Category Archives: Culture

Sex and Religion

Attitudes towards sex seem rather different between atheists and mainstream religions. Mainstream religions have developed strong moral messages regarding human sexuality. Engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage and for reasons other than procreation are regarded as sinful.

I am not going to debate the religious perspectives. I merely ask: why does the abandonment of religion lead to radically different views on sexuality?

The same cannot be said for other behaviors where morality plays a role. Both atheists and theists reject murder, stealing and lying. Why such disagreement in scxual matters?

I don’t know why religious attitudes are as they are, although I am aware of various theories about it. Religious attitudes were developed before contraception was a widespread practice. So, intact families and care for children may have had something to do with the development of these attitudes.

The “modern” atheistic view is that contraception frees us from the need to regulate or restrict sexuality. Out-of-wedlock children are no longer a central issue (unless the contraception fails, which is relatively rare). Therefore, why place any moral restrictions on human sexuality? Sex can be viewed as a kind of “sport”, or just another activity that brings us pleasure. Use contraception and enjoy the pleasures of sex, no strings attached. Why is sex a sin if it does not lead to unwanted pregnancy?

To me, this divergence of attitudes towards human sexuality is a mystery. Can atheists defend the perspective that sex is a sport? Human sexuality involves our deepest emotions and connections with others. Should it be engaged in lightly? A deep belief in human dignity and worth is a common bond at the core of both religion and atheistic humanism. Human dignity and worth should inform our sexual activities, and prevent us from using others as sexual entertainment machines. This is at the core of attitudes towards sexuality: how we view other people. Are people of sacred value, or just objects we use to gratify ourselves? That is a central question.

Those who are religious will follow the dictates of their religion, few questions asked (usually). Those who do not follow a religion ought to consider how their views on human sexuality fit into their overall world view. Perhaps religion has some useful perspectives to offer as regards human sexuality, derived from a base of belief in human self-worth. Atheists ought to consider whether certain forms of sexual restraint lead to greater joy, because of the positive philosophy underlying such restraint. Pleasure is nice, but there are other gifts to our souls that restraint may bring.

The Self

Why does religion appeal to our selfishness? Why must eternal life be the reward for following Jesus? Why not serve God and then perish?

What is “eternity” anyway? We cannot conceive an infinity of time. “Eternal life” means that we will never face the moment when we know we will die. This moment is what we fear, not death itself.

May I suggest a workaround to your fear of death? When that moment is presented to you, fantasize about something else. Imagine you are in a much better place and time. Take your mind off the present. If you can do this, you no longer need fear death. (If you do not have the imaginative powers to fantasize, then devote your life to developing such powers).

The only reason to seek immortality is because one is confused about death, which means one is confused about life. Every day we lose consciousness when we sleep, which does not terrify us. We believe we will wake up again. In essence, we believe in our own resurrection. This belief separates sleep from death. It is a fine line.

Is eternal life really such a desirable thing? Won’t you get incredibly bored? You will repeat the same pattern in your life millions, billions, trillions of times (and more). Isn’t it better to lead a rewarding life and then gracefully (and hopefully painlessly) check out? Worried about facing death? See the above workaround.

Christians believe in “heaven forever”, meaning a wonderful situation that persists. Can we really imagine this? The only way to avoid boredom is to periodically forget one’s past. Isn’t that the same as the “old” you dying and a “new” you taking it’s place? If you forget your past, your are effectively a different person. Therefore, you have effectively died because your old self is gone.

Embrace the transient nature of your life, which is in fact a wonderful gift.

 

The Moral Code

To readers of this blog, I wanted to refer you to a related post on another blog of mine called “Wrong Adam Carolla”, where I riff on the podcast of comedian Adam Carolla. That blog post is found here. What do you think?

Scientific mind, artful mind

In my previous post, I referred to Richard P. Feynman’s attitudes towards science and math. I would like to bring back Feynman’s memory. Feynman held interesting opinions about how scientists are treated in our society. It seemed to be a sore point with him.

Feynman has written many times about how our culture appears to respect the artist more than the scientist. It seems to me that this was a source of constant frustration to him. If true, should we be surprised?

Consider the goals of the artist versus those of the scientist.

The artist seeks to create feelings in those who view his or her art. There may also be an intellectual connection to the art, but the main purpose of art is how it makes you feel.

The scientist seeks to learn how nature works. Science is far more intellectual than emotional. Science is often supported for its practical benefits. There is a practical connection, but for most people not an emotional one.

Great art can make you feel happy, uplifted, centered, curious and validated.

It is perhaps surprising that great science can bring these feelings also. Generally it is only scientists who experience these feelings from science. Most people have a very limited emotional connection to science.

As a scientist, I am one of those people who connects emotionally to science. More precisely, I connect emotionally to nature and natural law. The encompassing power and beauty of natural law is stunning to me.

Let’s get back to Feynman. As one of the leading physicists of his day, he had to root out how nature behaves at a very fundamental level. Feynman won his Nobel Prize for the development of the first quantum field theory, which is a law of nature that includes the electromagnetic force (electricity and magnetism). This was a major achievement, because such theories had to explain exotic concepts such as the “wave-particle duality” and the “equivalence of mass and energy” (relativity theory). The “explanation” was fully quantitative, and  produced precise numbers that agreed with laboratory measurements for specific experiments. This quantitative aspect is most impressive, and requires the use of mathematical concepts that are quite advanced and beyond the grasp of us “mere mortals”.

Feynman created models in his head of how the math and the physical concepts worked together to create natural law. His abilities in this regard were genius. In the end, though, he could not explain what he developed. This is not to his detriment. Such explanation is beyond the realm of science, because we have no measurements that tell us why nature is as it is. Without data, the scientific method has no application.

Back to emotion. It is not surprising that what is beyond our grasp is less popular than what we understand. Artists create feelings in us, which becomes our connection to the artist. Scientists tend to create feelings in only a few of us: other scientists. Non-scientists might be amazed, or perhaps repulsed, by what scientists create. The direct emotional connection is lacking, so scientists are naturally less popular than artists.

I urge you to go beyond the science and contemplate natural law directly. Contemplate your place in a physical universe that defines who you are (physically), how long you can live, and what you must do to survive. Contemplate the regularity and predictability of nature and what the means to you. Contemplate the universal nature of physical law: it is the same here, as it is across the street, as it is across the universe. It is so for all time.

How do you feel when you contemplate the majesty of physical law?

Speaking For God?

This is something I question: speaking for God.

The tagline for ChristianMingle.com (a dating site) is: “Find God’s Match for You™” (note the trademark). The company acknowledges that tagline has caused controversy, but states “we do believe ChristianMingle is a tool God can and has used to bring people together.”

Is this an uplifting belief? Is this a belief that leads to our enrichment as people, to our betterment? Or is this a belief that is used to achieve a specific result?

Is this belief based on anything other than a desire to want it to be so?

Beware of such beliefs that imply an intimate knowledge of God. Insight into the Almighty is not why we believe. We believe so that we can allow ourselves to imagine a larger purpose to our lives. Yet, we must be humble in our beliefs because we recognize our limitations as human beings.

Beware of all beliefs that imply a knowledge of God, leading to a use of that knowledge to achieve specific results. That is using belief. Be suspicious of such use.

Then continue on your journey, believing your way forward, but remaining humble about the knowledge of where you will be.

Did You Ever Feel Joy?

Did you ever want to celebrate for no specific reason? Just an irrational desire to cherish that you are alive, that you have a life to share. An overwhelming sense of gratitude that you are doing reasonably well, not in enormous pain, and able to get by, at least today. This is definitely something to feel grateful for. (There is so much suffering in the world, any day you are not suffering is a time for rejoicing).

Then I think back to “the debate” regarding whether God exists or not. See it here.

At the start, the atheists said: science does not disprove God, but it refutes God. Belief in God is irrational.

Irrational? Isn’t irrationality the entire point? Does science refute love? Does science want to take away my joy, rare as it is, when I feel it?

Why would I want that? Why would I want to choose rationality as the driving paradigm for my life?

I wouldn’t, and I won’t.

The Change

We don’t think about this much, but there is a scientific theory regarding morality.

Here is an example. Imagine you are alone, in the office where you work.  There is a sudden emergency: the building is on fire and will almost certainly burn down. As per standard protocol, the office safe is open for the day and there is about three thousand dollars cash inside. No-one would ever know if you took that money and kept it for yourself. Should you?

Whatever choice you make has consequences. I don’t need to invoke an almighty being that watches and judges you to know this. I only need to invoke natural law (what we call Vahhd in the book). As a conscious being, you will be aware of your choice and remember it. That memory changes the structure of your brain, and thus your thought generator. The thoughts you have from that decisive moment onwards will be different depending on the choice you make.

Whether an almighty being is involved or not, our moral choices have consequences. Natural law demands it.

Vahhd cannot be escaped. What does that mean in your life?

Zero Dark Thirty Plus Infinity

The film Zero Dark Thirty presents a stark view of our world circa 2013: two dominant cultures locked in a titanic struggle to the death.

One alluring feature of atheism is resolution of that struggle: if we could only abandon religion and faith, we would immediately diffuse these conflicts and the world would be a step closer to peace.

I offer another perspective. The faith that is aligned with Vahhd is the faith that will endure. Vahhd is the rising of the Sun every morning and its setting every night. Vahhd is the flow of oceans and the passage of stars at night. Vahhd is natural law.

Every day we make choices that bring us in alignment with Vahhd or farther from it. We can humbly accept Vahhd or resist it.

The end of faith is not the long-term goal. Rather, embrace a faith that is aligned with Vahhd.

Is Atheism Needed?

The physicist Richard Feynman famously said “we don’t need God.” When one is trying to explain the results of scientific experiments, that is an appropriate perspective.

I would put things another way: “We don’t need Atheism.” Do we really need to assume there is no God? With atheism, we are assuming that we know all there is to know about the creation of the universe and our place in it. Do we?

Why must we “rush to atheism”? What purpose does that serve? I know there will be many who defend atheism based on the lack of evidence for God. In my view, that defense is a profound misunderstanding. Even in science, one starts with a hypothesis, which is an educated guess. Before the hypothesis is verified, there is not sufficient evidence to believe the hypothesis is true. Science itself must venture beyond the known facts to make progress.

The objective of the atheist is to remove God from consideration. Why do that?

Whereof Creationism

Here is the content of a recent comment I made to an article about creationism:

An important idea has been lost in this debate: that creationism should not be taught as a science. I would agree that creationism as I understand it is not science. That does not mean creationsim is incorrect. It is overreaching to suggest that the current scientific understanding defines all truth and all possible truth. There may well be truths that science has not yet discovered and that are relevant to our place in the world and the meaning of life. Atheists and others can have an opinion about what defines truth, but they must realize it is just an opinion. Scientific knowledge is provisional. It depends on the evidence at hand. To suggest that science defines “the final word” is to misunderstand what science is. My solution to this problem is: don’t teach creationism as a science. Teach it as a belief system. It is a belief system distinct from science. There is room for belief systems that are not based on current scientific thinking. In fact, such non-scientific belief systems may be essential.
-Anthony Mannucci (http://embracetheinfinite.com)

The article is at:

http://www.dailynebraskan.com/opinion/bergstrom-us-needs-to-accept-evolution-once-and-for-all-1.2760164?pagereq=2#.UFBKKhjr_Qo

“BERGSTROM: US needs to accept evolution once and for all By Brett Bergstrom”