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Language Differences (3 of 3)

October 12th, 2007 · Posted by Hugo · 26 Comments

This is the third post in a series of three, aimed at making evangelicals in the field more successful in their ministry to atheists. The previous post was Get the Good News Right. (Getting the Good News right is really the crux of the issue.)

The only difference between theists and atheists, is that we speak different languages.

This post proved much more difficult to write than I had hoped. The draft I wrote nine days ago, when I sketched out my schedule, was completely inadequate. In fact, there really is a lot of ground-work and foundations that should have been laid before I tackled this post. As such, this post became a long one…

The Search for God

Humanity as a whole, has been “searching for God” possibly for longer than the age of the earth according to creationists. This search has been a journey that has passed along many potential “destinations” en-route. Still the journey does not end, understanding develops more, our “relationship with God” continues to change and grow.

A long time ago, the polytheistic understanding of “God” was common. “God” consisted of a whole pantheon of gods, and humanity was at the mercy of the soap-opera playing out on Mount Olympus (or equivalent). As the power shifted amongst the gods, the humans’ loyalties also shifted, to whichever god then supposedly had the upper hand.

(Dealing with middle-eastern religion now:) A contrasting, revolutionary perspective of “God”, is that there aren’t many different gods that need to be worshipped. “God” became understood to be a “single entity”. Monotheism revolutionised human culture, and removed a lot of insecurity. Humans were no longer at the mercy of the big soap-opera in the sky.

I feel this really is less a case of humans being “atheistic” about all the other gods, than it is an understanding that consolidates all the gods into one God. A development, an improvement, in our understanding of the abstract notion of “God”, that thing “beyond human comprehension”. This is why that cliché popularised by Richard Dawkins irks me so much: “We are all atheistic about all those other gods, some of us just go one god further.” If I hear that many more times, it might start to irritate me as much as some creationism seminars do… ;)

What is the difference between Islam, Judaism and Christianity? All three are monotheistic, all three worship “the only God there is”. Defined that way, they all have to be worshipping the same God (the only God there is…) The difference then, is merely in their understanding of that one God. Each of the three think they have a better understanding of that God than the other two. Possibly all three claim “God is beyond our comprehension”.

The (controversial?) question then becomes: might each not learn something about God from the other?

My discussion here is the difference between “atheism” and “theistic belief as a whole”, rather than between “atheism” and any particular form of Christianity. There is already great diversity within the Christian tradition. If I recall correctly, there may be something like 33000 different denominations? Many of these denominations probably think they have a monopoly on The Truth. Denominations with such monopolies on truth, should not bother trying to reach atheists, in my opinion. This post is addressed to the more humble denominations.

Humble denominations recognise that there will necessarily be diverse understandings of something that is “beyond human comprehension”, and recognise that inter-denominational conversation would be valuable to understand “God” more accurately. Each group can learn from every other, and in the process each group can also teach.

Christians that are humble enough, will be able to recognise there is value to be found in Islam and Judaism as well, that Christianity does not have a monopoly on “God”, and that each religion can learn from every other. In the process, again, each religion can teach. Only once the Christian has learned from the Jew what they believe and what they do not believe, can they open up a conversation which is mutually beneficial, where the Christian can maybe teach the Jew of other aspects of “God” which they might have missed, and vice versa of course. Amongst others, Brian McLaren has opened up such inter-faith conversations. He goes so far as to say:

“I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts.” –A Generous Orthodoxy (found on Theopedia.)

I have yet to read A Generous Orthodoxy. Many more conservative Christians do not like Brian McLaren’s earlier works much. Do not let that frighten you away from The Secret Message of Jesus though, I have seen reviews saying something along the lines of: “no matter what your perspectives were of Brian McLaren’s previous works, you should give The Secret Message of Jesus a chance”. (amazon, kalahari)

To get back to the point, then, Christianity is very diverse. Monotheism is even more diverse than that. Pull in Polytheism, Deism and Pantheism, and in-betweens such as Panentheism, Pandeism and Panendeism… and you realise how broad and diverse humanity’s understanding of “God” is. And each tradition surely has at least some fragments of “The Truth”.

So, what about atheism then?

Godly versus Godless

I lack the right words, unfortunately. “Godly” and “godless” are not perfect, but they will have to do for now. Consider this Dutch quote:

“Ateis: zonder God,
maar niet goddeloos.”

Filosofie Magazine (hat tip to Auke at Psychohistorian).

Translated: “Atheist: without God, but not godless”. This defines the essence of what I mean by “godly” and “godless”. I am suggesting we could talk about two kinds of atheists, the godly kind, and the godless kind.

Atheism has been stereotyped, stigmatised or demonised in certain circles. The impression the word “atheism” gives in such circles, is someone without appreciation, without a sense wonder, someone who lacks humility or has no appreciation for mystery, someone who is not at all thankful or appreciative of his or her existence (because they supposedly show no thanks to “God”), someone that lacks a sense of morality, an immoral person.

What such theists are effectively doing, is projecting their worldview onto the atheist, and then adding an anti-God sentiment. In the theist’s worldview, the concept of “God” encompasses all of the aspects mentioned in the previous paragraph – claim you have no belief in “God”, and they think you are throwing out all of the above. They think you are a “godless” atheist. There may be “godless” atheists, but I have yet to meet one… on the other hand, I know many “godly” atheists.

What is a “godly” atheist, then? “Godly” atheists do have an incredible sense of wonder and awe at the majesty of the universe, sometimes much more so than the theist. Sometimes the atheist is much more aware of the incredible mystery that is out there. Often atheists have an incredible sense of thankfulness and appreciation for their existence. This may be hard for the theist to believe, as the theist directs his or her thankfulness and appreciation towards a personified God. (Humans understand how to be thankful much better, when dealing with a “person”, or a “personified” entity. “Personifying” things is a very human thing to do.) The atheist’s thankfulness and appreciation is more abstract, directed at “an unknown god” if you will. The lack of a clear notion of a personified God to whom the thankfulness can be directed, can even lead to a more overwhelming experience of appreciation and “majesty”.

Some atheists have an incredibly strong sense of morality as well. Some details may differ, they likely think fundamentalist religions’ homophobia is an example of immorality, or that discouraging contraceptive use or HPV vaccinations are some of the most immoral things done in the name of religion. Atheists are often shocked to hear that some Christians would not think twice about cheating on their spouse if it were not for the seventh commandment.

CS Lewis argues for the existence of God based on the existence of morality. Effectively, he defines the source of morality as “God”. The atheists have morality, they have a source of morality, why not call that “God” then? There has long been a tradition of attributing things we do not understand, to “God”. What’s wrong then with an atheist calling the mystery in the universe, the “original cause”, that which is beyond our comprehension, “God”? Can we personify the abstract thing to which atheists express their thankfulness and appreciation, and call that “God”? Some call any sense of a “higher power”, even our community or interconnectedness, “God”.

The only difference, therefore, is that atheists have a different understanding of “God”. I personally don’t feel this difference is greater than the diversity already found within theism and religion, which is why I state “the only difference between theists and atheists, is that we speak different languages”. In the language of the theists, “God” has a rather specific meaning. Because of this, the atheist does not use the word “God” to describe his or her notion of “God”, as it could be too misleading.

In “3001: The Final Odyssey”, Arthur C. Clarke had a thousand years of history to play with. He used this freedom to remove religion, and even ban the word “God”. (If the notion of banning the word “God” frightens you, what do you think about the notion of banning the word “Allah”?) However, they still needed a word with which to refer to “God”, abstract notion or not, so they created a new word…

Concluding Remarks

Understand the language differences, and honestly and humbly investigate what you can learn about God from an atheist. (After all, if God can talk to you through the mouth of a donkey, surely God can talk to you through the mouth of an atheist?) Learn what the Gospel is, go find out what Jesus taught. Then, we can have us a conversation.

Categories: Religion and Science
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26 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Hugo // Oct 12, 2007 at 6:14 pm

    I’m sure that probably raises more questions than it answers. Feel free to ask, I will answer as best I can, with the limited time at my disposal.

  • 2 Negate // Oct 15, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    Beautifully said Hugo. I want to add my 2 cents from a atheist point of view. In a sense, a atheist is amoral. Note that it is amoral, not immoral. Atheists can and do have morality and ethical
    codes. What the amorality of Atheism entails is a lack of obligation to any system of morality.

    An Atheist can have any system of morality that he or she wishes.
    Morality is a built-in condition of humanity; the moral tendency exists in just about everyone

    For me my morality comes from a Enlightened self-interest and from the fact that i still know so little of myself and the world(universe) around me

    I know that if i treat another person with love then that love would be returned to me.

    Some justifies their decision to be a Christian under the notion that, “Well, if I believe and I’m wrong, then no big deal. But if I don’t believe and I’m wrong, then I’ll be in hell! This idea to me is a shame and it’s immoral. A person should live up to his/her potential. You only have one life, It does not matter where it came from.

    I have encountered allot of people who can’t set aside their fear for a moment to think about a subject rationally.

    It was a great post Hugo and hope my comments does not interfere with what you wanted to achieve with your words.

  • 3 Hugo // Oct 15, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    Thanks for the comment.

    Here then a suggestion to the Christians: some atheists have not found how to live a meaningful life, and are not particularly happy. The problem is not really the atheism. If you can understand the value that Jesus’ message can have from an atheistic perspective, you can share that message with atheists. The essence of the message, to me, is living a life of compassion, and joining in the effort to “make the Kingdom come”.

    That last phrase needs a replacement though: the modern human does not have the same appreciation for what a “kingdom” is or could be. The concept of a “kingdom” evoked a different response amongst humans 2000 years ago than to the typical modern human. Expressing the same feeling to a modern human would require different words.

    This then is the beauty of Jesus defining “the Kingdom” in parables: the parables could possibly communicate the idea much better than culturally-sensitive word choices. Unfortunately the parables are also culture-sensitive. To obtain maximum appreciation for the parables, requires an understanding of the surrounding culture. (This is where books like Brian McLaren’s and Marcus Borg’s become invaluable, as well as a well-educated and well-read pastor/preacher/minister/thingy.)

  • 4 Fearing The Golden Compass? How small is your God? // Nov 10, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    [...] wisdom of Jesus, encourages us to not fear foreign culture. Go, Walk the Streets of Athens (1, 2, 3). Learn to understand “their” culture. In the process, you not only get an improved [...]

  • 5 Hugo // Oct 9, 2008 at 1:36 am

    Taking a quick glance at this post, I know it has a significant number of issues. E.g. “the only difference” in the very first bold sentence. But it aimed to communicate a particular idea, and the hope was that the language choice may be effective in getting that particular idea across, rather than being 100% factually correct at every sentence.

    Now about the first comment, by Negate:

    I want to add my 2 cents from a atheist point of view. In a sense, a atheist is amoral. Note that it is amoral, not immoral.

    That should read “In a sense, atheism is amoral.” (Not atheists.) Thus: “atheism”, per se, says nothing about morality. Some kinds of theist might argue that it is moral to believe in God and immoral not to believe in God. That is not what we are talking about now. From an atheist’s perspective, atheism is amoral.

    The atheist, the person, however, could certainly be either moral or immoral. Their morality may come from ideas like the Golden Rule, their moral framework might be humanism – very similar in fact to the moral framework of many, many kinds of Christianity.

    Anyway, to bed with me. I hope that may have clarified some things for some readers that might happen upon this post in some future.

  • 6 Trevor // Oct 20, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    Hi Hugo,

    I found your site by doing a google search for “Christian Atheist” in SA. I found the title “How to Convert an Atheist” intriguing. I’ve read all 3 articles now, and most of the comments except some of the longer Afrikaans ones because I read Afrikaans very slowly and I don’t understand everything they said, so I skipped to the next comment. I’m 30 years old and live in Midrand. I’ve been a “self aware” atheist for about 6 years now. By “self aware” I guess I’m referring to the notion that I “may have been” an atheist my whole life (or feelt that there has always been a seed of doubt, whether I was aware of it or not, usually years would go by without a doubt of my faith), but about 6 years ago I came to realise and acknowledge that I was in fact an atheist. I was a born again and very devoted Christian who loved both God and Jesus since childhood; and had a personal relationship with Him for many years. I have a good knowledge and understanding of the core message as well as the “Good News” teachings of Christianity, and believed whole heartedly that I was saved by the blood of Christ as well as believing many of the other core teachings and principles of Christianity. I’m probably closer to being a Christian atheist than anything else, that’s probably the easiest way for me to explain what I trully believe; however, I don’t actually agree with historical/traditional Christian atheists ideas. Maybe it’s better to consider me an atheist with Christian morals, since that is my background.

    Sorry about the long intro, I just wanted you to get an idea of what perspective I will be talking from. I’m going to get to my point now, and at the end I will add a bunch of stuff I believe that I’ve written down for the first time, you can read it if you want otherwise just ignore it as a manifestation of my own mind rambling on. It’s the part after the dashes “—“.

    Ok, so. I would like to offer some constructive criticism of your 3 part series. Criticism because I don’t think you really addressed the topic effectively and constructive because I’d like to add a few things I would have liked to see, or that might help others. Also, I see you posted this in 2007, so I’m 1 year late, but maybe a revision on the subject is in order since this article was the main one listed on your site from my google search.

    Part 1: The first article was too short, it was like an introduction, but I would have liked a bit more to keep me hooked. Whether I believed what you were going to say or not, I’m on your site reading what you have to say and must respect that, but it was too short and left me as reader pretty dry, you didn’t wet my appetite. Only the title kept me reading. I also don’t really agree with using other Christian denominations teaching as a possible “pitfall” to basically saying that “this is what you should be doing”. Remember that, each atheist and even Christian is at a different place in their lives. What works for some atheists might not work on others, and sometimes, what works on an atheist today, might not have worked on him/her tomorrow, simply because of the “mood” of the atheist or Christian, how the message is presented, distractions etc.

    Part 2: Was a bit more interestesting, I got the basic message from the video, but again the lack of input on your part was disapointing. Also, many Christians might have been left wondering many things. It’s actually a deep topic, but I felt you left it very shallow. Also, my main concern are the comments made after the one from Kambani (the first post). I felt that Kambani tried to make a few very noble points that were “belittled” later. I felt the core message was to follow the word of God and He will direct your path (when talking to atheists), alternatively “the answers to converting atheists are in the bible”, which I believe is a valid argument if Christians believe the Bible is the word of God, then the answers must be found in it. I do however believe that later posters also make valid points which were again re-iterated in the 3rd article, which is basically “look at it from the atheist perspective”. I will expand on this later.

    Part 3: The 3rd was the best one, since you had some good comments. However, I still don’t believe you “solved the problem” or addressed the issue; and I somehow feel a lot was left unsaid, as in you could have added more and I would have kept on reading.

    Now, as an atheist, it might sound funny that I would like to see more people becomming Christian. Mainly (I’ll admit) because of the moral teaching, but there’s more to it than that, since I have a very “odd” perspective on Christianity. Another reason is, that some (not all) atheists, “might” lack a moral “center”, think of it as a “code of ethics”. Anyway, I think too damn fast, so I’m probably not making much sense since there’s so much I’m thinking and unable to write fast enough.

    Ok, basically, my advise to Christians if they want to have any success is this:

    1) Know your bible (RULE 1), not just what your Pastor teaches on a Sunday, do BIBLE STUDIES in a group, ask yourself questions or try to answer questions. Because an atheist like me can come with some SERIOUS questions or “curveballs” that will blind side you (and usually know the answers to those questions, or know how a well studied Christian would answer the questions, granted on certain topics some Christians differ on interpretation). I personally would start with about 5 questions that would immediately de-rail a Christian (I don’t usually like to do this because I sometimes come accross as an “agressive” atheist which I’m not). And the problem is, that if you don’t know your bible, then I wouldn’t take the rest of the discussion seriously because the “Christian” doesn’t know what the bible teaches. The point of the questions wouldn’t be to throw doubt on Bible teachings as much as getting an idea of the roots or foundation of the Christian in question. Since I believe only a Biblically strong Christian who has a personal relationship with Jesus on a daily basis can trully wish to convert a hard-core atheist. Or you might get lucky and God will talk through you (sorry, couldn’t resist).

    2) EVERY atheist has different ideas. Many share common aspects though. Every atheist is comming from a different background. Every atheist has a different aspect or perspective. What I’m getting at, is that as much as the atheist might be “sizing you up”, a lot of atheists like me are intellectual and will usually only respond agreeably or be “open to” the teachings or word of God if approached from an intellectual perspective, which can be a “door” for God to speak into the life of the atheist. The main idea is this; that you need to understand what kind of atheist you’re talking to. Are they an ex-christian (in which case they should understand many principles like the “blood of Christ”), or never been a christian or a luke warm christian. How did they become an atheist. The easiest atheists to open a dialog with is probably the “broken hearted” atheist who has had some tradgedy and turned away from God. This type of atheist you will have to approach with gentle compassion, after a good long nice gentle talk, they may be open to you praying for them at the end. It might also take a while for them to open up, so don’t be disheartened when they brush you off the first time, just make them aware that you are there and open to talking to them when they want. This type of atheist is in my opinion the worst kind, because they give Christians a pre-conceived idea on atheists in general. The idea is, there are so many kinds of atheists. The “biker”/tatoo artist type who traditionally swears a lot, smokes etc., the ex-Christians (or ex-religious type) who have some background knowledge, the “broken hearted” etc. … know your atheist.

    3) That brings me to the next point. And this is touched on in your 3rd article and that is … know your atheist. Know the different kinds of atheists. Know what they believe, how they think, know what the arguments an atheist is going to bring to the table, try not be caught off guard because it’s a kind of fear, and you shouldn’t be afraid to speak about what you believe to an atheist. Be steadfast in your beliefs. Show your faith, hope and love in Christ. Be compassionate and sensitive; don’t get into heated arguments.

    Well, I hope that everyone reading this can get something useful out of it, since it’s a long post and I wouldn’t want to waste anyone’s time!

    Kind Regards
    Trevor

    ——————————–
    So, to clarify, I’m 100% atheist, in the sence that I believe there is absolutely no God, no divine entity or entity that looks after/watches over me or is involved in my life in any way. I don’t believe in Spirits, Astrology, Tarrot cars, Satan, Angels etc. I believe there may be (actually there are) extra dimentions or even higher levels of existance and consiesness, or “energies” might be an easier reference, energies that we are yet to discover, that we are not aware of (mainly due to our lack of scientific knowledge and research), I believe in the possibilities of other universes possibly relating to the other dimentions. I believe in these things only so far as what science can determine to be true and the “possibilities” or “generally accepted” theories that go along with them. I don’t actually “believe” in the possibilities, I just think they are purely possibilities that exist and need to be explored, possibly in the future when we have more evidence or more understanding. I believe what the best scientific knowledge or most accurate and generally accepted scientific theories have to offer. I also believe the best scientific theories can be flawed, and that they are open to constant revision by the leading scientific communities who pioneer theories and then test those theories. Since I am not able to do so myself, such as the scientists at CERN, for whom I have much respect.

    I’m not a humanist in the common sense. I think we’re pretty pathetic and stupid creatures for the most part. There’s a lot our species needs to learn still. I DO believe there is an extremely strong possiblity that there is life on other planets. I believe the possiblities are too great to ignore. Every star has what is called the “habitability zone”, which is the zone that Earth falls in (and Earth is the only planet in our suns habitability zone), but it depends on the type of star, generally the larger the star, the further away the habitability zone is. And with 400 million stars in our galaxy alone, the number of possibilities is just too great to ignore, since every star has the potential for life in their habitability zone (Granted there are a number of other factors involved, and arguments, but I won’t go into them, suffice it to say that even with all those arguments which reduce the number, the number is still very big).

    Although I don’t consider myself a “humanist”, I agree with Steven Hawkins when he says that: “If we survive the next 200 years, we should be ok”. Because by then we should have colonized other planets or at least the moon, and all our eggs won’t be in one basket, meaning Earth.

    Well, I think I’ve probably overstepped the bounds of invasion on your home in cyber space. Feel free to delete/modify/shorten my post as you see fit. There’s a lot of other stuff on my mind, and I’m sorry I used your home as a dumping ground for some of them, but believe me, I haven’t even started but it’s getting late. I would have like to explain my ideas on Christianity more, or at least expanded on some ideas, but I need to go now …. so ciao

  • 7 Hugo // Oct 21, 2008 at 12:17 am

    Wow, thanks for stopping by, Trevor! There is much I could respond to, and would like to, but as always, it’s too much to respond to everything. ;) E.g. if we survive the next 200 years, I don’t think we’ll be fine due to having colonised other celestial bodies: I’m not so sure we can be self-sufficient in the long term without Earth. I think human survival without Earth will take surprisingly long still. (But then again, if push came to shove, and we had enough resources, we might be able to engineer an artificial sustainable micro-ecosystem… I just think we shouldn’t underestimate how hard that is. Maybe I’m overestimating…)

    Getting back to the more interesting points then: I’m mostly interested in what you are looking for personally. Generally, I suspect not much, you sound or come across as quite settled. So the next question would be about your views of morality, in particular I’m curious about your views on what Christianity can provide to would-be converts. What do you think they’re missing? (I.e. expand a bit on your thoughts on how some people might lack a moral foundation, “center”, or code of ethics.) Together with that, I’d like to understand what your perspective or definition of “humanism” is. By what definition would you not consider yourself a humanist?

    I’m busy reading Paul Kurtz’ “Embracing the Power of Humanism”. Quite interesting. That kind of take on humanism, by that definition, it is something that can provide a moral foundation or “center”, a code of ethics. So comparatively speaking, I’m quite curious what your views would be in comparing that understanding of humanism as a moral foundation, and Christianity — the benefits or disadvantages of each.

    Yes, posts from 2007 typically make me cringe and I’d love to rewrite many of those that have interesting ideas, but I also have a queue of 20 or more ideas I want to write about. Chances are those ideas will come first. One of the planned posts, if or when I get to it, will discuss humanism in particular, and try sketch out one of the impressions of it that I’ve come across so far. I suppose that would be a good place to discuss your impressions as well, but who knows how long it will be before I get to that? So better yet might be sharing those ideas now, then I could incorporate them if or when I get to it…

    Oh yea, back to life on other planets: I believe the reason he’s talking about the next 200 years, is because we’re at a critical point in history: the point at which we’ve developed the necessary technology to self-destruct, as well as the technology to facilitate conflict: the Internet. Combine that with the dangers of extremist fundamentalist beliefs, and culture clashes in societies being introduced to ideas they may not be ready for, and you end up with a deadly and unstable concoction. And, of course, we have the power to destroy the stability in the ecosystem: life will survive, but upset the cart enough, and we’ll have strong competition for resources we might not even realise is important. Mixed in with the unstable culture clash, there’s one more reason for war (of whatever sort).

    Anyway… the idea then: with our communication tech, it could go one of two ways: we could find harmony, or we could find self-destruction, and finding either will likely not take longer than 200 years. May it be harmony.

  • 8 Trevor // Oct 21, 2008 at 4:21 am

    Hey Hugo,

    Didn’t expect a response before tomorrow, I’m working late so just thought I’d check in, was pleasantly surprised. I don’t usually get into debates about my beliefs, because I find it extremely tedious to go into detail. Unfortunately, I feel myself already being slightly misunderstood, but that’s the nature of these things. My main concern when I start is that people “judge” too quickly and start “interrogating” the first thing I say without letting me finish or explain myself, but such is the limiting factor in speech, at least with this medium you are more likely to get a slightly more balanced impression because you can’t interrupt me. That’s what annoys me most, the interruptions and “Yes, but I think …” scenarios.

    Well, the “200 years” is actually quite a complex thing, more so than most people realise. As you might be aware, NASA is stopping the Space Shuttle program in the next 2 years. The Space Shuttle was a wonderful development for mankind in general. My best guess is that probably 90% or more of all artificial satellites we use, most notably those used for communication like TV, Internet etc. were launched by the Space Shuttle program. This program I’m sure you are aware was not designed to send people to the moon, as there hasn’t been anyone on the moon in decades. Anyway, the next program called Orion I think (2014), will send humanity back to the moon and then to Mars for the first time. Anyway, you can wiki it. The bottom line is; look at what has happened in the last 5-8 years. As leaps of technology. Consider the “bricks” we used as cell phones at the start of the century compared to the GPS, MP3 capable camera phones we use now. Simple stupid analogy I know. My point is, that I don’t think anyone can imaging what will happen. Most estimates are that Computers will exceed the capacity and power of the human brain by about 2020. A $1000 computer will outperform the brain, startling. What does that mean? Well, I believe that in order to progress as a species, we will have to evolve ourselves or be left behind by technology (but this is already happening “naturally”). Actually, our own evolution (which is now known as Transhumanism) is already underway. Artificial hearts, eyes, limbs etc. are only the beginning. There are many fields of Transhumanism, such as Genetics, Cybernetics, Nano technology. We are only at the beginning stages, and this has and will continue to increase exponentially every year. Our species will evolve itself, faster than what natural evolution can. I believe it will be many aspects all working simultaneously. From cybernetics with cybernetic implants, possibly things like cell phones/receivers becoming part of the body, artificial fully functional limbs like arms and legs that are capable of being tied into our central nervous system, and responding as a normal part of the body. To genetically altering our own DNA, especially for the purpose of producing more intelligent babies, more resistant to common/known diseases. Sure there will always be diseases, and new ones come along all the time. Actually, I believe we will begin to increase our own brain capacity and capabilities as we develop new technology, so plugging our mind into our computers isn’t a far-fetched concept to me.

    Anyway, I’ve probably gone too far and possibly a bit off track on my speculations (since nobody knows the future), but the point is, don’t underestimate the human ability to survive and adapt. We are an intelligent and resourceful species. Sure, we have tons to learn (so we are far from knowing it all or being super intelligent), and we’re not Gods in anyway. We make plenty of mistakes and we still have plenty of political, economical and social issues.

    BTW; You might find it interesting that the UK government released another 19 previously classified UFO files yesterday to the public, you might find it an interesting topic for discussion (Search for National Archives in UK). Yes I believe in alien life, I just have my doubts about green Martians in saucers coming to visit. And how stupid do you think the US and UK governments are for ordering the UFO’s to be “shot down” by the air force. Here’s a far more intelligent and superior race coming to visit (if you believe the UFO stories) and here we are ready to shoot them down. Universally stupid idea if you ask me, to attack another race first … dumb asses (read the files, or the summary)! Although, I think the most likely candidates would be visitors/explorers from the nearest stars.

    Anyway, consider this. The Pan/Homo (Chimpanzee/Human) genetic split was completed about 5.4-6.3 million years ago Hominini, now, imagine humanity evolved just a little bit faster, say 1000 years earlier. Can you imagine what Humanity will be like with only 1000 years more evolution (mainly from technology or 1000 more years of technological advances). Now imagine a species on another planet that evolved about 1000 years faster than humans, and survived into a space faring race. That’s how I see it. 1000 years more of technological progress on another planet will create a space faring race superior to humanity. Unfortunately, I believe most Christians are very short sighted (and thus would find my ideas absurd). They cannot really comprehend this because they usually tend to believe that Christ will come back before then. The funny thing is that Christians have been saying he will come back for the last 1000 years.

    Anyway, it’s 3am, so you have to forgive my sleepy brain. Getting back to your questions.

    Humanism; this is my second attempt at this paragraph. I just briefly looked at the Wikipedia article on it. And then the BBC explanation here. Well, the “idea” I had in my head, was completely not what those articles are saying. So I will have to retract my statement and say that I find nothing wrong at all with the BBC article, not a single iota. I’m sure the topic is much larger and broader. My main concern with Humanism, is probably only a sense of superiority, over environment and other species. That’s what I was referring to before. As long as Humans don’t get a superiority complex, I’m fine with Humanism!!!

    Just reading your post again:
    1) I agree that a “sustainable micro-ecosystem” on another celestial body will be hard (one of the biggest issues is that of Gravity, all our experience has been with gravity on Earth, we can’t even have babies yet in space or another planet) … but I have no doubt that it will be possible given enough time, not sure how much!
    2) Asking what I’m looking for personally, not much! I’m pretty “worked out” in my mind, very much at peace with what I believe in. Found the answers I was looking for, the rest I leave up to Humanity to figure out.
    3) Christians can provide quite a lot of things to converts, and very often much more than many other religions. Especially certain types like the “broken hearted” by showing compassion and their own and Gods love. One of my views is that certain people need certain structures. Some people need laws to govern them (actually most if not all). More than that, they need structure. Christianity can often provide that structure. Also, morality, moral codes, boundaries and a set of ethics; the commandments, compassion, respect, love for your neighbour, these are principles/ethics which are lacking in our society. Not sure if I mentioned this before, but I would raise my child as a Christian, not as an atheist. I really just wish that Christians could be better Christians themselves. I understand that we “all sin” and nobody is perfect. But I find far too many Christians complacent with going to church on a Sunday and the rest of the week acting ungodly. But I don’t blame the faith for that, I blame the individual. I believe, “you are who you want to be”. If you WANTED to be a better person you WOULD be a better person. Maybe not immediately, but you would and could work at it.
    4) I believe we are product of a) Genetics and b) Environment. The most important is actually environment. Environment to me, is EVERYTHING we have done in our lives. Every decision we have ever made. Every person we have met, had contact and interaction with. I believe, that if I was 100% identical to you (down to the atom). And I was conceived in your mothers womb. And I grew up in your family, had your friends, went to the same schools etc. Then I would have been 100% you and done everything as you have done exactly as you have done it, made the same decisions, the same mistakes etc. Therefore, I don’t believe any human has the right to judge another human, especially based on circumstances because if you were in their shoes, you would have done the identical thing. The reason I believe all this is, that decisions and decision making is simply a chemical process in our brain. The outcome is due to how our brains “have been wired”, how the neurons have made connections etc. As we learn, “connections” are formed in our brain, these connections determine what decisions we make. Anyway, sorry I don’t have an in-depth knowledge on how the brain works, I’m not really into that but that’s the way I understand it so far. Also, I’m not actually Theologian, you seem to be very well studied. I have a general understanding on a wide variety of subjects from Space-Time, Genetics, Evolution etc. I think of more like a “jack of all trades, master of none”. Anyway, with all of these, I have a good enough idea of how most things fit into the “bigger scheme” of things. For me, that’s just my personal views. Most of which I try to keep the views of the general scientific community. I read A LOT of Wikipedia articles. I you want to know my views on evolution, then Wikipedia is the place. Genetics, look at Transhumanism. Space-Time, try reading “The Universe in a Nutshell” by Steven Hawkins.

    Anyway, it’s past 4am in the morning now. This has been great for me to sort of put some of my ideas down. If you want to know. If I had to pin point a moment in time when I realised I was an atheist, was when I read “Dune” by Frank Herbert. It had a fundamental snow ball affect on me, but not in the sense that anyone could imagine. Since it wasn’t the whole book. It was an explanation of a religious order called the Bene Gesuits (Hope I got the spelling right). But it’s really hard for me to explain, lets just say that the explanation allowed me to realise a lot things I was already thinking and feeling.

    Ok … bed now I think!

    ciao

  • 9 Trevor // Oct 21, 2008 at 8:07 am

    NB: I wrote this last night, actually about 4 hours ago, but was unable to upload it, so I’m trying again now!

    Hey Hugo,

    Didn’t expect a response before tomorrow, I’m working late so just thought I’d check in, was pleasantly surprised. I don’t usually get into debates about my beliefs, because I find it extremely tedious to go into detail. Unfortunately, I feel myself already being slightly misunderstood, but that’s the nature of these things. My main concern when I start is that people “judge” too quickly and start “interrogating” the first thing I say without letting me finish or explain myself, but such is the limiting factor in speech, at least with this medium you are more likely to get a slightly more balanced impression because you can’t interrupt me. That’s what annoys me most, the interruptions and “Yes, but I think …” scenarios.

    Well, the “200 years” is actually quite a complex thing, more so than most people realise. As you might be aware, NASA is stopping the Space Shuttle program in the next 2 years. The Space Shuttle was a wonderful development for mankind in general. My best guess is that probably 90% or more of all artificial satellites we use, most notably those used for communication like TV, Internet etc. were launched by the Space Shuttle program. This program I’m sure you are aware was not designed to send people to the moon, as there hasn’t been anyone on the moon in decades. Anyway, the next program called Orion I think (2014), will send humanity back to the moon and then to Mars for the first time. Anyway, you can wiki it. The bottom line is; look at what has happened in the last 5-8 years. As leaps of technology. Consider the “bricks” we used as cell phones at the start of the century compared to the GPS, MP3 capable camera phones we use now. Simple stupid analogy I know. My point is, that I don’t think anyone can imaging what will happen. Most estimates are that Computers will exceed the capacity and power of the human brain by about 2020. A $1000 computer will outperform the brain, startling. What does that mean? Well, I believe that in order to progress as a species, we will have to evolve ourselves or be left behind by technology (but this is already happening “naturally”). Actually, our own evolution (which is now known as Transhumanism) is already underway. Artificial hearts, eyes, limbs etc. are only the beginning. There are many fields of Transhumanism, such as Genetics, Cybernetics, Nano technology. We are only at the beginning stages, and this has and will continue to increase exponentially every year. Our species will evolve itself, faster than what natural evolution can. I believe it will be many aspects all working simultaneously. From cybernetics with cybernetic implants, possibly things like cell phones/receivers becoming part of the body, artificial fully functional limbs like arms and legs that are capable of being tied into our central nervous system, and responding as a normal part of the body. To genetically altering our own DNA, especially for the purpose of producing more intelligent babies, more resistant to common/known diseases. Sure there will always be diseases, and new ones come along all the time. Actually, I believe we will begin to increase our own brain capacity and capabilities as we develop new technology, so plugging our mind into our computers isn’t a far-fetched concept to me.

    Anyway, I’ve probably gone too far and possibly a bit off track on my speculations (since nobody knows the future), but the point is, don’t underestimate the human ability to survive and adapt. We are an intelligent and resourceful species. Sure, we have tons to learn (so we are far from knowing it all or being super intelligent), and we’re not Gods in anyway. We make plenty of mistakes and we still have plenty of political, economical and social issues.

    BTW; You might find it interesting that the UK government released another 19 previously classified UFO files yesterday to the public, you might find it an interesting topic for discussion (Search for National Archives in UK). Yes I believe in alien life, I just have my doubts about green Martians in saucers coming to visit. And how stupid do you think the US and UK governments are for ordering the UFO’s to be “shot down” by the air force. Here’s a far more intelligent and superior race coming to visit (if you believe the UFO stories) and here we are ready to shoot them down. Universally stupid idea if you ask me, to attack another race first … dumb asses (read the files, or the summary)! Although, I think the most likely candidates would be visitors/explorers from the nearest stars.

    Anyway, consider this. The Pan/Homo (Chimpanzee/Human) genetic split was completed about 5.4-6.3 million years ago Hominini, now, imagine humanity evolved just a little bit faster, say 1000 years earlier. Can you imagine what Humanity will be like with only 1000 years more evolution (mainly from technology or 1000 more years of technological advances). Now imagine a species on another planet that evolved about 1000 years faster than humans, and survived into a space faring race. That’s how I see it. 1000 years more of technological progress on another planet will create a space faring race superior to humanity. Unfortunately, I believe most Christians are very short sighted (and thus would find my ideas absurd). They cannot really comprehend this because they usually tend to believe that Christ will come back before then. The funny thing is that Christians have been saying he will come back for the last 1000 years.

    Anyway, it’s 3am, so you have to forgive my sleepy brain. Getting back to your questions.

    Humanism; this is my second attempt at this paragraph. I just briefly looked at the Wikipedia article on it. And then the BBC explanation here. Well, the “idea” I had in my head, was completely not what those articles are saying. So I will have to retract my statement and say that I find nothing wrong at all with the BBC article, not a single iota. I’m sure the topic is much larger and broader. My main concern with Humanism, is probably only a sense of superiority, over environment and other species. That’s what I was referring to before. As long as Humans don’t get a superiority complex, I’m fine with Humanism!!!

    Just reading your post again:
    1) I agree that a “sustainable micro-ecosystem” on another celestial body will be hard (one of the biggest issues is that of Gravity, all our experience has been with gravity on Earth, we can’t even have babies yet in space or another planet) … but I have no doubt that it will be possible given enough time, not sure how much!
    2) Asking what I’m looking for personally, not much! I’m pretty “worked out” in my mind, very much at peace with what I believe in. Found the answers I was looking for, the rest I leave up to Humanity to figure out.
    3) Christians can provide quite a lot of things to converts, and very often much more than many other religions. Especially certain types like the “broken hearted” by showing compassion and their own and Gods love. One of my views is that certain people need certain structures. Some people need laws to govern them (actually most if not all). More than that, they need structure. Christianity can often provide that structure. Also, morality, moral codes, boundaries and a set of ethics; the commandments, compassion, respect, love for your neighbour, these are principles/ethics which are lacking in our society. Not sure if I mentioned this before, but I would raise my child as a Christian, not as an atheist. I really just wish that Christians could be better Christians themselves. I understand that we “all sin” and nobody is perfect. But I find far too many Christians complacent with going to church on a Sunday and the rest of the week acting ungodly. But I don’t blame the faith for that, I blame the individual. I believe, “you are who you want to be”. If you WANTED to be a better person you WOULD be a better person. Maybe not immediately, but you would and could work at it.
    4) I believe we are product of a) Genetics and b) Environment. The most important is actually environment. Environment to me, is EVERYTHING we have done in our lives. Every decision we have ever made. Every person we have met, had contact and interaction with. I believe, that if I was 100% identical to you (down to the atom). And I was conceived in your mothers womb. And I grew up in your family, had your friends, went to the same schools etc. Then I would have been 100% you and done everything as you have done exactly as you have done it, made the same decisions, the same mistakes etc. Therefore, I don’t believe any human has the right to judge another human, especially based on circumstances because if you were in their shoes, you would have done the identical thing. The reason I believe all this is, that decisions and decision making is simply a chemical process in our brain. The outcome is due to how our brains “have been wired”, how the neurons have made connections etc. As we learn, “connections” are formed in our brain, these connections determine what decisions we make. Anyway, sorry I don’t have an in-depth knowledge on how the brain works, I’m not really into that but that’s the way I understand it so far. Also, I’m not actually Theologian, you seem to be very well studied. I have a general understanding on a wide variety of subjects from Space-Time, Genetics, Evolution etc. I think of more like a “jack of all trades, master of none”. Anyway, with all of these, I have a good enough idea of how most things fit into the “bigger scheme” of things. For me, that’s just my personal views. Most of which I try to keep the views of the general scientific community. I read A LOT of Wikipedia articles. I you want to know my views on evolution, then Wikipedia is the place. Genetics, look at Transhumanism. Space-Time, try reading “The Universe in a Nutshell” by Steven Hawkins.

    Anyway, it’s past 4am in the morning now. This has been great for me to sort of put some of my ideas down. If you want to know. If I had to pin point a moment in time when I realised I was an atheist, was when I read “Dune” by Frank Herbert. It had a fundamental snow ball affect on me, but not in the sense that anyone could imagine. Since it wasn’t the whole book. It was an explanation of a religious order called the Bene Gesuits (Hope I got the spelling right). But it’s really hard for me to explain, lets just say that the explanation allowed me to realise a lot things I was already thinking and feeling.

    Ok … bed now I think!

    ciao

  • 10 Hugo // Oct 21, 2008 at 10:36 am

    (Akismet thought they were spam. Are they identical? I guess… which one should I remove? And your BBC link is broken/missing. Drop the URL below and I’ll fix it? For the rest, I’m very eager to read, but it will have to wait until this evening. Just one thing caught my eye already: your impression of humanism is exactly the same sentiments I picked up elsewhere, so that’s interesting. Next thing is to try to figure out why that view is so prevalent. You don’t happen to recall where you got that impression? But yes, there certainly are some wacknuts calling themselves humanists as well. ;) Will touch on this if/when I get to writing that post. Hmm, hopefully within the next three weeks.)

  • 11 Hugo // Oct 21, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    Hey Trevor!

    I feel myself already being slightly misunderstood

    Sorry ’bout that. I hope you didn’t feel too judged or interrogated, I’m mostly just extremely curious, and sincerely interested in what your opinion is. And naturally we will have slightly different views.

    I might overestimate the time it takes, you might underestimate. And I might have a different idea of what makes the human mind special, or “powerful”.

    With regards to transhumanism, I believe this blog’s “community” (everyone visiting, commenting, writing on this blog) currently has (at least?) two fans of some transhumanism ideas. You might be the third? Welcome! ;) I can think that the “humans thinking too much of themselves” meme might actually be more prevalent in the world of transhumanistic ideas, because of the imagined unlimited possibilities. You caution on that very topic above. Cool…

    Not sure if I mentioned this before, but I would raise my child as a Christian, not as an atheist.

    That’s another thing I find quite interesting. So if your child asks about God, and whether you “believe in God”, what would your answer/explanation be? Religion certainly is a way in which communities can help raise the community’s children, and I suspect atheistic communities might lack a similar support infrastructure. I have come across a book named “Parenting Beyond Belief”, Dale McGowan, http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/ – if you’re curious. I’d be curious as to your impressions or opinions comparing the two approaches, if you ever have the opportunity to read it, for example. I’d guess you have no fear that your child might become too prone to fundamentalism, thanks to e.g. your influence?

    On science, this blog’s community also includes some PhD students in biology. (I hope they’re still around.) Which means people making incorrect statements based on slightly outdated science must be ready to have themselves corrected. ;) They’re nice people though, humble and patient, and if they have time, seem to be quite keen to explain the finer nuances of their fields of study.

    There is much in your comment that could be talked about, should you be interested. (By which I mean, I hear you, I respect your views, but I do naturally differ on the finer points.) I like the conclusions you draw out of determinism, and I do draw some similar conclusions, even though I differ on the determinism bit. I believe (as in I’m quite certain) that things are not quite as deterministic as your comment makes it sound. But maybe this is just nitpicking and skipping over the primary message of your comment to get caught up in nuances.

    Dune… ah, that’s right at the top (or very near the top) of my fiction “to read” list. I’ve seen the movie and miniseries already, and I know I’ll enjoy it, and that it’s a gap in my education that I’ve not read it yet. But… fiction is unfortunately not enjoying much attention from me right now. And on the influence of fiction: yes, it can be quite subversive and sneak in a lot of ideas. No wonder some people freak out about Philip Pullman wanting to have books banned and the like. Fiction can be incredibly powerful at introducing new ideas. Fear new ideas, and you quickly begin to fear fiction. Or education even.

    Let me stop before I start sketching out a certain stereotype. *grin*

  • 12 Ben-Jammin' // Oct 22, 2008 at 2:54 am

    The reason I believe all this is, that decisions and decision making is simply a chemical process in our brain.

    That’s straight naturalism, possibly the most empathetic view of what is around, and the foundation for humanism.

    You say you would not raise your child as an atheist but as a Christian…The ‘not an atheist’ part means you would try to raise them as a theist who believes in a Christian God? Why not naturalism / humanism?

  • 13 Trevor // Oct 22, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Hugo: I don’t mind the questions or criticism. I try to think about what people say, especially if they are giving feedback on something I said or something I think. Like the “humanism” debate, I had a pre-conceived narrow idea of what it was, and I tried to get a better idea of it by looking it up, and by doing so, I didn’t just brush off your comments, I expanded my view on the subject. I don’t mind feeling judged, but I don’t feel that way now. I just think I don’t always get my thoughts accross in writing as well as I could, but that’s just me. I would welcome the input of others on your blog. Also, I feel I’ve added a lot of “off-topic” commentary now, isn’t there somewhere else we could have a debate, and still have it available to others online?

    I think it’s fair to say that I’m not “Anti-Christianity”. I might be wrong, but when I was a believer, I had the view that atheists were (often hard-core) anti-christians and also anti-christ. By this I mean that I personally believed that atheists spoke out openly against christians and the church (another pre-conceived idea). I think I was largely taught this idea in Church, and by other Christians, like family and bible study groups. Now being on the other side of the fence, I doubt I would have been able to relate to myself (my chrisitian self would not have been able to relate to my atheist self) and I would probably not have been open to what I now believe. I say this only from my personal experience so I might be wrong since I was only 1 of millions of believers.
    For me, there’s a big difference in my heart and mind to what I thought an atheist was, I don’t feel I’m anti-christianity or anti-christ. I would like to raise my children as I was raised. As you said, there’s probably not much of a support structure for atheists, if there are, then I don’t know about them because I’m not active in the atheist community. Also, I find many Christians with a “personal relationship” are probably more balaced ethically than an atheist (I know more Christians than atheists, this is just my impression and a big generalization). I only say this because there are so many kinds of atheists, and you don’t always know the atheists background. I would rather leave my child in the care of a loving Sunday school teacher with a passion for life and Christ, than an atheist (in general). Probably from a Baptist or Methodist church. I say this because I have a reasonable assurance on what the teacher will be teaching (mainly from an ethical & moral point of view). I don’t believe a child will ask the “big questions” like “do you believe in God” for a while, and fully comprehend the implications of my answer. When asked this question, I will say “yes I believe” in the early years, and when I feel the child is ready to comprehend my answer (probably mid to late teens), I will explain myself. I wouldn’t want to create confusion or contradiction at that level in the childs early life. Also, I would even go so far as to encourage prayer on a daily basis, or even to pray WITH the child. Also, it might become apparent to the child that I don’t attend the church but I would however attend any church plays that the child is in, in support of my child. I feel raising a child this way can have some advantages, hopefully making them more balanced and more tollerent. But I believe the child should get a good theist background/foundation to begin with. I wouldn’t try to sway the child in either direction, especially in the pre-teen and even mid-teen years. But I would try to get as solid a theist background for the child especially in the early years as I could, with as little contradiction as possible. Now, that probably brings me back to another topic. “The fear of God”. For me personally, I feel that this has kept me on the morally straight and narrow more often than not. I don’t have a fear of God now, but I lean on many principles I was taught during my time as a Christian. I believe in “corporal punishment”, but not in the extreme. There’s a line between hitting a child for discipline and the child knowing he/she shouldn’t do it again or they will be punished, and going overboard. I believe that when you punish a child, it should be controlled and you should NEVER do it out of rage or anger! Punishment should suite the “crime”. I believe this as part of the psycological development of the child. As for the “Fear of God” as I was taught, I feel for me it was a good thing (the fear of God’s punishment, especially in death, and thus trying to lead a life on the straight and narrow).

    I’m not really a person that is entirely pro-transhumanism, because I believe there will be many transhumanistic ideals that could be bad for individuals and humanity in general. We need to find the balance between technology and ourselves, this might require us to make some mistakes (especially in the field of Genetics and Genetic engineering). However, I 100% believe various forms of Transhumanism are comming like Nano-technology, and many forms are already here, like Cybernetics, or maybe I should say we are on the eve of cybernetics. Various types of implants (like heart implants) and artificial limbs are the dawn of Cybernetics. We are experimenting with the limits of our bodies. Transhumanism is innevitable, because it has already started!

    And finally, THANK YOU for your observation that many of my statements and ideas are “deterministic”, I never knew that before, never even heard of it! Yes, I have many deterministic ideas, I’m still trying to figure out which one is closest to my belief. Probably Compatibilism as described here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compatibilism

    Ben-JamminThanks a LOT for the link to Naturalism. I also share MANY Naturalistic ideals (as you pointed out), which I believe influences and ties into my deterministic ideas and shows the relationship. I tried to find an idea that corresponds to my own, and followed the wikipedia link from here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalism to here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanistic_naturalism
    and read “Industry and technology are enemies to naturalism.” If that is the case, then I’m not a 100% naturalist. I’m not a hard-core advocate of technology, there are both good and bad technologies, we need to find the balance!

    I don’t always know the philosophical “label” of my ideas. I try to come to my own conclusions, but I’m an intellectual and I like to read a lot of scientific articles (only if I can understand them and they interest me), but I don’t usually go too deep into things like Genetics because there are a lot of terms I don’t understand, like the different kinds of DNA, I didn’t even know there different kinds until recently. I don’t have a strong biology background, only a few topics interest me. I try to get the overall picture of a wide variety of topics. How deep I go into those topics depends on how much I currently understand and how much they interest me, like Astonomy, when I was younger I read all the articles in the Encyclopaedia Britanica on every topic of Astronomy, from all the planets in the solar system, to all the stars etc. But that was a 1977 edition, through the years I’ve tried to keep my knowledge up to date by reading Microsoft Encarta through the 90’s and early century, but now I use Wikipedia mostly. I enjoy reading on Astonomy, Evolution, Technology and a bit of Genetics, Theology etc.

  • 14 Trevor // Oct 22, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    Ben-Jammin:
    I’m reading the wikipedia article on Naturalism here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalism_(philosophy)
    So far, I feel I’m a Naturalist! Because I believe in the scientific method and that there is nothing past the physical. Also, keep in mind:

    Naturalism is not a dogmatic belief that the modern view of science is entirely correct. Instead, it simply holds that science is the best way to explore the processes of the universe and that those processes are what modern science is striving to understand.

    Personally, I agree 100%. Science and technology is constantly evolving, so we need to be open to new scientific views, evidence, findings and possibilities. That also doesn’t mean we need to accept them … just be open to them.

    I believe all “supernatural” agents/events can be worked out using the scientific model. Thousands of years ago, humans believed that the sun, moon and stars where supernatural beings or Gods. Science has proven them not to be. Things like thunder and lighning were also considered supernatural phenomenon. Now we understand a lot more about that ball of light in the sky, everyday we add new understanding to ourselves and the world around us.

    In the Philosophy of Mind here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_mind
    I view myself primarily as a Physicalist:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physicalism
    Which is a monistic form of Naturalism. I believe the mind (as an abstract term for thought, conciesness and emotion) is purely physical in that it’s simply a set of mental states which are a result of electrochemical processes. Believing in dualism in one way or the other for me, would be similar to accepting a form of supernaturalism, because they view the mind as a separate entity to the body/brain, which I do not.
    The electrochemical processes and properties of the mind in turn support my deterministic views, that we have no “true” free-will, all decision making in the mind/brain are subject to the electrochemical properties of our individual brains. And because it’s made up of various chemicals/substances, it can be in different states at different times. Think of water, yesterday the water was vapour, today the water is liquid, tomorrow it’s frozen into ice, still the same water, but because of outside forces, pressure or temperature etc. it’s in a different state at different times. These states of our mind affect our moods, thought, emotions etc. Since I don’t believe we have a “spirit”, I therefore also don’t believe that our “spirit” governs our free-will as Christians do.

  • 15 Kenneth Oberlander // Oct 22, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    Welcome Trevor.

    I don’t usually go too deep into things like Genetics because there are a lot of terms I don’t understand, like the different kinds of DNA, I didn’t even know there different kinds until recently.

    Sigh. The bane of my field. Too many long words! Biology (including genetics) is challenging, to be true, but very much worthwhile attempting to understand.

    Different kinds of DNA? Are you referring to the topology of DNA, or the function?

  • 16 Trevor // Oct 22, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    Hi Kenneth:

    Well, hmmm … this is going to be tough for me because it’s not my field and I can’t always remember what I read, mainly because there are gaps in my knowledge, but I hope I can make some sense for you to work out what I meant.

    I read many Wiki articles on different species (for a personal project I’m on) and their evolution. I read a lot of articles on the relationship between animals, how one animal can evolve into another, including humanity. Anyway, I basically gathered that there were possibly types of DNA that are not inherited (or not fully inherited). Dunno if that’s called RNA or rDNA or something. I think I read that it was like a basic version of DNA or an early version or the beginning of DNA (maybe shorter strands?). Anyway, because it wasn’t (fully) hereditary, it created a wide diversity of basic life forms to begin their evolution. With each generation, you could possibly have a completely new species. Anyway, I just thought that was an interesting idea for a possible explanation for a good way to start seeding diversification. My understanding is that DNA has also evolved.

    But creatures also evolved because of different circumstances, you can’t generalize on how evoltion works. Sometimes it was because a niche was opened due to some other species dying out (which is what I believe is a common thought on how mammals and humans (homo) could start their evolution after the dinosaurs suffered major losses). Sometimes, it’s natural selection, environment, atmosphere, climate change, habitat, evolving a body part to perform a specific task etc.

    I would like to know, if a creature evolves, lets take a scorpion for example. Their poison becomes more venomous, can the scorpion DNA become more complex and can that complexity include new strands of DNA, I’m not sure exactly how it works, the impression I get is from the movies (which is probably your nightmare), like these interlinking chains, can new strands be added, or does it only have the links it currently has to work with. How does DNA become more complex, surely new strands/links must be able to be created, and surely this will have huge implications for that species allowing it to become more complex. Do humans have the most complex DNA? Could other animals like pigs, whales, snakes, spiders, insects for example eventually evolve into self aware creatures with the ability to use tools and have complex communication like humans?

  • 17 Kenneth Oberlander // Oct 22, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Anyway, I basically gathered that there were possibly types of DNA that are not inherited (or not fully inherited). Dunno if that’s called RNA or rDNA or something.

    OK. You are on the right track, although RNA is not a type of DNA. Although they are made of very similar building blocks, RNA has several differences. One of the most important is that RNA isn’t made of two strands that twine around one another: it consists of a single strand only. Secondly: RNA serves different functions in the cell. DNA serves as the long term storage unit for information, particularly (but not only) proteins. This information is transferred, via RNA, to the factories of the cell that actually make proteins. So the information in DNA cannot be used directly: it must be transferred using RNA. RNA is also unique in other ways. Like DNA, it carries information, but it is also capable of doing some protein-like jobs as well. This makes it very important in current ideas of the origin of life, because it can do things that both proteins and DNA can do.

    You are right that RNA is not the main hereditary material, although there are exceptions.

    I would like to know, if a creature evolves, lets take a scorpion for example. Their poison becomes more venomous, can the scorpion DNA become more complex

    It can, but it doesn’t have to. Sometimes organisms adapt by becoming simpler, not more complex. Internal parasites are a very good example of this. To use your example, sometimes better venom proteins can be made by losing parts of the DNA that code for them.

    the impression I get is from the movies (which is probably your nightmare), like these interlinking chains, can new strands be added, or does it only have the links it currently has to work with.

    Much as I love them, if there is one thing that superhero movies always, always, always get wrong, it is evolution. New strands can be added. More often, the subunits already present on the strand mutate. It is also possible to lose a piece of the strand, as I mentioned above.

    How does DNA become more complex, surely new strands/links must be able to be created, and surely this will have huge implications for that species allowing it to become more complex.

    Primarily by subunit mutation and poor copying. Think of it using this sentence as an analogy:

    the cat sat on the pig

    Occasionally you will get subunit, or nucleotide mutations:

    the cat sat in the pig

    Occasionally you will get delete button errors:

    the cat sat he pig

    Occasionally you will get copy and paste errors:

    the cat sat on the pig on the pig

    Occasionally you will get cut and paste errors:

    the sat on the pig cat

    And occasionally you will get pieces of other sentences mixed in by mistake:

    the cat sat on the methinks it is like a weasel pig

    All of these errors have counterparts in DNA evolution.

    Do humans have the most complex DNA?

    Depends what you mean. If you mean the most DNA per cell, then no. If you mean the most genes, then no as well. If you mean the most chromosomes…nope! The latter record, by the way, is held by a fern, with several hundred chromosomes. Humans are very unremarkable when it comes to our DNA.

    Could other animals like pigs, whales, snakes, spiders, insects for example eventually evolve into self aware creatures with the ability to use tools and have complex communication like humans?

    OK. Evolution isn’t goal-oriented. No species is striving for intelligence or tool-using. There is no direction to evolution. These aren’t the ultimate goal of any organism. Although it is possible, I would say it is very unlikely.

    Sorry about the length Hugo. Delete/truncate if appropriate.

  • 18 Trevor // Oct 22, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    Hi Ken,

    Thanks a million for that! Very nice explanations I could follow! I pretty much had all the right concepts, I might not always know the technical terms, but I more or less have a good idea of the possibilities and potential intricacies, just glad you re-affirmed it!

    It’s amazing for me to think that there are more complex species here, many have certain levels of intelligence, but as you say, intelligence isn’t the goal of evolution. I think that’s probably my main mis-conception, or at least, usually when I think of things evolving, I think of the creatures becoming more intelligent. Of course they don’t have to do it right away, but I kind of always thought it was the goal. But, alas, I should have thought about it more before jumping to the conclusion!

    Thanks a mil!

  • 19 Hugo // Oct 23, 2008 at 12:08 am

    This conversation is running quite fine in my absence. ;) In fact, I’m even going to refrain from commenting on determinism and quantum physics, which is why I started writing this comment in the first place, and just provide two links, which I skimmed over and selectively read some paragraphs of:

    http://www.eequalsmcsquared.auckland.ac.nz/sites/emc2/tl/philosophy/dice.cfm
    http://www.hawking.org.uk/lectures/dice.html

    Ho-hum, last paragraph of the first link points out how unresolved the matter is. (Might human decision making have some element functioning on the microphysics level?) So I’m lighter on, or even skeptical of, the “exact same decisions” kind of determinism that some people subscribe to, but maybe I’m mostly claiming the variables and environment are so incredibly sensitive, that “exact same state” is, to me, unachievable. However, the importance I attach to empathy and understanding of another’s context in determining his or her actions, makes this nitpick moot — intellectual noodling (just philosophy) rather than something with some practical implications on my ethics.

    ====

    Nope, more commenting…

    Other places to have online debates? There are many. There are forums and suchlike. But the question here is how we can facilitate interesting debates in “this blog’s community”. For now, I think these comments are fine, even if it is off-topic. Might make future access a bit complicated though?

    I’m busy writing software in my spare time, every now and then, progress is going really slow though, in an effort to make it easy to provide whatever structures we feel might be useful for the way we want to communicate. (I.e. not be bound to any existing way of doing things.) Reinventing the wheel, maybe, but hopefully tailored to our use — debatable whether that is useful if it means having to wait another year for something when there’s already good-enough wheels available today. Hmm…

    So, Kenneth, feel free to write as long or as short as you like, this is an old post. It’s on new posts where comments and discussion hasn’t died out where I feel upset when someone derails the discussion with a long monologue.

    And yes, evolution isn’t always “beneficial” beyond adapting to survival in a particular environment. And if you consider humans to be “meme machines” and memes to be replicators in their own right, then technology and culture can evolve in directions that are only really beneficial to the survival of particular memes/ideas, rather than to humans. Which is where the warning bells go off for trans-humanistic ideas. Beware! ;)

    Suggested reading, if you’re bored:
    http://thinktoomuch.net/2008/06/21/evolution-of-language-culture-technology-and-religion/

  • 20 Kenneth Oberlander // Oct 23, 2008 at 8:24 am

    And if you consider humans to be “meme machines” and memes to be replicators in their own right, then technology and culture can evolve in directions that are only really beneficial to the survival of particular memes/ideas, rather than to humans.

    I would suggest, have already evolved… ;-)

  • 21 Ben-Jammin' // Oct 23, 2008 at 11:33 am

    I try to come to my own conclusions, but I’m an intellectual and I like to read a lot of scientific articles

    Same here. Form the conclusions, then try and find a label that fits.

    From the perspective of theism being a norm, ‘atheist’ is a label that makes some sense. But it’s really pretty useless out of that context. A thorough worldview like naturalism lets you lump all the a-naturalists together for a change…maybe I’m the only one with that sense of humor.

    :)

  • 22 Kenneth Oberlander // Oct 23, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Hugo, off topic, but somewhat relevant. There is a very interesting article by Pascal Boyer in Nature this week, on human inclinations towards religion…I include the following juicy tidbit:

    The findings emerging from this cognitive-evolutionary approach challenge two central tenets of most established religions. First, the notion that their particular creed differs from all other (supposedly misguided) faiths; second, that it is only because of extraordinary events or the actual presence of supernatural agents that religious ideas have taken shape. On the contrary, we now know that all versions of religion are based on very similar tacit assumptions, and that all it takes to imagine supernatural agents are normal human minds processing information in the most natural way.

    Take a look!

  • 23 Hugo // Oct 23, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    In response to Ben’s comment: why pick a label at all? Labels are only really useful to find more info on the matter, e.g. looking it up on Wikipedia. ;-) Or giving a pointer to more information. “Well, my ideas are such and such, you can find the basics of them by looking up label-such-and-such”, but label me not!”

    Yea, all the anaturalists… How can we irritatingly stereotype anaturalists? But not too incorrectly. Mostly looking for good satire…

    @Kenneth: thanks! I’ll check it out later.

  • 24 Ben-Jammin' // Oct 23, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    In response to Ben’s comment: why pick a label at all?

    Because I am not the only person with these views. Trying to decide what to do depends on both views of what ought and what is. For any decision involving more than one person, the decision is a team sport – politics. People will be divided up into teams / groups, advocating for different decisions, and the groups will be labeled.

    The only way to avoid labeling is to not have multiple people.

    Yea, all the anaturalists… How can we irritatingly stereotype anaturalists?

    Dunno…but it puts the shoe on the other foot of trying to group together people who agree on one single question.

    Q: Do you believe a God exists? (y/n)
    A: No

    -> atheist

    Q: Do you believe there is more than the natural world? (y/n)
    A: Yes

    -> a-naturalist

  • 25 Hugo // Oct 23, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    Hmm, I don’t really like either question. “Yes, but…” / “no, but…”

    Ugh, I guess I must conclude I hate politics then? With dividing people up according to decisions, fine, that’s ok with me. But just because I line up with a particular “republican decision” doesn’t mean I want to be labeled with a “republican” label.

    I guess lobbying for a whole set of decisions is just much easier if many decide to delegate their identity to the same banner-waver…?

  • 26 Ben-Jammin' // Oct 24, 2008 at 7:07 am

    Ugh, I guess I must conclude I hate politics then?

    I do. It’s an awful method of expressing power between competing factions to determine what we ought to do. It only looks good compared to the alternative – expressing power through violence.

    I guess lobbying for a whole set of decisions is just much easier if many decide to delegate their identity to the same banner-waver…?

    Let’s say you’re a politician. Given that politics is the exercising of power, dispute resolution, how do you plan to evaluate the different viewpoints of your constituents? You will always label them into groups. Group A tends to believe X and Y and wants me to accomplish Z. Group B tends to believe U and V and wants me to accomplish W. Etc.

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