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 Wanda T on May 18, 2011 at 5:43pm

...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.

Brilliant.  You are rapidly becoming one of my favorite bloggers.

Comment by John Camilli on May 18, 2011 at 5:34pm
The evangelicals comment was to Glen, who couldn't think of the sect that does all the speaking in tongues
Comment by John Camilli on May 18, 2011 at 5:30pm

Glen, I'd lower than percentage quite a bit. For instance, and no offense, you do not understand deism. Deists believe in one god because they look at all of existence as god, and there's only one existence. Deism also is not a stepping stone between polytheism and atheism because it predates any other belief system except for animism. Hinduism (not Hindi, Grace, lol), and its Vedic predecessor are deistic religions, and those are some of the oldest known religions. Btw, you're thinking of Evangelicals.

 

Also, are you guys aware that several of our founding fathers supported and even engaged in practicing Islam? That would really throw a wrench in those Christian founding father arguments.

Comment by John Camilli on May 18, 2011 at 5:13pm
You'll notice below that all three are based on assumptions and all three produce faith or belief.
Comment by John Camilli on May 18, 2011 at 5:12pm

Glen, to me this is a little more accurate:

 

Foundation:

Theist - assumption of higher power and rules set by that power.

Atheist - assumption of no higher power and no rules.

Scientist - assumption of causality

 

Result:

Theist - faith in higher power and adherence to rules believed to be set by that power

Atheist - faith in observation and adherence to subjective (individual) rules

Scientist - faith in logic and adherence to logically deduced rules

 

Motivation:

Depends on who you ask.

Comment by John Camilli on May 18, 2011 at 4:57pm

"I don't need to have an alternate belief system in place in order to believe that religion is bunk."

 

Actually...yes, you do, if you want to make any decisions. Decisions require preference and preference requires belief because humans do not have absolute knowledge of reality. Every time we make a decision, we are evaluating consequences according to what we believe will happen as a result. If you don't use the tenets of a religion to valuate your decisions, you are using some other belief system, be it science or a system entirely unique to you.

 

When you say pray doesn't work, that is a belief. I feel pretty confident in assuming that you have never conducted any statistically significant tests of your own on prayer. So everything you say about prayer not being effective is a belief. And even if you had conducted those tests, I have already showed that it's possible to doubt observational evidence, so an opinion resulting from direct observation is still a belief. You are asserting that only people with thousand-year-old fairytale books are engaging in belief, but that is just the most obvious form of it.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on May 18, 2011 at 2:11pm

Grace,

Maybe you saw the poll which ranked atheists as most knowledgeable about religion, catholics most ignorant. Who knows?

Thomas Jefferson in particular was horrified by methodists. Then again, he was ambivalent about slavery but he had plenty of slaves.

I cant think of the sect that is famous for speaking in tongues but I think they have been around for a while.

I do not see the willy nilly changes in religion as evolution, more a cancer metastisizing. And even if you liken it to evolution, it is not natural selection. It is artificial. On the other hand when you trace the changes in religion it is quite evident that there are stages leading to atheism. Protestantism is a departure and advance over catholicism because it challenges the authority of the papacy and priest. And deism is certainly more advanced than the predecessor western traditions. It is one step away from atheism.

Comment by Grace Fitzpatrick on May 18, 2011 at 1:51pm

I imagine that there are more atheists who understand deism than Christians.  Not knowing large numbers of Muslims, Hindi or Buddhists, I have no idea how many of them may or may not understand it.  I think today's Christians would be very disappointed if they were to meet the founding fathers.  The founding fathers would probably look at them in horror when someone started speaking in tongues or interrupted the religious services with an Amen or a Praise you Jesus!  Remember these guys thought Methodists were overly emotional and radical. 

 

Relgionists often fail to see religion itself is evolving (ie changing).  When I was growing up, no one spoke in tongues (ie the secret language of god).  In fact, my church believed speaking in tongues meant the spontaneous ability to speak in a foreign language with no prior knowledge of that language (it had to be definitely a known language of people).   However, I was taught this is incredibly rare, in fact so rare, as to be considered impossible.  It was not something to waste time thinking about. 

 

We never, ever jumped up and down in church.  We sat in our seats and recited prayers from a prayer book.  There was none of this spontaneous stuff going on.  Of course, I grew up in the Methodist tradition. 

 

Now, churches are often like rock concerts with people jumping up and down, yelling out stuff, sweating, screaming, passing out - which is just totally different than in my youth.  Back then everybody knew faith healing didn't work - for the most part at least.

 

The fact is that you can apply science to religion.  Religion itself is evolving.  Polytheism to monotheism.  High church to low church to whatever screaming and yelling and speaking in tongues is.  Evolution isn't always for the better.  Evolution just means change.  The only constant in the universe is change.  People aren't afraid of the word "change" for the most part, but the word "evolution" scares the crap out of a lot of people.  I often wonder why.  It's just a word.  Baloney's a word and no one's scared of it.  (Well, maybe there are actually people who are afraid of saying the word baloney, but I've never met or heard of one.) Why are people afraid of words? 

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on May 18, 2011 at 1:21pm

Grace,

I'd say that 23% of atheists are aware of the historical context of deism. To me it is a chain in the conceptual evolution towards atheism. Although I think the perception which ranks monotheism as an advance in thinking following polytheism is spurious and probably reflects the tendentious leanings of the god lovers.

Praise be quarks and prime numbers.

Comment by Grace Fitzpatrick on May 18, 2011 at 12:20pm

John, finally I run into someone who understands Deism and that is not the same as Christianity or any particular religion.  As it was explained to me by my colonial history professor, the Deist believed that god was the clock maker.  God made the clock (everything) and wound it to keep it going, but has nothing to do with the everyday goings on of life - much as you would wind your watch and then forget about it until it needed winding again.  The modern idea that our deist founding fathers  believed in a personal relationship with god and prayed all the time like modern Christians is in error. 

 

Many people at that time did not believe in a personal relationship with god.  They believed only special people like priests or other holy people had the direct connection and they had to go through these holy people to get to god.  The idea a person could have a one on one sans priest relationship with god was a relatively new one at the time of the revolution. 

 

The idea George Washington went around saying praise Jesus everywhere he went is more than likely incorrect.  Like science, history is constantly evolving, and new information is constantly surfacing, but to the best of our knowledge now, our founding fathers probably were not Christian in the same way most people are now. (IE believing in a personal relationship with god without the intersession of priests.)

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