Saturday, April 19, 2008

My atheism

On a message board I used to haunt, and now only do so infrequently (don't quite know why). A post was made asking the board members what their religion, or 'belief system' was, what the predominant belief system was of the people they knew, and finally what it was for the region. A final question was posted, asking what the individual poster's view on atheists was. (I know, the grammar nazi's are going to kill me for that sentence.)

Here's my, fairly long, response to that final question.

"Seeing as I am an atheist I tend to have a pretty positive view of them. I was raised in a ultra-fundamentalist family but once I realized how much I'd been lied to about reality, I converted first to deism, then became an agnostic, and eventually an atheist. I'm part of the "I know I can't prove there is no god; but I find the concept of a god very highly unlikely" atheist crowd. Like Carl Sagan said, "Extraordinary claims, require extraordinary evidence"; having witnessed the death of my god (my conception of god at least) I'm unlikely to take on another without evidence.

I'm one of the more outspoken atheists, mainly because I live in a place that is SO Christian. Many of the people I know from the 'old days' would be quite happy with a Christian Theocracy. So I've become outspoken mainly as an attempt to give other non-Christians around me (atheist, agnostic, deist, poly/monotheists) knowledge that there is someone else who disagrees with the fundies. Not so much outspoken trying to prove there is no god (see my previous statement), but outspoken to provide resistance against the Christians who I know who are quite in love with the idea of that theocracy (not every Christian believes this I know).

My other reason for being outspoken is that as a chemist, with an interest in many of the other fields of science, and the scientific method in general, I see the (again this is among the ultra-fundamentalists) derision and scorn poured out on science and the scientific method. I fear another period similar to the Dark Ages if these theocratic minded Christians ever truly gained enough power; because of their scorn for reason based investigation and methodology.

That said, I don't believe in the idea of making it illegal to believe in the supernatural. Our species has used the supernatural for tens of thousands of years to explain the unknown. But, when a person's belief begins to go into the area of telling others what they can/cannot do I begin to worry. I believe it was the biologist PZ Myers who said that he thought that religion should become something like a knitting circle. Not interfering with people who don't want to knit (believe), but not made illegal by any stretch of the imagination.

As a chemist/scientist I find an amazing sense of wonder and awe at the universe around me. Both on the astronomical scale, and the molecular scale. The awe and joy I find in observing those is richer, and for me, purer than anything I experienced in my days as a theist."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Thus Spake Zarathustra

I should probably recommend that you turn on the music for 2001: A Space Odyssey.   The main title track is named after this book.  So here are some passages I thought fascinating, 
I'm reading from a edition published by "A Wlco Book" which is appearently based in India.  
I picked it up at Borders for $7 or so.

From Zarathustra's Prologue Chapter 3
"All beings hitherto have created something beyond themselves: and ye want to be the ebb of that great tide, and would rather go back to the beast than surpass man?

What is the ape to man?  A laughing-stock, a thing of shame.  And just the same shall man be to the Superman: a laughing-stock, a thing of shame.

Ye have made your way from the worm to man, and much within you is still worm. Once were ye apes, and even yet man is more of an ape than any of the apes."

Interesting take on evolution.  'On the Origin of Species' was published in 1859, and by 1881 Nietzsche had written a book which dealt with the idea of being something more.

I recently (last fall) read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn and was fascinated by his idea of being a "Leaver" instead of a "Taker".   Having been raised in an environment where it was taught that we were to subjugate the earth, and it wasn't uncommon to hear other Christians mock people who were worried about taking care of the Earth ('it's all gonna get destroyed anyway when God comes back'); this book was a breath of fresh air.  One of the better things about growing up in Missouri was the focus in the State on conservation.    So, I'd already had at least a tendency to lean towards the idea of taking care of the planet we live in.   Quinn's postulation that we quit evolving (with the Earth/other creatures at least) was a very interesting idea.     What if we had stayed as hunter/gatherers?   Well, for sure I wouldn't be writing this sitting in my room lit by compact fluorescent bulbs.   But, Quinn also asks the question (paraphrased) "Is it possible to use and enjoy technology for mankind without being Takers?".     I think it is; work being done in alternative fuels (come-on I know Ethanol isn't worth it but there 'are' other ideas out there that seem possible), and 
hopefully more research into space colonization will help reduce the burden we put on ourselves
(pollution) and on our environment (pollution, excess waste, etc).   

But back to the topic.   I find Nietzsche's concept of a "Superman" or a evolutionary 'next man' if you will quite interesting.   What might this evolutionary decendent of man be like?   Later in Zarathustra Niezsche said: (In chapter 4 of Zarathustra's Prologue)
"I love those who do not first seek a reason beyond the stars for going down and being sacrifices, but sacrifice themselves to the earth, that the earth of the Superman may hereafter arrive.

I love him who liveth in order to know, and seeketh to know in order that the Superman may hereafter live.  Thus seeth he his own going down."

and a few lines later:

"I love him who is ashamed when the dice fall in his favour, and who then asketh: 'Am I a dishonest player?' - for he is willing to succumb.

I love him who scattereth golden words in advance of his deeds, and always doeth more than he promiseth: for his seeketh his own down-going."

Nietzsche used this theme of "down-going' or 'succumbing' in this chapter it seems as a way to describe mankind evolving into something more than itself and in turn standing by the side as countless other species have done before.    The virtues he describes, lack of pride, looking out that we are honest to the n'th degree, searching for knowledge, and it seems the lack of a need for a supernatural explanation for existance; are things I think quite worthy of striving for.   Who wouldn't want the world to be filled with people who were humble, unerringly honest, seekers for truth?   The problem comes in that first line; those who don't look to the heavens (beyond the stars) for their reason for living.   

The world is filled with those who think that this life is 'filthy' or 'dirty' and just one stop along the way to a paradise where everything will be perfect and the 'old man' (the fleshly body) will be thrown aside for some imagined perfect body.    So why bother about taking care of the planet for our kids, and grandkids, and whatever humanity will evolve into?     Why worry that someday we might actually do enough harm to the planet in our quest for rule over it that we can't live on it?    
If we look beyond the stars (to heaven) for our reason for existing then we wouldn't have to worry about that.   But it's when we realize that God is an imaginary, made up construct that used to suffice as a way to explain the world; and that religion no longer holds the "Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything" (The Answer is 42 of course) that we are able to look at ourselves, our posterity,
and our overuse of resources as motivation to do something about it.

In my case, my interest in "doing something about it" is to devote my life to research (and hopefully teaching) in chemistry.   I might not develop the next great breakthrough in fuels, or nanostructred materials.  But, maybe as I attempt to learn to live with less impact and teach others; I'll be able to motivate the next Einstein, Bohr, Raman, Newton, etc.    Or maybe be plugging away every day I'll come up with something that will help.     We can go back to being gatherers (dependent upon the whims of the sun and weather); which could be catastrophic in the terms of how many people would die in the process.  Or we can go forward, get out of this rut we've been in for a couple thousand years thinking that "The End is Near" and go about thinking about ways to make use of the environment/resources we have in a fashion that even if we never left Earth would leave flora/fauna and resources for our posterity, and maybe we'll be looked back on as the forefathers/mothers of a new species that surpasses us.

**I know..  A bit of woo there from a scientist.  But, dreaming and vision drive us.   I also come from a very religious background so its been very hard to drive all the tendency to think that way out of my mind.   It is a work in progress.**

Cleaning House

So, I've gone through my old posts. I've changed a lot over the last year and a half or so and decided I wanted my blog to reflect who I am, and some of what I've changed from. However, I didn't want the anger, and fustration of old to be how people saw me. I've got all the posts saved for reference if need be. But, I like the new me a lot more.

Do I get fustrated with people?  Sure, all the time.  Do I still dislike stupidity a lot?  Heck yeah.   Do I foam at the mouth like I used to about stuff.  I sure hope not.

I went from internally questioning my faith for years without realizing what I was doing; to finally realizing it and learning how to ask questions about ever other assumption that I'd made.   

This has changed me.  I hope, and think, for the better.  Maybe it is the fact that time has aged me slightly as well.   Along the way I've read some books, thought (for me) deep thoughts, read deeper thoughts.  Learned to get along with my family (even with extreme philosophical/religious differences), and learned to laugh, smile and enjoy life each day.   

I've been reading "Thus Spake Zarathustra" (it's a nice break from Chemistry of Environmental Systems II, and research), recently.  It's complex, fasinating; and interesting to see Nietzsche's influence on modern thought.

I'll post some of the sections that I thought were most fasinating and what I think was so fasinating about them in a later post.   

Meanwhile, I've finished my undergrad degree.  Right now I'm working on my Master's instead of trying to go straight to PhD school.  Reasons are mainly that I have low enough self-esteem that I don't think I could get into PhD school without extra help.  This help I plan on getting in the way of a M.S. in Chemistry with a thesis, research (and hopefully), my name on a few more papers.    
I figure this will help overcome my appearant lack of skill when it comes to organic chemistry.   

Speaking of which.   I mentioned once apon an aeon that I'd post here if I ever got published (or at least contributed to a paper which was published).

So here goes.  The first paper I get to have my name on.

Penumetcha, Sai S.; Kona, Ravikanth; Hardin, Jonathan L.; Molder, Andrew L.; Steinle, Eric D. "Monitoring Transport Across Modified Nanoporous Alumina Membranes" Sensors, 2007, 7, 2942-2952.  

You can read it here.   It's probably only interesting reading to boring people like me.  But, exciting non-the-less.

**Edit** Arg!!!!  For some reason Blogger is seeing either just not wanting to do normal word-wrap editing, or it's seeing Opera weirdly.   But on my screen at least I have several lines which run WAY over their normal length and others which run WAY under.   I apologize for this.  The previous editor has been sacked in the off chance it was his fault.