Category: Q&A

January 4 2010

Anyone that says voting is worthless is just cynical and proving nothing. While technically it is true that presidential elections are based on the electoral college (which is a fundamentally flawed system of rounding votes up and down), the important thing about voting is that it is a barometer for the state of the nation. It doesn’t matter that my vote is equal to someone that is a horribly-informed voter during the election. What matters is what happens on the day of the election. And almost every vote is decided before people walk into the election booth.

For example, in 2000, half of the nation wanted Gore and half wanted Bush. Why? Because most people could really care less who won. The entire election appeared as though there were really only two options, and people weren’t that enthusiastic about either of them. The Democrats wanted Gore just because he was one of them and the Republicans wanted Bush for the same reason, but the voting block that actually decides these things was more or less ambivalent. So, that set the tone for the entire election cycle. Few people on either side were capable of changing their minds and the voters that mattered flip-flopped on a daily basis. So, in the end, the vote was so close that the electoral college was used *as it was designed* to subvert the will of the people.

In 2008, things were different. No matter how much fear-mongering the Republicans did, no matter how many lies they spread about Obama’s citizenship and connections to terrorism, no matter how many times they claimed that we would become a socialist nation, the majority of the voters that mattered (the moderates) leaned in one direction. The longer the campaign became, the more obvious it was that Obama was going to win. So, in the end, the vote was not close enough for the electoral college to manipulate the outcome. No matter how much the Republicans claimed otherwise, it was clear to everyone that they lost.

As an individual in a presidential election, your vote doesn’t really matter. That much is true. For every informed voter there is an equally uninformed voter. For every Republican there is a Democrat. For every person that casts a vote based on their values, there is a person casting a vote based on their prejudices. Your vote is equal to all others, technically. But it is not your vote that ultimately matters. What matters is that you vote. A person doesn’t not elect anyone. The people do. And you are one of those people.

Though voting may seem pointless to some, it’s the discussions surrounding the election and the lead-up to it that truly matters. And considering how few people actually vote, each vote is worth far more than one. For every person that does not vote, there is someone that votes for them. And if you’re comfortable letting other people vote for you, then by all means sit at home while “they” think for you.

December 18 2009

Q: Atheists: How do you explain life?
I’m one of those rare breeds who believe equally in God and in Science… I evidently see evolution, and I can even go along with the Big Bang Theory, but how do you explain what makes us alive? Or cognitive thought and imagination? How can these things be explained in the material world if you do not believe in a spiritual world?

Thats why I have to believe in some sort of Creative Force… because I cant reconcile life. How do you do it?

A: No offense, but your inability to reconcile your observations with your beliefs has no bearing on objective truth. I honestly don’t say that to sound rude, condescending, or anything negative. I’m simply trying to offer the suggestion that your perspective might be skewed to accept a certain assumption.

If you really want to boil it down to the absolute basics, I believe the reason we are alive is entropy. It’s the only “force” that ensures that things will change, and change is absolutely necessary for the existence of life. It reminds me of the quote by Alan Watts: “A living body is not a fixed thing but a flowing event.” We are not alive simply because we are alive but because energy itself is bound up in every atom, and entropy is the expression of that power.

Cognitive thought and imagination are simply the byproducts of a highly evolved neurological machine. Our brains were really only developed to take information in, process it, make a decision, and then react to that decision. All brains (and other brain-like systems) work in this way, and it’s only because our brains have become so complex that we’re able to experience things like imagination and abstract thought.

The spiritual world you’re referring to is a completely abstract concept. And since it has no basis in physical reality, it’s easy for me to reconcile with my beliefs. I hold a fundamentalist belief about the term “supernatural.” I believe that all things that exist outside of nature are supernatural. Though it’s clear that there is a “force” that drives life itself, it’s a typically-anthropocentric logical leap to say that it comes from any guiding hand.

If you absolutely must believe in some kind of intelligent designer, consider this. If you choose to do one thing over another, you have made a decision using your intellect. If that decision affects your life or anyone that comes after you, then you have altered your world through your intentions. If your intentions affect something in your world, then you have designed something. And the most intelligent designers I’ve ever encountered are human beings.

I believe the concept of Intelligent Design confuses cause and effect. There can be no deity that intelligently set things up the way they are or else everything would be more intelligently designed. Headaches? Disease? Cancer? War? Rape? Death? What good are these things to thinking and feeling individuals, and why would a benevolent creator curse us with so many problems? The truth is that there is no intelligent designer; intelligence itself has “designed” things to be the way they are. Every time a being chooses one thing over another, its intellect has affected the world. If there was a Great Designer, these decisions would be made for us. And that seems more like a video game than a life to me.

December 16 2009

Q: We’re all the same… essentially. Agree? Disagree? And, what evidence do you have to support your answer?

A: We have more in common with one another than anything else in the entire Cosmos. The genetic differences between every living human is less than the difference between Chihuahuas and Huskies. We all have the same biological heritage and we all float on the same tiny ball in an unimaginably vast ocean of space. If you consider all of the various forms of matter and the possibilities of existence, you can begin to see just how much we truly have in common. One person may like lasagna with meat, one person may like it without meat, but every person that ever existed would eat a bowl of it if they were hungry.

December 16 2009

Q: Why do things need to be black and white?
I’m talking about logic & religion.

The religious and faithful have been called delusional, and the non-religious have been called logical. Why can’t a person be smart, logical, and also have a belief in God? I do.

One point made by atheists is that education should direct people towards reason, and they will then lose faith on their own. But I’m a college graduate and I still have no reason to be rejecting the theory or possibility of a God existing.

A: Logic necessarily has to be black and white because that’s how it works. There is no middle ground when it comes to the objective truth. If our rules about logic weren’t strictly defined, then nothing would ever make sense. Religion has capitalized on the black and white nature of things because it’s an easy way to (superficially) distinguish things it considers bad from the things it considers good. There is nothing but middle ground when it comes to the subjective. If our religions tell us that one thing is good and another thing is bad, then it’s a lot easier to swallow than all that fuzzy gray area.

A person can be smart, logical, and also believe in God but only if they have an incomplete understanding of logic. I don’t mean that as an insult. Logically speaking, very little about what religion has to offer makes sense. Invisible sky creatures? Telepathic connections to the undead? The Earth is only a few thousand years old? God speaks only to a handful of chosen people? Religion is the only path to morality? Be honest with yourself: none of those questions have logical explanations from a religious perspective.

Education does not necessarily lead to enlightenment. It is a path that must be tread in order to reach enlightenment. I believe that theists reach their beliefs from a rational process. And I believe that everyone that is presented with the proper evidence will be unable to conclude anything other than the truth. If we use logic to make conclusions, then we will all come up with the same answers. But if some of the variables are wrong, our conclusions will be wrong.

December 11 2009

Q: Was religion an evolutionary advantage?
I haven’t read anything on this topic… so sorry if this is nonsensical. During the beginnings of civilization and cultural development, did the introduction of religion offer any advantages to those who adopted the belief? I don’t know much about ancient religions, but I suppose it would be an advantage as it would keep you from getting sacrificed as a nonbeliever and would allow you to fit in with the community, but what was the advantage of the inception of religion in the first place? Was it just a byproduct of our ability to mentally cope with most of the world, but not understand where it came from? Obviously the religious memes have been through a sorts of evolution on their own (became geographically isolated, and adapted over time), but I’m wondering what the advantage was to begin with?

A: Absolutely. Before society developed and codified it, religion existed (in a metaphorical sense) for millions of years. The mammals that learned to live in strict hierarchies were the ones most likely to survive. Even in the primitive world, multiple minds worked better than one. And from an evolutionary perspective, the only thing that really matters is survival.

If you lived on your own you had more of a chance of dying and less of a chance of reproducing. If you lived in a group but didn’t cooperate, then the group would be more likely to neglect you. If you lived in a group and understood your place in it, you had a support structure that could help provide for you. And with a large pool of genes to dive into, you were much more likely to pass your DNA onto the next generation. There have been plenty of studies of animals in the wild that happily submitted to hierarchies, and those species almost always do well.

We are the latest in an unbroken thread that stretches back millions of years. Everything that was beneficial to our ancestors (hearts, brains, love, fear, language, religion) is still around in all of us because it’s far more difficult to un-evolve an old trait than it is to evolve a new trait. So, our brains have the vestiges of our ancient heritage: fear of the dark, love for our family, an urge to protect our territory, and a need to fall into hierarchies. For evidence of this, just think about the common themes in almost all cultures: scary stories about things hiding in the dark, tendencies to put family above all else, a universal need to defend the homeland, and (of course) religions in every society all over the world. Virtually every social group, family, government, and religious institution has a defined hierarchy, and virtually everyone is comfortable with this idea.

For example, the United States prides itself on being a democracy. Why is it, then, that we feel the need to elect representatives instead of representing ourselves? Why do we elect a supreme leader in a democracy (a government run by people)? Why are the leaders we elect almost always male? The answer (while insufficient) is: that is how it has worked in the past. These tendencies are the shadows of our forgotten ancestors. They are present in everyone, and we can’t simply remove them because they’ve outlived their usefulness. We can only learn to live with them and with each other.

November 29 2009

Q: What book motivates or influences you most in life?

A: “Cosmos” by Carl Sagan was more influential to me than any book I’ve ever read. It reawakened the spirituality inside me, opened my eyes to the wonders of science, gave me a sense of self, helped me appreciate all life on Earth, and laid the foundation for the human being I have become. It is one of the greatest books ever written and should be read (or viewed) by everyone on the planet.

November 20 2009

Q: What does your worldview say about cooperation & conflict, if anything?

A: I am Gaian. I believe that everyone is intimately related, which is why we are so contentious at times. I believe we are connected to the Earth, and our actions directly affect our environment. I believe that cooperation supersedes conflict. I believe in all religions as long as they create no conflict. I believe the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, but I do not believe this rationale should be used to discriminate. I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to help others. I also believe it is possible for us to cooperate even in the face of extremism and division, and that we absolutely must learn to do so before it destroys us all.

November 17 2009

Q: Should public display of hate be illegal?

A: Not only should it be legal, it should be highly publicized and ridiculed. Someone once asked Jerry Springer why he, a Jew, would give KKK members a platform to spread their hate to a national audience. His response was sublime. He said that it is our obligation as a free society to allow anyone to speak their hate, but it is our duty to make sure everyone recognizes it for what it is. If we don’t refute something because we’re too busy burying it, then the “truth” becomes whatever they want it to be.

November 13 2009

A: Organisms are giant machines, and they require a lot of energy. All day, every day, most organisms spend their time concerned with the consumption and excretion of biological material. And since they constantly reproduce, they are introducing more of these consumers into the environment.

Birth brings about mutations, which brings about change and leads us down the path of evolution. Without birth, nothing would evolve. And without death, we would completely engulf the planet in just a few generations.

And so, the meaning of death is to bring balance to the ecosystem by ensuring that future organisms have a chance to evolve.

November 11 2009

Q: How does evolution explain why men tend to outperform women in mathematics and spatial reasoning?

A: Our species has a long biological heritage of men going out to do the hunting while the women stay at the camp to do the gathering. The men that tended to get lost because of their terrible spatial skills were the ones that tended to go hungry, so the men that were more likely to know their way around were more likely to feed and then breed. Over the generations, this tendency has made males slightly more prone to better spatial reasoning.

There are many factors that led to this, but males tend to be more logical while females tend to be more analytical. This is true, but it is far from being the rule. The important word is “tend” in this situation. Males are neither smarter nor more logical than females. Just take a long look at the most vocal sports fans. And females are neither dumber nor less logical than males. Just take a long look at the list of female scientists/physicists/mathematicians of the world.

While it’s easy to overgeneralize based on minute differences, it is the height of foolish to assume that men are naturally pre-disposed towards mathematics and reason. Males tend to be taller and stronger, but that is quickly reaching the point where it’s completely irrelevant. In an enlightened civilization such as ours, it’s increasingly hard for people to play the gender card, especially since it’s just a card trick anyway.

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