Sunday, 30 January 2011

Is the primary role for humans to act as hosts for microbes?

Extraordinary statistic I came across today:
"Of the trillions of cells in a typical human body only about one in ten is human. The rest are microbial."
New York Times Magazine 13th August 1996

And then there is this longer extract from a description of human flora in Wikipedia:

Populations of microbes (such as bacteria and yeasts) inhabit the skin and mucosa. Their role forms part of normal, healthy human physiology, however if microbe numbers grow beyond their typical ranges (often due to a compromised immune system) or if microbes populate atypical areas of the body (such as through poor hygiene or injury), disease can result.

Traditionally, bacteria have been described by how they grow - what they grow on, color of the colony, and so forth. More recently, bacteria have been described on the basis of DNA sequencing. One common finding is that the number of bacteria - both in terms of diversity (number of different types) and in terms of mass (total number of cells) - is very different when a surface is sampled for culturable bacteria or sampled for DNA. DNA evidence suggests that well-described species - in essence, species that can be cultured - constitute <10% of the total bacterial population seen with DNA-based techniques; that is, most of the bacteria present on the human skin or in the gut are species known only by their DNA, and are species that until very recently were completely unknown to science.

It is estimated that 500 to 1000 species of bacteria live in the human gut[3] and a roughly similar number on the skin.[4][5] Bacterial cells are much smaller than human cells, and there are at least ten times as many bacteria as human cells in the body (approximately 1014 versus 1013).[6][7] Though members of the flora are found on all surfaces exposed to the environment (on the skin and eyes, in the mouth, nose, small intestine), the vast majority of bacteria live in the large intestine.

Many of the bacteria in the digestive tract, collectively referred to as the gut flora, are able to break down certain nutrients such as carbohydrates that humans otherwise could not digest. The majority of these commensal bacteria are anaerobes, meaning they survive in an environment with no oxygen. Normal flora bacteria can act as opportunistic pathogens at times of lowered immunity.[1]

Escherichia coli (a.k.a. E. coli) is a bacterium that lives in the colon; it is an extensively studied model organism and probably the best-understood bacterium of all.[8] Certain mutated strains of these gut bacteria do cause disease; an example is E. coli O157:H7.

A number of types of bacteria, such as Actinomyces viscosus and A. naeslundii, live in the mouth, where they are part of a sticky substance called plaque. If this is not removed by brushing, it hardens into calculus (also called tartar). The same bacteria also secrete acids that dissolve tooth enamel, causing tooth decay.
We talk of reproducing in order to ensure the survival of our genes, but microbes that existed millions of years before 'higher' life forms which they inhabit. Are we just a creation by mutation for the benefit of the microbes that make up 90% of the cells in our bodies? 

Hmmm... Turns a lot of ideas on their heads, and is not I believe foreseen or acknowledged in the Holy books of Christianity or Islam.

The truth about lying

I have a very close friend who frequently reminds me (and others) that the one thing she cannot abide is being lied to; and that she herself never lies.  But isn't lying an essential part of what it is to be a sentient being.  When a moth unfolds its wings to reveal two very large roundels that look just like predator's eyes, isn't that moth lying, by pretending to be what it is not and thereby avoiding being eaten?  The plant and animal kingdoms are also full of examples of far more intricate and deadly intentional falsehoods, such as the Angler fish that appears to dangle a tasty morsel on a spine in front of its mouth, so that it catches and eats any smaller fish tempted by the lure, or the Venus fly trap that lures insects with an irresistible scent, only to snap its leaves shut on the hapless insect, which it then digests.
Humans are also animals - very sophisticated animals, but animals nonetheless.  So it is no surprise to learn from a study written in August 2007 that
"In any conversation lasting ten minutes or longer, 20% of adults will lie"
In fact, we become so used to doing it that often we do not even notice that we are doing it. 
And yet as a child I was taught that lying was always wrong, and I would be punished either in this world or the next if I told a lie.
I guess there are lies, and then then are lies.  If I steal something and then deny that I have done so, that sort of behaviour is harmful to society and is not tolerated.  Whereas if my girlfriend asks that proverbial trap for the unwary: "Does my bum look big in this?", it is perhaps more understandable that I should not want to be pointlessly cruel by agreeing that it is.  So instead I tell her that she looks just great the way she is, and of course her bum does not look big in that dress.  Is that really such a bad lie?
Must go to bed.  To be continued.....

Thursday, 27 January 2011

The disability of poor recall

If I could change just one thing about myself it would be my lack of ability to remember, particularly with regard to short term memory. 

I just had a "Eureka" moment whilst getting something I needed, and when I got back to my desk only a few minutes later the idea was completely gone.  I tried retracing my thoughts, and associating with other things I had done or thought, but it is gone completely, as if it never existed.  It is like a curse.  One that has dogged my whole life, and I feel has prevented me from achieving my potential. 

When I am stressed sometimes I cannot even complete a sentence, because I have completely lost my train of thought in a few seconds, which is one of the reasons I write.   It becomes my memory.

I have devised many ways to hide this disability at work when speaking, but the complexity in carrying this off successfully is so much more complicated than just recalling the original idea, and I sometimes get myself into absurd situations, which they find incomprehensible.  I rather think it is at the core of losing the love of the three people who have meant most to me in my life.  Often they have mistaken my sometimes complete lack of memory as evidence of going back on my word, or of lying, when the truth is that I have not remembered.  Parts of my recent past are sometimes totally blank.
So take an arm, or a leg, or an eye, but can I please have my memory back?

Epicurus - Much misunderstood, but maybe an admirable example?

What does the term 'Epicurean' imply to you?  To many it implies unbridled hedonism, excess and lack of moral compass. 

But is this really to see him through a lens distorted by political and religious opponents, who saw him as a threat to the fabric of their society?  I am grateful to Alain De Botton for his book 'The Consolations of Philosophy' from which much of the following enlightening material is taken:

Epicurus was born in 341BC on the island of Samos near the coast of Western Asia Minor.  Athens was then the hub to which he gravitated. He took to philosophy from his early teens and read widely.  He was unsatisfied by the conclusions of previous philosophers, so decided that he would come up with his own philosophy of life.  He is said to have written a huge number of books, though sadly almost all have since been lost. 

The 'sound bite' that people tend to latch onto was his view on the fundamental importance of sensual pleasure.  ("Pleasure is the beginning and the goal of a happy life").  This was profoundly shocking to the society in which he lived, for which the great virtues were deemed to be the acquisition of wealth, and courage in battle.  His decision to spend his wealth on setting up a kind of commune to study philosophy, and in particular the pursuit of pleasure, was considered a threat to the fabric of 'civilised' society.  And superficially one can see their point.

But actually Epicurus was teaching a much simpler and arguably purer way of life.  His guiding principles were:
  • Friendship We don't exist unless someone can see us existing; what we say has no meaning until someone can understand; while to be surrounded by friends is to constantly have our identity confirmed.  True friends do not evaluate us by worldly criteria.  It is the core self in which they are interested; like ideal parents, their love for us remains unaffected by our appearance or position in the social hierarchy, and so we have no qualms in dressing in old clothes and revealing that we have made little money this year.
  • Freedom  In order not to have to work for people they did not like, Epicurus and his companions removed themselves from commercial Athenian society and accepted  the simpler life of an isolated commune, in exchange for independence.  This did not affect their sense of status because they had ceased to judge themselves on a material basis.  Among a group of friends living outside the political and economic confines of the City, there was nothing - in the financial sense - to prove.
  • Thought  "There are few better remedies for anxiety than thought.  In writing down a problem, or airing it in conversation, we let its essential aspects emerge.  And by knowing its character, we remove, if not the problem itself, then its secondary, aggravating characteristics: confusion, displacement, surprise.  About death Epicurus would say that it is senseless to alarm oneself in advance about a state which one could never experience (he was convinced there was no afterlife) He said: "There is nothing dreadful in life for a man who has truly comprehended that there is nothing terrible in not living."
Epicurus summed up what he believed was, and was not, essential for happiness as follows:
  • Natural and necessary:  Friends, freedom, thought, food, shelter and clothes
  • Natural but unnecessary:  Grand house, Banquets, Private baths, Servants, Fish, Meat
  • Neither natural nor necessary: Fame, Power
With only minor modification this could equally be true today.

Epicurus also found that conspicuous wealth, or wealth over a relatively modest size, did not increase happiness.  Indeed he was adamant that without the 'natural and necessary' prerequisites, wealth could not bring happiness.  We can do without most of the material things that we erroneously think that we do need, and still be happy, if we only have the necessary requirements for happiness.

This is a very brief and hence superficial summary of his philosophy, but I hope it offers a flavour of the true Epicurus.  I find him rather endearing!

Monday, 24 January 2011

If I had one, would I press a button that would instantly end my life?

I find it curious that the people I know who believe in an afterlife tend to be the most horrified by death.  Surely they should look forward to the afterlife?  It is the people who are left behind, in whose emotional lives there appears a great hole, who deserve our grief. Yet many articles that cover violent death by suicide bombers and others focus exclusively on the victim(s) and the perpetrator(s), all of whom are no longer with us to hear.

As an atheist I am as convinced as I can be that when we die there is nothing.  We cease to exist.  I know that thought terrifies a lot of people.  But I don't feel that terror.  I find the prospect of ceasing to exist quite comforting.  Nothing to regret, no 'if-only's, no knowledge of deeply troubling things of which one was mercifully unaware as a human being.

All one becomes is a memory in the minds of those we leave behind, and within about 3 generations even that fades to no more than a couple of anecdotes.  And so our footprint in the sand is finally erased.  Even famous people are only remembered for what other people say and write about them.  Do we really know what Elizabeth Ist was like to be with,or how she spoke to those with whom she was intimate?  We know a great deal about her, but only as observed, imperfectly, by others; and by what she chose herself to let us know about her.

Does it worry me that my life could end in a few seconds, and all the knowledge that I have amassed over many years, the friendships and loves I have found, the relationships I have had; all immediately ceases except as an imperfect memory in other people's minds; with the things that only I can know, or things that I choose not to reveal about myself ,all dying with me, never to be known. In a word: 'No'.

And so, would I press that button right now?  Hmm...  I have to say 'that depends'...  If I could do so without causing distress and hardship to those close to me who I leave behind, then the answer would be 'Yes'.  But life just ain't that simple.  I find it curious that what most keeps me resigned to staying alive is the horror of what ending my life would do to people left behind, even though, by not existing, I would never experience their pain.

Strange thing, empathy....

Saturday, 22 January 2011

"We are all made of stellar nuclear waste.."

Watching "Journey to the edge of the Unverse" on UK channel 'More4'.  It describes in words and pictures a virtual dash from the Earth to the outer edge of the known Universe.  Huge over-simplifcations, and visual effects that bear no possible resemblance to the reality of Space, but hugely entertaining nonetheless.
- And the quote in the title to this post.  Something I've heard many times before, but still something that I find awe inspiring.  In terms of the Universe we all exist in the unbelievably short time between the formation of our sun and its death.  We are insignificant.  I find that strangely comforting.  Nothing any of us do or don't do makes any ultimate difference.  Maybe that is my equivalent of the Christian forgiveness of sins.

Mistakes were made (but not by me)

I've just started reading a rather interesting book with the above title (by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson).  If the introduction is anything to go by this will be most enlightening. 

A quote from the introduction:

None of us can live without making blunders.  But we do have the ability to say: "This is not working out here. This is not making sense."  To err is human, but humans then have a choice between covering up or fessing up. The choice we make is crucial to what we do next.  We are forever being told that we should learn from our mistakes, but how can we learn unless at first we admit that we made any?  To do that, we have to recognise the siren song of self-justification. 
We each invest hugely in our core beliefs.  If our core belief includes religious doctrine we surely must find it even tougher to admit we are wrong, for we risk the whole edifice tumbling around us as a result.  I guess I feel grateful that I don't have that pressure to constantly self-justify.  If something I have believed for a long time proves to be wrong it is much easier for me to change my belief.

Is that why many of those who are members of one or other organised religion spend so much time validating and justifying their beliefs, and condemning those who do not share their (unprovable) faith?

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

YEC / ID / Fundamentalist use of the 'Gish Gallop' and other underhand tactics...

I was alerted by Cabal, a fellow blogger, to some wonderful descriptions of the tactics used by fundamentalists such as those championing YEC and ID.  Here are a few of them with definitions.  Further detail is either in Rationalwiki or Wikipedia:

The Gish Gallop is an informal name for a rhetorical technique in debates that involves drowning the opponent in half-truths, lies, straw men, and bullshit to such a degree that the opponent cannot possibly answer every falsehood that has been raised, usually resulting in many involuntary twitches in frustration as the opponent struggles to decide where to start. It is named after creationism activist and professional debater Duane Gish.

It is often used as an indirect argument from authority, as it often appears to paint the "galloper" as an expert in a broad range of subjects and the opponent as an incompetent bumbler who didn't do their homework before the debate. (Such emphasis on style over substance is why many scientists disdain public debates as a forum for disseminating opinions.

Since they have no scientific model of their own to present, they will spend all of their time in what is known affectionately as the "Gish Gallop", in which they skip around from topic to topic spewing out an unceasing blizzard of baloney and unsupported assertions about evolutionary theory, leaving the poor evolutionist to attempt to catch up and correct them all.

A variant of the Gish Gallop is employed by bloggers who post an endless series of dubious assertions - each of which can be countered, but to no effect, as it will be buried under the cascade of dubious posts.

Proof by intimidation is a jocular term used mainly in mathematics to refer to a style of presenting a purported mathematical proof by giving an argument loaded with jargon, and to appeal to obscure results; so that the audience is simply obliged to accept it lest they have to admit their ignorance and lack of understanding.

More generally, 'proof by intimidation' has also been used by critics of junk science to describe cases in which scientific evidence is thrown aside in favour of a litany of tragic individual cases presented to the public by articulate advocates who pose as experts in their field.

The Ham Hightail is a term invented by P.Z. Myers to describe the arguments presented at Ken Ham's Creation Museum. In contrast to the Gish Gallop, the Ham Hightail consists of hurtling from point to point, ignoring all contrary evidence, and quoting the Bible whenever proof is required.

The objective of the Ham Hightail is not to convince the sceptics, but to reinforce the believers. The science does not have to support creationism, so long as people believe it does. To this end Ham's Answers in Genesis has run a long campaign of presuppositionalism in creation science: You assume the bible is correct and then find the evidence that fits, everything else you just ignore. Minor annoying details, such as radiometric dating and common descent, are brushed aside with comments about them being based on assumptions that are only true depending on your "worldview". If you want to take the Ham Hightail to the lengths the originator has, you can start your own pretend science journal and fill it full of speculative essays, all the while deluding yourself that you are sponsoring real research.

A point refuted a thousand times, commonly abbreviated as PRATT, is a common phrase on Internet forums where debates have a tendency to go in circles. Once people have refuted a point the first thousand times, it's hard for them to muster the motivation to do it again. Once someone has labelled an argument a PRATT, that usually means they have no interest in discussing it. This could itself be a diversionary tactic.

The website acts as a repository of PRATTs commonly used by creationists, and presents (usually in great detail) their refutations and science behind them. The site is a good starting point when facing a PRATT.

I'm sure I'll find more of these gems.  All praise to Cabal for bringing this rich seam of information to our attention. ;-)  His original memtion is in the comments section at:

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Why am I fascinated by Religion?

Why do I bother?  I don't believe a word of it, and yet I am fascinated by it.  I witness apparently rational and intelligent humans willingly suspend reality and chose to find truth and meaning in comforting myths.  Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' is more consistent and plausible than most of the Holy books, and yet it does not have the pedigree.  Seems age and 'otherworldliness' is more compelling, even though there is so little worthwhile in those Holy books other than restatements of Humanist truths and ways to lead one's life, dressed up in a supernatural cloak - I guess that offers a stronger reason for some to obey the ethical imperatives outlined therein.

More than that: they acquire faith that these myths are real, and that there is an unknowable creator and overseer who must be worshipped, even though worshipping appears to be a placebo that offers no tangible benefits except to reserve a place in a mythical yet comforting state of eternal bliss. 

I keep thinking that I must be missing some vital part of the picture.  I do not choose not to believe as if I had the option to believe.  I used to believe, but that was out of laziness and a desire (even a necessity) to conform.  Now, as every year passes, I become yet more certain that all organised religions promote a myth that satisfies people's desires to lead, or be led, for some purpose that cannot be disproved - for the very reason that is is irrational and outside all that we know within the natural Universe.

Is it more of a kind of club to give hope to the dispossessed or superstitious, and to allow religious leaders to earn a living away from the squalid reality of the shop floor or salesroom, whilst making a virtue out of frugality.

And as science increasingly removes mystery, there seems to be an ever growing desire by ultra-religious people to find scientific proofs for things that neither need nor warrant scientific proofs.  If you believe in a supernatural force able to defy the natural laws why is it important to find natural proofs for events?  At its most barmy are searches for the Ark and the creationist museums, but even the more sane and rational believers indulge in finding proofs for the existence of God. It staggers me that intelligent people still quote Aquinas or Descartes in support of God's existence, even though their proofs have since been conclusively destroyed by generations of philosophers.

I am trying to imagine a World without any religion at all - No beliefs by any human in anything but what is real, what is tangible and provable.  I'm reminded of that old aphorism, "If there was no God we would have to invent one"  Which is what I think we've done - or rather different groups have invented or adapted
different Gods, to better suit their environment or culture.  As an outsider to religion it seems so very obvious that religion is very much man-made, but will we ever convince those who rely on their faith to make their lives bearable and to give them meaning?  I doubt it. Whilst we do not teach humanist ethics and morality to children, and whilst we allow adults to keep indoctrinating their children in their own faith it will not go away.  So instead we have to accept that religion will always be with us, like rain - in turns a life giving and a destructive force.  I guess we are all somewhere on the scale of sanity/madness.  Seems to me

Friday, 14 January 2011

What is an 'Innocent'?

I've noticed that when Catholics want to appeal to the emotions with regard to abortion or similar topics they frequently use terms such as 'slaughter of the innocents' and other phrases including the word 'innocent'. 
I really don't get it.  If one's fundamental position is that all life is sacred, and it is only God who has the right to give and to take life, why should it matter whether the person is an 'innocent' or not?  Is it less bad to kill a person who has committed a sin?
It seems to me that so much of the Catholic way of thinking is based on emotion rather than reason, and yet many take great pride in stating that they embrace reason.  Conversely they accuse those who relinquish their faith of being guilty of pride.
This morning I was reading the blog of the Archdiocese of Washington.  To an outsider these people appear to be so wrapped up in their narrow view of life that they have lost touch with what it is to be truly human. In one thread they repeatedly assert that someone who has relinquished his faith must have done so out of ignorance, and they all say they will pray for him.  I guess that's a charitable thought, but do please keep your prayers for someone who appreciates them.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Are those who accept religious teaching really insane?

I guess one should really define first what insanity is.  Maybe it really is just an alternative version of sanity.  After all, if the majority do something which I regard as insane, then maybe I'm the one who's insane.

So let's say insanity is an affliction possessed by those who do not appear to conform to norms that I and those like me agree are correct.  In that case, believers of religious doctrine are indeed insane.  Why would anyone turn logic on its head in order to comply with something written in an alien culture thousands of years ago by people who hadn't the first clue why things were the way they were, and so invented reasons that made a kind of sense if one had no better alternatives - producing stories that were so outlandish that people thought they must be correct, on the basis that no sane person could possibly have imagined them whilst temporarily delusional as a result of eating the wrong mushrooms.  (Pauses to take a breath...)

Surely to cling to ideas such as these which are so very far past their sell by date is a form of self delusion, by people who would prefer to believe comforting fiction than face uncomfortable fact.  Crazy!

Or is it just me that's crazy? And does it matter?  Ho hum....

Monday, 10 January 2011

Religious people read religious blogs. Atheists read atheist blogs. Why?

I've been reading a blog written by a devout Catholic.  She writes well and provides much fascinating food for thought.  But those submitting comments are almost exclusively her fans, telling her how wonderful she is.  Am I so unusual in wanting to get involved in blogs by people with whom I do not agree? --  not as a heckler or someone who writes very rude childish comments, but as someone who is genuinely interested in understanding a very different point of view, and politely putting forward an alternative one.
It's a little worrying that so many bloggers swim in their own cosy circle of admirers, who hang on their every word.  Surely it is only by being challenged that we are forced to confront our doubts, and we come out of the exchange either confirmed in our beliefs or able to modify them in the light of new information or arguments.

No Random Coincidence? Or Wishful Thinking?

A comment on a Catholic Blog about the apparent intervention of God in subtle ways:

I have experienced this in my life in so many ways! I can’t even begin to tell you. One story I’ll share—though my eyes are welling up with tears at this very moment. My first husband died in a hunting accident--during the deer hunt here in Utah, after we had been married 15 years. At his funeral my friend’s daughter played the music to the country western song, “The Dance”.

Anyway, many years later, I was at an outside Jazz concert being held at Deer Valley Resort, when the jazz band said they usually don’t play country western, but they wanted to play this song tonight and proceeded to play “The Dance”. As I looked up to the mountainside, a huge buck watched through the forest at all of us gathered there. I was at that concert with my new husband, we had just gotten married. Any guesses where...right there at that resort looking over that mountainside. To me that was a wonderful message from what is a very thin veil between here and the afterlife. We’ve gone on to have a son who was born on September 2nd, the same birthday as my 1st husband’s nephew—his namesake, Daniel. You’re right, no event, when lived in faith, is random or meaningless.

If Internet accounts are representative, then so much of Christian witness seems to revolve around superstition; and finding meaning in the most tenuous connections.  Surely what this really illustrates is humans' amazing ability to find patterns in things around them, and their fondness to ascribe meaning where there is none.  I presume that this is comforting and that it gives people a sense of purpose, but that does not mean that their assumptions are correct.

But is this really just harmless nonsense?  Maybe it is.  And maybe if it provides people with comfort then who am I to disillusion them?  My concern is that this mindset leads on to other unsound connections and conclusions which may indeed be harmful.  Is it not better to base our decisions and our actions on reality rather than on wishful thinking?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Theocracy is bad news!

An article caught my attention on the BBC website today:

Men and women have been banned from shaking hands in a district of Somalia controlled by the Islamist group al-Shabab.  Under the ban imposed in the southern town of Jowhar, men and women who are not related are also barred from walking together or chatting in public. It is the first time such social restrictions have been introduced.

The al-Shabab administration said those who disobeyed the new rules would be punished according to Sharia law. The BBC's Mohamed Moalimuu in Mogadishu says the penalty would probably be a public flogging.  The militant group has already banned music in areas that it controls, which include most of central and southern Somalia. Somalia has not had a stable government since 1991.  The UN-backed government only controls parts of Mogadishu and a few other areas.

This is appalling.  Christians may say that this is a consequence of Islamic teaching and would not apply to a Christian theocracy.  But in a Christian theocracy it's likely that such things as homosexulaity would be outlawed despite being something that is innate in some people, and people's right to choose in many aspects of their lives would be significantly curtailed.

Theocracy is bad news, however and wherever it may occur.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

“I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs; / A palace and a prison on each hand.”

I was reminded by an item on the radio of Byron's works. It reminded me of the alliteration Byron uses with Palace/Prison that so impressed me many years ago.  So many thoughts, dreams and ideas contained in just this one brief combination of ideas.   Sublime!

Is it possible to be a romantic and not to believe in anything outside the natural World?  I think our minds play tricks on us all the time, and we imagine that there are greater forces at work because we simply do not understand our own minds.  But is that such a surprise?  It would perhaps be even more strange if we could understand fully how our minds work.  Hmm...

Sunday, 2 January 2011

There is no God?

Recently I've been thinking again about ways that Humanists and Believers can accommodate each others' views, and live side by side, disagreeing but respecting their differing view on the fundamental reasons for our existence.

For a long time I've tried to accommodate the views of believers, based on that aphorism that I can no more disprove the existence of God than a believer can prove God's existence.  I thought I understood religion and chose to reject it on the probability of evidence, and because I found rational explanations so convincing.  But recently I've been trying to really understand religious motivation in a lot more depth, half hoping that I might find something there that would provide a better reason for intelligent believers to believe. 

I have to say that I have failed to find anything.  On the contrary, religion seems all the more ridiculous the more I study it. I presume religion is still ingrained into the human psyche as a by-product of the evolutionary need to find meaning in everything.  I suppose that if one makes that leap of faith and accepts religion as being valid and wants it to be a core part of ones life, then it is relatively easy to find 'truths' that reinforce and augment that desire.  One has only to read many of the blogs that deeply devout people write to witness how they convince themselves at every stage that they are doing the right thing, often relying on hugely partial 'evidence' and ignoring or explaining away that which does not fit their chosen narrative. 

Is that aphorism really valid at all though?  Is belief in a supernatural entity just an idea on a spectrum somewhere between belief in the celestial tea pot and belief in the laws of physics?  And isn't it really quite a long way towards the celestial tea pot?  If so, then am I acting morally in doing nothing to try to stop people leading their whole lives believing, and sometimes ruining them as a result?

To a believer this may sound extremely arrogant.  I would prefer to think that it was an honest statement of how I feel about this.  As ever, my thoughts are very much work in progress.  I record them for future reference.  I wonder how I will feel about this in 6 months time.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Is Morality from God or Man

It's the first day of 2011, and like many other people I'm making New Year's Resolutions.  This year amongst other things I'm going to raise £1,000 for my local Air Ambulance.  This is the figure I chose because they calculated it costs £1,000 for each life saved by the Air Ambulance.

It's obvious from the fact that I'm an Atheist what I think about what informs our morality, but why would I want to do something altruistic like this that has no direct material benefit to me?

As a Humanist I feel a sense of empathy with my fellow humans, and I want to live in a society where we care for and look out for those who need help.  And one day I may need help myself.  If we lead by example while we have the power to do so, then there is perhaps a greater chance that when we need help someone will do the same for us.  I've noticed that as we get older we tend to get more altruistic and we tend to do more to help other people.  Is it because having dependent Children 'conditions' us to care for others, and having experienced our share of knocks in life we can understand how we all need to help each other to get through life?  I'm constantly amazed when I'm out collecting for the Air Ambulance how pensioners are so often the most generous, and how young men are invariably the least generous.  Perhaps it is only as we get older that we begin to realise our corporate responsibility for our fellow humans.
Altruism is a sign of civilisation and is an evolutionary social attribute to increase our future chances of survival.  Hooray for us humans! :-)