Friday, September 16, 2011


Of course it’s pointless to argue the logic (or the lack thereof) of religious faith with a believer, because you’d already have to be harboring a ton of doubt to be open to an opposing point of view. But also from my own experience it’s fairly frustrating as exercises go. I was thinking this morning how it resembles an attempt to talk a child (or someone with psychotic delusions) out of believing in the imaginary playmate/monster in the room. At first you try and deny its presence, but after a while you have no choice but to set foot on the slippery slope of pretending to go along with it just for the sake of the argument.

That’s what one does when discussing the existence of any gods or otherworldly phenomena! It’s like looking at a blank spot in the space between you both and though it is clearly devoid of any entity, since nothingness is a lack of somethingness (no attributes, no qualities, NOTHING whatsoever to discuss) you end up talking about what could be there, even though it’s obviously, well, empty. That’s when you fall into the trap from which it is near impossible to extricate yourself, except to say the obvious which is: there’s NOTHING there to discuss, end of conversation.

So how does one engage in a meaningful debate about the non-existence of God …………… ?????(I really resent having to capitalize the first letter of that word. That’s why I’ve chosen to write NOTHING in all caps)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Beyond good or evil…

This is the basis for my "faith" in life : mirror neurons, as simple as that.

As far as I’m concerned, the very idea of goodness stems directly from them. What are they and what do they do?

Well , so-called mirror neurons are brain cells that become active when we watch other people doing and/or feeling things. The same circuitry lights up, for instance, when we watch someone lift a glass to their mouth and drink, as would light up if we ourselves were doing just that. Thus the “mirror” denomination. There’s an echo in our mind to what other people are doing, and especially feeling. So that when all is well with others, the mirror effect can help us feel good too. It’s related to the tail wagging the dog thing too. If we smile (even forcing a smile) we can end up feeling smiley when in fact we’d started out with a frowning kind of feeling; but that’s not really useful to consider here so I’ll leave that for another post.

Really, the point is that there’s an inner response to the emotions of others whereby whether we want to or not, our neurons “empathize” with others (unless other mechanisms come into play, which of course they do, or we would be living in a real Garden of Eden). The best illustration of this is how we feel when we witness someone hurting themselves, say cutting their finger and we flinch. We flinch because we know how that feels, and the same circuitry lights up (albeit very briefly) as if we’d done it to ourselves. From all that I’ve read, this isn’t a uniquely human phenomenon either. Other primates and, I believe, other mammals (dolphin maybe? I forget) have been found to have similar reactions.

And what is it we all wish to avoid at all costs? (ok, never mind the S&M contingent and other particulars) What we aim for in life - our survival depends on it – is to avoid pain of any kind, whenever possible,. We do not want to feel pain – ever – and it follows that if we are set up so that our mirror make us feel the pain of others, we have an inbuilt incentive to minimize pain for other people too. Ok, I know, there are a whole lot of reasons and contexts where the opposite is true, but deep down, before all of that, (infants naturally react to other infants’ pain, and will try to console them as many an experiment has shown.). Inherently, we wish other people well, if only for the purely selfish reason that we might be obliged to “share” someone else’s pain.

To my mind, this is the reason for which there is more peace than war in the world, why “getting along” is the default manner among humans, and whereby I am confidant that "Good” will always prevail.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What are we arguing for???

I’ve somehow just started reading atheist blogs, and I’m puzzled by the amount of time and energy that is spent arguing with and about the faithful.

My question is: when was the last time any of us actually won an argument against someone, the result of which was that the loser changed his or her mind???

It’s not like we’re having some sort of debate, and we’re likely to be swayed one way or another (like say a democrat turns into a republican after watching one of their debates? Or, in this case, a believer opens her eyes after reading an argument on an atheist blog where each side badmouths the other??? ) What’s that about? What’s the actual point?

What’s being debated isn’t the merits, or lack thereof, of something like the best way to skin a cat, but rather the structure upon which so many people rely in their daily lives!

I don’t know, I think there are myriad ways to bring people around to consider reality from a different angle, one where when cause is not obvious, it doesn’t mean there’s some otherworldly power in charge. It could just mean that we haven’t gotten around to explaining it yet… It might even mean we never will (or at least during this, our only lifetime. Ok, that’s a hard one to swallow, I know. That’s the downside to the twenty-first century, having to drop science as a substitute for religion… What, No Definitive Answers?!? No all-encompassing theory of everything, from soup to nuts?)

The way I see it is that there must be an equivalent to my challenge for the faithful: I will drop to my knees and believe in God the day I come face to face with him and he shows me some of the really incredible stuff he’s said to be able to do. (And I don’t mean for that to seem in any way disrespectful of anyone’s beliefs… Just, you know, like show me a parting of the seas or something, that isn’t a tidal wave)

So what would it take to change a believer’s mind?

So far, I’ve only come up with one thing, which is to shed light on the cognitive mechanisms by virtue of which we could not not have become religious.

And that is exactly what I’ve decided to do by coming back here.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

God at the starting blocks

Picture if you will an infant. Picture the infant in its infant chair able to do little else than look out onto the world trying to figure it out. Now see it raise its hands and feet and test them: what does this thing do, what it is it for. As soon as it can, it reaches for the nearest object and looks at it in puzzlement. What is this? What good is it? (With any luck, it's good to chew or rub its gums on, which is an excellent purpose when you can't do much else!)

Picture it now growing and evolving (too quickly for most of us parents) and watch the infant explore the world by increments larger and larger as the days and months pass... Every object in the world within its reach, including the most important one, its self, is put to the test: what is this or that thing for, what is its purpose?

That, in a nutshell, is the origin of God, God at the starting blocks if you will, the foundation upon which many other factors can line up and be built into the all-encompassing, omnipresent concept that humans have relied on for thousands of years to guide their actions. Because sometimes, too many times, the incessantly questioning - and questing- human mind does not find the answer it is seeking but is wired to keep going until it does. God is the default mode that relieves the anxious and weary brain and keeps it from imploding,

Friday, September 2, 2011

Is there life after atheism?

One of the reasons I stopped posting here (besides the usual “little patience with talking to myself in an empty room) was that after years of being an antitheist, it dawned on me that I wouldn’t wish the condition on anyone else. So I stopped proselytizing.  I have a hard time participating in discussions about belief with people who swear by theirs, but I wouldn’t necessarily want to change their minds, unless…
Unless I could offer some alternative upon which to hang their minds and rest their so-called souls.
I had just decided I would do so by showing – as opposed to telling – how I reached this point and how I dealt with being godless every single day of my life since. (After this initial re-introduction, I’ll attempt to recall and explore the path to total atheism, through the various facets that come under the faith umbrella.)
I was thinking  I would start up a new blog –again – this one having pretty much slipped off my radar, using the title “Diary of a mad atheist woman”, with the word “woman” crossed out. But when I looked it up I found that someone else was using it, or something very much like it, and the blog drew me in like few (or maybe none) before it.  Definitely worth checking out or its sister site,. Because as luck would have it (just an expression, nothing underlying it), at the very same time I was checking it out, an announcement appeared to say it was moving, to
but if you want to check out what Greta has been saying for years, go  directly to the old place
which is filled with juicy tidbits and bracing theories too.

Below  is the first comment I tried to post (and will check back to see if I succeeded) in relation to her post about accommodation vs diplomacy on the part of atheists

If not accommodating those who hold religious beliefs (and I'm not necessarily against that in principle, I'm just wondering whether the consequences are at all practicable) is the aim then to strip them of such beliefs? And if so, what can be offered in lieu of such beliefs? I know from my own experience that having some kind of faith is (mostly) easier than not having any at all.
Considering all of the facets of life that belief systems are intricately woven into, I'm not sure how capable - mentally, emotionally - most people are of living without them...

I don’t really know if there is/are definitive answers to the question, but I can’t wait to read the views of Greta and her fellow atheistic friends.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Moral Sense?

Another riveting (polarizing ?) piece by Pinker in the N.Y.T. magazine this week. (read it here, copy/paste, still haven't taken time to solve problem of linking from this blog:)

While undeniably fascinating, I have two criticisms to voice (at this precise moment, maybe more will come.)

The first is that it starts out with a bang but ends in a fizzle. Unlike his recent book “The Stuff of Thought”, it is pleasantly short, thus more digestible (another way to put that would be to admit I still haven’t reached the end of the book, though I’ve had it in my possession for over three months.) What is enticing in both endeavours is the method used to explore the workings of the human mind, the old “catalogue” system, whereby everything gets a category, a permanent slot from which information relating to it may be retrieved with ease and speed. Very convenient. The problem with the article however is, though he applies neat little labels to the various components listed, they don’t actually add up to much, do they? “…harm, fairness, community (or group loyalty), authority and purity” are the pillars upon which he would have us build a moral system independent of religion, and, truth be told, I was with him in spirit all the way. Who wouldn’t be? After all, the faithless and faithful alike would welcome any sort of system that would unite all mankind into observing rules to guarantee safety and well-being to all the world over, independent of local variants. But to my mind, the thread doesn’t lead us anywhere near so much as a hint of such a solution.

His final paragraph, the all important closing argument, feels less than satisfactory, never mind conclusive:

“Far from debunking morality, then, the science of the moral sense can advance it, by allowing us to see through the illusions that evolution and culture have saddled us with and to focus on goals we can share and defend. As Anton Chekhov wrote, “Man will become better when you show him what he is like.”

Uhm… Not.

Unfortunately, “Man” will just find newer, more clever ways of perpetuating same self-serving behaviour, and I’m quite sure that Mr Pinker’s research and thought experiments have already led him numerous times smack into that wall. We rationalize after the fact, and though his various arguments and illustrations do highlight the fact that we are as inclined to do “good” as we are to do the opposite, we rarely think things through on a conscious level before we act upon our numerous and contradictory urges.

My second caveat concerns the very basis from which he builds his essay, the “Moral Instinct” a.k.a. the moral “Sense”. While I’m rarely sceptical of the notorious major five (and open to some others, like proprioception, and anything else that is physically grounded) I have a hard time accepting the idea that there may exist anything remotely close to a category encompassing such a thing as morality. This so clearly smacks of the tail wagging the dog that I find it difficult not to resist.

A “Moral” sense? That’s as acceptable an idea as something like a healthy sense. We all have a variety of factors to consider to keep us on track for a long and healthful life, some related, many not. These factors cannot, by any stretch of the imagination be placed under a single umbrella, and to continue with the same comparison, we all know how observant we are of those rules, and this despite the sometimes immediate and painful consequences not abiding to them can bring.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The faithless under attack

An article in today's NYT put into words a feeling I imagine is shared by many an atheist beside me. In the article "Faith vs the faithless" the Op-ed columnist writes:

When this country was founded, James Madison envisioned a noisy public square with different religious denominations arguing, competing and balancing each other’s passions. But now the landscape of religious life has changed. Now its most prominent feature is the supposed war between the faithful and the faithless. Mitt Romney didn’t start this war, but speeches like his both exploit and solidify this divide in people’s minds.

This confirms my impression of the direction the umwelt has taken. America is trying to make it uncomfortable for all of those who, like me, do not adhere to any form of religious dogma. He mentions how Romney, in his latest speech describes the faithful as being united in
a tribe, marked by ethnic pride, a shared sense of victimization and all the other markers of identity politics
which brings nothing to mind as the Nietzschean postulate about the weak claiming victimhood status, though their numbers clearly deny such a claim. 90% of all Americans adhere to one form of religious belief or another: wherein lies the threat?

From where I sir - and Romney's speech does warn about the faithlessness of Europe (why, pray tell? What horrible excesses should America be worrying about? A vibrant culture and economy, greater tolerance for differences that feed the vibrancy?) - it seems clear that what we should be worrying about is the way the U.S. is preparing to wage war against the "faithless". Will we soon be so reviled that we will no longer be allowed to set foot in the "land of the free"?