Do animals have a religion? I ask, how would that help them?

August 26, 2014

I was poking around online for post ideas and came by a page at News 24. This particular part of their site is open to users to pose questions and other users to comment on them. The user writing this particular article/letter posed the question, do animals have a religion?

People wondered where the first human came from. The best anwser would be a mighty HUMAN like GOD figure who created the first human on earth ADAM. And created all the animals as well.

So the best explenation for early man would be that there was the great BIG HUMAN CHIEF in the begenning.

People have brains, the brain is inquisitive and and curious. Early mans curiosity of how things began led to this idea.

Wait a minute, Animals have brains too!!

Therefore, by whatever logic this writer uses, animals also have to have religion. Author is willing to ponder the possibility of atheist animals at the end, though. Whatever. Let’s pretend this author asked a serious question. (Perhaps he or she meant to.) There are a lot of options for direction to take this kind of thought experiment. Add your own ideas in the comments.

Dolphins name themselves and refer to others by their own specially selected whistles. Elephants appear to mourn the dead. A lot of research over the years has shown that many animals beyond orangutans, chimps and gorillas have their own clever thought processes. Dogs may feel something akin to jealousy in certain situations. Crows are very adept at utilizing tools, including this one, who figured out how to toboggan and rides it down a steep roof for no apparent reason beyond enjoyment. Presumably.

It’s hard enough to determine if animals really feel emotions the way humans do. Is there too much anthropomorphizing going on in certain situations? The jury’s still out.

Belief in higher powers, though? I think it’s unlikely. Even if they did, we as humans lack the ability to understand most animals as it is.

There’s a video making the rounds featuring an orangutan, sign language, and a plea to stop cutting down their forests for palm oil production. If it turned out they believed in a god of some sort, would we stop wrecking their habitat for our own delicious gains? Would Christians hike out in droves to teach them all sign language so they could know Jesus and thus be saved from a hell they never heard of until Christians turned up and told them about it?

We automatically credit animal behaviours (even the seemingly compassionate, merciful or empathic ones) as an evolutionary advantage rather than as evidence that their god wants them to be nice to others once in a while.

What if our ability to believe is also some kind of evolutionary advantage, one that gives us an edge over other animal species? We already know we can make pigeons superstitious if the chance of getting food becomes enough of a gamble. What if some human parts of religion just derived from our own superstitious natures?


Ebola is not a “curse from god”

August 12, 2014

We should really be thankful that more diseases don’t transfer between species, frankly. Many plagues and disease outbreaks had an animal origin. Horrible though it is, it’s just one of those viruses people get because we live around animals and viruses mutate as time goes on. Basic biology, isn’t it?

Christian leaders in afflicted African countries speak of Ebola as a curse from God.

In Liberia, more than 100 Christian leaders meeting in early August declared that God was angry and Ebola a plague. They called for prayers to seek God’s forgiveness for sins including corruption and immoral acts such as homosexuality.

Liberia’s Wilmot Kotati Bobbroh, head of the Living Water Pentecostal Church, later described the outbreak as a national curse brought by God to force repentance. Bobbroh said chlorine and soap were not working, but God’s mercy was saving people.

The article lists more examples of this same thought process but ends not with requests for prayer to save these people but for better medical treatment to be made available.

Initially those infected with Ebola in Sierra Leone had relied on treatment from traditional healers, but this was shown to be ineffective, she said.

“Virtually all churches are relying on medical professional for treatment,” she added.

Harris said the virus spread quickly because little was known about it and the government had not mounted a robust response.

“The people had started taking relatives to prayer houses, while others administered herbal treatment,” Harris said. “By the time we realized this was an epidemic, it had grown out of proportion. We are now overwhelmed,” said Harris, while citing an urgent need for medical personnel and services.

So technically speaking, God curses and Science saves?

Something called Zmapp has been tried as a potential solution to the problem.

At present, treatment for the disease is limited to intensive supportive care. However, the missionaries were offered the opportunity to be given ZMapp – an experimental drug that had previously only been tested on monkeys – and it looks as though the treatment may have saved their lives.

Dr. Scott Podolsky, associate professor of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, has written in the Annals of Internal Medicine that ZMapp has much in common with methods of treating illness that were being developed toward the end of the 19th century.

That’s not the only treatment considered hopeful but it’s in the same kind of situation as ZMapp in terms of lacking human trials for safe use and efficacy. It all takes time.. and money. There’s a Forbes article that runs through the potential costs involved and what the options are for funding the search for a cure.

At least a cure looks likely in this case. We’re reaching a point with other viruses and bacteria where not even the strongest anti- drugs do much good. Other solutions present themselves in terms of creating innovative methods of attack but again, take time, money and testing to know if they’ll deliver all they promise.

I, for one, do not welcome our new viral overlords… we must continually seek to overthrow them.

Scientific American has an article about atheists and trust

January 18, 2012

Specifically how we aren’t generally trusted. According to the article, Will Gervais, Ara Norenzayan and colleagues at the University of British Columbia sorted through the results of several different studies showing how atheists tend to be the least trusted groups. For their study, they hypothesized that awareness of secular authority figures might be able to improve that.

In one study, they had people watch either a travel video or a video of a police chief giving an end-of-the-year report. They then asked participants how much they agreed with certain statements about atheists (e.g., “I would be uncomfortable with an atheist teaching my child.”) In addition, they measured participants’ prejudice towards other groups, including Muslims and Jewish people. Their results showed that viewing the video of the police chief resulted in less distrust towards atheists. However, it had no effect on people’s prejudice towards other groups. From a psychological standpoint, God and secular authority figures may be somewhat interchangeable. The existence of either helps us feel more trusting of others.

The article goes on to note the predilection for atheism in some European countries. The Scandinavian area sounds like a haven for atheists and the suggestion is that confidence in a country’s government, especially ones “that guarantee a high level of social security for all of their citizens” means people might rely less on faith in God to get through their lives feeling cared for.

After that, the article links to a brief summary of a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology where people had been given two versions of a fake news story. One reported Canada’s political situation as stable and the other did not. When questioned later, those who read about instability were more likely to give God, or some other force, credit for controlling the universe. I don’t pay enough attention to the politics of my country but I know voter turnout is fairly low in most elections and some chunks of the country are right up there with the worst the American bible belt has to offer.

To my way of thinking, people are used to calling their conscience God rather than give themselves the credit for knowing the right thing to do when the time comes. Maybe they trust themselves even less than they trust atheists but just never look at it that way. When I was a kid, I didn’t need to think a god was watching; I was pretty sure my mother was. A god would punish me in the afterlife but Mom could shout at me mere moments after doing wrong. My conscience developed from a lot of lessons on what not to do and having parents who’d demonstrate proper behaviour every day I was around them. That kind of teaching stuck with me.

It’s good to see atheist groups rallying around charities and demonstrating just how wrong assumptions about us can be, just like any stereotype of a minority group. On an individual basis, we should probably all do more and find ways to give back to our communities. I know I don’t do enough of that. Aside from donating clothes and household items once in a while, I don’t do a hell of a lot to help others. And yes, I do start to feel a bit guilty about that. The conscience is fully functional when it comes to the “ought”s.

So, thoughts? What steps do you take to make your mark and be a better person?

Old news: why atheists celebrate Christmas

January 3, 2012

For the next few weeks I’m going to be catching up on some links I’d saved throughout December on account of my broken wrist; that, coupled with general laziness and craving more quality time with the Man, made updating this blog something of a low priority. First up, a December 5th article out of Live Science. It focuses on a study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Researchers used results from an earlier survey of elite U.S. universities and their science departments and pulled 275 of the 2,198 respondents to be their sample. In the original survey, about half of the scientists had declared themselves religious but they noticed that some of the ones who declared themselves atheist were still willing to spend time in church and the like.

The atheist parents surveyed had multiple reasons for attending religious services in the absence of religious belief. Some said their spouse or partner was religious, and encouraged them to go to services as well. Others said they enjoyed the community that attending a church, mosque, temple or other religious institution can bring.

Perhaps most interesting, Ecklund said, was that many atheist scientists take their children to religious services so that the kids can make up their own mind about God and spirituality.

“We thought that these individuals might be less inclined to introduce their children to religious traditions, but we found the exact opposite to be true,” Ecklund said. “They want their children to have choices, and it is more consistent with their science identity to expose their children to all sources of knowledge.”

I don’t know if I would have thought that was “most interesting” but whatever. I can see it as making sense, though. To limit kids and never expose them to the other side of the belief coin would make an atheist parent just as out-of-touch and fundamentalist as the worst of the religionists. In order for a person to make a real choice, choices have to be made available. In the article they use an example from the study of a man who’d been Catholic. He later decided religion and science weren’t compatible enough to keep that up but has chosen to let his child experience Catholicism, Islam and Buddhism, too. He’d rather she be equipped to make an informed choice later rather than insist only his way is right.

I’ve wondered how I’d deal with that were I in a parenting position. I think I’d wind up modifying what my dose of religious studies taught me in terms of the sheer variety of belief out there. Some people think this way, some think that way, these ones don’t get along at all because they each claim the same slab of rock as having religious significance and nobody is entirely sure who found it first. Here’s what seems to be the best of what they have to offer and here’s the stuff that made me question why…

I don’t recall asking my parents about this thing called God when I was a kid. I went to Catholic school and mass every week with classmates but there wasn’t much at home to encourage more than the bare minimum in terms of that business. They let me spend many Saturdays with my cousin and her church-going parents but I don’t recall many Sunday school excursions with her so I don’t think I was allowed much in the way of overnights. (Not necessarily for that reason, mind you. My early morning habits started pretty damn young and most of my cousins were weekend layabouts by preference.)

I don’t know if I’d want to set a kid up by saying, “There absolutely is no god and anyone who tells you different is deluded.” I see the overall value of believing in something bigger than we are, but I’d quibble on the need to name that inner need “God” and anthropomorphize it into a vast supernatural creature capable of giving a damn. The universe is already bigger than we are and most of us don’t stand around expecting it to notice us and give out hugs. No treats expected for the best behaved — unless you count those who still buy into karma.

Maybe it’d be worthwhile to transform the god crap into a belief that compassion truly has the power trump greed and villainy. That winds up being a basis for some of the better beliefs already out there anyway. Promote the belief that most people do want to be good and helpful instead of selfish and arrogant S.O.B’s all the time. Maybe they just never learned how and could benefit from a new approach. Maybe they learned the wrong lessons from their past actions or failed to get encouragement when the opportunity arose to make the more humane decision. Plus, some people get a skewed idea of what a reward for effort ought to look like. Sometimes it ought to look like a smile instead of dollar sign, for one thing. More could be done to support that outcome, I think, and in better ways than “You’ll go to hell otherwise.”

To end, to end.. how to end. I guess I end by saying that we need to do whatever is necessary in terms of bettering ourselves and our children. If making room for religious experiences helps with that a little, then make a little room for it. And we can all hope that at some point maybe people won’t need that step anymore.

“Scientists say Turin Shroud is supernatural” — what kind of scientists…

December 20, 2011

…would suggest something like that? The Independent has the story:

Italian government scientists have claimed to have discovered evidence that a supernatural event formed the image on the Turin Shroud, believed by many to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.

After years of work trying to replicate the colouring on the shroud, a similar image has been created by the scientists.

However, they only managed the effect by scorching equivalent linen material with high-intensity ultra violet lasers, undermining the arguments of other research, they say, which claims the Turin Shroud is a medieval hoax.

Good gravy. Two years ago it was other Italian scientists that proved it could be duplicated a lot easier than that. Curse those bloody scientists! Can’t they see that all this waffling confuses a public already tending toward lower scientific awareness? Who are they supposed to believe?!

Which begs the question, why the desire to prove their faith can be backed up by scientific evidence? I thought the whole point of faith was to believe without needing proof.

Another question comes to mind, why get “government scientists” involved with that kind of ridiculous make-work project? Aren’t there better uses for government money that would result in.. well, useful results for the world at large, or at least Italy? Why piss around trying to prove the shroud’s validity? It’s such a waste of time and resources. And money. So much money.

If you disagree with your church, why are you in it?

June 10, 2011

A survey from the Public Religion Research Institute was just released indicating that many Americans are willing to ignore what their church leaders preach against homosexuality and abortion.

The report focused on the views of millennials (people ages 18-29) and found that they are more supportive than their parents of gay marriage. Their views on abortion closely mirror their parents, however, with six in 10 saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Also, most millennials — 68 percent — think at least some health care professionals in their community should provide legal abortions.

Some of the difference comes down to how people interpret the bible. around 60% of those who claim it’s direct from God still think abortion is sinful and deserves to be illegal and around 80% of those who believe men alone are responsible for the books support the opposite. The article doesn’t note how many of the 3000 surveyed were in either camp, sadly.

I’m curious about that 80% and why they’d be comfortable staying with a church and a religion that preaches the opposite of what they believe is morally and ethically sound. Would anyone sit in a church and let their minister drone on about following biblical teachings that approve of slavery? Does the desire for camaraderie and charity work eclipse whatever junk might come out of the mouth of the guy up front? If they don’t take those sermons to heart, are they making any effort to loudly defend the opposite position in some way? Or do they just sit in church every week filing their nails and perusing the hymnals while everyone else in the room nods in agreement?

Maybe change would happen faster if more people stood up together to demand it. Why not oust the throwbacks and dark age dreamers? Failing that, why not just leave and take the money that would have gone to the church and donate to Planned Parenthood or a gay rights group? Why not put the money to better use and help fund a group you do agree with? Why give any support to an organization that runs contrary to current secular notions about human rights?

I doubt these people stay in church because the potlucks and flea markets are just too much fun to abandon, so what’s the real draw? Do they think they have a better understanding of Christ’s “true” intent for humanity? Is that what gives them the “power” to disregard what their old-fashioned leaders might say about these issues? It might not matter what they think if they never bother to speak up against what’s probably the majority in their congregation. So I ask again, why bother staying?

Victim of “God” gets minor payback

May 25, 2011

What is it about the way we organize our societies for why women wind up thinking that plastic surgery is the only way they’ll get anywhere? Of course, when studies keep popping up that show correlation between weight and money-making, small wonder women willingly go under a knife to “improve” themselves for their jobs.

Back in February I wrote about Penny Johnson, the British woman who opted to sue her plastic surgeon after botched facial work left her nerve damaged and emotionally and financially crippled by her loss of looks.

I pointed this out last time and I say again: she did not have to say yes to anything Le Roux Fourie suggested she do. She went in expecting to fix the bags under her eyes and change her nose a little and Fourie pounced on the chance to get more money from her with extra, unasked for procedures. And, it turns out she totally bought his spiel about needing a breast enhancement on top of it all, which he managed to screw up, too.

Johnson asked the court for £54 million, what she thought was a good approximation of income lost on account of her failed business and half the shares. In the end, she got a fraction of that. Mr Justice Owen

awarded a total of £80,000 damages for the facial disfigurement, the asymmetry and pain caused by the breast surgery and the psychological consequences of the injuries, and more than £6m for past and future loss of earnings.

Assessing Mrs Johnson’s claim for loss of earnings, the judge said it was clear she had persuaded herself that its prospects were far better than could realistically be justified.

“She has understandably become preoccupied by what might have been, which has affected her judgment as to what could and would in reality have been achieved,” he said.

He’s probably right about that, but I’m sure it’s a blow for Johnson. She’s living in a world where it seems like a woman’s image is everything, where vanity is rewarded. It might not matter how confident she can be about her job skills if she can’t be confident about her looks.

Hell of a system.