This is part five of this article, here you can find parts one, two, three and four.
Throughout this article I have tried to show justification for my thought process, through some of the events of my life as well as through some of the conclusions I have reached over the span of that life. I will now continue to show some of the causes for my way of thinking as well as try to sum up the rationale behind them.
Part V: The Perceptive Brain
I can't go about daily life without being bombarded by advertising, someone trying to sell cars, soft-drinks, or medication. We live in a world where someone is always trying to convince someone else to buy into the product they are selling. I understand the rationale behind it, but I fail to see how it is useful in changing a person's mind. I don't often see an advertisement for Pepsi and think to myself, "I'd love a Pepsi right now," or "I do prefer drinking coke, but this commercial makes me want Pepsi instead." I fail to see the reason in advertising products that we all know exist and have an already-established opinion on.
For example, if a person drives a four-door Honda Accord, I fail to see how a commercial advertising a GM truck is likely to make that person consider selling their Honda, and buying that GM. It makes little sense that a person who has driven such a car and enjoys the car they drive, evident by the fact they purchased the car in the first place, would be swayed by an advertisement offering them a different choice. It is certainly possible that a person could become disenfranchised with their purchase and seek an alternate choice, but its not likely that advertising a new car is more likely to sway their decision than simply seeing a vehicle at a dealership or driven by someone about town.
The same is true of many products. For example, I have been drinking coke for a long time and enjoy it, and I prefer it to Pepsi. It is unlikely that any kind of adverting would make me switch from a brand I have enjoyed my whole life to another based entirely on the opinions of someone else, and I believe this to be true of anyone. So it seems to me that any kind of advertising that involves an established product is seemingly useless.
The only reason I bring this issue up is because I see this same sort of thing in religions. I am constantly bombarded by religious opinions that try to sell me their product, convince me to think they way they do, or more sinisterly try to change policies which ultimately have an affect on me. This is no different than any other business mind you, after all, cigarette companies spent millions of dollars advertising their products trying to convince everyone to smoke, the same way religions spend millions of dollars advertising their religion, trying to bring followers into their flock.
The problem as I see it, is that by the time someone is an adult they know smoking is bad for them and will choose not to smoke, and I believe the same is true for an adult faced with religion. Now remember, although I am using cigarettes as an example, this really applies to all established products sold by businesses. It is unlikely, a person who has spent his whole life as a Christian will see a mosque and think to himself that its now time to become a Muslim. I'm not saying that it's impossible, only that its unlikely. So it seems to me that advertising isn't meant for adults at all, but rather children, because it is children that are most susceptible to the power of suggestion.
I have spent some time in this article talking about indoctrination and how it is used to convince others into believing something that is completely unreasonable and nonsensical. The business of religion is designed to achieve maximum followers through the indoctrination of children by way of adults who have been indoctrinated as children, themselves. You may take particular offense to my insinuation of religion as a business, however I maintain this is a fact nonetheless. All of the organized religions around the world are funded by the patrons who flock into their buildings looking to buy the product that particular religion is offering.
Without the support of the people who have become indoctrinated into this faith, the religion would vanish, much like television shows that not enough viewers tune into each week to watch. The same is true of any product produced by any business throughout the world. If a business is unable to sell that product, it vanishes, or the business vanishes if that product is the only one being sold.
I recently shared an article on my Facebook that tells the story of a town in Missouri called Branson who has decided to spend five million dollars of public funds to build a two hundred foot cross for all to see, fitted with elevators of course, to allow its visitors to get closer to God. I must admit when I read this article, I thought it was a fake. It didn't make sense to me that anyone would spend five million dollars of government money on something that was religious based as it violates the principle of the constitutional separation of church and state.
Not only is this story true, but it seems everyone in Branson is okay with this colossal waste of funds. If the people of Branson, Missouri want to show a symbol of their Christian values, wouldn't five million dollars be better spent in trying to relieve some of the poverty there? Would it not be more useful to feed the poor, than to build a giant cross with elevators? If the people of Missouri feel so strongly about their faith that they want to show it, why not show it in a way that Jesus himself would respect? Christians are always asking what would Jesus do? So I ask you, what would Jesus actually do with five million dollars?
Would he build a giant cross, the symbol of his execution at the hands of the Romans, or would he take that money and feed the starving poor, help the disabled, sick or dying, and make many charitable contributions. Now I maintain that Jesus was not the son of any deity, and he probably wasn't any kind of saint, but if you believe the people who are suppose to follow his teachings and demonstrated by the words of a book they put so much faith in, Jesus' message was very clear. I maintain, that people who call themselves Christians would not truly wish to see the return of Jesus. If just such an event were to happen, I wonder what would Jesus think about the people who profess to follow his values, so much so, that they based an entire religion off of it and yet are unable to follow even the most basic of tenets.
Recently, a lot has been made of the issues of gay marriage in this country. I'd like to address a few things about how I feel about it in general. Let me first say that growing up I was led to believe that everyone was equal, this was both instilled in me by a moral upbringing and by the information I extracted from such documents as the Bill of rights and our U.S. Constitution, as well as examples of historical values offered by important people like Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King. It is inconceivable that the issue of civil rights is still an issue at all, in the year 2012. The 14th amendment of the constitution of the United States says:
"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
This amendment is important because it guarantees any citizen of this country equal protection under the law. That means any laws that grant or prohibit a person's rights under the law, also grant and prohibit those same rights to everyone. Although many people associate civil rights with the plight of blacks during the 1960's, civil rights are defined as rights belonging to a person by reason of citizenship including especially the fundamental freedoms and privileges guaranteed by the 13th and 14th amendments and subsequent acts of Congress including the right to legal, social, and economic equality. For reference, the 13th amendment of the Constitution deals with the abolishment of slavery. So now that I have established that any person born in this country is guaranteed certain inalienable rights, it seems that if I can prove that marriage is governmentally recognizable by law, than marriage is already protected under the 14th amendment of our Constitution.
Marriage is something that has evolved over thousands of years. The first recorded evidence we have of marriage was around 2350 B.C. in Mesopotamia. Over the next several hundred years, the idea of marriage spread through cultures throughout the world, but not as an act of religion but rather as a display of property. You see in those days, a man might marry a woman as a sign that she was his property and that he could be assured that any children his spouse bared were, in fact, his children. I must also point out that during this time, the notion of one man and one woman did not exist at all, but rather men would be allowed to possess many wives, thus allowing him to father more children. Also daughters for instance, had value to a father, as they could be traded into marriage in exchange for goods. The notion of romance as a motivation for marriage would not even be considered for hundreds of years.
As Roman Catholicism spread throughout Europe, it became a necessity to gain the blessing of a priest in order to get married, and by the 8th century it was a widely accepted sacrament of the Catholic church. At the Council of Trent in 1563, the sacramental nature of marriage was written into canon law. Although marriage was still used as a way to bind a woman to a man, because the approval of the church was required to legally recognize such a marriage, women became a more valuable asset and church approval helped to improve the treatment of women in someways. Under church law, a man and woman could not be divorced, so it benefited a man to make his wife happy, in order to live and produce children with her. Marriage would remain much the same thing for hundreds of years.
Early settlers to America found that under a legal doctrine observed at the time called coverture, a woman could be granted certain protections by marrying a man, and the man would be granted stature by absorbing the identity of the woman's name into his, a practice that is still observed today by women who take their husband's last name. Now at some point in our history, marriages began to be recognized by our government as a way to bestow certain benefits and responsibilities on the interested participants.
These benefits include special tax rates, survivor benefits, next of kin benefits during emergency situations, inheritance rights, custodial rights to children, etc. The establishment of benefits for married couples means that the government recognizes them as a specific group of society granting them specific rights. As such, under the 14th amendment of the Constitution of the United States, anytime the government grants rights to a specific group of individuals, they must also grant them to everyone. That means under the 14th amendment homosexuals are already granted the right to marry legally in this country.
A government that recognizes the marriage of heterosexual couples must also recognize the marriage of homosexual couples, as a matter of law. Furthermore, the only way an argument for denying such rights could be made, is if the US government stopped recognizing the institution of marriage as a matter of law, disallowing all the benefits and responsibilities granted by the government, and disallowing state authorized marriage and only allowing the recognition of marriage by the church. As any such legislation would interfere in existing marriages both recognized by the state and by the church, such legislation is unlikely. I surmise that religious people everywhere faced with the loss of benefits granted to them by the government would suddenly change their view on gay marriage, affirming it to be a right that should be granted equally to everyone.
I must make special mention of a particular image I have seen that was shared to me on Facebook. It depicts two photographs in juxtaposition, one of some older people standing on court house steps holding signs in opposition of gay marriage, and another of an older image clearly taken during the 1960's of older people standing on court house steps holding signs in opposition of interracial marriage. The caption of the two photographs read: Imagine how stupid you are going to look in 40 years.
One of the comments of particular amusement to me, sighted that in 40 years, most of the people in that photograph will have died off. I realized looking at the photograph the commentary left was valid, most of those people would certainly be dead, and it got me thinking about what that really means. I wonder if we really change as a people over time, or is it more probable that bigots don't change but merely die off, leaving less and less of them to carry the cause. I wonder is progress not a matter of changing the minds of people, but rather just a matter of changing the people themselves? Do we as a society become less indifferent to change, as those around us with differing views simply pass on? This brings me to another thought, is the destruction of religion a foregone conclusion in a society that benefits from the technologies afforded to it by the science so many religious people currently rebuke? I believe it is. Although it is unlikely to be a change that happens anytime soon, I believe it is only a matter of time before just such a change happens.
The art of indoctrination relies on a few variables that must be met in order to properly subjugate someone into that religion. A person must be young enough that reason can be discarded in favor of irrationality, and older adults that such a young person might seek for guidance be already indoctrinated into that religion, reenforcing those irrational beliefs. Time is all that is needed at this point to force out critical thinking in favor of subjugation. However, although indoctrination was more easily achieved on children in a less technological world, the invention of advanced communications have allowed people to be linked together like never before.
This poses a serious risk to an indoctrinated subject like nothing before, because it allows that subject to be introduced to opposing thoughts, something that religion cannot allow, if it must maintain a grip on it's followers. We saw through the advancement of sciences like evolutionary biology, cosmology, physics and astronomy that we could teach our children in classrooms a more factual account of how we came to exist in this universe, an account that directly contradicts the teachings of the Christian bible so many have come to assume as fact. This of course has resulted in a protest of the teaching of the theory of evolution with a suggested replacement of creationism as an alternate theory of how we came to be.
As I have previously stated in this article, although the theory of evolution is generally accepted as a factual account of how life evolved over time, creationism lacks the foundation of scientific experimentation and observation that would allow it to be considered a theory that could ever be generally accepted, let alone even a hypothesis that requires a subject can be thoroughly tested. Charles Darwin spent many years painstakingly experimenting with many species looking for the biological changes that would point to evolution as a reason for those changes. It was through science that we have a deeper understanding of the origin of our species and not religion, which explains our existence in this world as a matter of supernatural hocus-pocus.
I find it disturbing that seemingly reasonable people put so much faith in the teachings of a book that is over 2,000 years old. I challenge anyone to find any book other than a religious one, where the information contained in that book, has not been dismissed or changed with the progression of society. What I find even more disturbing than the idea that people would take the information contained in the bible as fact, is the idea that most of these people can pick and choose what they want to accept as fact, and discard much of the rest of it as conjecture.
As I have pointed out before the bible is full of terribly violent and bigoted views. Views that include slavery, animal sacrifice, mass murder, violence toward women, including rape and of course hatred of homosexuality. Why is it that the religious have no problem discarding the passages that include such things as stoning to death women who marry without being virgins, stoning to death children who disobey their parents, declaring that a woman during her time of menstruation must be looked upon with disgust and hatred, a married woman who is raped must be stoned to death, and not only is slavery acceptable all through the old testament, but passages in the new testament show not only was Jesus aware of it, but accepting of it as well, as was customary at the time.
These passages can be discarded but the passages that mention homosexuality as a sin, those must be taken literally. How can we expect to be taken seriously as a nation of reasonable people when we discard all the passages where the bible clearly got it wrong and hold on to such a bigoted view of homosexuality based on a few passages in a book we have already determined is full of stuff we know to be wrong. Sam Harris describes so eloquently in his Letter to a Christian Nation:
"The Bible got the easiest moral question that humanity has ever faced wrong, the question of slavery. What chance is there that on an issue that is so complicated as human sexuality that it would get it wrong as well?"
I wonder, knowing all this what is a more reasonable conclusion, that homosexuality must treated with such hatred because it says so in the bible, or that we as humans are just easily swayed by the voice of hateful speech and bigotry that has pervasively made its way through the southern states where intolerance just seems to be second nature. Although, some might conclude the seeming alignment of Christianity and bigotry that runs throughout the south a mere coincidence, I point to over two hundred years of history in this country to show it is a pattern and not mere coincidence. Of course I am not so inclined to believe all southern people are religious, hateful, racist, bigots, with a predisposition to violence against groups, I am merely suggesting that there does seem to be some correlation between people in the south, Christianity, and hatred toward others. I am also not suggesting that inequality and racism are not found anywhere else in this country, only that it is found predominantly in the southern states.
I thought I would talk a little bit about morality because it seems to be somewhat of a hot topic for debate sometimes when talking with theists. I've had many discussions with the religious over the years and on many occasions morality is often referenced as something that would not exist if not for God. Now before I get into this on a more scientific level, I first want to say that morality has little to do with God, or Christianity in general. The idea that our morality can be dictated by a couple of stone tablets that an old man delivered to his people, as the rules that God set forth for all man kind to live by, is ludicrous.
If morality is so easily explained by a set of rules created over 2000 years ago, how can it be explained that perfectly happy people go about their lives with no need of God or religion and at the same time, harm no one? After all, if these rules are truly enforced by God and are only meaningful because people are afraid not to follow them, then by that rationale, Christians would all be good people and atheists would all be bad people. If the threat of eternal damnation has no meaning to me because I'm an atheist, then what keeps me from randomly killing people I see on the street? What stops me from dragging a child behind a dumpster, raping, torturing and murdering that child? One could argue that the government stops that, however, if that were true there would be no need for jails, since no crimes would be committed, fearing punishment from such a government.
The punishment from a government would certainly be more expedient than any such punishment you could receive from God, so why if the threat of government punishment is enough, are children raped and murdered everyday? This question would certainly have posed a problem for the leaders of any religion who's deity had rules against crime, and yet criminal activity continued. After all, how effective a religion can it be if your followers cannot even follow the rules set forth by the God they have sworn to follow? Many religions have solved this problem by declaring that all humans have free will.
Free will is defined as the power to act without the constraint of necessity or fate. The freedom to choose one's own actions, to self-determine. I don't want to spend too much time on the idea of free will, I recommend people read a book by Sam Harris called Free Will. The idea that humans have free will is illusory, our choices are dictated by brain chemistry. When faced with a fork in the road and the choice of going left or right, it would seem that such a choice would be a free one, after all, things being equal we have no idea what will happen if we choose one over the other, so nothing is truly influencing one choice over the other. It would make sense, that since either choice is a valid one, our choice to go right instead of left, is our choice.
The problem with that, is we assume there no delay in our choice to go right, and the time we consciously determine our course. We now know that this is simply not true at all. Neuroscientific research studies over the past few years have found that there is some delay between our actions and the time we become conscious of them. We seem to live in a world that is even crazier than one would imagine. The world you perceive is not happening in real-time as you might logically think, but everything is happening in a delay. Because of this delay, the brain is allowed to process thoughts and actions before choices are made, and it is because of this that free will is not really possible. By the time you consciously make a choice to touch the tip of your nose with your finger, the choice would have already been made by your brain, as to allow you the seamless transition between thought and action.
Because of this, it would seem that free will exists, but knowing that the action was decided before you even knew about it, then free will is merely an illusion. A simple test by researchers was done to disrupt the actions of a person, using magnets. When a powerful magnet is used on the brains of test subjects and they are asked to make a choice, the test subjects seemed unable to make this choice, or very often make the wrong one. What this shows is that our thought process, and our choices are merely a matter of biology and can be affected by environmental changes. Because of this, the idea of morality becomes less about some magic set of rules, and more about brain chemistry. Scientists studying the ventromedial prefrontal cortex have discovered the part of the brain that handles moral reasoning.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) done on patients who have suffered aneurisms in this region of the brain have shown defective reasoning skills when faced with moral dilemmas, again pointing to the idea of morality being chemical in nature, and not just some construct devised by man. The biggest problem with such findings are that this would seem to indicate that humans have no true moral responsibility at all, because if someone suffers brain damage or simply has a defect in that part of the brain, they are unable to make moral decisions, and are not responsible for their actions.
This could have serious consequences in how we treat criminals who have committed serious crimes against others, after all, if a person through no fault of their own has a defect in that region of the brain that causes poor moral reasoning, resulting in the harm of another person, how can we punish them as if the choice they made was really a choice at all? As Sam Harris points out, this does not mean sociopaths should not be segregated from society as a matter of common good. No one would conclude that even if an insane person was not responsible for committing a murder, by virtue of his insanity, that person should be set free upon the world, able to commit such a crime again.
I'd like to go over a few things from previous parts of my article merely as a matter of reiteration and a way to introduce a few other things as well.
In part one, I discuss some of the events of my childhood to show possible causal links to my choice as an atheist, but certainly not one that was made of free will of course. As I have pointed out the notion of free will as a reason to include or exclude choices is a completely illusory one. On this subject I will only say a few more words. Although our choices are our own, they are anything but freely made choices, and are determined by the same things that determine all aspects of our being. We are products of the chemistry that created our DNA and shaped by the events that have played out over the course of our lives. People who have read part one of my article seem horrified by some of its content, others religious in nature, seem to take the stance that religious loving homes are needed to produce religious loving humans.
I do not believe that it is necessarily true that religious homes, homes populated purely by religious families, are needed to produce religious children. Although it is certainly true that religious families tend to indoctrinate the children into their religion at a young age, and this certainly can determine the kind of belief system a person maintains throughout their life, I do not believe it is the only determining factor. I point out clearly in part one that I was introduced to religion at a young age. Both my parents maintained a religious view on things, both my grandparents maintained a religious view on things, my siblings and I were brought to a church to pray every week, and yet it is clear to me, none of that had any affect on my ability to make rational, reasonable decisions about my beliefs.
As I have pointed out, choices are all about brain chemistry, and surmise that had my brain had some kind of defect, a tumor, aneurism, malady, quite possibly it could have affected my ability to make a clear, rational choice about religion, and made it seem like a clear, rational choice. This statement will likely anger religious people who read this, so let me clarify, it is clear to me that decision making is a function of the brain and certainly one we have little true discretion in making, so while our choices again are our own, there is some component that is illusive to us, something that we cannot yet fully understand that determines why we choose the things we do, and why we don't choose the things we don't. And it is also clear to me that the scientific research we have done on this area of the brain shows environmental changes certainly affect the brain.
These changes can be things we can see like tumors, aneurisms, hematomas, medications, etc. but it is also likely true they are caused by things we cannot see, and as of yet cannot fully comprehend. I feel at this point that it is only fair to mention that some people do not find religion, until they feel the presence of God. And although I mention that we do not fully understand why the brain does the things it does, it seems slightly embarrassing to me, to believe that someone would choose to believe God made them religious, even if that choice was not consciously their own. I cannot even draw correlation to the suggestion in real world observations because it requires an act of supernatural magic to happen. The closest thing I can come to making sense of it is knowing wind is real completely based on feeling it hit you on a windy day.
And although this would seem to bolster religious belief, I must point out, wind exists whether we feel it or not, because we can test for it. We can make observations about it affects on the world. The existence of God is merely an assertion, not a hypothesis, and certainly not a theory.
I have received some criticism about the second part of my article because some religious people claim that a message of criticism is more easily swallowed if you are less critical. This to me is both contradictory and disingenuous. True criticism must be taken as much as it is given. If a religious person feels satisfactory in his criticism of atheism, he should also feel equally satisfactory with criticism of his religion. This of course doe not accurately depict reality. I challenge anyone to find too many atheists who strongly rebuff criticism about their disbelief of religion as much as any religious person does about their belief in religion.
Although I am certainly critical of the bible as I have expressed in detail in this article, I believe the criticisms are valid ones. Science should be equally criticized as religion and I am certainly one who does this when I see reason to do so. Not all science is right, nor should it be. Science is about exposing possibilities through how we observe our universe, it is not about making assumptions and asserting them to be true. When science makes mistakes, even if it appears to have been true based on the knowledge that was used to determine it at the time, it changes. Religion has remained the same because it does not have to play by the same rules. Religion relies entirely on a belief in an assertion that God exists, he made rules everyone must follow, he wrote a book that everyone must read, and to contradict this means eternal punishment.
Nothing about that allows for interpretation, and nothing about it can be refuted if you are a believer, because refuting any of it certainly means eternal punishment. Now as I have pointed out before, only the true fundamentalists belief in sticking to the doctrine as it is in written and taught to them. It is my belief most religious people today are progressive, sticking to the belief in God, but also believing that where the bible contradicts something about how they live, they ignore it. This I believe is how Christian homosexuals who still believe in God are able to keep that belief intact even in the face of a religion that seems bent on destroying them. The bible does truly state that homosexuality is an abomination, and although I dismiss such things as nonsense, being an atheist, I imagine a Christian who has come to realize he or she is homosexual, has some difficulty with it at first.
In some of part two I spent time talking about the games I played as a youth. I talked about how I played Dungeons and Dragons and a game called Magic the Gathering, both of which feature imaginary worlds filled with magic and magical creatures. As I explained, it made little sense to me that anyone who believed in the imaginary things already, would find it so offensive to enjoy entertainment that involved the imaginary. I realized of course that to the religious, their beliefs are not imaginary, and of course any depiction of imaginary things juxtaposed against the imaginary world of religious beliefs would show nonsensical correlation.
Now to be fair I must point out that many religious people allow their children to believe in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, and are able to separate them from religion without too much trouble. And although the belief in Santa Claus and God are clearly both delusional, it must also be made clear that although children outgrow their belief in Santa Claus, a belief in God lingers. The reason for this is clearly one of parental and societal affirmation. A parent who finds their child losing faith in Santa Claus is less inclined to stop it, than a parent who finds their child losing faith in God. As a child, I was one of the deluded who believed in Santa Claus until I found my mother asleep on the couch in our living room on Christmas morning, wrapping paper scattered about, and covered by the scooters that my younger brother and I had asked Santa Claus for Christmas.
It made little sense to me that my mother would be covered by wrapping paper that Santa Claus had used to wrap all of our presents, after all, wouldn't Santa Claus have had to have all the presents wrapped ahead of time in order to be able to deliver them on time. Having wrapped a few presents myself at that age I knew that the process could be somewhat lengthy and this made me very suspect of the whole situation. My mother was nice and tried to assert that Santa Claus had left her wrapping paper so she could wrap the presents she wanted to give us. I imagine that had my mother been more convincing, I might have believed in Santa Claus at least another year, but alas that was the end of that delusion.
The bible is full of contradictory information, contradictions about the world and the universe around us that are based on the beliefs of a culture who made observations about the world they lived in without the ability to test them at the time the book was written. A little over a hundred years ago, our belief about the universe was that we lived in the center of the universe surrounded by a galaxy of stars and nothing beyond it existed, based entirely on what we were able to observe.
But innovations in telescopic technologies along with advanced mathematics and a new understanding of gravity, allowed us to see farther than we had before, and contrary to our original observation of the universe, it was full of galaxies and full of stars. Our cultural beliefs are also dictated by observational changes, trends that change how we feel about things. At one time in our history we believed that blacks were worth 3/5 a person, and women were inferior to men in every way, but observations proved that such contentions were dubious at best, and ultimately changes in our social attitudes allowed us to recognize our fallible intentions and rectify them. Reasoning and rational thought are culturally pervasive, if they were not, we still might be living in the dark ages, or staring up at the sky wondering what those shiny things are above us. It is clear to me that fundamentalist followers are a minority and that gives me hope that one day reason will win out over ignorance, but I do not believe this will happen in my lifetime, and that fills me with sadness as well.
My intention with part two of this article was show how contrary information about what I was told and what I could observe ultimately helped lead me to atheism, but I still have doubts as to whether we are truly steering the ship that is our mind, or if it's truly steering us. There is certainly consciousness, Cogito ergo sum: I think, therefore I am. The idea of the “I” being the one thinking, therefore “I” must exist to have the thought. There has been much debate about this and I do not really want to go into it in great detail, whether we know what “I” really means or not, it matters not to the question of whether we exist in this conscious construct within our minds.
No one can say for sure where thought comes from, except that it certainly comes from our brain, but what process is in place that allows chemicals to become something more than chemistry alone? Sam Harris has suggested the idea that thoughts are merely constructed because if not, then for what reason does the mind exist at all? We have all experienced and continue to experience the thought process at work, suddenly without any reason at all, something will simply pop into your mind, seemingly out of no where. Now whether we understand it or not, something we may never really know, it happens, and it happens inside the brain and because of this it is certainly a product of biological and chemical nature at work.
Furthermore, it happens for a reason, even if we do not understand that reason, it happens nonetheless. Natural selection dictates that the things that exist in nature exist for a reason, and those with no purpose or having once served a purpose and no longer do, are discarded. So the notion of the self and the existence of consciousness exist for a reason, and the ubiquitous nature of thoughts also exist for a reason, and our innocence in this regard is merely a matter of ignorance to the inner workings of the brain.
I was surprised by the kind of response I received to part three, as it seemed to be mostly positive in nature, even from those who consider themselves religious. Surprised, because I depicted beliefs in the supernatural as nothing more than delusions, and even though they surely are, I was pleasantly surprised to learn so many were okay with that. I wanted to show that much of what makes us who we are is a matter of brain function. Our brains are truly amazing organs and although the religious might see this as an opportunity to point out how great God is he gave us such an amazing brain, I find it more amazing that a complex organ like the human brain can be useful as proof of the process of evolution.
People who ignore this, are also the people who don't really take the time to understand that the human brain is really three brains working harmoniously together expeditiously. The Cerebrum, which spans much of the cerebral cortex is responsible for the all the things that make us human, all those traits which allow us to differ from much of the other animals on Earth. The Cerebrum surrounds the other parts of the brain, the Cerebellum and Brain Stem. The Cerebellum, a more basic mammalian part of the brain, controls the functions that allow us to voluntarily move about and maintain balance in our environment. The Brain Stem, located in the center part of the brain surrounded by the rest of the brain, controls our most basic of functions, those which keep us alive, this part is referred to the R-Complex or reptilian part of the brain.
Working backwards peeling away the layers of the brain, one can easily see how the human brain could have evolved over time from the most basic primitive organ to the most complex one used to not only control the functions of our lives, but give us meaning and reason to exist. The idea of human ego is an important one because it allows us to conceptualize our own existence, even if we don't yet comprehend it. It sets us apart from the other animals on this planet who go about their lives much like we do, never truly knowing they have a place in this universe.
My attempt was to show that much of what we are is packed into that skull located on top of our body, and although the world exists whether we are here to observe it or not, our observations of it and the universe around it are clearly dictated by how it is perceived by our brains. Perception is everything, without an ability to see, hear, touch, taste, or smell the world around us, would we even know it existed at all? If a baby boy were taken from its mother and put in a 12' x 12' x 12' dark room, and left with an inexhaustible supply of food and water, and somehow this child were able to survive, when he reached adulthood his perception of the world would be that its a small dark room. Even though the world is clearly a much larger place, from his perception, its a 12' x 12' x 12' room. The food and water he needs to survive simply exists as if by magic, and he believes he is the only person in the entire world. However, because he is human, he would know he exists, and wonder what purpose his existence serves in this world of his.
Delusions of course come from the mind, the same as our dreams, the difference being delusional people believe the imaginary things they perceive. Delusional people don't necessarily have to believe their dreams are real of course, only that whatever delusion they experience differs from everything else they know to be imaginary. Remember that delusions are merely imagined beliefs someone perceives to be true. What I find most fascinating is that we treat delusional people for mental illness when they believe they see and hear something as silly as an invisible man who speaks to them and tries to influence their decisions, but we look the other way if that invisible man just happens to be God? Knowing that the only difference between the delusions of a mentally ill person and your belief in God happen to be such a small thing, what is the likelihood that God is merely the product of your imagination much like the invisible man is to the mentally ill person?
Although it is impossible to survive as a brain alone without all the other functional organs that make up your body, if it were possible, you would still be you, because your brain is you and you are your brain.
Understanding that the same brain chemistry that allows mentally ill patients to see invisible people, or talk to space aliens using a clarinet, is the same brain chemistry that allows a person to hear the voice or feel the presence of God. It is the same brain chemistry that allows our thoughts to become words or actions and dictate our moral choices. Our brain chemistry is responsible for all the discoveries and inventions that have ever come to pass from fire to spacecraft. Knowing all this, I find difficulty understanding when people take issue with things like homosexuality, because the same chemistry responsible for giving a person sexual preference is the same brain chemistry that gives a person their imaginary God.
A homosexual has little to do with choosing who they are sexually attracted to, much like a religious person has little choice in being delusional. Now before homosexuals take particular indifference to my comparison of their sexual preference to delusions, understand that my comparison isn't in the things themselves, but rather the chemistry that is certainly responsible for the brain to function as it does.
In part four of this article I wanted to give creationists a reason to believe something other than creation as a source for the existence of everything. Creationists are stuck in a very real quandary, balancing their belief in the bible as the word of God, and what they know to be true based on observational evidence. Creationists have a lot of reasons why they believe evolution is incorrect, but they have very little evidence and that poses a problem to the human brain, which through evolutionary development, seems destined to question everything.
I can only imagine what it must be like to try and convince yourself that the things you observe cannot be true, and simultaneously convince yourself the things you cannot observe must me true. I decided to fore go discussing the continuing contradictions and issues I have with religion, to instead give a short lesson on how the universe and life might actually work. Again for the most part, my lesson was well received by the people who have read it and although some of it seems extraordinary, when we look at the universe and the world we live in, these are the things that we observe to be true.
Can science ever truly be sure about how things work, not really, because science is only there to give us the best possible answers based on experimentation and the observations we can make. A scientist who tells you he knows for sure how everything came to be, is a scientist who is not being truthful to science. That is precisely the difference between a scientist and a religious person, a scientist is unsure of how everything came to be, and a religious person is absolutely sure about how everything came to be. The mantra of science is “Question everything.” The mantra of religion is “Question nothing, believe only what you have been told.”
I began this part of the article talking about religion and advertising and moved into a discussion of equality. I left much of my thoughts on equality until this last part because I believe it is so divisive an issue that to bring up a serious discussion of it earlier meant less people might read what I have to say later, but hopefully the people who have stuck around until the end can put aside their divisive nature to allow me to actually get to the end.
I began my life as a Christian, at least the evidence I have suggests that this is accurate. I was raised by Christians who themselves were raised by Christians, but I am not a Christian. If I believe that my choices, however much they seem to be mine, are not truly my own, but rather the machinations of a mind that thinks for me, as must be true, if the thought must first be processed by the mind in order to become that thought I consciously have, then all of us are really riding a roller coaster with no knowledge about its destination.
I must admit the proposition of such a thing does seem to be scary, but when you consider the very nature of the universe, it seems perfectly aligned with everything else. Now you can choose to believe God magically pooped you into existence if you like, and none of this makes any difference to you, if you do. But if you take a moment and realize the universe is the way it is, because it is the way it is, then it makes sense that we too are simply the way we are, because we are the way we are. Once you realize this, the differences between us are meaningless and there are no differences, not really. We all came from the same place, we all exist for the same reasons and our brains are chemically all the same. The subtle stuff, that's the stuff people seem to get hung up on, and the stuff responsible for the hatred, bigotry, and violence throughout the world.
I know that I have spent most of my time discussing Christianity as a source of particular issue, but let me be clear, religion in general is the issue and my reason for choosing Christianity as a source for discussion has more to do with my knowledge in this area and an admitted ignorance of some other religions. Although the Islamic religion is certainly filled with nonsense as much as Christianity, I find that much of what I know of this religion comes not from personal experience, but from the perceptions of other people.
I have taken the time to read some passages of the Quaran, and from what I've read, much like the Bible it disturbs me. Of particular note, pedophilia seems rampant in the Quaran, something that is not really found in the Bible, and although the Bible is full of violence as is the Quaran, the message I took from the Quaran was one that was more accepting of violence toward non-believers, something Jesus was against. I confess I didn't read the Quaran back to front, nor would I want to, I can't imagine anyone wanting to read through that much nonsense. For all I know, the Quaran contains as many messages about love as it does about hate, but I am unable to speak on such things, as practically every passage I read involved violence.
I live my life like a scientist, I make observations about the world I live in, and everything I know tells me that God does not exist. And the best argument I can make for disbelief is that it would be simple for God to prove he exists. If God was able to to create the universe and the world and everything in it in a few days, than how hard is it to leave us some kind of evidence that points to his existence?
I can hear all the religious people right now, “What about trees? Only God can make a tree.” It's that kind of nonsense that pisses off most atheists more than anything. I want irrefutable proof of his existence, which should be easy, and yet when we look everywhere we find nothing that cannot be explained by scientific alternatives. I know that dinosaurs existed because we have a fossil record that dates back 540 million years, which is irrefutable proof that the Bible depiction of a world that is only 6,000 years old is false. If such evidence exists that disproves the accounts of religious doctrine, why does no such evidence exist as prove of it? Occam's Razor, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one, and in this case the simplest explanation is no such evidence exists.
I have been told that one day God will appear to me and prove that I am wrong. If I am wrong, I invite God to disprove me. I must admit however, that seeing God will most likely make me believe I am simply delusional, and seek treatment to aid me. Perception is not always reality, but reality is perception. Just because I can see something or hear something no one else can, does not make it reality. And should God appear to me as I have been told by many religious people, he will still need to prove to me that he exists, and I am old and weary of magic tricks.
"I would challenge anyone here to think of a question upon which we once had a scientific answer, however inadequate, but for which now the best answer is a religious one." - Sam Harris