Saturday, August 04, 2007

Missionary position

This one's for Ragamuffin. In the comments to a previous post she expressed concern that my atheism was based on a superficial and erroneous interpretation of the bible. I feel a response deserves a post to itself rather than a continuation in the comments. So here goes.
I am an atheist. I consider the universe and all within it to be wholly natural, adhering to fundamental laws, some of which may be as yet undiscovered. I see no place in this universe for the supernatural.
Being British, I grew up in the religion of my family. I was baptised in a Methodist church, and when we moved to Scotland, attended a congregationalist church in Leith. I attended Sunday School from the ages of four to fourteen, and I enjoyed it. But when I was too old for Sunday School, I wasn't that interested in sitting through a whole service, so I just stopped going.
I knew from an early age that Genesis was a creation myth. There wasn't really a Garden of Eden or a Great Flood, and later I found out that the Tower of Babel was a ziggurat. I found out when I was nine that the earth was four and a half billion years old, and dinosaurs lived millions of years ago. I found that no-one was really bothered about this, and my concept of God was similar to most people round me, which was a nebulous something that was behind everything, but didn't interfere much in the world.
Of course, when I was in my teens and early twenties, I read everything - books on Astrology, the Tarot, Ceremonial Magic, and Celtic Ritual. But I also read books by Isaac Asimov, Patrick Moore, Stephen Gould and Richard Dawkins. I watched Carl Sagan's Cosmos, Horizon, Connections, and I slowly moved from mild agnosticism towards atheism.
Once I got on the internet a couple of years back, and discovered blogs such as Pharyngula, God is for Suckers, and JanieBelle's favourite - the Bad Astronomer, then I finally felt I was coming home.
Now although I am an atheist, it is my philosophy that all people should make their own spiritual journey, just as I have. I am happy to debate religion on this blog, but I'm not looking to convert anybody.

7 comments:

julie said...

Ach,pity! i'm a believer myself, Deacon and it gets a bit lonely out here sometimes; nearly all my pals are agnostics or atheists. On the whole I think I prefer atheism to agnosticism; it's a bit less sitting on the fence.

You've reminded me of a book I started to read a while ago calle 'The God Experiment'. What they did was they got 1200 heart surgery patients, then got volunteers to pray for half of them and the other half were not prayed for. The results were to be compared to see if those that were prayed for, did any better. I don't know if the experiment is still going on or not, but I must look it up.

I've always been a bit puzzled about the connection between science and atheism.Scientists ask questions all the time and ultimately all the questions lead to one question,(which an atheist friend of mine asked when he was sitting in the bathroom and the light went out; he became a believer) 'Why is there something instead of nothing?'
I asked this when was at school,and
annoyed the life out of my physics teacher by asking him why the 'plum pudding ' model of the atom, where everything is all mixed up together wasn't as good a model as the conventional electrical one. My reasoning was that if the electrical model was true, with protons and neutrons in the middle and the electrons zooming round outside, then all the atoms would repel each other, because like forces repel and the atoms were all the same size. My teacher said gravity held them together. But I couldn't understand that, because electrical force is stronger than gravitational force, so how would matter ever come to be?
Later on at uni, I read Dawkins 'Selfish Gene' and 'Blind Watchmaker'. I was disappointed, because Dawkins was dealing with what happened after matter formed, and not before it. In 'Blind Watchmaker' I felt there was a flaw in his work, because the development of things such as an eye, would have needed a fully developed brain to interpet information in order for it to be useful. For example, we see everything upside down; our brain turns it the right way up. At some point there must have been a huge mutation of some sort, otherwise things wouldn't have panned out for humans, or any form of complex life.

Anyway, musn't preach. Have a wee look at Genesis again though; noone seems to have noticed yet that it follows the progress of evolution almost perfectly;(water, plants,light,sea animals, land animals, man, then downhill all the way).

If you are scientifically minded, at some point you are going to ask the question, 'Why is there something instead of nothing?'

Deacon Barry said...

The result of the experiment was that the patients who knew they were being prayed for did worse than the patients who weren't prayed for, or didn't know they were being prayed for.

JanieBelle said...

"she expressed concern that my atheism was based on a superficial and erroneous interpretation of the bible."

That makes as much sense as "You're an atheist because you're mad at God", which is to say none at all.

...and the BA rocks!

Kisses Deacon

Martyne said...

Personally a great fan of Genesis. Saw them live some years ago. My favourite lines come from their song "Jesus he knows me". Here's one for the hypocritical fundies. "God will take good care of you. Just do what I say, don't do what I do".

Interrobang said...

Oh, dear, I think someone's confused, at least about whether evolutionary science has anything to do with the origins of life or not. Short answer: No. The origin of life is a question better left to biochemists and geologists than to evolutionary biologists.

Isn't asking "Why is there something, rather than nothing?" a bit of a moot point? After all, if there weren't anything, there wouldn't be any science, or any perceiving agents around to wonder about anything. Leave it to religious people to make big philosophical issues out of non-questions.

julie said...

'.. those who knew they were being prayed for, did worse that those who weren't prayed for..'

Was chatting to my dad last night about the experiment and he thought it was pretty mean not to pray for the other 500 and that it would have a curse on it. Guess he was right..

I'm not confused about whether evolutionary science has anything to do with the origins of life, and as you say, it has nothing to do with it. But Richard Dawkins does seem confused about the two, and uses evolution as an argument against religious belief. Because belief is not scientific, it is therfore irrational.

But there's lots of things that science can't measure. To give a simple example, science has no concept of money. To science, money is simply paper and metal. To us, money is wealth.Again, to science, Shakespeare is a pattern of marks on paper, or a pattern of sounds. To us, it's literature. That does not mean that money or literature are irrational; it just means that science is not the right tool to measure them with.

I hesitated before I put in my first post. I'm a mainstream Christian, not a fundamentalist, and in case I didn't make it clear, I don't take Genesis literally. Like most moderates, I get on with my faith quietly, and am reluctant to get involved in arguments. But I answered because Deacon was making an important point, about not putting people in boxes. His atheism was not unthinking; he had read through lots of stuff and ideas before coming to that point. In a similar fashion, there are lots of people like myself whose faith is not unthinking; we too have sat down and read Dawkins, ancient history and so on and reached a different conclusion.

We have also gone well past the point where our faith is based on the bribery of heaven or the fear of hell; in the end God whoever he is, has got to earn our respect. Christ gets my vote because he's the only god that knows what it's like to be human and suffer.

Anyway, like Deacon, I think everyone should make their own journey and make up their own mind. I'm off to give a dog with glaucoma, some eyedrops..

Deacon Barry said...

Julie, your teacher was wrong and you were right! The electromagnetic force is way more powerful than gravity. It's the Weak and Strong nuclear forces that keep atoms together. Gravity has nothing to do with it.