Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Why am I writing this blog?

Religion is a very delicate subject and it is extremely easy to cause offence. I'm not concerned by this. I’m certain that many visitors to this blog are wondering what gives me the right to criticise their faith and try to explain to them that I think they should share similar attitudes to my own? Well, that is precisely the reason why I am writing this site. I believe we have equal rights and if we have equal rights then I have the same rights as you do to promote my "beliefs".

I grew up with a religious mother. She didn't really force it on me but I was sent to a Sunday school for a time and I was supposed to show a lot more respect than I did. I had religious education forced upon me at school which was nothing more than an unveiled attempt to force Christianity onto me. As a child I have sat through countless hours of Christian hymns in school assemblies and school chapel and I have been reprimanded for not singing and for asking questions. I have been reprimanded by school teachers for refusing to pray.

Since I became old enough to vote I have marvelled at the fact that it appears a prerequisite of leadership in most western democracies to be a practicing and faithful Christian. I have learned the history of my own cultures and others and seen just how much of it has been shaped by religious faith and what has happened traditionally to people, such as myself, that are prepared to question that faith or the conclusions that have become protected by organisations representing a faith.

Now I am older and I have my own children and I have watched as their teachers and society at large attempts to push mysticism and superstition onto them. I find it unacceptable and counterproductive to human progress.

So I ask you, if you have the right to believe what you believe and to try to promote it, even by forcing it onto children, why throughout my life in a secular nation did I not have the right to resist? What made your rights so much more important than mine that I have to suffer you attempting to convince me and my children of something I have always sincerely known to be ridiculous superstition and yet I have to respect your beliefs despite a mountain of historical references that reveal just how dangerous and unfounded those beliefs are? Yet increasingly under law I am discouraged from speaking out in favour of my beliefs in case I harm your sensibilities.

It’s absolute rubbish. Nobody in my history has ever worried one jot about harming my sensibilities in trying to convert me in my childhood and my children during theirs to enter into the restrictive non-critical thinking of a time warped Bronze Age cult.

So now you know why I write this blog. Writing this blog allows me and my children to be treated equally. Many others will feel the same way.

But that is not the only reason why I write this blog. I write for many more reasons that I shall explain here. And these reasons are entirely altruistic. None of my motivation for this blog is to offend or upset you or to attack you. If I do offend, upset or attack you and your faith then I do it for a reason. I do it to show you that I and many others are both fearless of and disgusted by your faith and its inevitable consequences. I honestly want to set you free from what I am convinced is an extremely harmful delusion both for you and for society as a whole. I sincerely believe that doing that will make all of our lives better than they are today or have historically been at any time in our history. So let’s run through the reasons.

First let’s look at an idea. Let’s imagine that I tell you that kangaroos created the world 50 years ago. Furthermore, the great, divine and wise kangaroos carry all wisdom in their pouches and from their position of great wisdom and as the creators of all things they have told their prophet of their wishes for how we should live. I have seen the light of the kangaroos and have converted and as a Kangaroolian I now try to spread their message.

The first rule of the great Kangaroos is that we should no longer wear trousers, ever. To wear trousers and cover up our legs would be an insult to the powerful legs of the great Kangaroos, from which all strength and power comes, so we must bare our legs to show how humble our own legs are in comparison to the perfection and power of the great Kangaroos.

The second rule of the great kangaroos is that we are not hairy enough. The Great Kangaroos created us with bald skin to show how we were born impure and must aspire to the same purity and hairiness of our Skippy Lords. In order to be closer to the greatness of the Kangaroos and cleanse ourselves of sin we must cover our bodies daily in honey and flax so that we should imitate their divine hairiness so that we might be saved.

The third rule is … well, hold on a minute. Is any of this starting to seem a bit silly to you? Do you not think that there might be more to life, the universe and everything than what some guy assures you some kangaroos told him one day?

Yes, I think that too. But in the kangaroos favour they have so far said absolutely nothing about wanting us to kill anybody and unlike god, I and many of the readers have actually seen a kangaroo. I can actually, physically demonstrate that kangaroos exist. I don’t have to take anybodies word for it.

So why should I not believe in the kangaroos. They are god, the creator, according to them so their word, as handed to me by the helpful prophet of the kangaroos, is gods word right? Of course not – it’s just his word. And there is absolutely no evidence what so ever that demonstrates a reason to believe this prophet at all. To believe him and to believe in the kangaroos as my creators and rulers would be obscenely stupid and would seriously distort my view of the world and the universe in which I live. But still, I have actually seen, touched, photographed, and even eaten kangaroo.

So, can we agree that a belief in something without evidence can distort your ability to understand the reality of the life you live? I think we must be able to agree that because if we don’t then what possible objection can you have to someone starting the cult of the kangaroo, the Kangaroolians? None at all, and as demonstrated the kangaroo cult technically has even more validity than the majority of faiths because the majority of faiths are missing their kangaroos. No one ever sees them. No one ever photographs them. They absolutely never turn up for the general public to see.

Perhaps they all hopped off.

But seriously, a severely distorted view of reality is a very poor foundation upon which to base your philosophy and your decision making. It means you are promoting decision making and moral judgement based entirely on the absence of knowledge, understanding and evidence and based entirely on a similar absence of these key human abilities in the Bronze Age peasant or politician that originally decided to write down a story of some guy he’d heard about who’d had an interesting conversation with something far less evident in our universe than a kangaroo.

Whatever you say about religion giving comfort, I don’t buy it and I think it’s bad for you. Expecting a politician to have faith before he can lead a country is like expecting a school bus driver to drink three bottles of whiskey before he takes your children to school. Faith, by its very definition, is the absence of critical thought.

So that was my first altruistic reason for writing this site. Are you ready for the second?

Here it is. It is my observation that the reality of the universe, that which we already understand and can demonstrate with evidence, is infinitely more beautiful and elegant than the ideas and concepts of any religious text. So by buying into a faith that prevents you from seeing this beauty you are actually seriously retarding your ability to appreciate the universe that you believe god has given to you. You’ve been given the most amazing present and you haven’t even taken the wrapping paper off.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that absolutely anyone on this planet that undertakes a serious effort to understand the universe around them and the myriad relationships and patterns and intricate causes and effects and dependencies that science and mathematics have already revealed to us would be stupefied by the excellent beauty of it all. Let’s take one tiny little example of this that may help to open your mind. It doesn’t matter how you think you got here for the moment, let’s just concentrate on where here is.

I want you to actually do this. You’ll need a grain of sand or salt and an orange and a very large open space. Here’s what you do.

First place the orange on the floor and stand with one foot either side of the orange. Look down on it. Looks pretty small from all the way up there doesn’t it? Now, I want you to take about 14 paces forward in a straight line away from the orange - approximately 11.5m away from the orange. Stop here and put the grain of sand down between your feet.

Now take a few steps to the side and turn around and look back at the orange and at the grain of sand. Can you even see the grain of sand? Maybe not, but maybe just about. Anyway, you remember where you put it, so just take some time to consider all the empty space between the orange and your grain of sand. Compared to their scale, that’s a lot of floor with nothing on it right? But now I want you to think not only of the empty floor, the surface upon which you placed your orange and your grain of sand, but instead to think of a disc with the orange in the centre and the grain of sand sitting somewhere on the edge. Visualise as clearly as you can the 23m diameter disc with your little orange in the middle and your tiny grain of sand somewhere around the edge. Imagine walking up to the disc and trying to find the grain of sand. Imagine trying to find the grain of sand if the circumference of the disc wasn't marked on the floor and all that you knew was that you had to walk about 14 paces out from the orange but in which direction you did not know. How long would it take you to find the grain of sand?

Are you starting to get an idea of how little of the floor is actually occupied by your orange and your grain of sand?

Let's try something else. How about instead of the disc you now expand the image in your mind, whilst still looking at your real grain of sand and your real orange, to include all three dimensions. Can you imagine this huge ball, half of it towering above you and half of it spreading deep down beneath the floor? It’s a pretty big sphere of emptiness isn’t it? Eight adult African elephants could stand one on top of the other inside and still have room for 40 more in the remaining space around them. It’s a big ball. It’s a lot of emptiness compared to the tiny volume occupied by the orange and the grain of sand. In fact, if you want to know the numbers, your orange occupies 838.6cm3, your sand occupies 0.0042cm3 and your giant imaginary sphere of nothingness encompasses a staggering 50,965,010,421.64cm3.

That means that the orange and the grain of sand actually fill 0.0000016% of the space available in that sphere! You could fit your orange and your grain of sand into the sphere another 60 million times over and still have room for you and a few friends who like sandy citrus fruit to stand around.

Now assuming you haven’t managed to find an unusually gigantic orange and that your grain of sand is a normal one, then it might surprise you to know that what you have just built and imagined is a scale model of the earth orbiting the sun. Of course in the real model there are two more tiny grains of sand that would have to fit somewhere within your huge imagined sphere enveloping the orange at the distance of your earth sand grain, but I think there’s plenty of room.

So what does this tell you? Well, maybe already it tells you something you didn’t know about where you live. But there’s much more. Ask yourself, where is the next nearest star to my orange sun?

On the same scale, the next nearest star, Alpha Proxima, is actually 3,200 kilometres away and absolutely everything in between is more or less empty. That’s only 200Km short of the distance between Mecca and the Vatican. Suddenly they don’t seem so far apart after all do they? How many oranges could you fit in a sphere 3,200Km in radius, 6,400Km in diameter? You think that's a lot? Well, ask yourself how many grains of sand? I'll give you a clue - if you ground the entire moon to sand you'd still need more than five more moons to get that much sand.

What’s more is that this model you’ve built with a grain of sand and an orange is just a tiny fragment of our own galaxy. There are approximately 100 billion stars just in our galaxy alone, our local area of space. Incidentally only around 6000 of those are visible with the naked eye and Alpha Proxima isn’t one of them - it’s just too dim. There are hundreds of billions of galaxies, separated by distances so huge that on the scale of our sand and orange we could not fit our model into our solar system and almost all of this huge enormity or space is full of absolutely nothing at all. And furthermore we have existed for a slice of time so fine from the history of this amazing universe that it’s almost as though we haven’t existed at all. And there are hundreds of billions of other galaxies. Starting to get the picture?

Every single idea or invention, every joke, every poem, every philosophy, every painting, every person, every name and every animal, word, thought or idea you have ever encountered has all come from that tiny grain of sand in that tiny slice of time in a universe of space and time so vast that you will never be able to fit it inside your imagination.

When you understand that, and please be aware that you are going to need some time for that to sink in, maybe you would rather hold on to each other than kill each other because you'll understand how isolated and alone we really are.

Tell me there is anything as awe inspiring as that within any religious text and I’ll publicly agree with you if you show me the reference. Yet you will find this amazing truth along with real evidence to demonstrate it inside every introductory astronomical text on sale today.

And the real universe that you are free to perceive free of the blinkers of faith is full of such wonders, whether they are found in the relationships between people or the relationships between you and the stars. Faith, by its very nature, is a limitation to thought and thought, by its very nature, is the only ability you have to understand what is right before your eyes. This alone is more than enough reason to challenge faith.

But I’m not exhausted yet on reasons why I believe I am performing a worthwhile and altruistic action by challenging faith.

I also sincerely believe that the abandonment of faith is an extremely important prerequisite to living in peace together. I shall explain.

Faith, unlike reason, is the belief of a supposition regardless of the evidence. Reason on the other hand allows the adoption of working assumptions, but must immediately abandon such assumptions the instant that evidence is found that is contradictory to the assumption at hand. This is extremely important because it means that reason has an extremely important ability that faith can never have. Reason provides adaptability and it does it because reason accepts as its foundation that there is always doubt.

Without doubt you have no means of questioning the validity of anything you do or believe or a method by which you can attempt to integrate new facts into your model of the world and how it works. If you can’t question then you cannot accept new information, new evidence and wisdom, and neither you nor your beliefs can adapt. History has countless examples of how faith based resistance to new facts has ultimately been expressed in bloodshed.

This is where religion has always failed and this is where religion will always fail. Faith precludes doubt and the absence of doubt precludes adaptation to and acceptance of seemingly contradictory facts. If you don’t believe that, why do you think it is true that the most liberal, dogma free societies are also the most technologically and economically advanced and progressive? Freedom of thought results in more thought and the foundation for that is the ability to doubt.

It’s also worth pointing out that since the world around us does change, such as historically high populations, new technologies and new information, the absence of adaptability to its environment is an obvious sign of imminent extinction for any thing that cannot change.

Abandoning Bronze Age superstitious faith is without doubt the best way for us to learn to adapt and live in peace with each other and our changing world.

I could add more reasons and over time I probably shall. But I think this is enough for now. I think if you read this then you can understand, whether you agree with me or not, that I am writing this blog because I believe I am saying something of value that can have a direct and positive effect on the life, happiness and security of everybody.

I am writing this blog for you, for me, and for all of our children. I’m writing this blog to encourage others to question instead of believe.

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