Evidence and Proof

Question from Pachomius aka yrreg:
What is your concept of evidence and proof?

Please give five examples of evidence as of proof.

By stating what five things are evidenced by what evidence.

And what five things are proved by what proof.

I understand there is a difference between evidence and proof, of course they are connected.

Answer by SmartLX:
As he’s written elsewhere, Pachomius here basically wants an atheist’s definitions of evidence and proof so that he can reference them as he attempts to prove the existence of God, pre-empting anticipated objections by the atheists he’s trying to convince. Those atheists are regulars on the James Randi Educational Foundation forum, so his work’s cut out for him. (Hiya JREF.) Besides, no other atheist is obliged to accept my definitions, so the best he can really do is pre-empt definition-based objections by me personally.

That said, I’ll give him an answer, because I’d like to see what he has to offer. In my concept, evidence and proof are indeed connected, but here’s the difference between them:
Evidence for a claim is an object, event or argument which makes the claim more likely to be true.
Proof of a claim is an object, event or argument which makes the claim certain to be true.

Therefore proof is the ultimate evidence, but evidence is not necessarily proof.

Here are five examples of evidence that would at least make me re-evaluate the probability of a claim:

– A man’s unique dental imprint on a woman’s arm would be evidence that he bit her.
– Markers appearing in the middle of the second pair of human chromosomes, which normally only appear on the ends of chromosomes, are evidence that our (ape) ancestors had one more chromosome pair at one stage, and two of them later fused together.
– A man’s amputated arm growing back seconds after he bathed in the shrine at Lourdes would be evidence for the shrine’s advertised healing properties.
– A prophecy in the Bible which predicted the day and time of three 21st century earthquakes, which then actually happened, would be evidence that its author had some prior knowledge.
– An increase in the number of Christians worldwide which coincided with a similar decrease in the number of atheists would be evidence that non-believers were converting to Christianity in large numbers. (The reality is that Christianity today mostly increases through reproduction or, in some populations unaccustomed to missionaries, at the expense of more established religions.)

Proof is a lot harder to come by. As absolutes, proofs may only exist in pure mathematics, and even then they rely on axioms which are questioned by some philosophers. Each of the following five examples, however, would be good enough for me in its own context that I would unreservedly accept the given claim:

– Seeing a gaping wound in my leg after an accident, but not feeling any pain after several hours, would be proof that I had lost the feeling in that leg. (The wait would be necessary to make sure I wasn’t simply in shock.)
– If a positive integer is divided by every positive integer between 1 and itself (non-inclusive) and none of the results are integers, that proves the integer is a prime number.
– As JBS Haldane famously said, the discovery of fossilised rabbits from the Precambrian era would prove that there was a serious flaw in the theory of evolution, given that rabbits are thought to have evolved well after the Cambrian era.
– If when we first arrived on Saturn’s moon Titan we found that a stick figure ten kilometres tall had been burnt into the surface by a laser, it would prove that intelligent life had been there before us.
– If there’s an afterlife, its existence is proved to everyone after they die through their own continued existence. (Of course, this is no help to the living.)

In the end, if people think they can establish the existence of God I don’t care whether they call their material evidence or proof. I judge it on its own merits.

Atheism is a…what?

Question from Kristen:
What is Atheism?

Answer by SmartLX:
Years ago, site founder Jake did a great job answering the question, “What is an atheist?” He defined the word very simply, and dispelled some myths about atheism which even now are depressingly prevalent. In an effort to be complementary instead of redundant, I will instead discuss what atheism actually is, in other words, how it can be categorised.

Is atheism a religion? No. The basic definitions of the word “religion” have in common the existence of a set of beliefs, usually in something unknown and supernatural, and atheism as defined by most atheists is a lack of belief in any such thing. (Since I’ve just referenced dictionary.com, I should address the definitions of “atheism” there: the first one, an actual belief that there is no god, is known as strong atheism, and is not a very common position. The second definition is better.)

Some theists nevertheless accuse atheists of being religious, for example about evolution or an as-yet-undetermined natural cause for the universe. Evolution is easy to accept with confidence, rather than belief, because it supplies plentiful evidence. A natural universe-starter cannot inspire positive belief unless you take a guess at what it actually was, and stick to that guess to the exclusion of all other possibilities. Few people do this for anything but a god.

Is atheism a worldview? Hardly, because it only takes a position on one thing. If there are no gods in the world, that doesn’t tell us much at all about the world, especially given that theology regularly defends gods by explaining why the world usually looks as if there are none.

Is atheism a philosophy? No, for much the same reason it isn’t a worldview. The absence of gods is not very informative with respect to logic, morals and so on. Atheists look to other sources for these, not to some god-shaped hole in the world.

If it’s none of these, then what is atheism, finally? It’s a position one can take, at least. I had a go at nailing down the specific position here. More directly, though, it’s a rejection of a position, namely the theist position that there is good reason to believe in a Creator or other deity. Atheists think there’s no good reason.

So if that’s all atheism is, why is it so important to proclaim and to encourage? Because the alternative position locks people into rigid religions, worldviews and philosophies with little or no evidential support behind them, which may or may not even apply to modern people’s lives. Once one is free of theism, one may draw upon the sum recorded total of human wisdom (the only kind we know there is) to formulate one’s own approach to life, and accept the world more as it really is. I am confident that we’d all be happier this way. True persuasion, not coercion, is the only way to get people there.

The Story So Far

ATA was created in 2006 for the Rational Response Squad, famous for the Blasphemy Challenge and their Nightline debate with Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. In 2009 we archived the original site and moved to a new platform, which is where we are today.

I’m here to answer any questions or challenges you might have for atheists in general, along with site founder Jake. We’ve been around long enough already that it’s worth checking whether your question has already been answered, but we’re happy to tread old ground for new readers.

Welcome to Ask the Atheist. Ask away.

Edit: A couple of things if you’re new. Comments are fully moderated and your first post must be approved, so give it time to appear. If a new contribution is reliant enough on an existing answer, especially a recent one, it will go under that answer as a comment. It’s no judgement on you or your writing, we just like to keep discussions in one piece.

SmartLX

Death and NOFX

Question from Anonymous C:
I’m a 15 year old sophomore in a little city right outside of Chicago, IL. Seeing as it’s a suburb, I’ve had more than enough time to think, seeing as there is nothing to do (That’s my attempt at humor, haha). Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of against me and nofx, by lately I mean a year. I’ve always had an apathetic religious view but lately I’ve been thinking a lot more about death. I really just want some sort of reassurance. I’ve been using the simile that I’m like a soldier on the front-lines, or like Darwin. It really is a very disturbing thought to me, and I wish to know why… Why does this bother? There’s no real words for it other than an oblivion of emotion. I’ve been looking at cardiac arrest patients that have been clinically dead and resuscitate for some answers and it’s not very helpful. Well anyways, I hope that your input can help,

Thank you for your time.

Answer by SmartLX:
Death is a disturbing concept for most people, especially when they first begin to realise their own mortality. You’re certainly not alone there.

Since most people are religious or at least raised in religious environments, they have a ready-made concept of the afterlife presented to them which they may then accept or reject. The concepts provided by the major religions can be comforting, but they can also be terrifying; Christians might go to Heaven or be sent to Hell for something they don’t remember doing, Buddhists might reach nirvana or be reincarnated as a tapeworm, Scientologists might leave their bodies to do high-level research or come back in a new body but still bound by a billion-year contract, and so on. Near-death experiences are not informative when judging them, because any real NDEs that might have happened were indistinguishable from dreams or hallucinations.

All of these concepts have one thing in common, and it’s possibly the most comforting thing about them: the basic idea that we have some control over what happens to us, that what we do in life determines what happens afterwards. Death is inevitable, and we feel helpless when confronted by it, but the idea that we can affect the nature of it mitigates this somewhat.

Of course, the fact that an idea is comforting doesn’t make it true. It just makes people want it to be true. You might want to convince yourself of an afterlife story because it will stop you from worrying, but be aware that religion is a package deal. Other beliefs and obligations accompany an afterlife belief, and you risk your whole life becoming centred on them.

As a child, I was terrified of death. The Christian view of the afterlife didn’t help me at all, because firstly I may not have fully accepted it even then, and secondly the ways to get sent to Hell are so numerous that I didn’t think I could possibly avoid them all. I’m much more at peace with it all now because I’m more focused on this life, the only life I know for sure that I’ve got.

You may not resolve your issues the same way, but believe me, you’ll get over it. Everyone finds a way, and time and distractions are a great help. No offence, but that amount of NOFX is not a huge help to your introspection. Play something optimistic once in a while. I recommend most of the musical output of the 80s, or the early 90s before grunge.

Heresy

Question from Jeremy:
Will you please explain to me the difference between an atheist and a heretic?

Answer by SmartLX:
Atheists don’t believe in a god. Heretics commit heresy – they say and/or do things which contradict religious dogma.

Heresy is different from blasphemy, which is specifically a show of irreverence toward religion. It’s possible to be heretical without being blasphemous (for example by praising the actions of a church while debunking its beliefs) or to be blasphemous without being heretical (for example by insulting a god without questioning its existence) but it’s usually easier to be both at once.

All outspoken atheists and agnostics are also heretics in the eyes of the religious, because openly questioning the existence of an established god is a basic form of heresy. Silent or closeted atheists (the kind churches prefer) may not be heretics, especially if they pretend to worship out of some social obligation.

Not all heretics are atheists; in fact, the word is now most often used to describe those with religious beliefs that differ from the speaker’s to a relatively small degree. To a Catholic, a Muslim is a heretic, but Muslim beliefs are so far removed that the words “pagan” or “heathen” might seem more appropriate. A Catholic is more likely to use “heretic” to describe a Protestant, or a Mormon. Atheists may again be called “heathens”, or else unique words like “unbelievers” or “godless”.

Generally speaking, the word “heretic” has been de-emphasised when heresy has ceased to be a criminal offence. There are still places where heresy can get you killed, legally or otherwise, and there the word is still in regular use. For the rest of us living in pluralistic societies, heresy is a somewhat antiquated concept.

NT Historical, Or IsN’T Historical?

Question from Malachy:
What is your theory to how Christianity started? Was it a lie? was is a legend? Was it a Historical novel? and why. the more details the better.

Answer by Andrea:
Hi Malachy,

Before I did my research, I heard that Christianity started because the times were hard for the people and at the time all kinds of soothsayers and leaders arose to “save the people” (according to my World History prof). I figured Jesus was one of those guys though exceptionally charismatic — probably telling good jokes and was a ladies’ man as much as he was a man’s man.

However, as a result of some research I did two years ago, I accidentally stumbled upon the story of the Rosetta Stone, which was found in the Nile by Napoleon’s troops, and was a sort of ancient Egyptian dictionary that unlocked the mystery of why the temples in Egypt told the story of a man who was born of a Virgin, whose birth was announced by a star in the East, who had a halo and was followed about by 12 disciples, only to be later crucified, among other things. This story seemed so much like the story of Jesus – only it was documented in stone thousands of years before the Bible was even written.

Since I had never heard of this before, I did more research and found that many comparative mythologists were united in believing that the Jesus story was “plagiarized” from earlier sources. I was shocked that this information has never been made widely available, which is why I constructed a table at Presents for the Planet. Five predominant mythologies have been selected to compare with the Jesus story, though many others show the same or additional parallels with astonishing likenesses. The Krishna story, for example, has anywhere from 100 to 300 parallels to that of Jesus, depending on the historian’s reference documents.

This history provides an insight into what has embarrassed biblical scholars for centuries: Why a man capable of performing the most astounding miracles known to civilization was not mentioned other than in the Bible and derived religious writings. History documents a King Herod, but he died two years before Jesus was said to be born and there is no mention of the mass slaughter of infants the New Testament says he ordered. There is also no mention of a Jesus, a man said to be capable of walking on water, healing lepers or raising the dead.

Due to the vast amount of information, the table should by no means be considered to be complete. For example, there were over 50 messiahs centuries before Jesus who were recorded to be 1) born of virgins, 2) to save mankind, 3) only to later be crucified, and then 4) resurrected. The majority also had the following in common:
• They were associated with the sun for the simple fact that the sun is the savior of most life on Earth, chasing away darkness and bringing light and warmth. (Hence the solar disks or halos or around their heads, why the most sacred day of the week for many of these religions is “Sunday” and why the “Son of God” is really the “Sun of God.”)
• They were born on December 25. On this day, three days after the Winter Solstice when the days begin to lengthen, the sun’s rise Northward again becomes detectable, heralding the beginning of the sun’s return to its most productive state.
• Their births were announced by a star in the East because that is the direction of the rising sun.
• They all die and are resurrected—and usually on the Vernal Equinox, when the sun rises directly East and day an night are equal in hours. Often called Easter, this symbolizes the regeneration of the Earth. Easter is defined as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, the full moon making it an ideal time to hold celebrations.
• They are associated with a cross because it represents the division of the four seasons of the year. The circle often seen in the center of the cross represents the circular path of the sun.
• They had 12 disciples to symbolize the 12 signs of the Zodiac, as well as when the sun is highest: 12:00 noon.
• They underwent their transfigurations at around age 30 since people didn’t live as long back then, so mid-life crises came earlier.
• Like Horus and Jesus, they had gaps in their life histories from the age of 12 to 30. In Egyptian mythology, the age of 12 was one of the indices of transformation from the natural or unregenerate state of humanity into the spiritual kingdom, on the symbolic basis of puberty, change of voice and development of mind. And 30 was the index of completed perfection, type of the spiritual heyday in evolution.
• The following numbers found in the Old and New Testaments are also regularly injected in scriptures associated with the other various saviors: 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, 12, 24, 30, 40, 70 and 300.
• The circuit of their one-year journeys throughout the year are similar and considered by many historians to be an astronomical allegory for the sun’s annual passing through the Zodiac. For example, Jesus begins his journey to Galilee (which literally means “circuit”) by visiting John, who baptizes him with water (Aquarius, the water bearer) and then visits two fishermen (Pisces, the two fish). A couple months later Aaron made a golden calf for the Israelites to worship (Taurus, the bull). Skip up three-fourths of the year to the happy time of harvest and you find Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, after which he has a temper tantrum about the money changers, who pick up their scales and leave (Libra, the scales of justice), and the list goes on.

The similar story recurring throughout the ages makes sense since the ancients, whose lives depended on agriculture, had a vested interested in studying the night skies to determine the time of year to plant, harvest, etc., and correspondingly made up stories to provide a mnemonic device of sorts in order to impart this knowledge to future generations. (See Solar Mythology and the Jesus Story for a compilation of archaeological evidence correlating the rest of the zodiacal signs with Jesus and the other “saviors of mankind.”

Osama vs Bush

Question from Samuraigamer:
Few days ago finally the man who killed 3000 INNOCENT people *for his religious convictions* at 9/11 was killed in the name of justice. Should the rest of the world expect that George Bush, the man who has killed over a million INNOCENT people *despite his religious convictions*, is to be put to death as well?

Answer by SmartLX:
The policies of the George W. Bush administration that resulted in so many deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond were not entirely implemented despite the man’s religious convictions; rather, it was at least partially because of them. As he revealed to the French president at the time, he apparently thought he was waging a battle against the minions of Satan. Many Christians share his conviction; the broader Middle East conflicts are supposed to drive a series of prophesied events leading to the Rapture and Armageddon, which is a good thing to those who expect to be Raptured. So they escalate the fighting however they can.

The world shouldn’t sensibly expect Bush to be killed anytime soon, if nothing else because Bush is much better protected than bin Laden. As for whether Bush deserves capital punishment, if he does then so do a great many of the world’s leaders, past and present, for initiating other bloody conflicts. The responsibility of individual politicians for the actions of soldiers of the state is a philosophical can of worms, but it’s safe to say that it’s difficult to single Bush out.

Dave’s Old Pad

Question from Dominic:
What are we to make of the possible discovery of King David’s palace by Dr. Eilat Mazar? Do you believe this gives more credit to the Bible?

Answer by SmartLX:
Not very much, based on the discoveries and research so far.

The discovery of what’s now blandly called the Large Stone Structure was almost six years ago, and they’re still trying to date it authoritatively. Mazar was out specifically looking for Biblical artifacts, sponsored by an institution that supports political Zionism (and would therefore love proof that the Israelites were established in that area). Most of the external support since has come from Mazar’s second cousin at a Jerusalem university. None of this is sufficient grounds for dismissing the possibility that the discovery is really Biblical, but none of it helps the positive case either.

It strikes me that Mazar has apparently assumed that David was king at the time in order to conclude that the structure belonged to him, and at the same time the structure is now the bulk of the physical evidence supporting the existence of King David himself. (Other than the structure, and not counting the Bible, there’s one ambiguous carving on a piece of rock and that’s about it.) To uphold one as evidence for the other may be circular reasoning.

Of course people who try this usually haven’t based their own beliefs on the archaeological evidence, having begun to believe well before learning of it, so their personal journeys to belief are another matter.

Christian Worldview: The Atheist Perspective

Question from Cassie:
I need an athiest view on Reality, Knowledge, Human Nature, Human Problems, Solutions to Human problems, Human Value, Human Purpose, Ethics, Suffering, Meaning in Life and Human desire. With what I have read it is being said an athiest does not have Human Value, Human Purpose, Ethics, Suffering or meaning in life. Which I find to be untrue. Does an athiest truly believe a new born is not human because he is not free willed or can not make a self-conscious choice?

Additional question from Claudia (new):
How do the majority feel about money/careers?

Answer by SmartLX:
We’ve had a lot of people through here looking for atheist responses to questions from the Christian Worldview course ever since I answered the one about our interest in humanity. Cassie was nice enough to summarise all the questions in the course which ask for an atheist perspective.

I’ll give you my take on each of the above concepts, and Andrea will chime in when she can, but first I want to warn any students of this course who read this: your teachers may not want or expect you to ask a real atheist. The course textbook The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog by James Sire is very specific about the interests, priorities and other views of one devout Christian’s idea of archetypical “naturalists”, “secular humanists” and “atheist existentialists”. Biased as that book is, you may be expected to answer the study/assignment questions from the perspective of these archetypes as defined by Sire so you can then refer to the book to support your answers. My views may not fit the bill at all.

That said, it all depends on who’s running the course, so here I go. If you need me to elaborate on anything, leave a comment.

Reality: It’s the same for everyone, no matter what they think it is. It may include things of which we have no understanding, and even things for which we have no evidence. Until we have that evidence, however, and at least a rudimentary understanding, there’s no point in behaving as if such things exist.

Knowledge: Any of it may be wrong, but just because knowledge possibly isn’t certain doesn’t mean it’s useless. Knowledge can prove itself through application, by informing predictions that turn out to be right. One person’s apparent knowledge can therefore be better supported than another’s.

Human nature: The result of our “upbringing” as a species, a long process of physical evolution, technological discovery and social development. Human nature is not necessarily good or evil, inasmuch as those words can be applied, but consists of two main components: instinctual urges, and the facility to follow or overrule those urges. Not free will as philosophically defined, but a solid mechanism of choice.

Human problems: Mostly caused by humans. Highly subjective, because not everyone may see something as a problem. We use our common interests to define common problems; for example our shared will to live drives us to answer threats to our survival.
Solutions to human problems: Found by humans, or not at all.

Human value: Humans have value to humans. This is all that is required to implement and follow laws, rules, ethics and guidelines protecting human life. The universe need not agree with us, because even if it did we couldn’t tell.

Human purpose: Natural selection is the immediate reason human beings came about, but it doesn’t imply any future purpose for us. We have to come up with that ourselves. Most of the time we just find purposes for ourselves as individuals.

Ethics: Based on common goals such as the preservation of life, fairness, minimisation of harm and so on. Also handed down to us by religions, long after we came up with the major principles ourselves.

Suffering: Unless it serves some worthwhile purpose in life, for example character building, it is to be avoided, alleviated and prevented as much as possible.

Meaning in life: See human purpose.

Human desire: Based on instinct and upbringing, which is why most people want roughly the same basic things out of life, but highly malleable to the point where an individual human might want anything conceivable.

Money/careers: some may declare these to be their purpose in life, for better or worse. This is not necessarily a greedy or materialistic thing to do, though, because some careers in particular are built around helping others and improving the world, so everyone benefits if you succeed at them. It’s all about what you do with the things you earn.

Finally, of course a baby is human. Human beings aren’t defined by the ability to make choices, because even a guy in a coma is human. Even if humans were thus defined, babies do make choices: whether to cry, whether to eat and so on. They’re just little choices by little people with very little foresight.

Answer by Andrea:
There are many types of atheists, depending on the group’s particular focus. Groups include secular humanists, naturalists, brights and Zen Buddhists, agnostics, empiricists, freethinkers, materialists, objectivists, rationalists, skeptics, as well as several Buddhist and Taoist sects and the majority of Confucians.
Examples of mission statements from the various groups follow below:

Atheism
Atheism is a doctrine that states that nothing exists but natural phenomena (matter), that thought is a property or function of matter, and that death irreversibly and totally terminates individual organic units. This definition means that there are no forces, phenomena or entities which exist outside of or apart from physical nature, or which transcend nature, or are “super” natural, nor can there be. Humankind is on its own.
The following definition of Atheism was given to the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Murray v. Curlett, a lawsuit filed to remove reverential Bible reading and oral unison recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in the public schools.
“Your petitioners are Atheists and they define their beliefs as follows. An Atheist loves his fellow man instead of god. An Atheist believes that heaven is something for which we should work now – here on earth for all men together to enjoy.
“An Atheist believes that he can get no help through prayer but that he must find in himself the inner conviction, and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it and enjoy it.
“An Atheist believes that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help to a life of fulfillment.
“He seeks to know himself and his fellow man rather than to know a god. An Atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An Atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An Atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated. He wants man to understand and love man.
“He wants an ethical way of life. He believes that we cannot rely on a god or channel action into prayer nor hope for an end of troubles in a hereafter.
“He believes that we are our brother’s keepers; and are keepers of our own lives; that we are responsible persons and the job is here and the time is now.”
(Retrieved from American Atheists)

Secular Humanism
Secular Humanism is also known as Scientific Humanism or just Humanism. The tenets of this belief system are described below.
Ethics
Humanists are moral and ethical because it is the right thing to do. We try to treat others, as we would like to be treated. We strive to be fair and understanding. We try to be honest with others and more importantly, with ourselves. We look for what is real or makes the most sense and try to avoid believing something just because we want to believe it or because it makes us feel better. We feel it is degrading to our self-image to think that we are only capable of moral behavior if we are threatened with eternal punishment.
Fair Play
We support the right to be religious as well as the right to be non-religious. We feel that all people should be treated with respect, consideration, empathy and understanding.
Gods
Humanists do not believe in any God. Men created gods in an attempt to explain the unknown. The only real evidence for a God is in the writings of men. There is as much evidence for the existence of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
Religion
Humanists believe that religions have been created by men and women primarily to control, manipulate and exploit other men and women. In ancient times religion was used by tribal leaders to recruit and control their followers. Later Kings and Emperors used it to build and exploit their empires. In recent times religion has become a competitive, but very profitable business. Religion sells the promise of everlasting life (follow me and do as I say and you will never die) through radio, television and from the pulpit. It takes in billions of tax free dollars each year. Many religious leaders become very rich by taking money from the poor.
Death
Humanists do not fear death. We realize that life is but a brief period of conscious during an eternity of sleep. Death is only a return to the state that we were in before we were born. We believe that this life is all there is. Our brain, from which our thoughts and our awareness of ourselves and what is around us originates, is powered by electrical energy supplied by our bodies. When our body dies, the energy, the power to our brain is turned off. Our brain, including all its thought processes ceases to function. Death is final for all animals including humans. To believe otherwise is simply wishful thinking.
Truth
We look to science and reason to understand the world and the universe in which we live. Humanists do not claim to have all the answers. We acknowledge that there are things in the universe that are beyond human understanding at this time and possibly for all time. We continually explore new ideas, and reexamine old ideas. We attempt to determine what is true through accumulated knowledge and critical thinking.
Church State Separation
We strongly support the separation of church and state. There can be no freedom of religion or freedom from religion under a state religion. Many early settlers in what became the United States were Christians seeking to escape the state supported religion in England.
(Retrieved from Good Life Humanist Society)

Naturalism
Very briefly, Naturalism emphasizes a type of spirituality based on an appreciation for nature and the cosmos. Science unifies the world so that we are either closely or remotely connected to everything else through evolution. We therefore have a full connection to the world. Understanding this connection gives us far greater self-control and self-acceptance while at the same time reduces self-righteousness, moral superiority, shame and guilt. It also enhances our powers of prediction and control which leads to an ethics of compassion and the potential to revolutionize our relationship to ourselves, to others, to society and to the planet.
Naturalism is the understanding that there is a single, natural world as shown by science, and that we are completely included in it. The three words that capture the essence of naturalism as it applies to our lives are connection, compassion and control.
Connection
Everything we are and do is completely connected to the rest of the world. Our bodies and minds are shaped in their entirety by conditions that precede us and surround us. Each of us is an unfolding, natural process, and every aspect of that process is caused, and is a cause itself. We are therefore entirely at home in the physical universe.
Compassion
Seeing that we are fully caused creatures—not self-caused—we can no longer take or assign ultimate credit or blame for what we do. This leads to an ethics of compassion and understanding, both toward ourselves and others. We see that there but for circumstances we might have been the homeless person in front of us, the convict, or the addict, had we been given their genetic and environmental lot in life.
Control
Understanding how we are caused to behave as we do gives us increased powers of prediction and control. Instead of supposing people can simply will themselves to be otherwise, we concentrate our energies on creating the conditions that promote constructive personal and social change. The ethics of compassion is matched by a practical efficacy based in scientific knowledge.
Each of us is an unfolding natural process, and every aspect of that process is caused, and is a cause itself. So we are fully caused creatures, and seeing just how we are caused gives us power and control, while encouraging compassion and humility. By understanding consciousness, choice, and even our highest capacities as materially based, naturalism re-enchants the physical world, allowing us to be at home in the universe. Naturalism shows our full connection to the world and others, it leads to an ethics of compassion, and it gives us far fgreater control over our circumstances.
There are several rather important personal implications of naturalism that make it a useful world view. First, by seeing that you are indeed caused to be who you are and a fully physical creature, you discover yourself fully connected to nature and to the physical and social world around you. You discover yourself to be completely at home in the universe, on the planet, and in your community. This is the basis for a naturalistic spirituality, an approach to your ultimate personal concerns that celebrates the grandeur of the cosmos and the beauty and wonder of nature. For this reason, naturalism can also help improve interpersonal relationships, gives you a profound shift in our self-understanding and self-acceptance, and provides the basis for progressive social policies.
(Retrieved from Naturalism.org)

Freethinkers
A freethinker is one who has rejected religious authority and dogma in favor of rational inquiry and speculation. The Freethought Association is Committed to:
An environment of civil discourse in which all viewpoints can be expressed within civil discourse, without fear of recourse and to provide a philosophical approach to alternative views in which these views are provided serious analysis and consideration.
The application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solution of human problems without reference to supernatural explanations.
The principle of the separation of church and state. It is our goal to ensure that a plurality of world views has a voice in the public arena.
Free Inquiry and oppose any oppression of the human mind and any efforts by ecclesiastical, political, ideological, or any other social institutions to shackle free thought.
Universal moral and ethical principles that are founded on enlightened self-interest and reason. All human values should be grounded in a profound respect for life, personal freedom and the universe in which we live.
(Retrieved from FreeThoughtAssociation.org)

Skepticism
The Skeptics Society is a scientific and educational organization of scholars, scientists, historians, magicians, professors and teachers, and anyone curious about controversial ideas, extraordinary claims, revolutionary ideas, and the promotion of science. Our mission is to serve as an educational tool for those seeking clarification and viewpoints on those controversial ideas and claims.
Under the direction of Dr. Michael Shermer, the Society engages in scientific investigation and journalistic research to investigate claims made by scientists, historians, and controversial figures on a wide range of subjects. The Society also engages in discussions with leading experts in our areas of exploration. It is our hope that our efforts go a long way in promoting critical thinking and lifelong inquisitiveness in all individuals.
Some people believe that skepticism is the rejection of new ideas, or worse, they confuse “skeptic” with “cynic” and think that skeptics are a bunch of grumpy curmudgeons unwilling to accept any claim that challenges the status quo. This is wrong. Skepticism is a provisional approach to claims. It is the application of reason to any and all ideas — no sacred cows allowed. In other words, skepticism is a method, not a position. Ideally, skeptics do not go into an investigation closed to the possibility that a phenomenon might be real or that a claim might be true. When we say we are “skeptical,” we mean that we must see compelling evidence before we believe.
Skepticism has a long historical tradition dating back to ancient Greece, when Socrates observed: “All I know is that I know nothing.” But this pure position is sterile and unproductive and held by virtually no one. If you were skeptical about everything, you would have to be skeptical of your own skepticism. Like the decaying subatomic particle, pure skepticism uncoils and spins off the viewing screen of our intellectual cloud chamber.
Modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, which involves gathering data to formulate and test naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. A claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement. But all facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge, and therefore skepticism is a method leading to provisional conclusions. Some claims, such as water dowsing, ESP, and creationism, have been tested (and failed the tests) often enough that we can provisionally conclude that they are not valid. Other claims, such as hypnosis, the origins of language, and black holes, have been tested but results are inconclusive so we must continue formulating and testing hypotheses and theories until we can reach a provisional conclusion.
The key to skepticism is to continuously and vigorously apply the methods of science to navigate the treacherous straits between “know nothing” skepticism and “anything goes” credulity. Over three centuries ago the French philosopher and skeptic, René Descartes, after one of the most thorough skeptical purges in intellectual history, concluded that he knew one thing for certain: Cogito ergo sum — I think therefore I am. But evolution may have designed us in the other direction. Humans evolved to be pattern-seeking, cause-inferring animals, shaped by nature to find meaningful relationships in the world. Those who were best at doing this left behind the most offspring. We are their descendents. In other words, to be human is to think:
Sum Ergo Cogito—I Am Therefore I Think.
(Retrieved from Skeptic.com)

Agnosticism
An agnostic is defined as
A person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience.
A person who denies or doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge in some area of study.
(Retrieved from Dictionary.com)

Objectivism
Objectivism regards reason as an absolute. It holds that all knowledge is based on the evidence of the senses. It holds that all beliefs, conclusions, and convictions must be established by logical methods of inquiry and tested by logical methods of verification. In short, it holds that the scientific approach applies to all areas of knowledge.
David Kelly
(Retrieved from WhatIsObjectivism.com)

Materialism
In philosophy, materialism is that form of physicalism which holds that the only thing that can truly be said to exist is matter; that fundamentally, all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions.
Science uses a working assumption, sometimes known as methodological naturalism, that observable events in nature are explained only by natural causes without assuming the existence or non-existence of the supernatural. As a theory, materialism belongs to the class of monist ontology. As such, it is different from ontological theories based on dualism or pluralism. In terms of singular explanations of the phenomenal reality, materialism stands in sharp contrast to idealism.
(Retrieved from Wikipedia.org)

Empiricism
Empiricism is a theory of knowledge that emphasizes those aspects of scientific knowledge that are closely related to experience, especially as formed through deliberate experimental arrangements.
It is a fundamental requirement of scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world, rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning, intuition, or revelation. Hence, science is considered to be methodologically empirical in nature.
(Retrieved from Wikipedia.org)

Rationalism
In philosophy and in its broadest sense, rationalism is “any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification.” In more technical terms it is a method or a theory “in which the criterion of truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive.” Different degrees of emphasis on this method or theory lead to a range of rationalist standpoints, from the moderate position “that reason has precedence over other ways of acquiring knowledge” to the radical position that reason is “the unique path to knowledge.”
In various contexts, the appeal to reason is contrasted with revelation, as in religion, or with emotion and feeling, as in ethics. In philosophy, however, reason is more often contrasted with the senses, including introspection but not intuition.
Within the Western philosophical tradition, “rationalism begins with the Eleatics, Pythagoreans, and Plato, whose theory of the self-sufficiency of reason became the leitmotif of Neoplatonism and idealism.” Since the Enlightenment, rationalism is usually associated with the introduction of mathematical methods into philosophy, as in Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza. This is commonly called continental rationalism, because it was predominant in the continental schools of Europe, whereas in Britain empiricism dominated.
Rationalism is often contrasted with this view known as empiricism. Taken very broadly these views are not mutually exclusive, since a philosopher can be both rationalist and empiricist. Taken to extremes the empiricist view holds that all ideas come to us through experience, either through the five external senses or through such inner sensations as pain and pleasure, and thus that knowledge is essentially based on or derived from experience. At issue is the fundamental source of human knowledge, and the proper techniques for verifying what we think we know.
Proponents of some varieties of rationalism argue that, starting with foundational basic principles, like the axioms of geometry, one could deductively derive the rest of all possible knowledge. The philosophers who held this view most clearly were Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz, whose attempts to grapple with the epistemological and metaphysical problems raised by Descartes led to a development of the fundamental approach of rationalism. Both Spinoza and Leibniz asserted that, in principle, all knowledge, including scientific knowledge, could be gained through the use of reason alone, though they both observed that this was not possible in practice for human beings except in specific areas such as mathematics. On the other hand, Leibniz admitted that “we are all mere Empirics in three fourths of our actions.”
(Retrieved from Wikipedia.org)

Zen Buddhism
Zen allows a person to attain enlightenment in this life through the practice of meditation, which leads to mental and spiritual discipline. Zen simply means “meditation” and is the Japanese equivalent of the original Sanskrit term dhyana.
We practice meditation to help clarify our lives and be present to our experience as it is.
We vow to liberate all beings and reduce suffering for ourselves and others.
We uphold precepts as guidelines for conduct that orients our lives towards service and benefiting all beings.
Our Zen practice includes zazen, services, samu work practice, study, koans, classes, workshops and sesshins (retreats).We practice in both Soto and Rinzai traditions.
(Retrieved from ZenCommunity.org)

Taoism
“Be like a mountain and flow like a great river.”
Lao Tse
Tao can be roughly translated into English as path. The founder of Taoism was Lao-Tse (604-531 BCE), a contemporary of Confucius. He was searching for a way that would avoid the constant feudal warfare and other conflicts that disrupted life during his lifetime. The result was his book: Tao-te-Ching.
Taoism started as a combination of psychology and philosophy but evolved into a religion in 440 CE when it was adopted as a state religion. At that time Lao-Tse became popularly venerated as a deity.
It, along with Buddhism and Confucianism, became the three great religions of China. Taoism currently has about 20 million followers, and is primarily centered in Taiwan. About 30,000 Taoists live in North America; 1,720 in Canada (1991 census).
Taoist beliefs and practices encompass the following:
Tao is the first-cause of the universe. It is a force that flows through all life.
Time is cyclical, not linear as in Western thinking.
Yin (dark side) is the breath that formed the earth. Yang (light side) is the breath that formed the heavens. They symbolize pairs of opposites which are seen throughout the universe, such as good and evil, light and dark, male and female. Intervention by human civilization upsets the balances of Yin and Yang. The symbol of Taoism represents Yin and Yang in balance.
“The Tao surrounds everyone and therefore everyone must listen to find enlightenment.”
Five main organs and orifices of the body correspond to the five parts of the sky: water, fire, wood, metal and earth.
Each person must nurture the Ch’i (air, breath) that has been given to them.
The goal of everyone is to become one with the Tao.
Development of virtue is one’s chief task. The Three Jewels to be sought are compassion, moderation and humility.
Taoists follow the art of “wu wei”, which is to achieve action through minimal action. “It is the practice of going against the stream not by struggling against it and thrashing about, but by standing still and letting the stream do all the work. Thus the sage knows that relative to the river, he still moves against the current. To the outside world the sage appears to take no action – but in fact he takes action long before others ever foresee the need for action.”
One should plan in advance and consider carefully each action before making it.
A Taoist is kind to other individuals, largely because such an action tends to be reciprocated.
Taoists believe that “people are compassionate by nature…left to their own devices [they] will show this compassion without expecting a reward.”
There is a long history involvement by Taoists in various exercise and movement techniques. Tai chi in particular works on all parts of the body. It “stimulates the central nervous system, lowers blood pressure, relieves stress and gently tones muscles without strain. It also enhances digestion, elimination of wastes and the circulation of blood. Moreover, tai chi’s rhythmic movements massage the internal organs and improve their functionality.” Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that illness is caused by blockages or lack of balance in the body’s “chi” (intrinsic energy). Tai chi is believed to balance this energy flow.
(Retrieved from ThinkQuest.org)

Buddhism
This is a very simple look at the statement “Buddhism is atheistic.” People question this statement from time to time, so here is a series of quotes and references supporting the general claim that Buddhism is not a theistic religion.
“Buddhism” by Christmas Humphreys (1954). C.H. was President of the Buddhist Society, London, from its foundation in 1924 until its Silver Jubilee in 1954. On page 79 under title “No God, No Soul” he writes “As between the theist and atheist positions, Buddhism is atheist”.
In the prominent book, “The Varieties of Religious Experience”, William James says “there are systems of thought which the world usually calls religious, and yet which do not positively assume a God. Buddhism is in this case. Popularly, of course, the Buddha himself stands in place of a God; but in strictness the Buddhistic system is atheistic” (p50).
Moojen Momen writes in “The Phenomenon of Religion”, 1999, that the worship of deities has continued in many forms of Buddhism despite Western scholars thinking that, because of their texts, Buddhism was atheistic (p53).
Edward Conze states in “Buddhist Scriptures” that what are sometimes referred to as ‘gods’ in Buddhist texts are merely ‘enlightened beings’, and not what the West means by the word “god” (p221).
Buddhist theology does not rely on or need Gods, nor do Buddhist ethics or teachings involve Gods, which is probably why many scholars consider Buddhism to be atheistic rather than theistic. In reality it may be closer to agnostic, but it is certainly untrue to say that it is out and out theistic.
(Retrieved from Vexen.co.uk)

Confucianism
Founder
Confucius – (this is the Latin version of his name); since he was Chinese, his real name was K’ung Fu-tzu, which means “Grand Master K’ung”. China is where Confucianism originated, but it is all over East Asia.
Beliefs and Practices
1. All humanity is good and always striving to be better, be loyal and live upright.
2. The focus is on comprehensive truths rather than logic. They feel the more comprehensive the closer it is to the truth.
3. Confucianists put an emphasis on sympathizing over others when they are suffering. They are always searching for a higher sense of sympathy for people.
4. This belief system also entails the belief that the ultimate personal harmony in life are the relationships one has with: ruler to subject, parent to child, husband to wife, older to younger, and friend to friend. Nothing to do with a relationship with God. No relationship unless it is within human existence.
5. They do believe in a heaven, they call it T’ien, but that it is silent.
(Retrieved from TheSpiritualSanctuary.org)

Piercing the Shroud

Question from Peg:
I am an agnostic and skeptic. I am curious and confused about the Shrould of Turin and wondered if you know anything about it. I have heard that the carbon dating that was done was incorrect in that the piece of cloth cut for the dating came from a re-sewn area from when the shroud was in a fire, so another carbon dating has to be done.

Also, the person who said he re-created the shroud was proven inaccurate as well. Evidently, it was not exactly the same as the shroud. From the documentaries I have watched on this, it seems the experts are at a loss to know how it was done. They even went so far as to say that the image could have been made by a “light”.

Your thoughts would be appreciated.

Answer by SmartLX:
Sometimes you don’t have to know how a hoax was achieved to know it’s a hoax, and the Shroud may well be one example of this.

In 2010 Gregory S. Paul published a study of what the markings on the shroud imply about the position and dimensions of the body it would have been shrouding. Most significant (but not alone) among his findings is the fact that the corpse’s head would have been abnormally small relative to the body. The fact that no likely method of fabrication or duplication has yet been found hardly matters when the end result is apparently the imprint of a seriously deformed man. (I find it interesting, but not surprising, that no Christian has attempted to answer this study by supposing that Jesus really was deformed, for example by microcephaly.)

Meanwhile Dr Raymond Rogers, the man who concluded that the earlier carbon dating was of a newer patch of cloth, has given his own estimate. (Scroll down in this article, but read the stuff on the way there if you like.) He places it in the period between 1000 BC and 1700 AD. This estimate does include the time of Jesus but is broad enough to include the entire Medieval era and many others besides. In fact, it includes every period anyone has ever suggested as the origin of the shroud, and is therefore useless for purposes of elimination or deduction. Assuming that we can now identify which parts of the shroud are original and which are not, a new carbon dating analysis of the original material would be nice to see.

To speak more generally, the two points you bring up are instances where people debunked apparent evidence that the shroud is not that of Jesus. That’s very different news to the discovery of positive evidence that the shroud is that of Jesus, which hasn’t happened and isn’t likely to happen.