religion

Where Did God Come From?

where did god come from

Here is something really challenging to wrap our minds around (this in no way proves/disproves theism/atheism, but its an interesting thought exercise)

Where did God come from? Why does he exist? How can it be that something as incredibly sophisticated as an intelligent mind “just exists” without a creator, a cause, or an origin story? If your mind didn’t have a body, do you think its possible that your intelligent mind could “just exist” without a creator? Then how can Gods intelligent mind, which is superior to yours, “just exist” without a creator?

If its possible that a non-physical intelligent mind can “just exist” as a brute fact, is it possible that the non-physical laws of physics “just exist” without a creator? Why should a non-physical person be more likely than a non-physical law?

For the philosophically erudite, since God is defined as a metaphysically necessary thing, is it possible that the laws of physics are a necessary thing? Why should a non-physical person be more likely than a non-physical law?

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The most horrific, cruel, and damnable story in the Bible

There are many horrific things in the Bible. This story, however, is my nomination for the most cruel and damnable tale in the Bible.

First some background: The Hebrews recently invaded Canaan, destroyed many cities, killed many people and then, as they were camped near Midianite territory some of the Midianite women “invited” the Hebrew men to join them in sexual exploits and worship of locals gods (Numbers 25:1-2). The Hebrew men were not forced to participate, they chose it themselves. Moses, purportedly at Gods initiative issues the command to be hostile against the Midianites.

Some time passes and the Bible depicts God as urging the Israelites to go back, and wreak revenge on the Midianites for inviting some of the Israelite soldiers to join them. So the Israelites attack and utterly destroy all of the enemy combatants, leaving only the defenseless women (many who are no doubt pregnant or elderly), as well as the little boys and girls. These little women and children are spared to be kept as slaves. (Numbers 32:9-10)

Then Moses angrily commands that these defenseless captives be killed. This includes weeping grandmothers, pregnant women, mothers with their children weeping in their arms. (Numbers 31: 17-18). The little boys, all those who were too young to fight as well as babies, are also to be brutally executed.

And finally, when it comes to the little girls, those that are virgins are given away as booty to the soldiers, while all others are to be massacred. In every single military victory in recorded history, the winning army rapes girls, this is an unchanging historical regularity. And while this is not explicit in the text, it’s more than likely these girls became concubines (sexual slaves) as this is accepted elsewhere in Israelite culture, and there are even biblical laws that permit Hebrews to take captives for sexual purposes (Deut 21:10-11). Little girls given away to the same men who had just brutally executed their families.

Even if these girls are not used for sexual purposes, one must imagine the absolute horrors that these tiny girls experienced. Imagine a tiny seven year old sweetheart, seeing her defenseless pregnant mother being viciously sliced open and falling dead on the ground. Imagine the agonizing screams as she sees her younger brothers, grabbed by calloused soldiers hands, and heartlessly stabbed, beat, pierced until they choke on their own blood.

This, ladies and gentleman, is the Bible you don’t read.

Does religion make you happier? It may depend on your wealth

religion and happiness by wealth

If you live in a poor country, it’s likely that being religious will give you a boost in your happiness. If you live in a wealthy country, it’s likely that your happiness will not be affected by religion, but if anything you may more depressed/sad if you are religious. Also of note (in retrospect quite obvious) is the fact that secular people in wealthy nations report being significantly more happy than religious people in impoverished nations.

Gallup polls asked respondents from each of the world’s 32 poorest countries and 31 richest countries “did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday” and sorted responses into groups based on subjects religiosity to inquire whether happiness level correlates to religion.

On a related note “Gallup Polls in 143 countries reveal that among countries where average annual incomes are $2,000 or less, 92% of residents say religion is an important part of their daily lives. By contrast, among the richest countries surveyed — those where average annual incomes are $25,000 or more — that figure drops to 44%.”

There are many movements who believed Jesus was coming in their lifetime, like the Millerites

millerite meeting2There were hundreds of millions of people, who earnestly believed the Second Coming was happening in their lifetime. Some of these believed this with such firmness, they gave up their lives, sold everything, and waited for an event that never materialized. One example of this is the Millerite movement of the 19th century.

The Millerites were a Christian group that believed the Second Coming would happen in 1844. At its peak their movement was 30,000 – 100,000 strong. When the Second Coming did not happen as predicted, an event aptly called “The Great Disappointment”, many left the movement, while others reinterpreted the prophecies and founded the Seventh Day Adventist church.

This historical incident has served as a great illustrator of the psychological phenomenon called “cognitive dissonance reduction,” which is the act of reducing tension between beliefs (ex: “Jesus will come in 1844”) and evidence (ex: “Jesus did not come in 1844”) by introducing some new idea (ex: “Jesus did return, but it was an invisible event, to be interpreted differently”).

While it’s difficult for some to imagine how this group could believe something as incredulous, one must note that they believed this with a great deal of devotion, and suffered immense emotional difficulty coming to grips with reality. One can only read letters by Millerites of the Great Disappointment, to see the stringent emotional grief. As in the case of the letter from Henry Emmons, member of the Millerites movement

“I waited all Tuesday and dear Jesus did not come; I waited all the forenoon of Wednesday, and was well in body as I ever was, but after 12 o’clock I began to feel faint, and before dark I needed someone to help me up to my chamber, as my natural Strength was leaving me very fast, and I lay prostrate for 2 days without any pain – sick with disappointment.”

The range of beliefs about God

I’m frequently asked “are you and atheist or not?”

I rarely answer.

Why? Because most people have a very simplistic and inaccurate system of labels, often used merely to stereotype people into buckets. Most of us are binary thinkers, we think the choices are “dark red or dark blue” and if you’re not dark red, then you’re dark blue.

Hopefully this chart can help us appreciate the complexity of the situation a little bit more. These positions aren’t necessarily on a bidirectional scale, some positions overlap, some people hold more than one, other people tend to hop around all the time (I’ve been known to do that),there are still significant things missing from this chart, and etc, but at least its a start.

god related beliefs

Secular teenagers are not ethically inferior to those who grow up in a religious home

Even though it is usually expected that teenagers growing up secular would be ethically inferior to their religious counterparts, numerous sociological studies show this is untrue.

Dr Phil Zuckerman, a prominent sociologist, writes that

1. “When teens mature into “godless” adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study.”

2. “Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.”

3. “Secular teenagers are far less likely to care what the “cool kids” think, or express a need to fit in with them, than their religious peers.”

4. Secular people tend to prioritize “rational problem solving, personal autonomy, independence of thought, avoidance of corporal punishment, a spirit of “questioning everything” and, far above all, empathy.”

Furthermore, according to Vern Bengston, a USC professor of gerontology and sociology, who has over has overseen the Longitudinal Study of Generations, which has become the largest study of religion and family life conducted across several generational cohorts in the United States, there are “High levels of family solidarity and emotional closeness between parents and nonreligious youth, and strong ethical standards and moral values that had been clearly articulated as they were imparted to the next generation. Many nonreligious parents were more coherent and passionate about their ethical principles than some of the ‘religious’ parents in our study. The vast majority appeared to live goal-filled lives characterized by moral direction and sense of life having a purpose. [Emphasizing] rational problem solving, personal autonomy, independence of thought, avoidance of corporal punishment, a spirit of “questioning everything” and, far above all, empathy.” (1)

Charles Darwin was not an angry, evil, God-hating, atheist

Charles-Darwin-1-480x634When I was younger, I was a staunch young earth creationist who feverishly hated Charles Darwin. I considered him a liar, fraud, and an angry atheist. I even created a website, called “Darwin’s Deception.” Yet real story of Charles Darwin shows that he was not a villain, in fact, I would gladly call him a friend.

Darwin grew up in a religious family, went to religious schools, and even studied theology in college with the intent of being a Christian minister. He learned and accepted Creationism in his studies, and decided to take an excursion to “study God’s creation” and chronicle the evidences of God in nature. He was so immersed in Christianity that during his voyage, he would frequently quote Bible passages to the ill-mannered sailors, in hopes of leading them to repent.

During his studies of nature, he began to see that the real world did not reflect theology; there was bad design in nature, where he expected the perfect handiwork of a Creator, there was so much senseless and horrific suffering, where he expected a loving God who took care of his creation. This eventually culminated in Darwin abandoning his traditional Christian views, though he never became an atheist..

The pivotal moment in his life was his young daughter became seriously ill, and after many desperate prayers, she died. This sorrow crushed Darwin’s heart, and the hope in a God who answers prayers died in Darwin’s heart. Nonetheless for many years he continued giving alms to the poor, donating money to the church, and walking his family to their Sunday service, during which he would walk a beaten trail outdoors and contemplate the world around him.

Rather than being the angry, spiteful, God-hating atheist I expected, Darwin was a kind, humble, quiet man, whom rarely replied to the many attacks on his character; it was even said “dear Darwin never could nor would defend himself.” (1)