Hi everyone, it's my first post here. I lurked around for a bit, so I want to say some things that I think need saying in response to some of the posts. I don't know if anyone will find my ideas original or interesting, but this is a forum, right? Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image! First off, I'll come clean right away: I'm an atheist. This is not to say that I have proof that all religions are false or something like that. Rather, I couldn't care less about anything any religion had to say concerning things ethereal. Maybe I'll explain why in a moment. I want to start with outlining some of my thoughts on the science vs. religion and reason vs. religion topics. 1) the science vs. religion conflict Some people claim that science is fundamentally incompatible with religion in general. But I won't agree to such a sweeping statement. Rather, I'd say that science is by and large incompatible with the modern set of known religions. That is because through science we have learned things about the world that falsify many of the "truths" present in modern religions (and falsifying one claim of a religion puts all the other claims on dubious ground since they are all just about equally grounded.) For example, science has shown that life evolved, that Earth is billions of years old, that humans are not special or somehow ultimate against the backdrop of the universe at large or its pending future, that Earth is not privileged in terms of its relation to the rest of the universe, that there are countless other worlds out there in space with likely other life on them, that souls do not exist, that the universe is orderly and mechanistic (causal), that the universe is of finite age and yet it has many billions of years more to exist, that natural phenomena like weather, volcanism, celestial arrangements, etc. are not controlled by mystical forces, that the earth is round and orbits around a very ordinary sun among countless trillions of visible others, that disease is not caused by evil spirits or wayward demons, that the inner workings of the human body can be unravelled and exposed for what they are -- the workings of a biochemical machine, that the mind and the self are holistic perceptions of the instantaneous state of the brain, that all matter is made of elements which are atoms made up of various combinations of subatomic particles and so on and ultimately is equivalent to energy, that no new energy/matter can be created or destroyed by phenomena internal to our universe, etc. The very fact that many of these discoveries arouse such fervent denial from religious sectors is testimony to the inherent tension between what are essentially fairy tales (religions) and reproducible, quantifiable, logically interlocked results of a systematic study of the universe. I find it especially amusing that any particular religion would vehemently attack one branch of science or even one scientific theory, all the while tacitly acquiescing to the validity of the rest (and therefore of the very methods and thought processes which produced the problematic results as well!) But even more central to the issue is the cause of such strident opposition: an inherent bias. Clearly, an unbiased observer wouldn't so reliably select to dispute, say, the theory of evolution as opposed to the theories of quantum mechanics, chemistry, orbital dynamics, or geology. Yet, the former actually flows out of the set of the latter (and then some) coupled to empirical data. What makes, for example, some U.S. Christians attack evolution is the conflict of this discovery with their preconceptions derived from their religion. In other words, these people are monumentally biased -- and that is their true problem. Whether early or late in life, they chose to adopt an inflexible doctrine, of which they refuse to let go despite all the reasonable indications toward its inconsistency with reality. These are people who have made a pact with themselves to cease and desist from independent thought on all those issues that concern the edicts of their religion; they are voluntarily crippled as intellectuals. And, that they should fail to acknowledge this obvious impairment in objective debate would be a very poignant indication of just how crippled they are. An ideal scientist (and granted, with humans that's hardly 100% attainable in practice) is completely non-biased in regard to his or her field of study. However, as religion represents a massive and expansive bias, prima facie no religious person can approach such an ideal. Therefore, a religious person either has to suspend their religion while doing the job of a scientist, or face the risk of having a rather fruitless "scientific" career spent pitting the brick wall of their bias against the brick wall of reality. I hardly doubt it true that many scientists throughout history had trouble separating their religion from their scientific pursuits, resulting in a regrettable tradition of incorporating religion into their view of the universe or alternatively merging their view with their religion to such a degree that their view became itself an unquestionable dogma. That is the ultimate scientific failure and the dark imprint of religion on (especially early) science, and it has been the cause of many significant slowdowns and dead-ends in the history of discovery. To wrap up this lengthy discussion then, science and religion are incompatible as long as religion makes any claims whatsoever about the nature or function of the universe -- because making such claims is precisely the job of science, and science as a general enterprise ultimately does not honor preconceptions. 2) religion vs. reason The waters separating these two are muddy indeed, not in the least owing to the ever-persistent efforts of the various religious scholars to legitimize their field as one deserving the designation of science. It spans the gamut, starting from blatant propaganda ("Creation Science", "Christian Science Monitor", etc.) designed to expose the public to a mixture of incompatible terms used together enough that the public begins to think that they must be compatible. It goes on to the fuzzy boundaries between religious scholastics examining the sociological and anthropological aspects of religion, versus those attempting to mine a religion for its "divine" message or those attempting to reconcile a religion with the discoveries of science. And this muddiness indeed pervades pretty much any religious debate, especially one pitting zealots against infidels. The haze is at its densest when reasoned arguments are attempted in favor of religion. Since Christians are such a dominant (and better known to yours truly) presence, I'll pick on them here as opposed to some other religious group. Take, for example, any debate where the Christian is attempting to build their position on top of the Bible or better yet, support this position with Bible quotes. It is no secret that the Bible is not a precise legal document. As a matter of fact, even with precise legal documents experts can disagree on the actual meaning or intent. With the Bible, such disagreements are so inevitable and so wide-ranging that it is probably almost true that there are as many interpretations of it as there are people who have read it. Yet the various Bible demagogues invariably insist that <u>their</u> interpretation is the correct and perfect one. They often even go so far as to claim that all those who disagree are <i>wrong</i>, <i>misguided</i>, and ultimately <i>doomed</i> for their heresy. This, of course, involves a tacit assumption that the demagogue him/herself has perfect and infallible judgement on the matter. Which, of course, makes the demagogue a perfect and infallible being not unlike the very idea of the god he/she claims to serve. One could call it arrogance, or perhaps a superiority complex, or maybe a mere symptom of impulsive and poorly structured thinking that never got a chance to be honed before it got twisted into its present state. Or perhaps the demagogue truly convinced him/herself that the impulse to scream their interpretation at others is imparted by their god, and that at the same time all the others who are screaming back competing interpretations are not similarly inspired. Another common sentiment when arguing against an atheist is this: "If I'm wrong, then I don't lose anything. If you're wrong, then you lose everything." Or something to that extent. Of course, an objective take of this retort would show quite a different picture. From an atheist's point of view, if an individual's life is to have any purpose or meaning whatsoever, then this purpose or meaning must be manifested in the life itself. Thus, an atheist would reply that by insisting on spending time and energy on religious proselitizing, the religious proponent is indeed losing any meaning their life might have otherwise had; in other words, the atheist would say that the religious person is leading an empty and futile struggle if not altogether an empty and futile life -- and worse, pushing this emptiness and futility on others. So I would say in regard to the first part of the retort: "If you're wrong, then you lose meaning." Now, of course this still doesn't in itself seem like an adequate response to the second part of the retort. However, this time an atheist can justifiably claim that no arbitrary "lose/win" scenario can be accepted on no further ground than merely the wager that one might win. Since for every arbitrary game with win/loose condition, a mirror game can be constructed where the win/loose conditions are reversed. Which is to say, a "religion" complementary to Christianity can be proposed in which the religious are actually the ones who are doomed, while the infidels are rewarded. Giving two such competing belief systems, which one should a person choose? In actuality, there are no objective grounds for a choice here -- and there cannot be as a matter of fact, because a truly endless variety of various possible religious alternatives can be proposed. So, does a Christian really save themselves by plunging into their religion, or do they actively doom themselves by following what in actuality is the wrong path? Some followers of Islam, for example, would claim the latter, and so would some Jews. (In this case, it is particularly amusing to see these three generations of the same religion presenting such complete and excrutiatingly ironic mirror images of each other's response to the other two. And I'm not even mentioning Satanism yet...) Thus, faced with a "fateful" choice of one arbitrary dogma out of an infinity of possibilities, an atheist would simply say they have more important things to bother with than getting lost in a boundless sea of endless what-ifs. The very fact that the proselytizer is not aware of these infinities even while having championed one variant from their number, once again, demonstrates the woeful bias if not altogether hopeless mental impairment. Some religionists appeal to the sheer numbers of believers, hoping to somehow demonstrate the verasity of their religion in such a bizzarre manner. Of course, when N umptillion people claim themselves to be Blobsians, one can be fairly certain of the accuracy of their claim -- after all, one thinks, they ought to be capable enough of somewhat accurately reporting their own beliefs. At the same time, such a popular vote does not carry any implication for the universe at large (especially the universe aside from the mental representations of those N umptillion individuals.) After all, even if 99.99% of the Earth's population decided to fervently believe that the surface of the Earth is flat, then the fact that the surface is in actuality spherical would still hold true. It really does not matter what any person or group of people believe about the universe -- at least when it comes to an objective investigation of the said universe. In an objective investigation, prior beliefs in the final analysis carry no weight since they are not prima facie objective. Only dispassionate measurement and modelling can enter an objective discussion, and in the course of such measurement and modelling the true properties of the universe eventually emerge regardless of any prior beliefs or desires of the observer. Any pre-existing beliefs can only be justified in the course of an objective investigation if, by sheer luck, they just happened to correspond to the correct models of the universe. Obviously, with religious beliefs being quite complex yet derived from myth and superstition of the stone age, one can hardly expect many of them to hold up against reality with the passage of time -- and, of course, they are crumbling all over the place even as we discuss it. But yes indeed, these are two very different things to believe an individual's honest description of their internal state vs. believing an individual's all-encompassing and absolute claims about the universe at large including the audience that are based on nothing else other than that individual's internal state. To an audience familiar with reason, one just does not follow from the other. Well, this has been long and tedious. If you've read this far, please feel free to comment. I'll check back a few times, but I may not have much time to engage in prolonged discussions... Cheers!