The Tree of Life

“Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever…”

I find it fascinating that in the bible’s story of the fall of man, the reason god gives for banishing humanity from their original home in the Garden of Eden is that they could become immortal by eating from the tree of life. This tree is first mentioned in the previous chapter, where it’s said to be in the midst of the garden with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, there is no prohibition against eating from it. Adam and Eve were prohibited from obtaining knowledge of good and evil, and told that doing so would kill them. Yet even after breaking this command the possibility still existed for them to become immortal, so god had to kick them out and guard his special trees with a flaming sword in order to make his threat of death come true.

The bible’s tree of life is just an ancient story, almost certainly borrowed from some earlier mythology like most of the bible is. What I’ll be talking about this time is the real tree of life…the family tree of all life on earth.800px-phylogenetic_tree-svg Continue reading

Letter to the Religious

pexels-photo-211290This letter is for my Christian family and friends, but may be relevant to any other religious person who happens to read it. Due to recent conversations and comments, I think I should talk about a few things and clarify my position.

Hello. I’m a secular humanist. I think all religions are made up by humans, because none of them have produced evidence beyond ancient books and lots of hearsay. None of them have given me any good reason to think their gods are real, and in fact most of them make claims that contradict observable reality.

However, I used to be a completely serious Christian. Contrary to what I’m often told by Christians who are aspiring (and failing) to be mind-readers, I did in fact want to believe in god, and I did not leave because of some bad experience or because I was never saved or because I wanted to sin. The only reason I got where I am now is because I was open-minded and genuinely wanted to know the truth, so that I could more effectively spread the religion I was indoctrinated to propagate. I just wanted to find the true version of Christianity, never imagining that the true version would be fictional.

I really did believe, and my deconversion was something that happened to me despite my desires at the time. Believing something you know to be false isn’t easy, even if you really want to believe it. By attempting to become the best Christian I could be, I set myself on a path straight out of the religion. I learned that the bible is riddled with demonstrably false claims and internal contradictions, and after studying it deeply I couldn’t ignore that the god portrayed therein was the most evil character I’d ever seen. I really had no choice. As the evidence piled up that the bible was untrustworthy, I still believed in a god, and I prayed, trusting that he would set the record straight.

He never did.

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Responding to Christian Reason

337678_357962984231725_811981445_o-1I came across this blog post by a Christian and thought it warranted a detailed answer, so I have written one.

Quote: “But to look out at creation and proclaim: “I know there is no Creator!” is beyond me. How do you know?

I actually fall in the agnostic category mentioned earlier in the article. It is irrational to make the absolute claim that there are no supernatural things, or to make any claim about how the universe started. There is not enough data to confirm anything about those ideas. That’s why I generally avoid the atheist label even though it technically applies.

However, there are ways to rule out specific hypotheses. If someone proposes a deity who interacts with the reality we are able to observe and test, and offers specific claims about the nature of said deity, all we must do is observe reality and compare the results to what we would expect if such a deity existed. Suppose I claim there’s a deity that will heal people’s sickness if I pray for them to be healed. We could run a simple experiment in which I pray for one group of sick people and not for a different group, and see if there’s any difference in their recovery. This sort of experiment has actually been done with Christians multiple times, and has shown prayer to be useless.

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The Young-Earth Creationist’s Problem with Evidence

early_cretaceous_plant_fossilsThe whole basis of young earth creationist (YEC) arguments, and indeed the only way they can even begin to make a case for their so-called viewpoint, is the idea that nothing can be known about geological history based on the analysis of rocks. This idea is so fundamental to the case for a young earth that vast amounts of evidence must be brutally twisted or completely ignored, and the entire field of geology is reduced to nothing. It’s really more of a non-viewpoint, since they refuse to do any viewing and their point is empty and self-defeating.

Let’s take a moment to consider the strange irony of people worshiping as absolute truth an ancient human-produced document of dubious origins, claiming that the world is direct evidence of their god…and then utterly denying the possibility of learning truth from ancient rocks formed by predictable natural forces that we’ve been studying for a long time now and can actually observe in progress today. The cognitive dissonance of such a position blows my mind.

There are numerous things we can learn from the rocks, fossils, and other features on our planet. I mentioned varves in a recent article–they are particularly compelling because the evidence of their age is the very physical stuff they’re made from. They show clearly defined seasonal layers that contain the pollen, flowers, and fruit of plants, as well as many other substances representing specific times of year. We have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that varve layers are of annual nature, some that are still forming today have more than ten thousand layers, and we have unearthed well-preserved ancient varves covering millions of years of environmental history.

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The Backward Thinking of Creationists

puddle-thinkingThere are a few arguments commonly used by opponents of evolution to postulate the need for a god. I wrote recently about the cosmological argument, and there are a few others that are particularly annoying because they involve such backward reasoning.

The first is the argument from design, or the “fine-tuning” argument. It notes the truth that if any one of various physical constants were to change by a small amount, life as we know it would be impossible, and based on this truth assumes that those constants must have been set at the beginning of the universe for the purpose of allowing the existence of life.

Douglas Adams satirized this argument with his story of the sentient puddle. The reasoning is obviously backward; water changes shape to fit into a hole that existed before it arrived. Likewise, the physical processes that produce what we call life change to fit the environment that existed before they arrived. This is why many animals have evolved very detailed camouflage that is specific to their habitat, and why you don’t find chameleons in Antarctica or whales in the Sahara.

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The Seed of the Universe, and What Followed

Milky Way in Antarctica

I wanted to do something special for my hundredth article, and then I had this idea and thought it qualified. Here’s to celebrating a hundred articles of skepticism, and hoping for a hundred more!

The universe seed, unbelievably tiny compared to what it will become, is made of an extremely dense homogeneous material. When the seed abruptly expands in the first few nanoseconds, its material clumps together into particles like minuscule bubbles. The particles react with each other, and as the newborn universe becomes much less dense, the temperature drops and reactions change. The particles tend to stick together, sometimes merging to form larger composite particles, sometimes destroying each other. As this process continues, it results in something that will eventually be the nucleus of a simple atom that an intelligent clump of particles called Antoine Lavoisier will name hydrogen.

At this point, the baby universe is about one millisecond old. It continues to grow.

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How the Bible Goes Wrong: In the Beginning

"And god said, let there be an awkward two-legged naked ape that has the most impressive brain on the planet and still believes in absolute nonsense."

“And god said, let there be an awkward two-legged naked ape that has the most impressive brain on the planet and still believes in absolute nonsense.”

This is the first of at least five articles I plan to write about the specific reasons I cannot accept the bible as fully true or inspired by a god. I put a huge amount of time over several years into studying it, and my goal all along was to reach the deepest and most objective understanding as possible. If you want to know how it feels to write about this, imagine a white Southern Baptist writing a serious article examining why they personally stopped believing in Islam.

During the entire time I studied the bible, I was a Christian and had no intention to stop believing, only to find the truth no matter what it turned out to be. Thus, most of the things I will say in these articles are not the conclusions of a nonbeliever reading a bible he’s already decided is untrue, but rather the things I learned as a Christian that ultimately led me out of the religion.

These are the reasons I stopped believing. It has taken me almost a year to reach a point where I think I can articulate them clearly. I first had to admit to myself that I was no longer a Christian. Then I had to grow a little in my new position by discussing these issues with both Christians and non-Christians, listening to what they had to say, and thinking about how exactly to put my concerns into words that hopefully most people will understand.

To kick off the series, I will start in the beginning, with the bible’s account of creation and the next several chapters of Genesis.

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