Willful Ignorance

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I debated a friend of mine about theism. He’s working on his masters in pastoral ministry. Me? Well...I’ve read a few verses of the bible, so I’m not qualified to debate him in any way. Most of my knowledge of that historical fiction came from watching the Atheist Experience on YouTube. So my religious knowledge remains rudimentary. If that.

In one of our debates, he condemned the validity of the Theory of Evolution. We argued in circles, and I kept telling him that I was nowhere close to having the knowledge of an evolutionary biologist, let alone a biologist. Needless to say, neither did he. He asked me to read a book that has interviews of scientists who stated that the theory has serious problems that put its validity in serious question. I was a bit shocked to find that there were scientists that doubted evolution. I didn’t know how to argue against that except to read what those scientists objections had been and research to see if they were valid. I then challenged him to speak to an evolutionary biologist who is a believer and get their views on the theory. He declined, stating that he has read enough to know that evolution was not true.

While watching the Atheist Experience, I had come to learn about the Discovery Institute, a creationist organization, which had compiled a list of almost 900 scientists who don’t support evolution. In response, the NCSE, National Center for Science and Education had started Project Steve, honoring the late Stephen Jay Gould, an evolutionary biologist. The project asked scientists who supported the theory to sign their names on its list with one caveat: Only scientists with the name Steve should participate. From the NCSE’s FAQ: Not only Steves (can sign), but also Stephens, Stevens, Stephanies, Stefans, and so forth. Etiennes and Estebans would have been welcome. As of March 9, 2018, there were 1424 signatories.

When I relayed this to the pastor, I mistakenly stated that the NCSE created their own list to mock Discovery’s. So instead of acknowledging that only Steve’s could sign the list, and that that list had surpassed the number on Discovery’s, the pastor lamented the NCSE for mocking the creationist organization.

Now, whoever has the bigger dick, the longer list, doesn’t prove one thing or another. But the point of Project Steve was to show the overwhelming support for evolution by scientists, since only about 1.6% of the US population is so named.

Still, the pastor stood stern and reiterated my need to read his book. I said I would, despite the fact that he wouldn’t take me up on my challenge to him. I told him that I was pretty confident that I could debunk the issues the book presented.

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He said, “It takes a lot of faith for you to make that statement.”

He has a point.

I don’t know what objections were made in that book, but stated that I was confident in debunking them. The reason is simple: there are mountains of evidence for the Theory of Evolution. Mountain ranges worth.

At this point I went quiet, shutting the debate down. For a pastor to use faith against me is farcical. Faith is central to religion. Without it, all religions would evaporate like a mirage in a desert. Faith is the firm belief in something for which there is no proof. Hence the idiom blind faith.

And this is why I’m an anti-theist, someone who is against theism. Many religions purport to have all of the answers, but this can negate the need to explore or find the truth. My pastor friend is a prime example. He won’t explore the truth behind evolution because he’s protecting his own world view. And the sad thing is he doesn’t realize it.

I don’t go around proselytizing my atheism. Though, I’m willing to discuss theism because I’m open to having my mind changed. There’s comfort in thinking that an all-powerful being is there to save and provide for us. However, when I learned that every day 21,000 children around the world die before the age of 5, my belief in that being died as well.

I may be told that we cannot know god’s plan. But if this is god’s plan to let 21,000 births happen only to let them die, I’m gonna question the validity of that plan. And I’m gonna question anyone’s prayers for silly things like getting their promotions, or winning the lottery, or having their cancers cured.

Honestly

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I’m an anti-theist. What that means is that I’m against religion for many valid reasons. For example, an ex-girlfriend had gone to her priest and confessed that she had lost her virginity. The priest scolded her, telling her that she had sinned. She never confessed again. Another example is the segregation of people by faith, sexuality, or magic underwear. “If you don’t believe in what we believe, then you’re going to hell!” Think about that for a moment. A serial killer in the U.S. can seek forgiveness from Jesus and be allowed into heaven. But a non-believer will go to hell. That’s fucked up.

So much of religion is based on the idea of faith. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one of the definitions of faith is: firm belief in something for which there is no proof. Though, theists often vehemently decry the Theory of Evolution, demanding transition bones, blah blah blah. But to believe in god, you must have faith. Hypocritical much?

Because I’ve been watching the Atheist Experience on YouTube, I’ve gained a superficial knowledge of logic and have found a small hobby of talking to theists about their beliefs. I’m under no illusion that I’ll convert them to non-believers. But it’s always fun to challenge their faith. The issue comes when theists aren’t willing to have an honest conversation about it.

I was talking to someone who was very skittish about taking his lord’s name in vain.

“I know there’s a god,” Skittish said.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“I can feel it.”

“Imagine this. You’re walking down a dark alleyway and see a shadow moving behind a dumpster. How do you feel?”

“I feel concerned.”

“Cool. You keep walking and you find that the shadow was just a garbage bag fluttering in the breeze. Now how do you feel?”

“Not concerned.”

“So your feelings aren’t a good pathway to finding the truth since they can lead you astray.”

“But the word feeling is so broad. It can mean anything, blah blah blah...”

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Here was where the dishonesty had happened. I showed that his feeling that god existed can’t be used to show the truth. Feelings can be unreliable. So he diverted the discussion by focusing on something else. I’d wager that if he’d admitted that my argument was right, then he might begin to doubt his faith in some deity. That was why he channeled the subject onto the some vague thing about the meaning of a word. To this day, he likes to muddy words instead of focusing on the subject we’re discussing.

There’s another theist that I talk to, and he commits something called guilt by association fallacy. He spent a lot of time trying to discredit Evolution. I explained that Evolution is both a fact and a theory. He narrowed his eyes at me and started to debate me, and I realized he didn’t understand the difference between fact and theory. So I talked about that. Then he diverted the conversation to how scientists couldn’t be trusted because grant money depends on their results. They’d manipulate the data or ignore evidence that proved their hypothesis wrong to preserve their grants.

I then tried to explain the peer review process and how competitive it is in scientific community. So, if someone wants to make a name for themselves by proving the Theory of Evolution is wrong, for example, then they would garner fame and fortune beyond most people’s dreams. Ignoring what I had said about the peer review process, he continued on the path that some scientists have “cheated”, so science as a whole couldn’t be trusted. Hence, guilt by association fallacy.

I suggested that he talk to a theist who was also an evolutnary biologist and get their point of view. This way they could have an open discussion without having the heaviness of opposing worldviews. Alas, he declined.

Having honest discussions is paramount to growing and learning as a human being. If we’re all about protecting our egos and our beliefs, then we’re never open to new ideas and ways of thinking.

I’m wrong a lot. That’s why I go to my writing group on a weekly basis and have them critique my pages. Otherwise, my writing and story would never improve. I like to say that I’m wrong 50% of the time and am guessing my way through life the other 50%. Life’s too short to worry about being right most of the time. Sometimes making the wrong choices can lead to the right outcome.

Listen to my writing group discuss writing and masturbation on the Uncontained podcast.

Curiouser and Curiouser

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Working on a new writing project is always a little daunting for me. I don’t know the world, the characters, the detailed plot, nor the ending. Basically, I know shit. I have found that once I begin to think about a story, I tend to dive into things that seem to have no relevance.

For example, my characters in my fantasy has wings. The world they live in is completely made up. As I moved through my normal life, my mind seemed to come up with things that I could include in the story and world. So much so that I couldn’t keep track of it all. I bought a small notebook, this was before phones had become smart, and I jotted down everything that came into my mind that I thought might be of use. All of the sudden a flood gate opened, and my notebook was filled with nick knacks and tidbits and nuggets and morsels. I was amazed at what came out. And I’m not talking about my first time.

I remember watching a documentary about the evolution of birds. One of the topics it explored was: Do birds prefer to walk, or do they prefer to fly? To test this, the scientists put a bird on a wooden plank. The incline of the plank was increased to various degrees. No matter the degree, as long as the birds could walk up the plank, they would walk. It wasn’t until the incline had gotten so high that the birds were forced to fly up the plank. So I decided that my characters with wings would have that same behavior. That they preferred to walk, unless the place they wanted to go to required flight.

Be it fantasy, science fiction, or plain ole’fiction, the foundations of the world needs to be consistent. I’ve talked about his in the world of Harry Potter where J.K. Rowling almost made a mistake in this regard. Being the writer that she is, she caught it and corrected it.

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In my new book, one of my main characters is a skeptic. He was entrenched in his martial arts school, loved teaching, and loved working with kids. But a slow disenchantment led him down the road of rebelling against his own school, much like Bruce Lee had, and he questioned what they taught and their methods. His skepticism lends well to working with children because he’s willing to investigate their issues to discover their real causes.

Before I knew all of this, I came across YouTube videos from the Athiest Community of Austin, the ACA. Their cable access show, The Atheist Experience, is run live with callers that ranges from theists to atheists to conspiracy theorists. I have to admit the theist callers are fun to listen to because the debate that ensues is not only entertaining, but opened my eyes to what constitutes as evidence and gave me a basic overview of how logic works. Both of these things were not very well defined in my mind beforehand. And this current character that I’m writing understands those things well.

Now, I started to watch the videos before I began to write this new book. To prove that my mind knew to watch these videos because I was thinking about this new book would be difficult. But I’ve always allowed myself to dive into things that seemed unrelated to anything that I was doing in my life. A lot of it went into the ether. Some of it was useful. Quantifying it would nearly be impossible since I don’t remember where anything that I think of comes from. But had I not watched the ACA videos, I may have not had enough of an understand of logic and evidence to write this character well.

Steve Jobs talked about this process in his famous 2005 commencement speech at Stanford. In it he mentioned that he took a calligraphy class at Reed College simply because he was fascinated by the beauty of the lettering. He learned about serif and sans serif typefaces and what made great typography.

“None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me...It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.”

I’m not saying that everything you’re interested in will become useful in the future, but you never know. Why not delve into something just because you’re curious? For me, it’s part of the great joy of life, to learn and experience new things.