What does atheism have to do with evolution?

In actual fact, very little. Let me explain.

At the American Atheists convention I wrote about in my previous post, I got a hear a few very good and thought-provoking speakers. One was Massimo Pigliucci, a scientist and professor who has advanced degrees in both biology and philosophy. There was something he said in his talk that was not shocking at all to me, but does disagree with the statements of some other big atheist names. That is, that atheism is a philosophical conclusion, not a scientific one. You can not infer that there is no god by looking only at the natural world. Which is not to say that he disagrees with the atheist position. He is one himself, and calls atheism a “imminently reasonable” conclusion, but a philosophical rather than scientific one.

I have put some thought into working out how evolution and religion have been set up against each other, and can offer some insight from my experience. My first exposure to the words “Theory of Evolution” was in a book called It Couldn’t Just Happen. I found it on a table at a convention for the Church of the Nazarene that I went to with my parents. I loved science, and this book had pictures of planets and animals and had beautiful glossy pictures like the science books I used at school. So I got my parents to buy it for me, and proceeded to practically memorize the entire text. I remember major points out of it even today, though I’ve not cracked the book open in about twenty years.

Here is the gist of the book: Life on the earth is far to special and complex to have just happened by chance. The theory of evolution is therefore impossible and is nothing more than a rebellion against God. Either the Earth and universe evolved (which we have demonstrated is absurd) or God created it. The God of the Bible, of course.

It was not until years later, in my college years, when I learned about the big bang and then read about evolution on my own that I discovered how totally wrong this book was. One of the multiple huge disillusionments I had about Christianity is that I realized I had been lied to and mislead about the scientific facts of the matter by a Christian author, for Christian purposes. And is was to me a huge betrayal of my trust.

My point here is that it was not authors like Richard Dawkins that linked science and evolution with atheism in my mind. It was authors like Lawrence O. Richards, who very early in my life linked evolution with rebellion against God. Richard Dawkins just confirmed what I had already been taught. And I think it bears some mentioning here that for fundamentalist believers, religion is a matter of scientific fact. If you take the biblical stories literally and seriously, it has to be. It’s not like it is that way for everyone, but the point needs to be made.

Now, if you are a non-fundamentalist Christian believer don’t get it into your head that since I accept that a religious believer can also be scientific that I’m going to convert back. There are lots and lots of other issues that would have to be addressed before I would give any religion even a sideways glance. Atheism may be a philosophical conclusion after all, but it is still one that is well informed by and consistent with scientific fact. In a way that religious belief is not.

Meaningful rather than Spiritual

I’ve been reading a book called “The Atheist’s Way: Living Well without Gods” by Eric Maisel. I recommend this book to anyone who has considered him or herself to be a ‘spiritual atheist,’ because I have found a concept in this book that has changed my mind about how atheists should address ideas of ‘spirituality. Continue reading

Yoga and Skepticism

I’ve said in a previous post that there is some tension present in being an atheist and a yogi. I think it’s more to the point to say there is tension between being a skeptic and a yogi. While in general the teachers whose classes I frequent usually stick with pretty non-controversial claims about the benefits of yoga, every now and then I hear things that make me smirk and squirm a little inside. Stuff like this (not exact quotes):

  • We’re going to have a relaxed class today because it’s near the new moon. Our energy levels are lowest during the new moon.
  • Anything about chakras.
  • Anything about Kundalini.
  • Anything about Ayurveda.
  • Claims that any of the above must be real and good because it’s been practiced for 1000′s of years.

I’ve tolerated this stuff for the most part, and have even gone along with it for the sake of experimentation. I have found that, in general, these things have not been core to the classes. The chakra talk I can deal with as being symbolic for different areas and characteristics of the body. No problem. Same with Kundalini. The alternative medicine stuff does set me a bit on edge though. Especially when I read about things like this: http://whatstheharm.net/ayurvedicmedicine.html. Maybe I’ll ask my teacher about that. Were all these people just doing it wrong?

I’m into the holistic aspect of yoga, and this is why it’s been the only exercise program I’ve stuck with regularly going on two years now. I’m not in it “just for the workout,” it’s also about the mental and emotional benefit as well. I’m all for the non-rational–I don’t have to reason everything out and understand how everything works in order to accept it. What I can’t accept is the irrational.  What if some of these things being practiced as part of yoga can actually be harmful?

New Chapters in Life

Normally I’ve been writing a new post every weekend. However, last week I was on my honeymoon so I skipped the blog. Yep, I’m a married woman now, to a wonderful atheist man :)

I remember a previous huge step in my life was in University, where I learned things I’d never dreamt of before, and found my view on life to be entirely different than when I went in. The most striking thing I found to be changed in this period of time were my views on religion. I had a discussion not long ago with a Christian family member about the influence of professors on my views. I think it is just par for the course for professors to challange their students to see the world from a perspective they have never considered before. Continue reading

Things I’ve Learned about Atheism

There is a Barns and Noble bookstore within a couple minutes drive of my office, so from time to time I hang out there during my lunch break. Last Wednesday I went in and sat by the section in Philosophy with the books of atheism and reflected on some of the things I have learned about atheism in my 7 years of considering myself an atheist. Things I didn’t realize when I started out of this path. Continue reading

Who get to decide what ‘faith’ means?

Faith and religion are different things to different people. I’ve come to the conclusion that dictionary definitions are pretty useless to define faith, god, religion. The dictionary definition is only, at best, a snapshot of different ways people use a word at a particular point in time. And at worst, it shows the biases of the editing committee, or whoever writes those definitions. Therefore the dictionary is a useful guide, but not an authority.

And words like faith and religion, which are highly emotionally charged, have many different (possibly even contradictory) meanings to different people. Continue reading

What Meditation Means to Me

When I meditate, this is what I do. I listen.

That’s probably too obscure, so I’ll explain what I mean. Think about a situation when you are listening to another person talk.  If you don’t stop talking yourself, and stop thinking about what you want to say next, you can’t really be listening to what they are saying. When I first started meditating a few years ago, I noticed how noisy my mind was. When I stopped to observe what was going on in my head, I found it was like a never-ending cacophony. One thought after another, without end. No wonder I was so distracted so much of the time.

Now I am a firm believer in reason, and I was concerned about the idea that it is ever good to stop thinking, even for a little while. Stop thinking? That is how you get drawn in to irrationality and woo-woo. Never check your brain at the door!

But meditation is not “checking your mind at the door.” Stopping thinking is more like stopping talking for a while so that you can hear what is going on around you. So you can really listen. And I find that when I have stopped the incessent internal conversation, and really listened to what is going on, both inside and outside myself, I am prepared to be even more rational than ever.  

With all the noise in my life, I really do enjoy the silence.