Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Using Compassion and Reason (Not Atheism) to Guide My Life

"I believe in the religion of reason -- the gospel of this world; in
the development of the mind, in the accumulation of intellectual
wealth, to the end that man may free himself from superstitious
fear, to the end that he may take advantage of the forces of nature
to feed and clothe the world."
- Robert Ingersoll

When I was young, I was enthralled by mythology – Greek, Roman, Norse, Christian. To me, the heroic feats of the mortals, the power of the gods, and the glimpses of histories and people of the past were fascinating and inspirational. One day, when I was about 12, I asked my church youth leader about the ancient myths I adored, and was told “those aren’t real, nobody believes them anymore.” But when I asked for a better reason, he couldn’t give me any for why they weren’t true, other than the fact that they were old and they had no followers. I knew intellectually that they were just made-up stories, but I began to realize that there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between the stories of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and the stories I was hearing every Sunday in church.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the comparisons between the different religions, mythologies and gods. I worked my way through a lot of doubt, confusion and frustration to realize that all the religions – from the ancients to the modern day – were not all that different, and all were attempting to explain the unexplainable, understand the unknown, and provide comfort and guidance for their followers. You may scoff at the idea of dozens of quarrelling gods living on the top of a mountain and occasionally descending to the mortal level to interact with and influence the human cause – but is that so different from what is described in “modern” religions?

Atheism is not a “faith system” like Christianity or Islam. It’s a conclusion, based on rational enquiry, that there are no gods. Atheism is a descriptor of a personal viewpoint, but it is not the sum total of a person’s worth or commitment to life. I use my reason and intellect to examine the way humans interact, and how I wish to be seen and treated in the world. My ethics come from a sense of connectedness to not only the rest of humanity, but to the rest of the universe. Life is cruelty and compassion, heartlessness and joy, tragedy and triumph. I don’t need a supernatural guiding hand to be helpful, reasonable and kind – just awareness that others have feelings and needs. I don’t need a deity’s threatening tirades to avoid causing unnecessary pain and suffering – just a rational compassion and empathy towards the rest of humanity.

I have taken the next step in understanding my beliefs by contemplating and understanding the reasons for why one would not consider any other religion but their own “true”. Try applying the same criteria to your own beliefs, and in doing so, you may just realize that there isn’t any real difference – and make the leap of faith to atheism yourself.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Messiah

No commentary, just read the column below:

From: The London Times

And it came to pass, in the eighth year of the reign of the evil Bush the Younger (The Ignorant), when the whole land from the Arabian desert to the shores of the Great Lakes had been laid barren, that a Child appeared in the wilderness.

The Child was blessed in looks and intellect. Scion of a simple family, offspring of a miraculous union, grandson of a typical white person and an African peasant. And yea, as he grew, the Child walked in the path of righteousness, with only the occasional detour into the odd weed and a little blow.

When he was twelve years old, they found him in the temple in the City of Chicago, arguing the finer points of community organisation with the Prophet Jeremiah and the Elders. And the Elders were astonished at what they heard and said among themselves: “Verily, who is this Child that he opens our hearts and minds to the audacity of hope?”

In the great Battles of Caucus and Primary he smote the conniving Hillary, wife of the deposed King Bill the Priapic and their barbarian hordes of Working Class Whites.

And so it was, in the fullness of time, before the harvest month of the appointed year, the Child ventured forth - for the first time - to bring the light unto all the world.

He travelled fleet of foot and light of camel, with a small retinue that consisted only of his loyal disciples from the tribe of the Media. He ventured first to the land of the Hindu Kush, where the
Taleban had harboured the viper of al-Qaeda in their bosom, raining terror on all the world.

And the Child spake and the tribes of Nato immediately loosed the Caveats that had previously bound them. And in the great battle that ensued the forces of the light were triumphant. For as long as the Child stood with his arms raised aloft, the enemy suffered great blows and the threat of terror was no more.

From there he went forth to Mesopotamia where he was received by the great ruler al-Maliki, and al-Maliki spake unto him and blessed his Sixteen Month Troop Withdrawal Plan even as the imperial warrior Petraeus tried to destroy it.

And lo, in Mesopotamia, a miracle occurred. Even though the Great Surge of Armour that the evil Bush had ordered had been a terrible mistake, a waste of vital military resources and doomed to end in disaster, the Child's very presence suddenly brought forth a great victory for the forces of the light.

And the Persians, who saw all this and were greatly fearful, longed to speak with the Child and saw that the Child was the bringer of peace. At the mention of his name they quickly laid aside their intrigues and beat their uranium swords into civil nuclear energy ploughshares.

From there the Child went up to the city of Jerusalem, and entered through the gate seated on an ass. The crowds of network anchors who had followed him from afar cheered “Hosanna” and waved great palm fronds and strewed them at his feet.

In Jerusalem and in surrounding Palestine, the Child spake to the Hebrews and the Arabs, as the Scripture had foretold. And in an instant, the lion lay down with the lamb, and the Israelites and Ishmaelites ended their long enmity and lived for ever after in peace.

As word spread throughout the land about the Child's wondrous works, peoples from all over flocked to hear him; Hittites and Abbasids; Obamacons and McCainiacs; Cameroonians and Blairites.

And they told of strange and wondrous things that greeted the news of the Child's journey. Around the world, global temperatures began to decline, and the ocean levels fell and the great warming was over.

The Great Prophet Algore of Nobel and Oscar, who many had believed was the anointed one, smiled and told his followers that the Child was the one generations had been waiting for.

And there were other wonderful signs. In the city of the Street at the Wall, spreads on interbank interest rates dropped like manna from Heaven and rates on credit default swaps fell to the ground as dead birds from the almond tree, and the people who had lived in foreclosure were able to borrow again.

Black gold gushed from the ground at prices well below $140 per barrel. In hospitals across the land the sick were cured even though they were uninsured. And all because the Child had pronounced it.

And this is the testimony of one who speaks the truth and bears witness to the truth so that you might believe. And he knows it is the truth for he saw it all on CNN and the BBC and in the pages of The New York Times.

Then the Child ventured forth from Israel and Palestine and stepped onto the shores of the Old Continent. In the land of Queen Angela of Merkel, vast multitudes gathered to hear his voice, and he preached to them at length.

But when he had finished speaking his disciples told him the crowd was hungry, for they had had nothing to eat all the hours they had waited for him.

And so the Child told his disciples to fetch some food but all they had was five loaves and a couple of frankfurters. So he took the bread and the frankfurters and blessed them and told his disciples to feed the multitudes. And when all had eaten their fill, the scraps filled twelve baskets.

Thence he travelled west to Mount Sarkozy. Even the beauteous Princess Carla of the tribe of the Bruni was struck by awe and she was great in love with the Child, but he was tempted not.

On the Seventh Day he walked across the Channel of the Angles to the ancient land of the hooligans. There he was welcomed with open arms by the once great prophet Blair and his successor, Gordon the Leper, and his successor, David the Golden One.

And suddenly, with the men appeared the archangel Gabriel and the whole host of the heavenly choir, ranks of cherubim and seraphim, all praising God and singing: “Yes, We Can.”

Monday, July 28, 2008

Comments on the Iraq War

I want to make a few comments about the Iraq War and the Bush policies. Too many people demonstrate an appallingly bad understanding of the history of the Iraq war and the failed policies that led up to the current debacle. Additionally, they usually have an amazingly poor grasp of the logistics and the realities of post-war occupational requirements.

One guy who takes this view on the CED Yahoo group is "Steve". He said:

> case in point, it took President Bush to send more troops to win in
> Iraq. Military leaders had deceived themselves into believing that we
> had sent plenty of troops as they did in Vietnam.

Actually, all of the professional military leaders at the time DID support a far greater number of troops than Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et al wanted. In fact, GEN Colin Powell, GEN Eric Shinseki, and numerous other senior military leaders argued that the number needed was on the order of "several hundred thousand".

Guess what:

Cheney was never in the military.
Rumsfeld was never in the military.
Wolfowitz was never in the military.
Bush served as a pilot in the Air National Guard (and never
got above the rank of 1st Lieutenant)

The problem with the combat troop estimates that were actually used by the Bush administration is that the theorists who dreamed them up (Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz) didn't understand military and political history.

The only reason Bush and company had to send in the additional troops ("the Surge") was because they failed entirely to understand at the beginning what it would take to not only defeat Saddam's military and depose him, but what it would take to secure a country larger than the size of California that had no government, porous borders, and a mixed ethnic makeup of three historically feuding groups.

Did we have enough troops (~100,000 combat troops) to defeat Saddam and topple his government? Yes. In fact, I would argue that we could have done it just as quickly with just as effective an outcome using only 30,000 combat troops. There isn't a military on earth than can stand toe-to-toe with the US and survive.

But the planners failed to plan for what was left AFTER the combat -- they used too-thick rose-colored glasses, and assumed we'd be hailed as "liberators" and "heros". Unfortunately, not every Iraqi felt that way, and when the provisional government (led by another non-military man -- Paul Bremer) disbanded the military and "de-Bathified" all the remaining political and social structures, they left the door open for a massive wave of fear, anarchy and chaos to set in.

In fact, IMHO, the only reason the "surge" is working with as few additional troops as we've got is because the majority of Iraqis have finally gotten tired of killing and violence, and are simply trying to find a way to survive.

If we had gone with the advice of the PROFESSIONAL MILITARY COMMANDERS and used 300,000-400,000 troops to invade, there wouldn't have been the massive insurgency, there would not have been the violence, and there would not have been need of a 5 year "war". It would have been over in two to three years, with far fewer US and Iraqi casualties, far less bitterness and hatred, and far less meddling from Iran, Turkey and Syria. In fact, it is quite possible that if we had used the appropriate number of troops, we would currently have a stable, democratic, US-friendly nation that was self-sufficient and economically profitable by now.

Instead, we've got a sloppy mess of slimy crap that Bush et al. have "gifted" to the next president. Is it getting better - yes. But far slower and with far more damage and destruction than was ever necessary.

FWIW -- I was in Baghdad only a few weeks after Baghdad fell, and I was able to walk the streets without body armor, purchase goods at local stores, talk with the people on the sidewalk, etc. It was only after the disastrous policies of Bush and Bremer (tied in with the lack of supporting troop presence) that we were forced to retreat to hardened bunkers and heavy weaponry.

"Steve" continues:

> And guess what,
> President Bush believes in Jesus Christ as Creator, Savior, and Master.

And he was also only a first lieutenant in the National Guard. So belief in a deity has more bearing on the ability to successfully lead a theater-scale warfront than actual senior-level military command leadership experience? Does "Steve" really think that -- seriously?

> You know, if more people were biblical Christians in the
> military, they would be smart enough to know how to build a strong
> army without insulting, berating and tearing down the people they may
> have to go to war with.

I have to guess, but I don't think "Steve" has ever been in the military. He's never been to boot camp, or he would know that the whole purpose of basic training is to insult, berat and tear down the people they may have to go to war with in order to "rebuild" them with the training, capabilities and experiences needed to survive it. It's harsh, violent and extremely difficult -- but so is warfare. And if you can't handle the rigors of basic training, how can you expect to function when faced with real life-and-death combat situations (like we read about every day in from Iraq)?

And trust me, there are plenty of "biblical Christians" in the military. In fact, that may be part of the problem, because they see the Middle East as the site of Armmageddon, and don't have too many problems creating chaos and dischord there to (possibly) promote World War III. It's frightening to hear some of the statements by the believers in uniform on the subject.

I was an atheist in the US Army for 15 years, and I can't tell you how many times I had to listen to officially sanctioned and mandated prayers, Christian religious services and forced theism in that time. And the worst was when I was over in Iraq and Kuwait.

> And guess what, that kind of survival fittest
> mentality has done nothing but make you and those like you look very, very bad.

I'll also bet "Steve" has never experienced war. It's too bad -- it might help him understand the basics of logistics, political reality and military necessity. As it stands, "Steve" really needs to go back and re-read history -- especially of the last 40 years in American warfare.

His claims are wrong (in some cases, so bad that they aren't even wrong).

And that sort of ignorance, ineptitude and poor historical understanding are what got us into the Iraq situation in the first place.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Are Collapsing Cranes a Punishment from God?

Cranes have been falling over in what appears to be unusually high numbers across the country this year, and now it appears we might know why. Houston, NYC, Iowa, Las Vegas, Wyoming, Maryland, Kansas City, Denver . . . and now in Oklahoma. God apparently has it in for those who try to build tall things -- like church steeples.

Apparently, old guys in cars aren't immune to God's wrath -- he was a member of the church, and was crushed to death while watching the new steeple getting (unsuccessfully) installed. I really feel bad for his family and his surviving wife (who was in the car with him, but survived). It's a tragedy when anyone dies of random causes.

But consider -- was this random? Don't you think that God could protect a follower from such a horrific and tragic death? And why would He not allow the steeple to be installed? Does God have something against that particular church or their sect - or is it something against Christianity in general?

Things like this have happened before. In 2007, an EF-5 tornado ripped through the small town of Greensburg, Kansas, leaving death and destruction in it's wake. Nearly all the churches, schools, homes and businesses were demolished. Yet, in all that devastation, one building was left nearly intact: the Bar H Tavern (it was used as a makeshift morgue after the tornado).

Apparently, God wants to save the bars and destroy the churches and schools. Either that, or crane collapses, tornados and other disasters are simply the random occurances of chance that we all have to risk in life, and there is no godly intent involved.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

PZ went and did it!

The cracker is now dead.

(for the religiots -- wait three days)

The cracker won't "rise again" because it was unleavened bread.

It was a wonderfully enlightening essay on the history of "host desecration" that I hope every cracker worshipper will read and take to heart. And the final act of PZ's defiance - putting the rusty nail through the wafer and throwing it in the trash, was poetically apropos. Of course, the pages from the Koran and the God Delusion were simply icing on the cake (cheese on the cracker?).

As he says in the final paragraph:

"Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything. God is not great,
Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic
prophet. You are all human beings who must make your way through your life by thinking and learning, and you have the job of advancing
humanities' knowledge by winnowing out the errors of past generations and finding deeper understanding of reality. You will not find wisdom in
rituals and sacraments and dogma, which build only self-satisfied
ignorance, but you can find truth by looking at your world with
fresh eyes and a questioning mind."

It will be interesting to see the depth of hatred, threats and personal insults hurled at Dr. Myers over the next few days, once this gets out further into "intertubes" space. For his own sake, given the threats of physical harm and death (I'm completely ignoring the threats to his "eternal soul" -- since he doesn't have one), I hope he's taken steps to protect himself (notifying law enforcement, being extra vigilant when traveling, keeping a cell phone handy at all times, etc).

The only benefit of religion I've ever found

I've never seen much good in religion, except for one example while I was stationed overseas. I spent 15 years in the US Army (mostly the Iowa National Guard), including a year over in Kuwait on Active Duty. Not once during that time did I consider taking up a belief in any deity. Was I "pressured" to conform? Occasionally. But it was never too strong, and I was usually able to get out of whatever religious activity was going on by volunteering for something else.

However, the most entertaining push I got was when I was overseas. One of my buddies (an extremely evangelical Christian YECer) convinced me to attend his weekly worship service with him. I really enjoyed it -- seriously. Now, wait! Before you get all worried that I "found" god, let me explain.

We worked seven days a week, for 12-14 hours a day. That seems like a lot, but out in the desert, there's not much else to do. After a month of so of work, I noticed that John would sleep in on Sunday mornings, and then not show up to the command post until after lunch, but he never got in any trouble for it. I asked him what he was doing those mornings, and he told me "going to church". Of course, because it was "faith" related, the commanders all allowed it.

So I got myself permission to go with him. It was great -- I slept in an extra hour or two, went to the PX for a coffee and donuts, read the news (Army Times), and then went to the service. It was almost comical how much propoganda and brainwashing went on there. Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), I wasn't convinced of their beliefs. But it did get me out of work for a few extra hours a week, which made it worthwhile.

So, as far as I'm concerned, if you want to list the benefits of religion, the best (and only) one is that it can get you out of work once a week!

Just a case of Wiccan bad luck?

OK, this is sort of funny --

A Wiccan ceremony to celebrate a long string of good luck was cut short because the celebrant stabbed herself in the foot with a three-foot long sword. OUCH!

On top of that, it seems that the Wiccan ceremony was being held at a cemetery, and the group may be guilty of trespassing.

It seems the Wiccans might want to hold a ceremony to end this sudden string of bad luck (although I wouldn't recommend using sharp objects in that one).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Polly want a cracker?

I hate hypocrisy and idiocy, and when the two combine in a single event, the results are often catastrophic. There is a college student getting death threats and risks expulsion from his university because he . . . stole a cracker.

Of course, it wasn't just ANY cracker -- it was a communion wafer. It was part of the Catholic cannibalism ceremony known as "eucharist", where the cracker and cheap wine (grape juice, if you're doing Baptist-style) are supposedly "transubstantiated" into the actual body and blood of Jesus. Of course, this is a completely insane and ridiculous concept, but it's also an integral part of the Catholic doctrine, and therefore highly sacred to them.

According to PZ Myers' blog, not only did the Catholic Church condemn the "theft" of their cracker, but some of the parishoners actually tried to physically assault and apprehend Mr. Cook as he left the church. Now the kid is getting death threats, legal threats, and possibly even risks sanctions from his university (potentially up to and including expulsion).

All this over a piece of tasteless, stale, flat bread.

I find it absolutely horrific that this sick and twisted ritual (what else would you call sanctified mock anthropophagy?) is given even the most miniscule modicum of respect by any rational human. The fact that it is defended only goes to show the depths to which the collective intellect of the USA has fallen, and points in the direction of where we're going if idiocy and insanity are allowed to continue to rule the minds of the majority.

Actually, I like the response Dr. Myers is planning in comment #276 -- to surrepitously acquire a quantity of eucharist crackers (along with a bunch of other religious symbols) and "desecrate" them all in various and sundry ways. If and when the various deities who are represented by those symbols get offended, then perhaps a stray bolt of lightning will strike him down. Until those deities decide to take action, however, it will be up to the outraged (and outrageous) followers to be upset and offended instead. (you have to wonder at people who worry about insults and offenses to relics and ritual, when it's apparent that the deity itself couldn't care less).

Souls Exist Only In the Memory of Those Who Remain -- Final Faithwalk (July 08)

I lost a dear friend recently. She was a gifted athlete, yet she couldn’t outrun than the pain. She had a heart of gold, but even that couldn’t overcome the hurt and suffering. She was smart, and still couldn’t think of a way to beat death.

Kate was my dog. She was an ex-racing greyhound: a beautiful, black athlete, strong and fast, loving and happy. She enjoyed her “retired” life lounging around the house, chasing bunnies in the backyard, and going on walks through the neighborhood. She wasn’t old when she died, only seven years (that’s 49 in dog years), but somehow she broke her hip (we don’t know exactly what happened), and there was no way to fix it. At the end, she could barely walk without tremendous pain, and yet she never whimpered, complained or cried. She trusted me completely as I took her for the final time to the vet, and the hardest thing I’ve ever done is hold her in my arms as the light left her eyes. The trust, the love and the pain were all gone, and yet I could still feel her warmth as her body lay there, never to run again.

I’ve lost friends and family (and other pets) before, but this was the first time I had ever held someone I loved as they died. It was wrenching, heartrending pain, and yet it was also comforting to know that the last thing she saw, heard and felt was someone who loved and comforted her. In those moments of pain and loss, I recognized the fleeting hopes of a continued soul, so that her wonderful spirit and beautiful life could continue forever.

As I gently removed her collar, I bent down and kissed the top of her head one last time and softly closed her eyes. With tears streaming down my face, I remembered the energetic joy she exuded whenever she ran, the happy tailwagging greetings I got when I opened the door, and the calm, peaceful look she had when asleep. And I knew that the soul doesn’t reside in heaven, but in the loving memories of those who remain. And as long as I keep the memory of Kate within me, she will always be joyfully chasing bunnies through the Elysian fields of my dreams.

Saving Lives Is Better Than Saying Prayers -- Faithwalk #4 (Apr 08)

I'm sure that many readers have heard that Thursday, May 1, is the National Day of Prayer. It's supposed to be a day when believers of all faiths gather to kneel down and pray for healing, hope and peace (at least, I certainly hope that's what people would pray for).

I do appreciate the sentiment, and I know prayer makes those doing the praying feel better, but unfortunately prayer is one of the most objectively ineffective and useless forms of assistance. Other than making those doing the praying "feel better”, numerous studies have shown time and again that prayer fails to benefit those who are prayed for, and at best it is no better than a placebo. As an atheist, that just seems like a tremendous waste of time and personal effort, which I'd prefer to see spent in a more unselfish and demonstrably beneficial way.

For the last two years, I've participated in the National Gift of Life Day (see, which is an organized effort to get atheists, agnostics, and non-believers to donate blood. A single donation of whole blood is one of the most effective proven ways to save lives. It's also a demonstration of selfless sacrifice and altruistic caring about the rest of humanity. I don't know who will receive the blood I donate --he or she could be black, white, asian, gay, racist, Christian, Muslim, or atheist -- and I don't care. I am willing to stand on my feet, giving freely and openly of my own flesh and blood to provide a direct and demonstrable part of myself for the benefit others, as opposed to all those on their knees who are wasting their time doing something that benefits no one but themselves.

I realize that there are some, for whatever reason, who cannot donate blood (sexual orientation, travel restrictions, disease history, etc.). For those who are unable to donate, there are many other things you can do on May 1 to help - volunteer at a local blood center, encourage your friends, neighbors, co-workers, and everyone else you can to donate, publicize the National Gift of Life Day on your blogs, your websites, your calendars, and everywhere else. Don't just sit around. Make a difference for the good of humanity.

Show the Kansas City metro area how ethical, caring and significant the atheists, agnostics, humanists, secularists and other non-believers can be. Stand up and donate, and show everyone the way to effectively and rationally make a difference in the world. Do more than bend your knees in ineffective prayer on May 1st – open your hearts to give the most effective, heartfelt and lifesaving thing you possibly can, donate your blood to save lives.

Where I Would Look For God -- Faithwalk #3 (Feb 08)

After discovering that I’m a non-believer, many religious adherents have told me that I need to read the Bible (or the Koran, Torah, Bhagavad Gita, etc) to gain an insight into the “mind of God”. But I have read the bible (and portions of the others) and I don’t see any of them as a realistic testament or autograph of an all-powerful deity. All of the testaments, holy books and other religious sources have the same single flaw – they were all written by humans (who are known to often be in error). Unlike those texts, the evidence of the universe hasn’t been lost in translation, altered by bias or misplaced by history. If anything could be used as a “sourcebook” for a god, the universe is it.

Although I don’t think there are any gods, that doesn’t mean I don’t keep an open mind about the possibility. Were I to decide to search for such an entity, I wouldn’t look to ancient writings of pre-scientific peoples for the answers – I’d go to the one unambiguous and untrammeled-by-humans source, the rest of the universe. Unfortunately, I’ve never encountered any unambiguous and definitive evidence that says “there is a god”. What I have seen are structures, phenomenon and events that arise from well understood naturalistic processes over long ages of time. From the Big Bang onward, the processes and events of nature are fully sufficient and well documented enough to provide a reasonable and nearly complete explanation for how the universe developed, including the development and diversity of life on this planet.

I am not trying to denigrate any particular belief or religion – I just personally don’t find that any are compelling or true enough to warrant my acceptance as “the way”. I don’t claim to know the full truth or all the facts about what is “beyond” the universe, but then neither can anyone else claim such knowledge. Humans are finite and fallible, and no one can claim to actually know “the mind of god”. I trust only as far as the evidence warrants, and I have not seen evidence or support beyond wishful thinking, personal desires and bias for any religion or belief. No, if I am going to look for a creator of the universe, it’s not going to be in the writings of ancient peoples or the religions they inspired. Instead, I will search in the expansive starry fields of the night sky and the unbelievably queer turnings of infinitesimally tiny quanta.

Wonderful Sense of Awe in a Universe Without God -- Faithwalk #2 (Oct 07)

I often find myself feeling a sense of wonder and awe when I think about everything in the universe – from the smallest molecular interactions, to the grand movements of stars and galaxies. On the largest scales, the beauty and spectacle overpower any attempt at full comprehension, and the tiniest bits are so phenomenally weird that no one truly understands them. I realize there are scientific theories and evidences that attempt to explain it, but I am still filled with a wondrous feeling, knowing I’m connected to it all.

Rather than being created apart and unique from the rest of the living biosphere, accepting the fact that humans are part of and intimately connected to the universe makes me care intensely about every little thing that exists. I recognize kinship with not only the rest of humanity, but also with my dog who chases the rabbits, the rabbits who eat the grass, the grass which covers my lawn, and the microbes that inhabit the soils. I know that I am ancestrally related to every living creature on earth and that’s something that can’t be taken away just because I don’t believe in any deity or gods.

Some people have told me that they can’t imagine feeling awe or wonder about anything without including their god in the equation. But is a sunset any less beautiful or a starry night any less romantic if one doesn’t include god? I say that it is the same – romantic, beautiful and awe inspiring, with or without any gods. Even if love, joy, fear and sorrow are the products of a materialistic evolutionary process, that doesn’t mean I can’t experience those things with as much intensity as anyone else. If anything, knowing more about the origins and reasons behind such things only heightens the experience for me.

Carl Sagan once said that we are all “star stuff”, meaning that every single atom in our bodies was originally formed from the supernova explosions of ancient stars. I find that at once tremendously awe inspiring, and also intensely humbling. Not only am I genetically connected to every living thing on Earth, but I am also chemically related to just about every single star, planet, and mote of dust in the universe. Over the course of billions of years, those atoms and molecules coalesced into a tiny planet on the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, and after a few billion more years of chemistry and evolution, here we all are. How amazing is that!

Eureka Moment -- My First Faithwalk Column (from Aug 07)

Have you ever had one of those moments when an idea or concept suddenly makes complete and total sense? One of those times when you slap your forehead and say “That’s makes so much sense! Why hadn’t I thought of that?” I’ve had those experiences several times in my life, and each time it’s a profound event for me.

Earlier in my life, I had such a “eureka” moment studying biology when I finally understood the concept that all of life is related using a very simple process, and that there isn’t anything about humanity that is special or separate from the rest of the flora and fauna on Earth. From there, it wasn’t too great a leap to begin questioning whether a deity could fit into the equation, although attempting to successfully navigate that leap was a challenge.

I began to consider that instead of needing input from a deity to keep things functioning, the universe does fine on its own. It dawned on me that the only type of deity that could possibly be involved would be completely impersonal and utterly removed from this universe, one that set the whole thing up and has stayed away from meddling in it since then.

The way I see it, if life can arise and diversify on its own – and if the planets, stars and galaxies can too – there just isn’t room for a deity except perhaps at the very start. Physics, chemistry and biology all combine in an elegant synthesis to provide a comprehensive explanation for why the universe looks as it does, the emergence of life on this planet, and the way in which life’s diversity arose.

I began to realize how small and insignificant humans are to the universe, and how absurd it would be for all of that vastness to be subservient to a few humans on one small, backwater planet in only one of billions of solar systems, amid billions and billions of galaxies.

As I thought about it, I decided that although I recognized the possibility of such a “starter” deity, I wasn’t going to worship or bow down to such a being. At that moment, the light went on and I realized I didn’t need a god to live and love – just existing was enough.