In Science I Trust

On Monday January 9th I went to the emergency room because I discovered an abscess on my leg.  I was admitted immediately because my heart rate was high and they were afraid I might be septic, I was mostly having a panic attack, but my heart rate took a week to get to normal levels.  I spent that week at St. David’s.  I was never in any serious danger of taking a negative turn (read: dying), but for my mother and father I imagine being 300 miles from your first born as they lay in a hospital bed fills them with dread.  They don’t know that I’m fine and just need the antibiotics to kill an infection (I wasn’t septic, but the infection had shown up in my blood).  When I left they still worried.

1ce0237a7a14a9a2a4dc57f3e22e00a2At times like this people thank their creator, but I’d like to thank all the scientists who made my recovery possible.  In the 1800s if I’d had this same problem there is a chance I’d lose a leg at best, at worst, I’d of died of sepsis. The reason that didn’t happen is because of the history of scientists and doctors saying to nature, “No, not on my watch”.

I was given a blood test that helped determine that, yes, I did have a slight infection. Testing blood in general has only been around for a little over a hundred years, and the ability to find infection…less than that.  So thank you to those scientists who worked to perfect, and are still working to make more perfect, that process.

To give the surgeon an idea of what they were going to have to drain from me, I was given a CT scan.  The first was invented in 1967 (according to Wikipedia) and first put into use in 1971.  Thank you Dr. Godfrey Hounsfield and Dr. Allan Cormack who shared the 1979 Nobel Prize for this.

After this I was taken up to my hospital room.  I was put on IV Vancomycin (thank you Edmund Kornfeld) and Zosyn.

I stayed there for two nights and had surgery on Wednesday.  Now I’d like to thank everyone who worked hard and studied to become my doctor, surgeon, anesthesiologist, nurse, tech, social worker, and case worker.  I don’t know all their names, but every single person at St. David’s was amazing and so supportive.  My surgeon was an excited young woman and you could tell the joy she derived from doing her job.  It was a little weird to have someone so excited to cut into you, but she did an amazing job and I regret that I wasn’t able to thank her afterwards.  I’d like to thank my wound care people who are ensuring that I am healed in weeks as opposed to months.  I’d like to thank the inventor of the wound vac (first put into use in 1995) which is why I’ll heal in weeks not months.  I’d also like to single out two people who made my stay amazing: my nurse Alex who made the first few days enjoyable (everyone I met there knew and liked him and was sad he left) and Megan who took my vitals and made the last days fun.  She had a great sense of humor and a great recommendation for feminist sci-fi authors.  I always love a person who can recommend a book.

I write this because there is a strong current of anti-intellectualism running through our country.  We live in a world where people deny evolution and climate change.  We don’t trust people who have spent their lives studying the things they are talking about.  If you’re one of those people, don’t go to the doctor or the hospital next time you’re sick.  If you don’t trust a climate scientist or a biologist why would you trust a doctor or surgeon?  Science is science.  Biologist, Chemist, and Physicist all use the same scientific method.  While medical studies are subject to more variation due to small sample sizes (and the lack of a control group because you can’t intentionally infect people with diseases), they still use the same scientific method.

I will be fully healed by the end of February if not sooner thanks to the work of scientists of the past and the doctors and nurses of the present who took care of me and made use of the wonderful technological and chemical advances we as intelligent, curious humans created.  When you besmirch or insult scientists you are teaching your children that intelligence is not valued.  That science is unimportant and has no impact on our lives.  But science is not just ensuring that people live longer, it is creating those phones and games that you enjoy.  Science brought you that giant flat screen television at a relatively inexpensive price because intelligent people figured out how to make things better than they used to be.  They used science.

This anti-intellectualism is what is going to cost America its place as a world leader.  If we raise children to not trust science or, worse, that science is a lie, we halt progress.  We ensure that those children will not create the next great medical device or come up with the cure for some disease.  If we teach that evolution is not true, we ensure that no child is going to discover a great anti-viral because viruses don’t care that you don’t believe in evolution they continue to evolve regardless.
Curiosity, experimentation, questioning the status quo, that is what we should be encouraging our children to do.  A little over a hundred years ago I would have died from my infection, in 2017 I was only mildly inconvenienced.  That is thanks to many people who decided to not let “nature take its course” over the intervening 100 years. Thank you to all those men and women, and to all the men and women who still work towards that cause.

You may put your faith in whatever you like, I’ll put my trust in science.

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There is no War on Christians in America

Look religious persecution is a real thing, and it is horrible when it happens.  However, there is no war on Christians in America.  How do I know.  Because I’m an atheist.  The problem is when you are religious you don’t notice all the little religious symbols, phrases, and themes around you.  You can’t see how pervasive things are.  America may not be a “Christian” nation officially, but it pretty much is, just ask a Jew or Muslim when the last time everyone took the day off work for a holiday that represented their faith.  At the University of Texas at Austin Good Friday generally meant a half day of classes.  Don’t see that for other religions.  Sure you can take a religious holiday off of work, but only Christmas is a federal holiday.  Also, try being atheist on Easter.  Seriously, I have to overpay for toilet paper and can’t shop at Best Buy (wait, I don’t shop at Best Buy regularly).

Also, do you realize how many places of worship there are?  I live across the street from a church, and I pass by multiple churches on my way to work.  I have a 15 minute drive and pass at least 4 christian churches.

North Austin Church Map
These are just churches in north Austin.  Every red dot is a church!

My sister once dated a guy who honestly believed that Christians in America were being persecuted.  We began to discuss it briefly in my childhood home, which is LITERALLY a stone’s throw from two churches.  I don’t mean figuratively, I mean I can literally throw a stone and hit two churches.  There is one on my block two houses down from where I lived, and if you go through my back yard and cross the neighboring property, there’s another church.  There are 11K people in my hometown and I know of at least 5 churches I’ve visited and according to churchfinder.com there at 18 Christian Churches (it probably doesn’t list the little revival churches of which there are plenty).  Even without the revival churches that’s still one church for every 600 people.  That map above shows churches in Just North Austin.  Liberal bastion of Texas, Austin! No matter which route I take home, I pass a church.  Even if you ignore the church across the street from me, I couldn’t pick a route home that kept me from passing a church.  If this is Christianity on the run I assume unchecked there would be a church in my home.

Forget Churches, how are people suppressing their religion?  The place where I buy breakfast Kolaches from plays the Christian Music Station.  For a while at the place where I would buy breakfast tacos, the woman would say, “Have a blessed day!”  I doubt she meant Mohammad should bless me.  You can’t run for political office unless you’re Christian.  Some Christians say that these politicians aren’t real Christians, but that doesn’t matter, they still have to lie and say they are to have any chance of winning office.  No President has ever been (openly) atheist.  The recent Republican debate had question that asked what God thinks of tax plans.

Bill O’Reilly and others on FOX claim there is a war on Christmas, but every year people still celebrate Christmas!  And if it is persecution to not acknowledge someone’s religious holiday…then I guess America persecutes Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoist, etc.  If saying Happy Holidays is a war on Christians, then not saying Happy Hanukkah is a war on Jews.  It only follows.  Seriously, the only reason stores are decorated for the holidays is because the “holiday” is Christmas!  Also, if Christians were being persecuted, would they be allowed on television on the highest rated cable news network!

Try being an atheist for a day and see if you can avoid religious symbols.  You can’t.  I have a billboard for a theology degree that I pass every day on my way to work.  That’s some persecution if you can openly advertise for people to become experts in your religion.  I’ve been meaning to start an art project where I photograph all the religious billboards I see in Texas.

Atheist Community Center
Just one atheist center. One.

Frankly, if you think you’re being persecuted and you attend a church every Sunday with hundreds of others, you should really look up the word persecution.  When I drive around on Sunday mornings and pass these churches, they have cops directing traffic to help them exit the church.  They’re not there to protect people but to help ease the traffic caused by churchgoers leaving because there are that many of you!

So, let’s stop with this ridiculous rhetoric and save it for people who are actually persecuted.  There are people in other countries actually dying because of their faith.  There are people in this country who have their property vandalized because of their faith.  Just because someone doesn’t say Merry Christmas to you doesn’t mean you are in the same boat.

Living Without Belief

This is the second part of my blog posts about being an atheist.

So, if you read the last post you got a little glimpse into what made me an atheist.  This part is about how I dealt with suddenly being in a world that had no god.  For those who are agnostic or atheist and read this you’re probably thinking, “What’s the big deal?”.  When you’ve believed as long, and as deeply, as I did; it is kind of a big deal.  I know some religious people who can’t even fathom a world without god, it just doesn’t make sense to them.

(I want to take a moment here to make it clear I don’t speak for any other atheists but myself.  Just as I don’t believe any one Christian speaks for all Christians.)

Living without God

This was not an area where television or movies could help.  If you look at TV and movies, they have no idea what atheists are like or how they think.  House, MD was the closest media has come to accurate portrayals of our beliefs, but they clothed those ideas in a drug-addicted narcissist.  That’s a role-model.  The most famous and beloved atheist is probably Joss Whedon.

But that’s now.  When I was turning 18, I couldn’t even name an atheist.  People who didn’t believe in god were evil (or highly illogically, satanists).  So I had to find my own way.  Fortunately, I was exposed to existential philosophy at this time thanks to a great High School English teacher.  Here were a group of people who were finding ways to exist without god.

Philosophy of the Absurd

When I was in High School they happened to offer for one year a class called Humanities.  It’s where I first read Paradise Lost (a favorite epic poem), Dante’s Inferno, and The Stranger by Albert Camus.  Discovering Existential Philosophy was to have a profound impact on my life, specifically Albert Camus and the Philosophy of the Absurd.

I loved the Stranger, and I immediately picked up The Plague and the Myth of Sisyphus.  To give a ridiculously simple explanation of Absurdist Philosophy: If life has no meaning imposed upon it by external/supernatural beings, then we must impose our own meaning on life.  The premise Albert Camus starts with in the Myth of Sisyphus is if you discover there is no point to life, no Ultimate Reward (heaven and hell), then is it justifiable to commit suicide?  He argues that while this is a valid choice, it’s the wrong one.  Camus argues that you should live in spite, or to spite, the fact that life has no meaning (imposed externally).

Like I said, that’s over-simplifying it, and it’s my interpretation, but that’s what I got from studying his works.  You should go out and enjoy life, because there is nothing after.  This short period of time you have on Earth should be enjoyed to the fullest, because there is nothing else.  You’ll not be rewarded with anything but oblivion by working yourself to death in a job you hate.  Find a way to do what you love, because this is all there is.

I’ve tried as much as possible to make most of my decisions based on that view of life.  I enjoy my job and the work I do (I wish I got more recognition for my accomplishments and more money, but don’t we all).  I enjoy my free time.  I don’t get involved with people who will test my patience or annoy me.

To quote a line from Joss Whedon’s Angel: If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.



Moral Living, or “What stops you from robbing banks?”

The one thing that really fascinates me about religious people’s view of atheist is the idea that we can’t live moral lives without rules from GOD.  Every government class I took, from High School to U.T. made us read John Locke and his Two Treatises on Government.  The reason for this is that he laid the foundation for natural laws that didn’t require a deity.

Now John Locke wasn’t an atheist.  He was a religious person who believed that atheism would lead to chaos.  However, he believed you had to separate religion from government.  He preached tolerance for all religions and knew how a theocracy could lead to tyranny.  So he came up with laws that could be universal and free from religion.

Basically, and again I’m going to grossly over-simplify his writing, we all are free to do whatever we want, as long as we don’t interfere with other’s rights to do what they want.  Governments are created to ensure that “might doesn’t make right” when deciding whose rights are violated.  So theft is wrong because while I may have a right to own a television, by stealing yours I’ve violated your right to own a television.  Likewise, murder is wrong because it would violate your right to live.  He also goes into explaining punishments, but I won’t get into that here.

So Locke set out a political philosophy that gives an intellectual, not a religious, grounding for moral behavior.  There are many other philosophers who did the same, but Locke’s principles are ones that guide me, personally.

Oh yeah, there are two other reasons I don’t commit murders, rape, or rob people. First: I have no desire to do those things.  Stealing, murdering, and any crimes for that matter are just something that don’t have any appeal to me.

Second, there are laws at the local, state, and federal level that you have to follow whether you believe in god or not.  I don’t want to spend ANY time in prison or pay any fines associated with doing whatever the hell I feel like.

Moral living is surprisingly easy without God.

Life is Precious

One of the other really illogical misconceptions about atheism is that life is more precious to those who believe in God and Heaven than those who do not.  This never made any sense to me.  If you believe that life begins at conception, that the moment sperm meets egg a soul is implanted, and that this soul will live on Earth for about 80-100 years (barring some major accident or illness), and after that will live for ETERNITY in Heaven, why is life precious?

This soul, uniquely implanted, did not exist for billions of year (or thousands if you’re really hardcore fundamental), will only inhabit an earthly body for at most a hundred years and will spend infinity in the afterlife, why would it care about “life”.  It would be like a person placing undue importance on the first 2 years of their life.

Now granted, the first two years a child’s life are really important, developmentally. And maybe that’s it.  Our earthly life is important because it’s essentially our “try-out period” for whether we get to go to Heaven or Hell.  But, that doesn’t explain why funerals aren’t joyous affairs.  Why don’t we celebrate with singing and dancing.  As far as we know, our loved ones made it to Heaven.  It should be celebrated with parties and drinking.  It’s like getting into your first choice college, marrying the love of your life, and getting that big promotion all rolled into one!  Everyone should be super-happy and only bummed that the deceased got to go there first.

I know why I spent hours depressed and drunk after my best friend died.  They now only existed in my memory.  Their consciousness has been wiped from existence.  I will never again hear their voice, share a joke, go drinking, or share a secret with them.  They’re gone.

So for me life is EXTREMELY precious.  It’s all we have.  There is nothing else.  To take someone’s life is to delete them like a file that can’t be recovered.

It’s yet another reason to enjoy life as much as you can.  You could cease to exist tomorrow, and you won’t even get to have regrets, because you’ll just be gone.

Dealing with Death

As depressing as that last section was, I’m going to get even more depressing.  As you can imagine I have a hard time dealing with death.  I don’t want to die, not ever.  I hope for the singularity and some way to extend my life beyond it’s natural expiration date.

I sometimes get panic attacks at night as I realize that no matter how long I extend my life, at some point due to entropy, I will cease to exist.  It’s frightening to contemplate nothingness.  The only consolation is that when it happens, I won’t have to think about it, because I will no longer “think”.

I’d love nothing more than to be proven wrong about the afterlife.  I’d endure an infinite number of “I told you so’s” coming from family and friends.

I’m a little jealous of family who found consolation in the idea that grandma and grandpa were watching over them, or that through prayer they could communicate with them.  The idea that, “we’ll all be together again someday”.

I just don’t believe that.

Mind you, I don’t disabuse them of their beliefs.  I’m not an a-hole.  I just can’t join in.  It would be easier for me if I could believe, but you can’t go back.

Happy Ending?

As depressing as all that last part about death was, I’m actually a fairly happy individual.  The other part about Albert Camus’ writing is that it was about enjoying life.  There is a freedom that comes from realizing that “life has no meaning”.  I try to do the things I enjoy as much as possible.  My pleasures are fairly simple and easy to achieve.  I love books, movies, and television.  I love working out.  I enjoy spirited debates with my other best friend.  I enjoy tasting new foods, being exposed to new ideas, and, hopefully down the road, seeing new places.  I enjoy challenging myself to be better at my job.  I love my current apartment and being surrounded by my 700+ books (I dislike moving, but enjoy that I make enough money to pay people to move my ridiculously heavy books for me).

So while death may be like this entity waiting on the edges to take me, until it does, I’m going to enjoy every minute that I’m here on this lovely planet.  And I hope you will, too whatever your beliefs.

Why I’m an Atheist

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to publish this.  I haven’t “come out” to my parents as an Atheist.  My close friends know my beliefs, but not much of my family beyond my sister.  Ironically, my mom would be totally cool if I came out as gay.  Actually, more people would vote for me for President if I were gay rather than Atheist. My mother knows I’m not religious, but I’ve not told her I don’t believe in God at all.  So if you’re reading this and know her, keep it a secret.  If she wants to bury me according to her Catholic or Christian beliefs, let her.  Though hopefully I don’t die first.

A note before I get started, I’ll be publishing this in two posts.  This post will be about how I decided to be an Atheist, the next will be how I live as an Atheist (how Albert Camus helped me through).

A little background

So as mentioned my mother is religious (as is my entire family).  My mother was a Catholic, my father is a Methodist, but I’ve never seen him actually practice.  I think he believes in god, but doesn’t feel the need to go to church or anything.  I was raised Catholic.  I was baptized, did communion and confirmation.  I played in the church choir.  I did my Sunday school classes and really believed there was a God in heaven and a soul in my body.  I believed there was good and evil and that the Devil existed.  When I did my confirmation and they asked me to renounce Satan, I honestly did.

Around my Senior year I started to have questions.  I naturally think a bit analytically.  My first two problem questions came when thinking about the fact that environment can have an affect on your personality.  I’d started to read books on sociology.  If a person is born in a certain environment you can predict the probability they will commit a crime.  Then I took that idea further, if you’re born to a family that was Muslim or Hindu, then that’s the religion you were going to believe in, the same as I believed in the Christian God and Jesus.  According to my beliefs if you weren’t baptized and didn’t accept Jesus, you were going to Hell.  If I could understand that this was wrong, why wouldn’t God?  I couldn’t condemn a people to death simply because they were born in the wrong country to the wrong family (I use “wrong” speaking from the point of view that my religion is the right one, and country being that the U.S. is overwhelmingly Christian).

If God is Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omni-Present, and Omni-Benevolent how could he not see this?

Then there’s the problem of brain damage or genetic preconditions.  What if you’re more prone to violence, and you’re raised by violent parents in a violent environment?  God could just say, “Sorry, tough luck getting dealt that hand.  It’s Hell for you.”

That didn’t make sense.

A soulless creature

Like I said, I’m also very analytical.  Most people probably never stop and think, “If I lose an arm do I lose part of my soul?”  It may seem silly, but I kept going.  How much of my body could be cut off before I would have no soul?  How tiny is the soul?  If I were just a head that was alive, or just a brain, would I still have a soul?

Then science made it even harder.  If you can extrapolate through mathematics and sub-atomic particle collisions that some particle does or does not exist, why can’t the soul be discovered?  If the soul leaves your body and enters heaven, by what process does that occur?  Shouldn’t we be able do detect some sort of energy as a byproduct of this movement from earth to heaven.  I’m assuming this is some sort of inter-dimensional transfer, wouldn’t there be quite a bit of energy given off?  There are more scientific explanations for how the TARDIS works than the soul entering Heaven.

Forget Evolution, basic physics is what’s really the problem with faith.  You can easily reconcile God and Evolution.  Heck, I can even accept there might be a God, but the soul and heaven: no proof, no evidence.

How can there be a god with no Soul or Heaven?  Simple, think about video games.  The Sims is a self-contained world created by people, but when a character dies in a video game…they cease to exist. (granted they could be backed up on another computer and allowed to run again, but we’re talking copies which gets more complicated)  But even then we’d see some code and understand what’s happening.  This is where physics and math come in.  Physics are the laws (code) of the Universe and the language they’re written in is Math.  The fact we find no code that shows how we are backed up onto God’s external hard drive leads me to believe he isn’t backing up his data.    So a god could have created everything with the Big Bang and then left it all alone (the blind watchmaker if you will).  In fact, for us to know there is a god would require what happens in the bible, him telling us he exists.  Burning Bushes, Talking Clouds, sending in an avatar, like Jesus(The trinity makes more sense in gamer terms – I’ll drop the computer metaphor now).

The Good Book is just that

Which brings me to the bible. The Bible would have to be true for us to know there was a God (at least mostly true).  But why should we believe that The One True God sent his only son to Earth to die for our sins, but not believe that Zeus mated with an Earth woman and spawned Hercules.

I won’t go into more detail on the bible, but I’ve actual read a decent amount of scholarship since leaving college (I never took a class on it, because everyone who came from those classes sounded way too full of themselves – and I didn’t need anymore help in that regard). The bible as an ancient text is quite fascinating.  The idea of Jesus as an historical figure is amazing.  But to take the leap to the supernatural is one I refuse to make.  There is simply no evidence of any supernatural forces here on Earth.

So what was I to conclude?

Faith is something I just couldn’t have.  I simply can’t just “believe” in something without any evidence what so ever.  We, with our little human brains, can explain nearly everything on the planet, but when it comes to God, Heaven, and Souls we fall back on “it’s magic”.  I can’t do that.  I came of age scientifically when we were searching for the Top Quark, which was discovered my freshman year of college. This is a particle that is not seen but detected by the signals they produce.  It, and Higgs-Boson, show what science can accomplish.  Science looks at data, makes a hypothesis, makes predictions, tests those predictions, and then either says, “this hypothesis is valid” or “we need to revise our thinking”.  Faith just says, “this is the way it is” and ignores data, ignores predictions, and ignores conflicting hypotheses.  That isn’t the way I wanted to live my life, nor how I wish to raise kids (if I ever have any).

So that’s it, that’s a synopsis of what lead me to atheism.  Once you realize that there is no God, Heaven, or Hell, what do you do with your life?  How do you live a moral life?  How do you go on living?  I’ll explain all that in the next post.

I’ll miss Chick-Fil-A

I’ve loved Chick-Fil-A since I was a kid.  I used to love going to the mall and getting nuggets (when I wasn’t getting that amazingly greasy pizza).  When I came to college I was excited when Chick-Fil-A (and others) were able to operate out of the Texas Union.  Then moving off of Jollyville I had a Chick-Fil-A I could stop at on the way home.

Of course, I knew they were a Christian business.  I don’t have a problem with that.  My family is Christian, I used to be Catholic.  However, we’re also predominately progressives as well.  I don’t mind people believing in God, I mind them using that as a reason to discriminate.

I don’t drink Coors, don’t eat Dominos, and try not to shop at Walmart (all for political reasons).  These were easy.  I hate beer, Dominos pizza sucks, and there’s nothing really good at Walmart.

But Chick-Fil-A.  That’s going to be tough.

Here’s a little about what’s brought me here in case you don’t follow this stuff.

A little over year ago Chick-fil-a tried to say it wasn’t anti-gay:

In recent weeks, we have been accused of being anti-gay. We have no agenda against anyone. At the heart and soul of our company, we are a family business that serves and values all people regardless of their beliefs or opinions. We seek to treat everyone with honor, dignity and respect, and believe in the importance of loving your neighbor as yourself.

We also believe in the need for civility in dialogue with others who may have different beliefs. While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees. — Statement from Dan Cathy January 2011

Of course, now he’s reaffirmed his position a bit more strongly:

The company invests in Christian growth and ministry through its WinShape Foundation (WinShape.com). The name comes from the idea of shaping people to be winners.

It began as a college scholarship and expanded to a foster care program, an international ministry, and a conference and retreat center modeled after the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove.

“That morphed into a marriage program in conjunction with national marriage ministries,” Cathy added.

Some have opposed the company’s support of the traditional family. “Well, guilty as charged,” said Cathy when asked about the company’s position.

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.

I’ve posted an extended part of the article there because I think it helps with understanding the context under which the “guilty as charged” sound bite comes from.  I like the way the author of the article uses “some have opposed the company’s support of the traditional family” which to people like me reads ” some people have opposed your anti-gay marriage stances”.

Why does this offend me?  Imagine you and your significant other were planning on getting married (let’s call you Jim and Pam).  Later that day your favorite restaurant’s CEO puts out a press releasing saying that “I don’t believe Jim and Pam should get married.  I support marriage by anyone but Jim and Pam.”  How would you feel?  Would you want to eat at that restaurant knowing that the owner doesn’t like your significant other?  Knowing that they take your money and spend it trying to make sure you can’t get married?

I’m not even gay, but this offends me.  I can’t eat another Chick-Fil-A sandwich or nugget ever again.  That makes me sad, but what makes me sadder is that there are people who can’t see that opposing gay marriage is wrong.  Even sadder, gay people can’t get married in my state and most others.

As to the bible and marriage, Jon Stewart had a great “biblical definition” of marriage argument.

That clip reminded me that I was also a Boy Scout.  I don’t know how I became so liberal with so many seemingly conservative influences in my life.

I’ll miss you Chick-Fil-A.  I really should stop eating fast food anyway.