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 17, 2011 at 11:07am

@Marc Draco

 

I hear you about evolution but I think calling it a fact is like calling a book a word.  I won't entertain the 'just a theory' phrase unless the person specifies they mean the scientific meaning of theory by saying 'just an explanation'.  It is just an explanation, and a damn good one, that is backed up by literally millions of facts.  In the end, however, I'm not really interested in providing lessons on it at all, and I don't feel I should need to in order to refute someone's claim that bunnies poop out chocolate eggs in April, or whatever Christianity is about.

Comment by Marc Draco on May 17, 2011 at 10:55am

Just in case no one else picked up on this, "evolution" most certainly is a fact, Heather. It's also a theory.

 

I believe you're confusing facts with laws. Theories can't be laws because they operate in a different domain - laws are (or should be) incontrovertible; theories, by their nature are not.

 

This does not, however, change the fact that Theory can also be a fact.

 

Laws fail from time to time - Newton's laws of gravity were refined by Einstein IIRC - Newton was close, almost ludicrously so, but Einstein developed better maths. The description of the operation of gravity is these days (again, if memory serves and it might not) regarded as a theory not a fact.

 

Evolution is the most tested Theory in the whole of science and while we don't have all the answers (and probably have more questions than answers) that does not stop it being a fact; and this ignorance of specific English verbiage is something that fundies rely on.

Comment by Heather Spoonheim on May 17, 2011 at 10:50am

@Glen Rosenberg

 

I haven't actually experienced any degree of sexism from Atheist men in general.  I have encountered a few who really don't enjoy me speaking my mind, but only one who ever discounted my opinions based on gender - although he literally believed we needed to incorporate fish genes into ourselves so that we wouldn't need space suits to go to mars.  I'm dead serious on that last part - he seemed to think fish could survive outside the atmosphere.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on May 17, 2011 at 10:41am

John,

If I had used the word perfect or unique you would be correct. Flaws, however, deviate from our reality, if not ultimate reality by degree. I wont furnish examples unless requested. Chaos theory notwithstanding, in comparing the relative merits of science v. religion science is less flawed. 

You know a great deal more about science than I. So I am not going to contest your assertion regarding contradictory properties defying integration. In fact I am dubious we will ever understand things.  However, science defense 101 will point out how science is not ruling by fiat, rather it is attempting answers. And science "knows" what it knows and attempts to understand what it does not.

Yes I am generalizing. What is the problem there? Reverse the role play and you still have a basic religious approach frozen in time going nowhere and arriving quickly. Weaken the strangle- hold religion had on science and witness rapid developments in our understanding and knowledge.

That human sense of awe and wonder is stymied by religion and a vehicle for exploration in science. That said,  power lust is a universal human shortcoming that uglifies civilization and plays a negative role in science.

Heather,

I agree with 97 percent of your blog. As an aside, do you feel any form of sexism among male atheists?

Comment by Heather Spoonheim on May 17, 2011 at 10:14am
Thanks, Eric!
Comment by roland707 on May 17, 2011 at 9:26am
Dammit, that was beautiful!
Comment by Heather Spoonheim on May 17, 2011 at 9:18am
Thanks, booklover!  I do love being agreed with. :D
Comment by booklover on May 17, 2011 at 9:11am
Excellent post Heather!  I really enjoyed reading it and I totally agree with you. :)
Comment by Heather Spoonheim on May 17, 2011 at 2:18am
@John Camilli - I've also put a note on my door that says 'no solicitors', and this is intended as much the same thing - just a place I can point them when they start proselytizing on various other forums.  I actually don't care much if science has contradictions - entire point of the blog.  Maybe you should check up on deism and animism and get back to me about what deists are saying.
Comment by John Camilli on May 17, 2011 at 2:03am

Heather, you said "As far as keeping it to myself - I'm not the one knocking on doors trying to spread the good word every Sunday afternoon, or standing on street corners handling out pamphlets and asking people if they would like to pray with me." But you are hear, on a website touting your ideas, some of which are even addressed to theists. How is that different than a theist seeking you out to tell you his or her ideas?

 

The whole mention of the causation crap, as you so eloquently put it, was to illustrate to you that science is NOT without contradictions. You derided religion for being full of inconsistencies, so I was pointing out that the same can be said of science. And no, I am not suggesting a deistic concept. Im not sure about your analogy to syrup, but deism is just the idea that all of existence is worthy of worship, whereas theism posits a god as the object of worship.

 

 

Glen,

To say an idea is "less flawed" than another is just nonsense. If it's flawed, it's flawed. Something cannot be close to perfect, or close to correct. It's either correct or it's incorrect. You and I have discussed chaos theory before, if I recall. In chaos theory, tiny, tiny variations can cause enourmous differences. Our theories of reality are like that too. There are only tiny, tiny differences in Newtonian mechanics and Relativistic mechanics, but they add up to a completely different picture of reality, so if a theory of the universe has even one fact wrong, it could lead us to a totally wacky conclusion. This is why I say something can't be close to correct.

 

Also Glen, you said science integrates non-contradictory ideas, as our friend Michael says, but I just pointed out two MAJOR contradictions that are at the heart of all scientific theories. There are no theories in science that do not somehow come back to causality or locality. They are not even small inconsistencies, they are huge!

 

As for the motivations of science and religion, I think you are generalizing. I have known plenty of researchers who are trying to prove something so they can make money, or be famous, or be right. And I have known plenty of theists and deists who explore their religious ideas out of curiosity and wonder. It is arrogant to claim scienctists motivations are pure while theists are only out to control things.

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