A skeptic ‘fesses up

I’ve got a bit of a confession to make: I’ve had my moments as a larval skeptic, and I’m not out of the chrysalis yet… When I first got into the skeptical movement some three and a half years ago, I was, like anyone involved with something novel and interesting, just a wee bit more excited about it then than I should have been.

In my newbie enthusiasm, I have said things on this blog that I am not particularly fond of recalling, things I no longer agree with which make me cringe when I think about them. Have I dismissed believers as though they were all idiots or lunatics? Have I criticized unfairly? Have I attacked faith itself and not merely taken its excesses to task? In many of my earlier posts, perhaps I have, often without meaning to, and in doing so shamed myself by contributing in my small way to the condemnation of other skeptics to ‘permanent minority status,’ as Carl Sagan once put it.

I have, over time, acquired a much more comprehensive view of those who espouse certain… non-scientific doctrines and concepts, and they are at least as diverse as skeptics, and almost certainly more common.

As a former religionist, I do not consider religion itself to be the evil that the so-called New Atheists make it out to be. There are far too many people I know, good, caring people who practice a religion or spiritual tradition, Old or New Age, who are not zealots. Many are steadfast supporters of science and reason, and express opposition to religious extremism in politics. These are people who I think the world of, who have done nothing but wish me well in my endeavors. Certainly they and the traditions they practice deserve more respect than I’ve given.

Regardless of its benefits and drawbacks, its gems and its warts, religion will be with us for some time, though individual traditions may rise and fall with the march of history. It is not my place to take away from people that from which they draw solace. I restrict myself to commenting upon its fallacies and excesses. Faith in moderation is not the enemy — my problem is with extremism.

As a former paranormal believer, I do not wish to dismiss those who still are as universally crazy or stupid — there are many brilliant, articulate, sane and well-educated believers in the paranormal and fringe-topics. While this alone does not validate their beliefs as true, nor their views correct, it does mean that I need to treat them with respect as individuals, and avoid hasty generalizations of them in my commentary. If one cannot respect those one disagrees with and even criticizes, one is not a skeptic, but a bigot.

In my experience, many of the paranormal and fringe-science proponents I’ve dealt with play by different rules of logic and evidence, some with none at all that I can discern, and these discussions are rarely constructive — often we have wound up talking through each other instead of to each other. But some employ the same thought-processes and reasoning as I, and these discussions have been enriching to say the least. Not all believers come from Mars.

It has sometimes been frustrating to me, and at other times instructive, but in any case it’s something to learn from, and illuminating with the insights it imparts and clues it reveals about the thought-processes of some believers. I’m not psychic — I can’t get inside peoples’ heads and read their minds directly, and I don’t know of anyone who really can — but I can learn a bit on how they think by listening to what they say, online and in person…

…And this blog is at its heart a learning experience — so learn is what I’ll continue to do. Fnord.

I am not an Atheist

I’ve been posting on this blog for a little over a year now, since December 28, 2008, and I’ve frequently referred to myself in many of my posts by the word ‘atheist.’ I suspect that this is not entirely accurate, not as I would define myself, only as theists would.

As a former religionist, having left the Seventh-Day Adventist church many years ago, I’ve given bits and pieces of the many reasons for my current status as a non-believer in most any form of theism on this blog, but they all boil down to one basic theme: Simply put, I have not heard any compelling arguments nor been shown any convincing evidence for the existence of any God of the sort commonly worshiped in the world’s major monotheistic religions. But that’s a tall order, for each religion has a concept of the divine that conflicts with nearly every other religion’s notion of the godhead.

I’ve heard a lot of different arguments which those using them claim to be proof of God, but none of them has been really convincing. All have logical holes in them that are readily apparent even to my layman’s mind. I have the same skepticism toward all those other gods I had as an Adventist, but I’ve just gone one God further.

I consider myself firstly to be an agnostic, in that as a philosophical position I hold that the existence of any God of the sorts commonly worshiped is literally an unknowable, not just something I haven’t made up my mind on. Lately I’ve been questioning my use of the label ‘atheist’ to refer to my lack of belief in a supreme being of the conventional sort.

While I don’t believe in any of the different versions of the God of the Abrahamic traditions, (Christianity alone has splintered into over 30,000 different variations of itself, many of which don’t recognize the others as legitimate Christians…) nor in any sort of anthropomorphic divine being, there is one concept of God that I can take seriously — the God of Baruch Spinoza, of Einstein — a pantheistic divinity that is the sum total of the Laws of the Universe.

After all, why not? You’d be pretty silly to not believe in the existence of physical laws, even if you don’t practice any sort of formal worship, mysticism or any other trappings of organized religion. A sense of awe of the Cosmos and reverence for life is all that’s needed. A form of free-form worship unsullied by dogma or superstition in which (thanks to Terry Pratchett for this one…) the building of a telescope is the building of a cathedral.

Whether I am really an atheist depends entirely on how one defines God, and this varies hugely from one faith to the next. Hell, Christians can’t even agree among themselves which is the ‘correct’ conception of God.

I have difficulty taking seriously the archaic idea of a fellow sitting on a throne in the sky who spends a great deal of his time micromanaging every event in the Universe, and is the patron of only one species, one planet, in a cosmos less than 10,000 years old. Such a small, parochial view of the divine! Such a limited view that has absolutely nothing of the cosmic grandeur that science makes readily apparent! Why should I want my God to be a little one, and why keep him that way? Why should I arrogantly impose my wishes upon God?

hmmmm…

We know very little about the Universe, and I’m convinced that we know even less about God — not the supernatural God of the Old Testament — but a naturalistic God so far beyond anything we know that we could not possibly begin to imagine what He, She, or It is like.

I have a firm trust and confidence in the existence of the laws of the Cosmos, supported by evidence, not the authority of a book written thousands of years ago, with the caveat that neither myself nor anyone else fully comprehends them all to the extent we would like. If that’s what one means by belief in a God, then call me a theist, or rather, a pantheist. I suppose that would describe me just as well, since I’m only an atheist according to some other people’s conception of God. And should I allow myself to be defined by some other person’s criteria? No.

I, like every other living, thinking being in existence, am made of atoms forged in the hearts of stars. I am star-stuff given life and thought. I am nothing more and nothing less than one out of countless ways for the Universe to contemplate itself. I am not an atheist, but one who stands in awe before both the beauty and horror of this unthinkably vast, complex and elegant thing we call reality.

Thank you, Dr. Sagan. You are missed…

I’m Troythulu…online only.

Hey, all. I’ve gotten a few comments asking about my writing style on this blog, and to some I come off as a bit of an ass when responding to comments, other times I can be deferential to my correspondents. Both are true. Absolutely 100% true.

It depends on the initial posts of the commenter. I try to be as decent as I can, but I’m not Carl Sagan and don’t have nearly the patience that man had, and some people try mine to the utmost. On this blog, though, I’ll see to it that you get the respect you deserve…guaranteed.

I’m toning the snarkitude down a bit though, and some of you may have noted that sometimes I write as myself or as my Troythulu persona—it depends on what mood I’m in at the time of posting, but the Troythulu persona is strictly an online phenomenon.

No, I’m not cosmically (or comically) evil in person…

It’s a way of allowing myself to live two separate lives, online and personal, and nary the two should meet…if my Troythuluness has any say in the matter, that is. Fnord.

In Memoriam: My Grandmom…

On this date, early June the 9th, 2009, my family lost Dorothy Emma Darick, my real-world persona’s maternal grandmother, at the august age of 84 after a month in the hospital following a period of recovery from an illness. Our family lost a cornerstone of tradition and wisdom on the one hand, but on the other, she is finally at peace and will be reunited with her husband, my late grandfather, Warren Darick, at long last. This is as it should be. She leaves as her legacy her children, her grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren, and all the love she showed us over the years with her guidance and insight. What awaits her now? Many believe they know, but this I do not, and cannot, as I neither have nor can claim any special powers or abilities, no supernormal perceptions with which to know. She has embarked on the ultimate mystery, as one day I myself will, as will we all. The wheel turns, the seasons change, and so ends an era with perhaps the bravest woman I know. She fought long and hard with the Reaper, never giving up as a lesser person would, and relented only after what can only be called an epic struggle for life despite her suffering. If only my vile troythuluness had such strength! At her funeral, I finally had a chance to say my goodbyes, and I’ll say them again here, before the yawning electrons of cyberspace, one more time: Farewell, Grandmom, and whatever awaits you, whether eternal sleep, or eternal life, take care…