Friday, September 12, 2014

The Analogy

In life we have this predicament, this certain view of how things are. Most all of us view reality as us being thrown into the world, and being in it, and having to navigate it, and having things "happen" to you. It's you and the world outside of you, and the world outside of you doesn't always conform to what you want, and the struggle of life is to try to get things the way that you want them to be. You are trying to shape the outside world and force it to comply. It is an other, an opposing force. And all our suffering is a result of the outside world playing out in a way that is contrary to how we wish it to be, as if we had a say! As if the universe, this grand "other" agent that we are just thrown into, should center all its vast workings around meeting the arbitrary standards made up by us, and that you're only truly "living" when that happens. We construct these standards ourselves, and little known to us is that from the outset there is no reason we should expect them to happen at all. It is self-defeating. Why do we get to dictate how things will be? Our view is this: as seats of consciousness in a sea of other unconscious things, we are alone and are separate from the things around us.

But let me give an analogy to try to demonstrate why this is not so. Consider an eddy in an ocean. We've all seen them; the tiny whirlpools that form when water currents brush past each other. Some last for a long time, some only half a second. They are patterns. They are orderly; a spiral that maintains the same form over time, until it dissipates. They are orderly forms amongst a sea of non-orderly water. We too are patterns. Like eddies, living things are patterns that arise just from interactions between matter; life is a necessary consequence of physical laws. Nothing wills an eddy to become an eddy. The eddy simply must occur in certain conditions, otherwise it is not water. Like eddies, humans are a pattern, not a set physical entity. The only thing required for an eddy to be and eddy is the spiral form of water. Its actual substance is constantly in flux. The eddy you see in one second is totally different from the eddy in the next; just like a person on one day is a completely different person the next. Their physical substance isn't the same, they have different moods, they look different from the events that occurred the day before, and think slightly differently due to the prior day's experience. But the pattern is there. It is still recognizably that same person, because the arrangement of the pattern is what's important, not the content.

So, here we are, humans in a universe, eddies in an ocean. But just imagine if an eddy became conscious and developed a "self". It would say "I am an eddy. I am a separate thing. Here is me and here is the ocean. I see this vast, unorganized water around me which is my environment, and it is unconscious and I am placed within it." And eventually it would become attached to its own singular point of view, and assign great importance to it, ascribing all these special values and standards and needs that must be met to please it. And it would fear and hate waves, for if a wave came an eddy would be disturbed, and the standards it had set for its life would not be met. It may even perish. The imagined barrier between it and the ocean would cause it much suffering.

But what is the reality? The reality is that the eddy IS the ocean, and the ocean is the eddy. Even the waves are itself! The eddy is made of ocean, and it had to form. Neither the ocean nor the eddy had a choice in this matter. The initial conditions were the way they were, and the eddy happened. In fact, given those conditions, if the eddy had not come into being, then this would not be an ocean. This ocean could not be at all if this eddy was not in existence right here, right now, and for this certain duration. The eddy is part of the ocean's definition; its very nature. The two are mutually dependent on each other's existence.

The point to be made is that when you look out into the world, the necessary conclusion is that all the things around you (all things) are what you are. This is a literal statement. Just like those of the eddy and the ocean, all the conditions that you encounter are necessary for you to exist at all, and likewise, you are dependent on those conditions to define yourself. So all the things that happen to you must happen in order for you to be. Humans are to the universe what an eddy is to the ocean. We are it.

Our minds are like troubleshooters or filters, paying attention only to things that are a either danger to us or things that we view as beneficial. But to remove that filter is to tough upon our actual nature: entirety, allness, oneness, and with the view that everything is one expression. If an eddy says "I am," we know that that is only true from a single, narrow perspective. So for a human to say "I am" is to subscribe to the smaller mind, the mind of locales and comparisons and separations. The realization is that everything - the color of a flower, the feel of a breeze, the sound of a helicopter, your own thoughts, a car wreck, the death of a friend - they are all you, and you are them. All these things must occur exactly when they do, and exactly in the way that they do, or else the universe could not be.

The benefit of this is that we can view negative events in our lives the same way we view a gust of wind: that it simply occurred. It is all part of this cacophonous pattern that is teeming on the surface of the earth, a pattern whose form must be only as it is, with no other choice. If we can accept our place in this maelstrom of activity, then we can view all events as of equal supreme importance. All things before us become real, and our attention begins to shift. We no longer hold the universe accountable to us, and thus realize that everything we "need" is right here and right now. And we would view our lives as a grand ballet, a brilliant, shifting, shimmering display of energy and color and form, where everything is connected, and all distances and boundaries are imaginary. And be able to relish in the joy that we can move about and create, and touch our universe and feel and see. And we can know that when we experience all these things, we are experiencing our own nature in the deepest and truest sense.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record.
~ (

Of all the jaw-dropping statements made by Christians, this one takes the cake. Answers in Genesis is one of the biggest and most popular apologetics websites, giving Christian arguments in favor of the flood, the 6-day creation, the 6,000-year-old earth, and dinosaurs living with humans. But I believe that this statement in their “Statement of Faith” completely removes any integrity from its authors.

This quote is saying that before the folks at look at any evidence, before they think about or approach the problem at all, they have already decided the outcome. They completely base their findings on their own preconceptions, preemptively plugging their ears and eyes and accepting only what they already assume. Their is no worse way to pursue truth than that.

The criticism I make here has been responded to by some, claiming that going off the authority of the Bible is no different than going off the authority of science. But science doesn’t operate off of authority. Claims in science aren’t true merely because someone said they are. The conclusions of scientists are based on evidence, and the evidence remains for all to see. Scientists know that their ideas must stand to the scrutiny of other scientists, who may not share their preconceptions. The way to do this is to make the case strong enough on the basis of evidence so that preconceptions don’t matter.

The history of science is filled with scientists accepting ideas contrary to their preconceptions. Examples include the reality of extinctions, the reality of meteors, meteors as causes of mass extinctions, ice ages, continental drift, bacteria as cause of ulcers, and of course, evolution. Scientists are not immune to being sidetracked by their preconceptions, but ultimately go where the evidence leads.

Scientists make a deliberate effort to remove subjectivity from their work, and do a good job in general of removing bias. They do such a good job, in fact, that what creationists really object to is the fact that scientists do no interpret evidence according to certain religious preconceptions.

- Evan

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Foundation of Sand

Christianity relies on the authenticity of the New Testament of the Bible as a true, first-hand account of Jesus’ life. Arguments from design and from the creation of the universe are arguments from ignorance (god-of-the-gaps), and don’t prove the Christian god. Rather, they leave us with a vague super-being with any number of unknowable attributes. Miracle stories lack any good evidence beyond that of hearsay and anecdote, and evidence for the supernatural in general has never been verifiable. This leaves only the Bible (specifically the New Testament) as the one thing that Christians can point to as supporting their beliefs.

Before I go on, however, we must make one thing clear. Even if the Bible were a document written by eye-witnesses, that would lend nothing to the truth of those claims. That people merely said it does not make it true. We could drive out to New Mexico and gather stories of U.F.O. abductions from entire communities, families, and individuals, some of which are mysteriously unexplainable and morbidly intriguing, but these people’s words say nothing about the truth of those words. Instead we require real, hard evidence for such claims, not merely stories. Words do not prove themselves. This is the larger point, a reasonable general principle that overshadows the historical unreliability of the Bible that will be later shown.

There is also the reasonable assertion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. They require extraordinary evidence because the observation of a supernatural entity/event would be highly unusual. Also, proponents often claim that these events violate the known laws of science, making them difficult to square with the way the universe is understood to work. Even a good historical account of a supernatural event would not be good enough evidence of their truth. We would need much more extra support before a rational person could accept them as true.

Moreover, a common apologist claim is that all of written history is from the mouths of people, so we can trust the Bible just like the history books. If that were true, we could equally trust the Quran and the Bhagavad-Gita as true historical accounts. There are differing levels of reliability of historical sources, and in this post I will discuss the unreliability of the New Testament as an authentic source.

The four Gospels are the primary books of the Bible that narrate the life of Jesus. These are the closest thing we have to historical sources about him. He is not mentioned by any contemporary historians, so his life and his miracles are not verified by any third party. But these Gospels, on face value, are not reliable sources. Basic scholarship reveals that these books were not written by the people attributed to them. They are all internally anonymous (they don’t mention the author within the text) and we have no original signed copies. The names of the four apostles were not attributed to the texts until the late 2nd century, and as late as the 4th c. in the case of Mark. Furthermore, they were written many years after the events they describe. Mark, the earliest Gospel, was written no earlier than year 70, a full 40 years after the supposed death and resurrection of Jesus. And the Gospel of John, which differs highly from the other three, was written as late as the early 2nd century.

What furthermore calls the eye-witness nature of the Gospels into question is that Mark, Matthew, and Luke are directly based on each other, with large slabs of text copied word for word. Why would an eye-witness rely so heavily on a third-party account? Inconsistencies between the four Gospels also makes the idea of eye-witness authors less likely. Not counting the inconsistencies between Matthew, Mark, and Luke (such as the differing versions of the empty tomb story) The Gospel of John differs radically in its content and claims from the other gospels, such as the date of the last supper and even larger details such as Jesus’ performance of miracles and his stance on Judaic law.

Much of the rest of the New Testament is attributed to Paul of Tarsus and Luke the Evangelist. However, by their own admission, neither of them had ever met Jesus (but Paul claimed that he saw a vision of Jesus while traveling on the road to Damascus).

A further issue is that there are known forgeries and edits to the text of the Bible that were added for years after the original writing. For instance, the last few passages of Mark are not in the original copy that we have, having been added some time in the mid 2nd century. Some denominations such as the Pentacostal church base their teachings off of these known forgeries. Early copyists of the Bible were often illiterate themselves (most early Christians were from the lower, uneducated class), and could only copy letter-by-letter, greatly increasing the likelihood of error. There are known cases of early Christians intentionally changing the canon in order to more closely align the text with their personal take on the religion. To quote Origen, a 3rd-c. church father, “The difference among the manuscripts have become great, either through negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please."

This information is not the view of fringe-atheists. It is widely accepted by Bible scholars, and even some Bibles such as New International Version make notes of some of this on their relevant title pages. The Gospels are not the sort of sources that would be used to make a history book, and would not be accepted in a court of law. They make several grandiose claims such as the dead rising from their graves and walking through the streets of Jerusalem, and a mass exodus in the Roman empire with everyone having to return to their place of ancestry for an empire-wide census. If these events were even remotely true, we should expect some sort of third-party mention of them in the detailed Roman and Jewish annals. Instead we find nothing. There is no reliable evidence, within or outside the Bible, to support any of the claims about Jesus as his spectacular life.

- Evan