… if I was God, I would be way nicer!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 885 other followers