A narrative essay by – Heather Spoonheim

As a ‘strong’ Atheist, I believe there are no gods. That is a belief that I am very comfortable, if not enthusiastic, to have challenged. The thing that irks me, however, is that those who try to challenge that belief almost never challenge it at all, but instead lay out a challenge to science. Now, I have an extremely eclectic resume but I am definitely not a scientist; as a matter of fact, at the time of this writing I make my living with a chef’s knife. What the hell could I possibly know about science that isn’t already published and open to criticism by anyone who actually cares to do so?

Why is it that my belief is so readily interpreted as a statement that I know how the universe came to be? I have absolutely no idea how the universe came to be and neither does science, as near as I can tell.

I realize that the distance between galaxies has been observed to be increasing at an accelerating rate, and that one can describe that behavior mathematically and then reverse the math to calculate that everything came from some singularity about 14 billion years ago – but that is where the current mathematical models break down, apparently. After that it’s really anybody’s guess.

Maybe the universe pulsates from singularity to some end point and back again, infinitely repeating. Maybe the singularity was actually a vortex from someplace else through which our universe got ‘sucked’ or ‘pushed’. Maybe the universe is just an attribute of a less finite context that itself is just an attribute of a less finite context and on and on infinitely. To be honest, I believe we will never know the complete picture.

The only people who have the audacity to claim knowledge of the complete picture seem to be those who claim that it’s a portrait of their invisible, imaginary friend. What a Kodak moment that must present – just keep shaking that Polaroid until the image clears up enough for me to take a look too, please. In the meantime, stop asking me where the universe came from.

Why is it that my belief is so readily interpreted as a statement that I know the details of abiogenesis and/or evolution? It really irks me when people ask me to explain these things, especially when they don’t even understand that they are different concepts. Abiogenesis really eludes me because it is based on such a large knowledge base of chemistry and still in such early phases of research.

Evolution can be even more difficult because so few people realize that it isn’t a fact at all, just an explanation that is supported by literally millions of facts that aren’t nearly as accessible to the layman as the cosmos. To make matters worse, although U.S. courts readily accept DNA evidence of two men being brothers as being rock solid enough to put a man to death, they won’t accept it as rock solid enough to establish the irrefutable relationship between humankind and the rest of the great apes. Fuckers.

Even if I were a scientist and had devoted my life to a field that fell within the bounds of one of the aforementioned scientific realms, that still wouldn’t give someone the right to demand free private lectures. These days I make my living in restaurants, and if you don’t believe that eggs and oil can be whisked into mayonnaise then you can go buy a fucking jar of Miracle Whip – it’s not my job to educate you and if you want my services then talk to your waiter. Furthermore, I have no idea how the absence of a conclusive scientific proof for anything serves as evidence to support the impossibly self-contradicting postulations made by Bronze Age holy books. For the most part those texts manage to completely disprove themselves without any need for science.

What I do know is that if you could pray to get shit done then people would pray and get shit done. If the god of Judaism existed then the Jews wouldn’t have spent their entire history getting their asses kicked all over the planet only to wind up back in the only part of the Middle East that doesn’t have any oil under it. If another god existed then I’m certain that the Jews, pragmatic people that they are, would have tossed their Torah and Talmud into the trash centuries ago and jumped on a bandwagon that actually had wheels. All I can say to deists is that I find their concept of god equivalent to fat-free, sugar-free, caramel syrup; if the word oxymoron didn’t just pop into your head then please look up the definitions of oxymoron, god, and syrup in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Prayer doesn’t work, science does, and you don’t need to be an egghead to figure that out. Go get a job at the Cadillac factory like Johny Cash and take a toodle around on your lunch break. The engineers aren’t dressed in ceremonial robes reading incantations in a dead language as they wave a big brass incense ball over plans scrawled on parchment – they are at computers, punching in numbers, and using instruments to take measurements. Science works.

Science is for the public and you don’t need anymore than bus fare to find that out. Hop on a bus, head to a local campus, and casually walk into a lecture hall with a bunch of students, inconspicuously taking a seat near the back. Quick note - it might be a good idea to leave the holy books at home for a day and instead carry a binder or laptop or something to give the impression that you are literate. Anyway, you can sit there and listen to them speak and you’ll quickly discover there is no fucking conspiracy going on. Everything that they are saying can be confirmed at the library – the public library. Science is public.

Science is international and you don’t need to travel the world or speak seven languages to confirm that. You can pick a subject, like the second law of thermodynamics (a favorite of so many holy rollers), look it up on Wikipedia, and you’ll find that it is available in at least 30 languages. For those that have had their nose in the holy books too long, feel free to scroll through the list of languages and select ‘simple English’. If you doubt that this information is available around the planet then all you need to do is sign up for a myspace account using a picture of a blonde woman on your profile. Within hours some guy with a name like Achmed from Egypt or Morocco will send you a message requesting a conversation by webcam. Now, tell him you will turn your webcam on after he reads the Wikipedia article to you, confirming the translation in his native language – a lot of them seem to speak French as well so you can have them check that too. Science is international.

So, I would like to ask, once and for all, that all holy rollers please stop asking me to give them free science lessons. Everything that I know about science is publicly available at a nearby college, local library, or on the internet. I’m an Atheist, not a scientist.

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Comment by Heather Spoonheim on May 18, 2011 at 9:34pm
@Wanda T - Thank you!  It means a lot.
Comment by Grace Fitzpatrick on May 18, 2011 at 9:25pm
I don't know.  I think religions are worthy of scientific and historical study.  To do that you need some sort of measurement and definitions.  The objective study of religions and their followers is probably best left to historians and anthropologists.  Anthropologists study tribal religions and dead religions.  Why should living widespread ones be exempt?
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on May 18, 2011 at 9:18pm

John,

Right you are on the less flawed quip, second time charley.

By my calculations which might fluctuate depending on wind direction and velocity you are one in 1.2 million in wierdness. Although I can say without fear of contradiction that I have a nearly insane, formerly brilliant uncle, who makes you look like Martha stewart before her incarceration.

The deists are a little like the scientific big bangers, not to be confused with the know nothings or the tea baggers, in that a mysterious force gave birth to the universe and was never in play again. Of course deists are forced to deal more in reality because prayers will be an absolute waste of time. And the coast is clear for naturalistic causation, not that quantum physics seems natural at all.

Comment by John Camilli on May 18, 2011 at 8:30pm
Oh, I see why you asked if I was asserting that my model was less flawed: because I said "...to me this is a little more accurate." But still, no. If I had said "This absolutely is more accurate," then I would have been making that assertion, but I prefaced it with "to me," so I'm still okay, lol. I'm pretty careful about that, althogh I certainly do forget to make that qualification at times.  
Comment by John Camilli on May 18, 2011 at 8:28pm

Glen, I have specifically been saying that "less flawed" is a non-sense term, so no, I'm not saying that my model is less flawed. I give equal merits to all models. Only an individual can say what works for them, so I cannot say religion does not work for theists, just as they cannot say science does not work for me. I can provide examples of why it works, and so can they. I can provide examples of why their model makes no sense to me, and they can do the same. Unless someone has the actual, true model of reality, which no one has managed to prove, then every idea is equally ridiculous.

 

As for the types of religions, I feel we are silly to even debate definitions in the first place because I don't believe in objective definition. I think all definition is ultimately subjective. Keeping that in mind, I will use the most popular definitions of the time to debate with because otherwise debate is impossible, and I will be left with nothing to do, lol.

 

....

 

Actually, I can't even make the arguments I want. I've just spent the last 5 hours researching the various types of religions (certainly not the first time I've done so, but I wanted to refresh my memories on specifics), and I am left more confused than I already was. In some sense, I find them all interchangeable. For instance, deists have the watchmaker idea, while theists view God as being involved in reality as it unfolds. But if an all-knowing being designed a machine and set it in motion, then the original intent of the design is always there, as well as the impetus, and in a sense the being is always involved. If I design and wind up a watch and then set it down, I am still the impetus for every movement of the hands on the watch face.

 

I guess I can't really debate those points anymore, which is a situation I find myself arriving at quite often.

Comment by Grace Fitzpatrick on May 18, 2011 at 7:52pm
When I was religious, I attended classes on learning to speak in tongues, because my friends in FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) said all really devoted christians can do this.  According to my teachers, all you do is completely clear your mind and say goo goo gaa gaa over and over.  Supposedly, in a few sessions, you'll be a full fledged tongues speaker.  I never could get the hang of it.  I could never clear my mind of the reoccurring thought "this is stupid.  This is stupid."
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on May 18, 2011 at 7:39pm

I babble in tongues and make wierd animal noises. In my case, the strange utterances are products of demonic possesion.

I think the ornate churches are an attempt to wow the dummy asses. This is especially true during counter-reformation. The plain and austere is a protestant reaction against popery.

I dont know from high and low.

Why dont we get some reality tv entertainment watching the buffoonery and solemn procession at the respective cult coops.

Comment by Grace Fitzpatrick on May 18, 2011 at 7:26pm

Oh, I know that some folks who speak in tongues are Penecostal, some are also Baptist, Holiness, Fundamentalists, etc.  It used to be speaking in tongues was one of those things even most people of faith thought was out there, now a lot of churches or people within churches are doing it.  It's just one of those things.  Once people thought it was weird, now it's normal.  I just don't know where Penecostals are on the rungs between high church (Catholics and Anglicans) and low church (Methodist). 

 

I have only taken one college coarse and one course from my old church on the history of religion, so I am far from an expert on the topic.  High churches are those which have a very structured hierarchy and very ritualistic.  For example, the Catholic church has a power structure that leads to the Pope who is appointed by the Cardinals at the Vatican.  They have very ritualized ceremonies which can only be lead by a priest.   Their churches tend to be very ornate. 

 

The Methodist Church is considered a low church, because it does not have a Pope or Archbishop at the head.  Since it was born during the Age of Enlightenment, it is also democratic.  IE beliefs of the church are voted on by a council of representatives from each district at an annual meeting.  Their beliefs are not selected by the clergy as they are in high churches.  However, the clergy members are required to obtain masters degrees in theology and surprisingly enough, go through a battery of psychological tests to ensure they are not crazy people or child molesters.  Methodist churches are somewhat ornate.  You will find stained glass windows and art work on the walls of most Methodist churches.  And for some reason, often a clock excellent sight for the preacher. 

 

The lower on the scale from high church to low church you get the less ornate the churches, the more loose the structure in both hierarchy and the weekly church service. the more democratic as far as determining what the beliefs of the church are and the less ornate the buildings. I am not sure, but I think some churches do not require seminary training for their pastors. An untrained clergy is certainly a big difference between a high church and a church lower on the ladder.  The higher on the ladder, the more educated the clergy.

 

I have only been in a few Penecostal churches.  They had plain white walls, no art work, just a plain cross, no candlesticks or anything, except for maybe an altar to kneel at for communion.  Their minsters become minsters through the call of god, but not necessarily the call to higher education. 

 

I just don't know where on the scale they fit.  It's not really a value judgment on the church to call it a low church.  This is just the classification scale someone sometime came up with to measure and discuss churches. 

 

I imagine Jefferson did not like Methodists.  They were some of the ones who believed in the "still small stirring of the heart" (something akin to being born again without shouting) and a personal relationship with God.  The Methodist church took hold much faster in the US and Ireland than in England where it was born.  As a person who was of the elite with strong European ties, he probably thought they were weird. 

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on May 18, 2011 at 5:57pm

John,

It just came to me. Pentacostalism

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on May 18, 2011 at 5:54pm

John,

Are you asserting that your model is less flawed?

I will agree to aspects I do not mention here. That disagreement is in your treatment of rules. There is a tendency which varies inversely with the fundamentalism of the theistic adherent to follow there own rules. There is an opposing tendency to seek rational and egalitarian rules to the extent the actor is not religious. Concurrently there is strong biological and cultural influence in deciding rules and mores.

I think you are confusing animism and deism. I am relying on my memory. If you want to quote or refer to some authoritative source, I will reconsider. But as I recall, deism is an idea which primarily grows out of the movement of the french philosophes. It probably had its genesis in the analysis of the corruption of the church and contradictory scriptures. The clockmaker metaphor is the one I have most often read and it is a handy tool to conceptualize god the absentee father.

Pantheists look at all of existence as one god. Spinoza is the so called respectable pantheists.A Animism is a belief generally attributed to so called primitive peoples. In a sense it is more sophisticated in that it does not posit man as special. Respect the birds and rocks and all of creation including the great spirit. Probably closest way to describe your position.

Polytheism predates monotheism. You have the steps out of order. I am not sure animism predates polytheism, but you are most likely correct. And deism is definitely the stepping stone towards atheism. It strips down theism to bare bones, removes the attached political structure and makes for an easy transition to atheism.

Did not know Islam was supported by Patrick Henry.

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