The Bible Could Use Some Updating

During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumb-screws, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood.
Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry…..There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.
“Bible Teaching and Religious Practice,” Europe and Elsewhere

I’ve used this quote often in debating and discussing religion with people. And I’d like to pose the question, why can’t we edit the Bible? Now of course I have a general problem with any book that is 2000 years old being a meaningful guide about how to live life now, but get to know any Christian and you’ll find that the amount of principles in the Bible they actually live by are a small portion of them. More importantly, the Bible is filled with so many contradictory verses that people can literally pick and choose the bible-based philosophy that suits them. Of course if we are going to edit the Bible who gets to decide what goes in and what goes out? Perhaps a committee should be formed. It doesn’t seem like that should be too hard to do considering that is how the Bible was originally formed about half millennia after Jesus Christ was supposed to have lived.

Now we all know that there are some really great Christian people out there. And these great Christian people would like you to know:

  • We support gay people
  • We support evolution
  • We support science
  • We support education
  • We would rather avoid war
  • We know the Bible isn’t meant to be taken literally
  • We think helping those that are less fortunate is important
  • We know it’s our belief and we don’t need proselytize
  • While we might not choose to have abortions ourselves we support a woman’s right to choose
  • We think birth control is an important part of health care
  • We think separation of church and state is important
  • We are comfortable with other people’s religious beliefs even if we don’t agree
  • We think taking care of the Earth is part of our responsibility as God’s children
  • We live our life as close to being like Jesus as possible

Let’s face it, such Christians are great.  They are enjoyable people to be around.  They don’t like those other extreme groups that call themselves Christians, but clearly aren’t.  All their fire and brimstone talk, their eye for an eye mentality, their inability to adapt to the times, their wanting to pass laws that are prejudicial and not pluralistic.  They would also like you to know that though there were dark times in Christianities past, those people were not the true Christians.  No matter how mainstream it was.  Good Christian congregations existed even in the darkest of times and those are the people that truly understood the Bible.  And by the way, the Bible has so many positive verses in it.  Things about loving your neighbors, not judging others, helping the poor, being compassionate, loving your family.  The list goes on.

So this is brilliant.  Such Christians truly help to make the world a better place and if there are right about it all, then we probably should have paid more attention to these models of morality.  I’m not being sarcastic in the least.  However….

We have to ask ourselves then, where did these less than savory Christians come from?  Who are these people who are divisive and judgmental?  Who are these people that would rather force their religious beliefs down our throats rather than allow us to exercise the free will that God so desperately wanted us to have so we could choose to love Him?  Why do they so pedantically want to take a book that is supposed to be word of God literally.  Why do they insist on taking some verses that are prejudicial and hateful instead of verses that are peaceful, tolerant and compassionate?  Why do they focus on instill fear instead of love?  Why aren’t they turning the other cheek? Why aren’t they interpreting the Bible correctly?Why aren’t all Christians the good people they are supposed to be?

Well maybe it’s because they had bad teachers of their faith.  Maybe it’s because they have low levels of education.  Maybe it’s because their parents were judgmental, strict people who never gave their children the freedom to ask questions and really explore their faith.  Maybe they grew up in an intolerant environment.  And all these things are possible, but wouldn’t anybody turn out to be a rather less than good person in such an environment?  And maybe the reason you are a good person is because you were raised in a good and loving environment and wouldn’t anybody turn out the same way regardless of their religion?  And why should the word of God Himself, the perfection of perfection, the only omniscient presence in the universe depend  so much on someone’s level of education, how they were raised?  Why is it so easy to get it wrong and misinterpret it?

But what if there is a much more insidious possibility?  What if those “bad” Christians actually think they are good Christians.  What if they think Christians like you are the problem?  What if they have as much biblical support for their way of thinking as you do for yours?  What if there are actually more lines in the bible that promote violence, oppression of women, and persecution of non-Christians than ones that actually are against these behaviors?  What if all those lines about there being witches and making slaves out of people are still in there even though we, as a society, no longer promote such ideas?  (By the way witch accusations may be making a comeback!) What if they are ignoring just as many verses that disagree with their worldview, as you are ignoring to support your worldview?

The Christian bible has been translated from language after language, and is already different from the original due to the difficulties in translating the Bible.  Many of the books of the Bible cannot be verified to have been written by the author that is claimed.  The Bible is certainly not in the same form always and the books of the Bible have been put together well after Jesus’ death.  So what would be so bad about editing the Bible.  Because if there are people out there who are actually using bad parts of the bible and as a result are not good Christians, wouldn’t it be worth removing those parts? Wouldn’t it be worth including some extra stuff that wasn’t in the Bible because it was not known then, but it is known now?  I mean if the word of God as described in the Bible is outdated and not even used by good Christians, why have it in there?  Why no just leave it on the shelf in libraries so people can see what the Bible used to be like?  Have it simply as a historical reference to what life was like 2000 years ago.  Because it seems to me that the word of God is confusing a lot of people.  So maybe it’s time to separate the wheat from chaff in the Bible so that God is a little more justified in separating the wheat from the chaff after we die.  And if you are worried about the morality of editing an original historical work, then also consider the morality of leaving a whole lot of archaic and horrible practices in the Bible and selling it as the word of God.  And if you are worried about where to start, George Carlin has risen from the dead to help you with a few suggestion on amending the 10 commandments.

Without an update, the Bible is really just a string of stories, laws, and lessons that range from violently psychopathic to ultra loving and compassionate in which we are all just picking and choosing the things we want to support the type of person we already are.

 

What Makes A Good Human?: Final Thoughts

I will try not to make this too lengthy, but this series has been a journey writing it and I felt a more holistic summation was in order.

One of the things that occurred to me that I was writing it was that was I sounding too much of a person of privilege in my posts.  I certainly felt like that at times.  If I could say one more thing about what makes a good human might also be luck.  The country I was born in, the parents I got, the extended family, that were very loving, and of course my wife and friends all played a role in making me what I am, and for giving me the time and freedom to ruminate, contemplate, learn the right lessons from my experiences for me to even be able to write this.  Of course luck isn’t really in our control, and perhaps it is who we are that draw at least some of the people into our life and keep them there.  But there are those who are born to parents who stifle their curiosity. When does the parent or parents who work long hours to provide for their children find the time for curiosity themselves or get a chance to play?  There are those who spoil their children rotten and make them prideful and without humility.  What of those who struggle about even what to put their faith in, fearing a repetition of past mistakes?  I was thinking about how would a person who lived in the inner city slums of Mumbai, or Rio find solitude?  And then of course what about those who have clinical psychological conditions like narcissism and thus are excessively self-centered?  How does the psychopath learn empathy when physically incapable of it?  While there may be some solutions to this, early recognition and special nurturing techniques are often necessary and so my words in this series may be nothing more than the words of someone who has, overall, had it pretty good.

One positive thing I have noticed in my life is that none of these qualities however belong to any one specific class, race, culture or region.  I have seen the poorest with the least reason to be generous and compassionate be more so than those with the means to bring more good into this world than they do.  And I have seen the busiest parents with little time for play themselves, make those sacrifices simply so that their children have that advantage.  Life is dynamic, and always changing.  Some qualities we may have to put to the side to move past a certain point where we can bring them back.  It would be idealistic to say we can have these qualities at all times, and in all places.  And while it would be nice if it were so, such utopian fantasies should never occupy our thoughts for too long.

If asked who I wrote this all for, I would say firstly for me.  That in itself may sound self-centered, but I desire to become more than I am always, and this journey has helped me greatly in recognize the areas in my life where I might know how I should be in theory, but haven’t been in practice.  It has helped me look at areas where I want to grow also.  But I think that I also wrote this series for those of you who do such a wonderful job exemplifying these qualities as well.  It is those who have been the fortunate in this world who, like rocks striking the surface of the pond can send ripples into the world to try and make it a better place.  And when I say fortunate I don’t mean that your life has all been a “walk in the park” (and certainly mine hasn’t always been either) but have overcome great adversity to be where you are now.  I also don’t list these qualities to emphasize that we should all be the same. As I have tried to make clear along the way we all exemplify different levels of these qualities, and as I mentioned above, sometimes we may suppress these qualities in ourselves to be able to foster it others, like our children.  I think a good human exemplifies these qualities, but our individuality is what decides which of these qualities drives us most strongly.  Some people may strive for more balance, others may selflessly always give their time to others, some may love learning and sharing that knowledge, others display great acts of courage that inspire.  I do think that all these qualities, should always exist as sparks within ourselves, and we should never let them go out.

I was talking to a friend yesterday and she asked me why I even blog.  And I guess central to who I am is that I believe that we are a lot more similar than we are different, and I want to always try to look at things that bring us together rather than those things that drive us apart.  So I guess in looking at things that make a good human, I wanted to try to see if I could come up with what I felt was a comprehensive but simple list of things that I’ve seen in my life that make the world a better place for all.  I am sure there are other things that might be added, and as I continue to grow and learn perhaps I would add things to this series.  But if we can all agree on at least 8 things, that then I think that is a good start. 🙂

Peace.

Swarn

What Makes A Good Human?: Faith

Well, if you know me, you might be surprised at this quality.  And to be honest this is one that I wasn’t sure I was going to include but could not really make it fit as part of any of the other ones and so have put it here. This one is 6th in the series and so if you were keeping count there will still be two more to come for a total of 8 (as opposed to the 7 I thought I was going to blog about in my intro to this series).  Hey I did say that this list was not set in stone, and my final quality justifies this change quite well so stay tuned. 🙂

So let me be clear here that when I say faith, I do not mean religious faith, nor do I mean blind faith.  The first definition of faith is “complete trust or confidence in someone or something”, and this is the faith I am talking about. Perhaps I place too much importance on stress and too much importance on living in the present moment, but one of my reason for including faith is borne out of the fact that we are exceptionally good future thinkers. It might be somewhat natural to think about the past, and of course we live in the present, but what value is thinking about the future, when the future is uncertain. Of course we can see the value in thinking about the future from simple mechanical movements like anticipating the trajectory of a ball as we reach out to catch it, to having grand visions of the future that we work to make a reality. Our imaginations and our ability to envision a path to turn what is in our minds into a reality is a great strength, and it’s safe to say our ability to think about the future is greater than any other creature. There is a double edge to this sword and that is worry. We worry about that uncertain future at times, and we worry that what we want to happen will not come to pass. Much of the grief we often feel when we lose somebody important (whether from death or breaking up our relationships) comes from a loss of a future that will now no longer exist with that person. Our ability to imagine the future is so strong that it can feel as real as any present moment. In a previous post in this series I talked about the value of play for helping us be in the moment, so too does faith. Whereas play helps us become lost in the moment, faith can help us focus on the present by making us feel like “everything will be alright”. Faith can give us hope and keep us steady.

One of the reasons that the future is so uncertain is that we can’t account for all the variables in any particular problem. And even if we could, there would be several that are simply not in our control. Wanting to fix things that are beyond our control is one big source of worry and stress whether it is a personal situation or the larger sadness we might feel over big problems like world hunger, gender inequality, or racism as individuals most of us can only do so much. The weight and burden of the future can drag us down and we need something to ease the mind and focus on the present. It is not surprising that faith is always used in the context of something that we feel is good. Whether it is a supernatural being who we believe is watching out for us, loves us, and protects us, to more tangible things like faith that a good friend will come through for us, a general optimism about the improvement of society, and perhaps most importantly a faith in ourselves that we can overcome challenges in our way. In reality none of these things are sure things despite what past experience might tell you. You may actually fail at what you are attempting, even if you’ve handled similar or even the same situations before. Society may get worse. Your friend may not come through despite how often they might have come through for you before.  The world is dynamic and constantly changing. Your friend is changing, you are changing, and society is changing and so there will always be some unknown variables. We can also be wrong that we understood a past experience properly to ensure similar results in the future. Humans are prone to Type I errors (seeing patterns or connections where none exist) and quite often we don’t understand our experiences fully. However, without some faith we’d always be questioning and doubting and while there may be a time for questions and doubt, to dwell on such things constantly can also be equally wasteful. Doubting your friend all the time may actually strain your relationship. Doubting yourself all the time may make you actually more prone to making mistakes. Being pessimistic about the world may actually make you less happy and less able to make a positive impact, which is the only way the world is going to get better, if we do something about it.

Richard Dawkins and others are often quoted as saying that faith and science are not compatible because science makes conclusions based on evidence, where as faith makes conclusions despite evidence. I tend to disagree with this notion, because I feel that to develop faith it cannot be built on nothing. In my experience what people disagree on is what people consider evidence. I wrote about this previously here and here. A large of the aim of religious institutions in keeping members of their faith is to discredit contrary evidence. If the evidence against what you have faith in seems faulty you are less likely to let it change your mind. But we’ve all had changes of faith as evidence is presented to us. What happens if that friend lets us down a few times? Chances are, our faith in them will be lessened. What happens if we start getting inundated with all the evil that happens in the world? We start to lose our faith and optimism in humanity. What can happen when let ourself down? We start to lose faith in ourself, which is often a scary place emotionally to be at. I think faith is born honestly in most cases, and I think if left unhindered we would adjust the things we have faith in over time as we continue to question, experience and learn. The important part is that faith should be changeable and it should be personal. When we indoctrinate children about what they should have faith in this is from a developmental context abusive, because the stronger our faith becomes in something, the less likely we are able to adjust it over time because of how beliefs work in our brain. The inability to change what we have faith in as we experience and learn new things leads to an unhealthy conflict: the struggle to remain static in a dynamic world. I think some people might wonder, what is the point of having faith if it may change some time in the future? Because the world may seem chaotic, painful and beyond comprehension at times, it makes some sense to have faith in an order, an intention, or a purpose that is forever and unchangeable. However, it’s only a convenient illusion that will become harder and harder to maintain with time without willfully ignoring contrary evidence.

There are no guarantees in life and it’s okay to be wrong about what you put your faith in. Everybody has been wrong about things before. Being wrong is one of the greatest shared human experiences. I do understand, however, that it can be distressing to admit when we are wrong about things, even more so when we invest a lot of time into having faith about someone or something. Faith as a result is perhaps the trickiest of all the qualities I’ve discussed so far because it can cause us to double down even when the odds are against us. In my opinion the thing to keep in mind is to let your faith work for you, and to not let your faith gain mastery over you. And don’t expect others to share your faith. That’s simply not realistic. But if I were to pick some basic things to have faith in, it would be this:

  1. Change is inevitable
  2. You have it in you to deal with that change
  3. Everything will be alright because changing what you have faith in is not a loss, it’s a gain – for you must have learned something new in order to get to where you are now.

More than Words

The discussion of free speech has once again risen up after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.  For some interesting reads please take a look at this article on the Ethics of Free Speech and this article that presents a Muslim’s perspective on the situation.  Many of the ideas in these articles are important and so I wanted to throw them out first so that I don’t repeat their points too much.  If you’re too lazy to read them (I barely had time to write blog posts anymore so I understand)though I’ll list some important points that are guiding my thoughts right now:

  • How do we decide what freedom actually means?

    From http://bearingdrift.com
  • The argument for freedom of speech often gets turned into a “Those who want that freedom” and “those that don’t”. This is a false dichotomy because generally the disagreement lies where along a spectrum of “Freedom” we must draw the line on free speech.
  • Is freedom of speech always a good thing?
  • Words have power

When the news broke about what happened in France on January 7th, I have to say my reaction was not one of surprise.  Muslim extremists are nothing new, and given the anger that was sparked when Danish cartoonists depicted the prophet Mohammed in their publication, I just wasn’t surprised.

Now this not to say that I didn’t think it was a terrible tragedy.  Of course it is.  I don’t want anyone to think that my position is that those at Charlie Hebdo got what was coming to them. There is a difference between not being surprised and thinking such an act of violence against them was deserved.  There is no question that these Islamic extremists have got it wrong.  They don’t understand their faith, they will fail in achieving whatever dream world they want to live in, and they will simply cause more harm to others and themselves with time.   I can say that with certainty, in the long run, they will fail to get what they want and it is clear that all good people should and do oppose their aims.

Before looking at Charlie Hebdo let’s take a closer look at this whole cartoon depiction of Mohammed stuff.   Perhaps by putting things into context you will understand why I was not shocked to find that this happened.  First, we can agree that killing somebody over such a thing as a cartoon, no matter how offensive,

From the South Park Wiki. The picture of Mohamed was available, but I chose to show Buddha instead. I’m okay with that. 🙂

is ridiculous.  That being said it is not unreasonable for someone to be offended when their religion is ridiculed.  People do it all the time, they just don’t go all the way to killing somebody.  I am sure there are many other moderate and peaceful Muslims who were offended by Charlie Hebdo or the Danish cartoons previously.  And of course some number close to 100% of them never killed anybody over it.  Satire, comedy and comic depictions of religious figures is not new, but it is relatively new.  Such things quickly got you killed in Europe not so long ago if you tried to ridicule Christianity or religious leaders.  And while I believe the world as a whole, on average, progresses forward in terms of morality and reason, there are pockets of people going in reverse. As an example, I find it interesting that prior to 9/11 there was no outcry about a South Park season 5 episode in which various deities from other religions banded together to save the day.  I guess Mohammed was not ridiculed but still a cartoon is a cartoon.  This episode was even available after 9/11 for a number of years and has only recently been pulled.  I guess it was off the radar for awhile and perhaps South Park Studios didn’t want to take the chance anymore.  The point is that the backlash against Islam post 9/11 seems to have had a more polarizing impact on Islam and the west, such that those who wish to do us harm have looked for more reasons to do so.  Therefore, it seems to me, those who perpetrated the attack on Charlie Hebdo would have likely found another target had they not been drawing cartoons, but their doing so simply added them to a list of possible targets.  Crazy people generally don’t have good reasons to cause such harm, so should we be surprised that in a country with a lot of Islam vs French tension, where a magazine is ridiculing Islam that this simply puts them on the radar of the crazy people?  Personally I don’t think so.

Now let’s get back to freedom of speech.  We can also agree that it’s important, but just because you have the freedom to say something that doesn’t mean you should.  If you’re wife asked you if she looked fat in something, then you would have the freedom to tell her the honest truth, but I think you know how well that will work out for you.  Also having freedom doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t consequences for exercising that freedom, and law may have very little to do with it.  In truth, I have the freedom to go and kill somebody.  But there are consequences to that action.  Those consequences may simply be a fear of getting caught, more often than not though it is our own moral center that prevents us from doing such a thing.  We may even have a good reason to do so, but I also think about what my friends and family would think about me, how I would provide for my child, the times I would miss with my family, etc.  We are free to do a lot of things when you think about it, but our choice to act on those freedoms must be weighed against the consequences of our actions.

One of the Charlie Hebdo satirists said “We can’t live in a country without freedom of speech. I prefer to die than to live like a rat” in regards to whether he was

From http://www.beheadingboredom.com

worried about angering Muslim extremists.  While I can feel a certain amount of respect for someone who lives by their convictions, I do wonder about the value of that conviction.  Of course, the chance of dying from a terrorist attack in the west is extremely small, and perhaps if he knew that there was even a 10% chance of being a target of Muslim extremists, he might not have been so sure of himself.  I am also opposed to religious extremism (or really any kind of extremism) but if I am going to have convictions on the matter that are worth dying for, satirical cartoons seem like a strange way for me to take a stand.  If we want to defeat extremism, are satirical cartoons helping the situation?  I doubt if any extremist has looked at one of their cartoons and said to his fellow crazy Jihadists “Hey guys…you know what…I didn’t get it before but this cartoon has really shown me we’re being ridiculous.  Let’s just relax and maybe talk to some more moderate imams about interpreting the scripture in the Koran more carefully”.  Furthermore it seems one of the best way to quash Islamic extremists is actually by having most of the Muslims who are more moderate on your side.  Doing something that most Muslims find offensive, might not anger them into attacking you, but it doesn’t exactly win their hearts.  Therefore if anybody thinks that drawing satirical cartoons of Mohammed is in any way taking a stand against Islamic extremists then you are quite simply wrong.  It does nothing but divide people.  At best, those who appreciate the cartoons are a group of secular intellectuals who appreciate the wit and who already agree with the points you are making.  At worst, those who appreciate the cartoons are bigots wishing to eradicate all Muslims from their country.  The point is, such cartoons aren’t helping and are most likely making things worse.

What people seem to forget is that 1) being right isn’t always the most important thing, and that 2) even if you want to be right there are multiple ways to make your point.  Richard Dawkins is right about a lot of things, and yet many people, even humanists, atheists, and agnostics think he’s an asshole.  In thinking about these cartoons, I was reminded about my confrontation with the gay bashing fundamentalist Christians who came to our campus.  I asked the main guy point blank “Even if you are absolutely 100% right do you think that your offending and insulting them is going to convince them to your point of view?”  He was sure that they were going to hell and so he felt that what he was doing was the strongest most direct way to get them to change their sinful ways.  Anybody else of course can see that such anger and unkindness would never win the hearts of those they intend to save.  The only people who are supporting them are those who already agree with them.  So even though Islamic extremists are crazy, they don’t understand their faith, they cause harm, and their actions will ultimately cause them to fail to achieve their over arching aim, how we expose the extremists for what they are is just as important.  Being martyrs is one of those possibilities, but the freedom to draw cartoons of the prophet Mohamed just seems like a silly way to make that stand.

From http://thebilzerianreport.com

Freedom of speech is an extremely important one to a free society.  Speech has the power to sway.  As it sways it can raise the consciousness, inspire, and lift men and women to more.  However, speech also has the power to divide, misinform, offend, anger, and mislead.  To quote Uncle Ben Parker “With great power, comes great responsibility”.   I don’t wish for any government to censor publications like Charlie Hebdo.  Taking away freedoms doesn’t help the situation either, and is never an answer to terrorism (i.e. The Patriot Act). Nevertheless, no matter how “in the right” we think we might be, let us also think about how we communicate our message.  Freedom of speech is an important one to fight for, but there are many other good things to fight for and so it’s important to not get so lost in one fight that we start to lose the others.

Evidently it’s Evidence Part II

Part I, probably doesn’t provide too much pause for thought, but hopefully this one will.  I’ve been told my posts are long, so I’m trying to shorten things up. 🙂

Perhaps I should also preface before I begin that almost anything can count as evidence.  However it seems that people with little understanding of scientific investigation often make the mistake of delineating good evidence from bad.  Or being able to determine why one source of evidence is weaker than another.  Because after all I could argue that it is faith that I believe the sun will come up tomorrow, when the truth is I don’t really know for sure.  The fact that it has come up all the days of my life, is some pretty good evidence.  It’s even better evidence that it has come up for others.  And it seems as I look through historical evidence from before I was born it has been coming up pretty regularly.  And then there is the evidence that the Earth is rotating and that we are revolving around the sun.  It may be that all that changes tomorrow, but it seems unlikely. So at the very least, I can say that my faith has some pretty solid substance to it. (Also please be aware that I do know that the sun actually doesn’t come up, it is the Earth’s rotation that gives it the appearance of rising. lol)

Here are some of the things that many people seem to think of as evidence:

  • anecdotal evidence
  • a contrary opinion
  • a book
  • a “gut feeling”
  • a low probability event (a coincidence)
  • celebrities or other famous people
  • a documentary
  • a movie
  • media
  • even worse  – social media
  • the number of hits you search for something on the internet

There are probably more things that could be added but these are some of my favorite.  Part of the problem is that any one of these could be right.  I am not going to address each one, but there are times when your “gut” tells you, you are in danger and you are right.

From hm.dinofly.com

Anecdotal evidence can also be correct.  I could say “In my experience the sun comes up every morning” and I would be right.  Sometimes celebrities are correct, and documentaries are accurate.  Someone who is disagreeing with you may actually be doing so for good reason.  Because he/she knows more than you do. And occasionally a news story might even report actual information. 🙂

I am a fairly big food snob.  I’ll admit it.  I’m probably even more proud of that fact than I should, but tasty food is an important pleasure in life to me.  Not to mention sitting down to a good meal, can be romantic, social, and/or cultural.  One of my favorite things is to

Pad thai from myrecipes.com

introduce people to new food and new culinary experiences.  It has often been the case that someone will say they really don’t like a certain food.  Upon further investigation you find that the one time they tried it, the person didn’t know how to cook it properly so they had a bad experience, and then never tried it again.  Often if I get them to give what I have prepared a try, they find that they actually like it.  The point is that our own experiences are often flawed.  I am sure the person when they first tried badly cooked spinach they had no intentions on hating spinach, they simply didn’t like what they had, and assumed it was the fault of the spinach and not the cook.

While it is not surprising from an evolutionary standpoint why we would take our own experiences as truth, it is clear that as individuals we are prone to many biases.  If you know nothing about snakes, it is ALWAYS safer to stay away from snakes since a few can be deadly.  Surviving and being safe represents 99% of our evolution as a species, but if civilization has any true advantages, it is the ability to break free from the fearful uncertainty of the wild and to give us time for reflection and thought.  The lack of detailed knowledge about something is the birthplace of beliefs that are based on little or poor evidence.  This is why education is so important.  This is why understanding of science is important.  This is why critical thinking is important.

More importantly this is why humility is important.  One lifetime, at the very least in the length it is now, is never enough time to know all there is to know (if that is even possible).  But when you have true humility, not just humility before God, but humility before all existence, you accept that you don’t have all the answers.  You accept that there is still more for you to know, and to learn.  You can accept that you can be mistaken.  When you accept this, then you can delve into the next set of questions.  How is it that we can come to know things?  What are different ways of knowing?  How do they work?  What is their reliability?

from http://www.jasonwhowe.com

How boring would life be if you just decided on how everything works at the age of 30 and then just criticized everyone else the rest of your days? Keep asking yourself questions, and enjoy the experience of enlightenment that comes from a lifetime of learning.  The feeling of enlightenment is euphoric and is an edge that never dulls, no matter the age.

Evidently it’s Evidence Part I

It is a common message from atheists that ultimately faith and science are incompatible.  Science forms conclusions based on evidence, and faith forms conclusions despite evidence.  In various debates I’ve had with people of ‘faith’ it occurs to me that there might be a slight problem with this statement.  While it’s true that people who hold strong religious beliefs often do not bother trying to explain evidence that is contradictory to their views.  Sometimes they will simply rationalize contradictory evidence away as not being accurate, or say some blanket statement “well science doesn’t know everything” or “science isn’t always right”.  These always seem like strange arguments of course.  Science doesn’t claim to know everything, and while it is true that science isn’t always right, but in proving a current hypothesis or theory wrong the bonus is that you end up with something that is more correct than what you had before.  And of course it’s true to say that faith isn’t always right either.  If faith was unfailing in the results it provides, I would certainly be willing to submit that perhaps scientific investigation wasn’t always the way to go.

But I would like to look just beyond religion and talk more about belief in general.  People who hold strong beliefs whether it is about religion, their country, or even their sports team (okay being a little glib there about sports) all share something in common.  Not only do they ignore evidence to the contrary, they also seem to have a different idea than most scientists about what evidence actually is.

As a scientist it feels fairly obvious to me what I should count as evidence and what I should not.  In the so called “hard” sciences this is fairly easy to grasp.  As an atmospheric scientist I have often dealt with vast quantities of data, measured from some unfeeling

From images.bwbx.io

instrument.  It’s unlikely to have any personal bias.  Of course instruments are not perfect and they have errors.  As a scientist I always need to be aware of the errors in the evidence.  Then once I have those hopefully close to perfect measurements I must then analyze the data.  My interpretation is thus subjective, perhaps to my own biases.  I of course try to minimize my biases by being well aware of the body of knowledge that surrounds the particular problem I am trying to solve.  I try to be aware of conflicting perspectives and points of view from previous scientist to help me keep as open a mind as possible about what my results might mean.  But in the end, even in a field that is steeped in physical equations, I might present results that are biased.  Most likely I have just made a mistake, but bias is also a mistake. 🙂

So any one study can be biased, but ultimately my mistakes will be revealed by others who are using my conclusions as truth to their study.  If I am wrong, their study will fail, and someone will say, perhaps my conclusions were incorrect thus their experiment started with a faulty premise.  An important part of science is verification and repeatability.  When there is a lot of disagreement amongst researchers, this probably means we don’t understand the problem yet very well.

In the social sciences, disagreements are more frequent, because here data and valid evidence are harder to obtain because so much depends on effective sampling and dealing with imperfect forms of subject material (namely us!).  For instance let’s say I wanted to see how humans felt about death, and I only sampled people in the U.S. who were of a Christian faith.  Meanwhile somewhere in India somebody wanted to perform the same study, but only sampled Hindus.  Any conclusion either of us made about how humans feel about death is incorrect.  Because really all we’ve addressed is how Hindus feel about death, or how Christians feel about death.  At best maybe we could draw some conclusions about how Americans or Indians felt about death.  Someone looking at our studies would say, well there are a few similarities in the our study so perhaps together you are one step closer to answering your original question, but for the most part you have only illuminated cultural difference between Indians and Americans on how they view death.  And if we were responsible scientists we would at least admit at the end of our study that our sampling was biased and thus we can only make limited claims about what humans think about death.

So ultimately any good scientist, regardless of the field, is aware of the errors and uncertainty of their data, and the scope to which their evidence is able to support their

From cdn2.edutopia.org

hypothesis.  And it is through the body of evidence in a particular field that we can turn hypotheses into theories and be confident in our conclusions.  We have a peer-review process to evaluate our application of the scientific method, and we have the process of verification and repeatability to strengthen the findings of any one scientist.

What one should gather from this is that science is actually really hard.  It takes a long time to learn how to interpret results accurately, be familiar with the types of errors that can be made, and to understand to what degree of certainty you can attribute to your research.  Nevertheless no other system has found to work better.

In my next post, I will get back to my original idea, which is what many seem to view as evidence and how much certainty they associate with that evidence.