Tag Archives: Mormonism

So science confirms your holy book, eh?

You often hear believers claim that scientific discoveries are completely compatible with their religion’s scriptures, if not indeed wholly anticipated by them.  This is alleged to be proof of these scriptures’ supernatural influence.  A few examples:

clarifyingchristianity.com – The Bible is not a science book, yet it is scientifically accurate. We are not aware of any scientific evidence that contradicts the Bible.,,Many [scientific facts] were listed in the Bible hundreds or even thousands of years before being recorded elsewhere.

islam.about.com – In Islam, there is no conflict between faith in God and modern scientific knowledge.  Indeed, for many centuries during the Middle Ages, Muslims led the world in scientific inquiry and exploration.  The Qur’an itself, revealed 14 centuries ago, is filled with scientific facts and imagery that are supported by modern findings.

the-book-of-mormon.com – The truly amazing thing about most of these refutations to the critics is that the majority of these facts were not known to scientists, much less to Joseph Smith, in 1829 when the Book of Mormon was translated. Thus, many of the criticisms become, in light of recent scientific discoveries, proofs!

Of course, if there is one supreme omniscient being, then all of these claims can’t be true at the same time since the holy books indisputably contradict each other—a plain fact that each religious tradition is well-aware of.  Thus, each spends as much time, if not more, debunking the others’ claims as it does defending its own.  For instance, some of the best work demonstrating the utter fallibility of the Book of Mormon comes not from skeptical sources but from Christian ones.  The one thing every religious tradition has in common, however, is a failure to acknowledge the completely ad hoc nature of its claims.   The pattern is as predictable as it is regular.  First comes the scientific discovery, followed by obstinate rejection, then grudging acknowledgement, and finally, once the evidence is overwhelming, its reception as affirming what scripture had been saying all along.  (Needless to say, some don’t even get beyond the first step).

Naturally, skeptics such as myself say it’s all bunk, and to prove it, I’m going to issue a challenge. Believer, since you say that science merely confirms what your holy book has long already said, the inevitable corollary is that it also contains scientific knowledge which has not yet been discovered.  Therefore, believer, your task is easy: rather than claim scientific validation after the fact, tell us something new that science has not yet spoken on, and which can subsequently be validated by science. 

This has never happened, and I predict it will never happen, because in reality the believer’s method is to scour scripture for any possible reference to a scientific truth after its established, and then say – Orwell-like – it was foretold by scripture all along, while quietly shuffling disconfirming scriptures or past beliefs under the rug.  It’s a foolproof method!  For example, if the universe was found to have fixed boundaries rather than continually expanding, Christians, at least, would undoubtedly have pointed to the Bible and said “I told you so!

Believers, I accept your gratitude in advance for coming up with a way for you to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt the divine origin of your theology not only to fools..er, atheists like myself, but to the misguided believers of every other religion. 🙂

Surreal

There’s a feeling that frequently overcomes me as I read religious scripture.  It’s difficult to express, but if there’s one word that sums the feeling up, it’s “surreal.”

Its source is knowing that there are millions and millions of fellow humans who fervently believe that what I’m reading is some divine truth, as factual as their jobs or families, while to me it’s just as plain that it’s pure fantasy.  I wonder, how is it possible that our perceptions of the same stories and words can be so fundamentally opposed.  As irreconcilable as oil and water.  It’s like I watched The Lord of the Rings and everyone came out of the theater saying what a great documentary it was.  Something. is. not. quite. right.  What prevents me from understanding their scriptures as reality in the same way these other millions do?

The designers of religion have recognized this conundrum, and have crafted ingenious rationales why their “truth” appears like a bunch of hokum to outsiders.  Consider the words of Christianity’s Apostle Paul:

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. (1 Cor. 2:14-15)

Or Islam’s Prophet Muhammad:

This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah. (Sura 2:2)

Even Scientology has its “endgrams” – residual mental image pictures – of which we must rid ourselves in order understand our true nature.

In each case, there is some element, or lack of it, that obscures the underlying true reality, that biases our understanding.  And until we adopt the particular religion’s paradigm, we cannot fully understand and appreciate the alleged truth that it says is essential to our happiness, immortality, or what have you.  If this seems circular, that’s because it is.  The truth will be revealed to you only once you accept what they say as truth.

Many believers recognize the question-begging nature of their faiths, and a few honest ones realize other religions do the very same thing.  So that’s why they offer up other standards.  For example, a Christian might say that fulfilled prophecy demonstrates the truth of their religion.  Muslims claim the Qu’ran contains scientific knowledge of things unheard of at the time it was written, which proves a divine influence.  Mormons assert that the Holy Ghost witnesses to the truth of the Book of Mormon via a “burning bosom“.  All claimed reformed lives as evidence, too.  Why we should accept the superiority of one standard over any other is never quite explained.  They’re quick to point out the motes in each others’ religions (or even rival sects), but are blind to the beams in their own.

Sorry, if your religion requires me to swallow its tenets before I can comprehend its “truth,” then it is not for me.  Threats of eternal torture repel me even further.  Can any religion pass a basic smell test?

The silver lining to Proposition 8’s passage

Like many in the non-religious community, I was outraged by the passage of Proposition 8 in California, which banned gay marriage there.  It was nothing less than the denial of a basic civil right by enshrining a specifically religious viewpoint into law – a stark reminder of the potent power of faith to cause hardship and derail progress even today.

Still, I see reasons for guarded optimism.  At the least, we should recall that states are clearly divided on the issue, which should dampen pressure for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a prospect seriously raised not too long ago.

More important, opposition has progressively waned as time has gone on, with polls showing highest support among the future electorate.  This augurs well for the gay marriage down the road, though it’s cold comfort for gays understandably indignant at present-day discrimination.

To the extent that Christians were heavily involved in passing Prop 8, I think their image will suffer further damage.  Already, protests are being waged against churches in California whose involvement was influential in the proposition’s success.  Mormons and Catholics, two denominations in particular that poured many resources into the pro campaign are currently experiencing difficulties retaining members, and can only be further damaged by a negative backlash.  Polls show Christianity is increasingly seen in a negative light, with even many younger Christians bothered by its overt anti-gay agenda.  A decline in Christian numbers and influence, accelerated by the passage of Prop 8, can only mean good news for gays in the long term.

What atheism means to me

Note: This is a follow-up to my post, Why I argue against religious belief, because, in my opinion, it’s not enough to criticize without offering an alternative.

I was never a very religious person.  The closest I came was during my teen years when I consistently attended the LDS (Mormon) daily religious instruction known as Seminary, and of course the regular hours-long service on Sundays.  I observed the rituals and prohibitions (well, most of them), tried to get my family back to church, and embedded myself in the cloistered LDS culture.

But even then, I never felt committed.  Other Mormons talked about “feeling the Spirit,” which always remained an alien experience to me.  I never tithed, and I never seriously thought about going on a mission.  There were two constant nags in my mind which probably explain why.  The first was the rank hypocrisy and intolerance of the Mormons I knew – some of it even my own – which belied the carefully cultivated Mormon notion that we were specially imbued with spiritual righteousness.  The second was the BS factor.  I could never quite swallow the explanations we were given about certain difficulties with Mormon history or doctrines.

When I essentially quit the LDS in my late teens, it was not to join another religion (unless you consider surfing a religion, which some certainly did!).  Part of the reason was some bizarre experiences I had with my stepmother’s own brand of Christian fundamentalism (e.g., curses placed on fellow Christians, beliefs in demons, etc.).  Religion, or at least its Christian variant, thus came to represent something rather backward and superstitious in my mind.  I did not immediately become an atheist, however.  I retained god-belief and even prayed on occasion, but never did I obtain that “touched by the Holy Spirit” experience so many believers describe.

My path to atheism began by chance when a Mormon contacted me a few years ago and asked if I would like a home visit.  Mormons, you see, consider you a member for life, unless you’re kicked out or take specific steps to remove yourself from their rolls.  Incensed that I was seemingly being tracked decades after I stopped attending church, I began the formal process of disassociation.  I’m not sure why, but this prompted an interest in learning about Mormonism, but from an outsider’s perspective.  So I started reading material critical of the Mormon faith, primarily from Christian sites such as Utah Lighthouse Ministries and the Institute for Religious Research.  I was completely fascinated and appalled by what I learned; “scam” is a word that often came to mind.  I read LDS apologetics and literally laughed out loud at their feeble, logic-defying rationalizations.

Somewhere I read – it may have been from a Mormon – that the very kind of attacks used against Mormonism could be levied against Christianity.  A light immediately went on, so I began research into Christianity and discovered that the accusation was true.  Even more, when I read Christian apologists, I found they employed precisely the same fallacious reasoning as their LDS counterparts.

This realization was the final push I needed to become an atheist.  Every religion I’ve encountered is built on the same foundation of myths and tall-tales, so obviously untrue it sometimes boggles my mind that people actually believe the stuff it peddles.  One need not be an atheist to relate to this feeling; every believer feels the same with respect to some other religious belief system.  Atheism merely extends the insight to all, without prejudice.

What does all this have to do with what atheism means to me?  Very simple: atheism means to me the search for truth, unburdened by ancient and disproven dogmas.  Since most of the world remains mired in such traditions, atheism also means progress in humanity’s development.  It is the viewing of reality as it actually exists, not as we wish it to be.  Atheism is not in and of itself a worldview, but it does unlock the doors to those which arrive more effectively and efficiently at truth.

As an atheist, I feel free to explore, discover, and revel in the life experience.  And even err, because that is often how we grow.  Religion is a cage, while atheism is an open plain, a blank slate, a clear window.  It allows that alternate views may be true, even religious ones, which cannot be said of those religious views themselves, divisive and discriminatory as they are.  The simple fact that no rampaging army has been rallied in its name is enough alone to commend it.

This is why I am an atheist.

“Born again”

I was a surfrat as a kid, growing up near San Diego.  I spent all day at the beach, with a few brief breaks to grab something to eat at Jack In The Box or at one of the hundreds of Mexican food stands that lined Highway 101.

My stepmom was a fundamentalist Christian who attended Calvary Chapel.  The big thing for her, and for like-minded Christians who seemed to me everywhere, was being “born again”–an intense experience of personal renewal in Christ Jesus that is supposed to herald a new life.

My nominal faith was Mormonism, which put more stock in ritual rather personal experience.  So the notion of being born again seemed strange to me, and grew stranger still as I left Mormonism during my teen years.  Nonetheless, my surfrat friends and I always sought after that born again experience, but not in the way the Christians probably envisaged.  This video will show what I mean.