FAITH: Not Wanting To Know What Is True

Sunday Thoughts: Faithless
by Fiona

faith [feɪθ] n 1. strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp without proof or evidence 2. a specific system of religious beliefs the Jewish faith 3. (Christian Religious Writings / Theology) Christianity trust in God and in his actions and promises 4. (Christian Religious Writings / Theology) a conviction of the truth of certain doctrines of religion, esp when this is not based on reason 5. complete confidence or trust in a person, remedy, etc. 6. any set of firmly held principles or beliefs  – Free online dictionary

Another way of thinking about faith …

atheism faith

But faith is nice, it feels good, or so people tell me. What’s the problem?

Atheism faith1

The thing most likely to get in the way of open-ended collaboration, is faith. The resistance to considering new information, or willingness to relinquish our beliefs in the face of new evidence.  Faith makes us inflexible.

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Not only does faith make your brain stiff and inflexible, it also impacts on other people! When people are not permitted to question, or to pursue their search for evidence, something is terribly wrong!

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Sometimes people are told their whole lives that it’s important to “just believe”and that there is something wrong with them if they have doubts,  People who are taught to rely on faith may struggle when they are not able to maintain their beliefs.

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The ability to question, to think, to reason is an essential part of human-kind’s intelligence …

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So go on, doubt.  Question. Seek evidence. Develop your capacity for critical thought, for reflection. Make friends with reason and logic. Doubt away.  After all …

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Top 10 Reasons Humans Are Obsessed With the Apocalypse

Top 10 Reasons Humans Are Obsessed With the Apocalypse
by Alpha

Readers – the end is nigh. Any day of the week there always seems to be some terminal apocalypse just around the corner, poised to finally bring ruin to us all – and severe distress to the gullible. This is true not only in relation to the 2012 Mayan prediction, but regularly throughout human history – going right back to pre-Roman times.

Why our fixation? Writing strictly on a not-for-prophet basis, here are the Top 10 reasons for our obsession…



An inflated sense of self-importance


Much stems from our difficulty in grasping the tiny walk-on part we all have amid the sprawling enormity of deep time. The human brain just can’t compute the vastness of it. For many, the world doesn’t only revolve around us – it stops around us too. 1 in 7 people in the world right now believe it will all end during their lifetime.


It provides a sense of meaning


The idea of an apocalypse pushes all the right buttons at a psychological level because the idea of ‘there’s no meaning’ is a little freaky. It represents the fundamental struggle between order and chaos.

Human societies have always tried to create some kind of framework of meaning to give history and our own personal lives some kind of significance.


It’s about a basic human need: power

Preaching Crowd Ii

Apocalyptic predictions are a way for people to try to control the way their (and others’) world works.

The one thing we can never predict is the time and manner of our own deaths. What you get during times of particular discontent – war, famine or general bad times – is a rise in apocalyptic preaching and ideas. And at those times we seem to lap it up like there’s no tomorrow.


It’s a collective death wish
 Rev Jim Jones

Immanuel Velikovsky, writer on ancient catastrophes, had an unsettling theory that mankind blocks its memory of the failure of civilizations of the past, while simultaneously desiring those catastrophes – much like a collective death wish.

Considering war, global warming, financial collapse and other ways we might collectively destroy ourselves – this is a little worrying. But we need to distinguish between the end of our species (far more likely) and the end of the planet (highly unlikely).


We’re all bored
 Bored Worker Cropped Crop380W-Denverprblog-Com

Life can seem grindingly dull sometimes. Same job, groundhog day – yawn, as the hipsters say.

Wouldn’t a little injection of chaos alleviate all that crap? After all, aren’t depictions of apocalyptic events from the movies downright sexy? We’re sure we’d have Milla Jovovich or Megan Fox running around in tight leather pants saving the world. Might spice up a dull Wednesday morning, non?

It’s predicted…

…by every single religion. Those in the West are probably most aware of Christian eschatology (religious theory about the end of the world). Until recently it was taken as a given by many believers that the Second Coming and the end of the world were imminent. It’s easier to control a population that clings to a terror of some looming destruction, after all.

It’s common sense

Robert Oppenheimer had a bet going with other members of the Manhattan Project as to whether the first atom bomb (that they were about to set off) would start a chain reaction that would destroy the earth’s atmosphere. Thank God the other guy didn’t win.

When the Cold War was going on, the most likely culprit for the apocalypse was nuclear weapons – and they certainly came close. Right now it might be a catastrophic climate change scenario that leaves the planet more or less intact, minus humanity – or too much bad rap music causing mass insanity.


There are no consequences if there’s no tomorrow
 Screen Shot 2013-01-02 At 9.53.03 Pm

When you’re mortgaged up to your eyeballs, hideously in debt, overworked, underpaid, totally depressed about the global financial meltdown and climate change, a little apocalyptic event might seem like a breath of fresh air.

The power to erase the past is a potent force indeed. After all, you didn’t really want to have to pay off those credit cards for the rest of your life did you?


It makes us understand ourselves better
 Know Yourself

Look at any half-decent apocalyptic sci-fi movie. It’s an excellent opportunity to examine our species as a whole.

Good fiction revolves around conflict on a personal level, and there aren’t many scenarios that allow the same style of broad speculation as a good old apocalyptic event. Bring on those zombies, mutants, aliens, because when the going gets tough… you know the rest.


You’re right

Sun-Huge-W-Three-Snow-Geese--Improved- V5W6852--Bosque-Del-Apache-Nwr,-San-Antonio,-Nm

It’s easy to mock those who have tried to predict an apocalypse and failed, but thinking about the ways the world might end, or the timing of that end, may be fulfilling a basic human need.

End of the world believers, whether religious or not, have one thing going for them. The world will, one day, end. The planet can’t last forever – astronomers predict the planet only has around another 7.5 billion years until it’s engulfed by our Sun.

In the meantime: if we do have only the briefest cameo as a small species of carbon-based bipeds in a seemingly interminable epic, shouldn’t we make the most of it in these brief moments we’re on stage?

We Are All Killers

We Are All Killers

Posted by thephotosophy


So desperately is modern, civilized man trying to conceal the fact that killing is an everyday occurrence. Without intentional, purpose-driven and rationalized everyday killing of living beings, there would be no life as we know it – at least in some domains. We kill for food, but we also kill for fun. What is hunting than killing for fun? Some may call it a sport, or justify it by other means (animal control), but it essentially is nothing more than organized and intentional killing.

Killing for food is not much different. Here the western culture vigorously tries to escape from the awareness that food processing in most cases involves a systematic slaughter of fellow creatures. Food commercials and related depictions of food processing may try to embellish the reality by diverting the perception toward end products devoid of their bloody past, but preparation of meat for consumption is in reality a ruthless bloodbath where compassion retreats in the face of mechanized rationality.

Why is the modern western human so afraid of coming to terms with the (presumably) justified killing that engulfs its culture? Why does he refrain to look in the mirror while slaughtering a pig to make sausages? What is so disturbing in a bloody image of a butcher, with an axe dripping blood from a recently slaughtered creature?

Might he be not simply disgusted of blood – which he enjoys as food – as much as afraid of compassion that could spring from realizing that so many creatures are being sacrificed for his pleasure and comfort? Might he simply be frightened by the possibility of frailty – because compassion is frailty, unlike cold, rationalized and purposeful homo faber that screams confidence, control and productivity?

Not all modern human is like that. Walk into a Chinese fish store and they will let you pick a lobster (or a trout) to smash with a hammer and wrap up for your pleasure. Walk into a Balkan meat store and you will see skinned young lambs hanging on the walls, blood dripping from their mouths, awaiting your pick of their most delicious body part. These guys don’t seem afraid to accept the reality of death, inflicted by their bloody hands on creatures of the world – sacrificial victims of our habits and tastes. But, where is the compassion? Does the fearless butcher who slaughters while winking to his image in the mirror have compassion for the victim?

Enchanted with the exoticism of non-rationalized human, many would think so. But, compassion for the killing we do for food or animal control is not to be looked for in the non- or pre-rationalized cultures, where mass production has not yet replaced the living experience of ending a creature’s life. It can only come from the future, from the enlightened understanding that rationality is just another step in the perfection of human conduct, on the everlasting path of our coming to terms with meaningless and arbitrary existence

How to Tell If You’re Dating a Sociopath

How to Tell If You’re Dating a Sociopath

A few years ago I dated a man who said that he loved me.

But hundreds of unanswered phone calls and dates that only I showed up for made that hard to believe. Still I knew that if I was patient and loved him hard enough that he would eventually change.

It took a phone call from the wife that he conveniently forgot to mention to make me realize that that probably wasn’t going to happen.

Many experiences (and a master’s degree) later, I’ve come to understand that my former lover, and those like him, are sociopaths: a unique breed of individual that is incapable of empathy or any other proper connection to other human beings.

Now when you think of the term “sociopath,” it might conjure up images of the lone stranger who gets off by dismembering people in his backyard. While this may be true, the term isn’t reserved for only felons and serial killers.

This is because the sociopath’s desire doesn’t have to be murder. Sometimes it’s money. Sometimes it’s sex. Sometimes it’s control. And while many people have these same aspirations, what makes a sociopath a sociopath is that they are more than willing to hurt someone to get what they want. So if your feelings or your well-being have to be sacrificed in order for them to achieve that need, that’s exactly what will have to happen.

They’re the man who sleeps with his partner just for her paycheck; the boyfriend that has sex with his girl’s sister, or even the husband that has managed to keep a secret, second family on the side. Most heartbreaking are the partners who think they can love or pray these individuals into being better people. But unfortunately, that’s simply not possible. Because unlike most people who suffer from some sort of mental disorder, sociopaths are perfectly happy being just the way they are. It’s the people that they come across who are miserable. So the only way to ensure that you’re not hurt by a sociopath is simple: stay away.

And what are the criteria for a diagnosable sociopath?

1. Unlawful Behavior Sociopaths are arrogant creatures who often think they can operate above the law. Because of this, they may repeatedly perform criminal acts. However, because they are usually crafty and highly intelligent, they rarely get caught.

2. Deceitfulness Lying! But not the random or compulsive variety. Sociopaths lie for a purpose, which usually includes some type of financial, sexual, or political gain. Lies may be grandiose in nature and are told as a vehicle of control.

3. Impulsivity Sociopaths act on instinct and without thoroughly planning ahead. They may enter relationships quickly and passionately, but lose interest just as fast.

4. Aggressiveness Sociopaths are usually easily irritated and may be prone to repeated physical fights.

5. Reckless Disregard Sociopaths are likely to partake in risky, thrill seeking behaviors as they constantly need to be stimulated. In the context of relationships, this includes highly promiscuous sexual behavior usually without protection.

6. Irresponsibility You know that person that can’t seem to hold down a job? Not because they’re lazy, but because they just don’t want to work? They may just be a sociopath that thinks they’re too good for a regular nine to five.

7. Lack of Remorse Sociopaths don’t feel bad about anything. This includes not returning your calls or sleeping with your best friend. And to add insult to injury, sociopaths will come up with reasons to rationalize their messed up behavior. Her friend wanted me and what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. Right?

Bottom line is a sociopath has one concern: himself. And while they know their behavior is devastating to those around them, they’re charming enough to make sure that there are always people in their lives to take advantage of.

You just have to make sure you’re not one of them.

Post by  Shayla Pierce

Five common biology myths (or “Science in the service of the anthropocentric patriarchy”)

Five common biology myths (or “Science in the service of the anthropocentric patriarchy”)

Posted by sedeer

In these “enlightened” times, people often try to use science to justify their social, political or ideological positions. While the influence of scientific research on our world view is commonly recognized, the converse dynamic gets far less attention. Cultural factors shape the sort of questions we ask and how we choose to interpret the answers; for example, despite the claim that the idea of evolution has radically altered our view of ourselves, it also often serves to reinforce existing social and cultural norms. Here are five commonly accepted biological “facts” which are untrue but are used to justify our conception of ourselves and our place in the world.

MYTH: Humans evolved from chimps. FACT: Humans evolved alongside chimps.

It may seem like semantic nit-picking, but the difference is crucial — and it both shapes and is shaped by our conception of ourselves and our closest relatives. The statement that humans evolved from chimps isn’t correct at all, not even in a vague approximate kind of way. Humans did not evolve from chimps; humans, chimpanzees and gorillas have all evolved from a common ancestor which we shared sometime around 8-10 million years ago. At the moment, the most likely candidate for this common ancestor is the Nakali ape (Nakalipithecus nakayamai), which is known from a recent fossil found in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

Some people might try to cling to a sliver of truth by arguing that humans should be considered different from other great apes because we look very different from them. In fact, chimps, gorillas and orang-utans also look quite different from one another; the only reason we lump them all together is that they have fur and we don’t. Hairless chimpanzees like Cinder or Ashes don’t really look that different from humans. Given that, there’s really no justification for distinguishing humans simply based on our hairlessness (which may have been an adaptation to help us keep cool while running long distances).

Besides, looks aren’t everything. A recent study poses another challenge to our naïve view that humans have “evolved more” than other apes: chimpanzees seem to have undergone more directional selection than humans since we split. Of course, there’s a lot more to evolution than just directional selection, but the point remains. Humans are apes; we evolved alongside chimps, gorillas and orang-utans, not from them.

MYTH: Humans are different from animals. FACT: Humans are animals.

This is wrong in two ways, one simple and the other subtle. The simple mistake is failing to recognize that humans are animals. There’s no need to belabour this point: humans are animals, pure and simple.

The subtle mistake is to think that this mess can be corrected by the additional word “other” to get “Humans are different from other animals”. While this statement is without a doubt true, it’s also trivial and misleading. Any species of animal could be described as “different from other animals” (and the same could be said of plants); it would be a mistake to be misled by this into thinking that humans are somehow exceptional. Although there is certainly a good deal of value in trying to identify and understand traits that are unique to humans, it’s important to realize that the same could be done from any other perspective. To quote Richard Dawkins, if elephants were researching evolution, they might be obsessed with finding species which ‘have crossed the nasal rubicon and taken the final leap to full proboscitude.’ While there are certainly several traits that are unique to our lineage, we shouldn’t allow that to tempt us into thinking we are somehow exceptional. Like every other kind of life on Earth, we may be unique but we are not special.

It’s also important to remember that we keep discovering that traits which we thought were uniquely human turn out to be more widespread. One example which I recently described is ravens’ use of referential gestures; others include evidence of empathy in elephants, cultural transmission in dolphins and learning in ants.

MYTH: Higher organisms evolved from bacteria. FACT: There’s no such thing as evolutionary progress; we’re all just running in place.

We often use metaphors when describing the course of evolution or the relationship between different organisms. While it’s fair to say there’s a difference in complexity between multi-cellular and unicellular creatures, loaded terminology like “primitive” and “higher” introduces value judgements. There’s nothing at all primitive about any bacteria you might run into — they’re all thoroughly modern creatures, having evolved continuously for the last few billion years. Similarly, there isn’t any sense in describing specific types of mammal as “higher” and “lower” mammals; it’s also ridiculous to call mammals “higher” (or “more evolved”) than reptiles or amphibians. Evolution doesn’t have a direction, a goal or a hierarchy.

The metric we use to judge which creatures are “higher” and “lower” says a lot about the true relevance of this scale: the more closely a group resembles humans, the “higher” it is. This sort of attitude, which is all too common even among biologists, simply reflects our own age-old arrogance; it’s really just the scala naturae ported to a biological framework.

the_great_chain_of_being (Image from of Evolution (Image from Evolve or Die)The mistake here is to think that something that evolved earlier is more primitive, which isn’t true.  The fact that bacteria arose earlier during the history of life on Earth doesn’t make them somehow less complex or primitive.  All the species alive today have evolved and adapted to find its way through the world long enough to produce offspring; all are “equally evolved”.  In the context of biology, newer isn’t necessarily better; evolution isn’t a process of gradual refinement towards an improved version, but rather a question of stumbling along just well enough to make it into the next generation.

The view that evolution somehow involves progress is as profoundly incorrect as it is common. There is no such thing as “evolutionary progress”; evolution is more like an arms race than march of progress. An excellent analogy used by some biologists is the Red Queen (from Lewis Caroll’s Through the Looking Glass): we’re all running as fast as we can just to stay in place.

MYTH: You are a distinct, coherent individual. FACT: Your individuality comprises an ecosystem.

We like to think of ourselves as coherent individuals, but this isn’t necessarily true. Of course, one problem with this is the old “Delphic boat” paradox — we replace most of the cells in our body during the course of our life (and also undergo huge psychological changes), so how can we be the same individual? That’s an entertaining and intriguing philosophical quandary, but I actually want to make a different point based on our biology.

Your skin, gut and mouth (and that of every other human) are teeming with thousands of different kinds of bacteria. In fact, there are ten times more microbe cells than human cells in the average adult body. In other words, when measured by number of cells, the human body is 90% microbial cells and only about 10% animal (human) cells. These microbes also represent a vast source of genetic information. The Human Microbiome Project has identified over 29,000 novel, unique proteins from only 178 species so far; by comparison, the human genome only has about 23,000 genes. While some of these critters seem to play an important role in our health and well-being, the truth is that we simply don’t know what (if anything) most of them do, besides making a comfortable living in or on our bodies without doing enough harm to cause a ruckus. Of course, it’s probably a bit more complicated than that; for example, Helicobacter pylori, a gut bacteria known to cause gastric ulcers, has recently been found to protect against allergy-induced asthma. The importance of our gut flora is an exciting and active field of research at the moment, with a recent study suggesting that our microbiota may impact aspects of our health ranging from obesity to immune response.

It’s been said that “no man is an island”, but now we have to contend with the fact that we are not even individuals, but rather landscapes supporting a vast ecosystem of bacteria, fungi and viruses.  A “landscape” probably is the best description since, strictly speaking, your gut, lungs, etc are exterior surfaces of your body.

MYTH: Men are from Mars; women are from Venus. FACT: Men are from Earth; women are from Earth. Deal with it.

This seems like such an obvious, resonant truth, doesn’t it? Of course, it’s important to remember that stereotypes aren’t always true…but bearing that in mind, men certainly do seem to think about sex more, don’t they? Women tend to be more choosy than men, who sleep around a lot more. Sure, some part of this might be due to social conditioning…but men and women are still basically different, right? After all, it makes sense: millions of years of evolution shaped men into horny creatures that will scatter their sperm everywhere and women into choosy creatures with an instinct to nurture and nurse their young. Right?

Wrong. The logic seems sound, but unfortunately it isn’t based in facts. Men and women don’t actually seem to have any significant differences in sexual attitudes or activity. Here’s the table of conclusions from the study by Conley:

Conclusions from ConleyTo expand on the first few points just a bit:

  • Gender preferences for partners disappeared when they considered actual or current partners, rather than an ideal.
  • On average, men reported a preference for more partners, but this turned out to be because of a few men who wanted lots of partners, skewing the average; when you look at the median preference (or central tendency) for each group, the difference disappears.
  • Men report having more sexual partners than women. However, this difference disappears when they are connected to a (fake) polygraph — men seem to exaggerate about how many partners they’ve had, perhaps to meet some social expectation.
  • Men tend to think about sex more often than women, but they also think about food and sleep more often. In other words, men think about their personal needs more often than women do, perhaps because they are socialized to be “agentic and self-focused”.

Greg Laden has also written an excellent blog post about the origins of gender and sexual orientation. I particularly like his point that a (simplified) combination of N factors influencing gender would lead to 2N possible genders. As he put it:

The interesting thing about this is that a cursory examination of potential human gender diversity from a purely biological point of view suggests that there are at least dozens of “genders” but the vast majority of cultures define (or even allow) only a few. Perhaps culture, in this case, is more restrictive than biology. Which, to a behavioral biologist, is not much of a shock, though it might be if considered from a broader social science perspective.

Men and women are different because we choose (consciously or not) to raise them differently. We show different expectations and provide different role models for them; we reward and chastise them differently. I can’t resist the opportunity for a quick digression about how we dress children. Our modern habit of dressing boys in blue and girls in pink actually dates from around the baby boomer generation; before then, the tendency was the opposite (or just plain white clothes for infants). Here’s a quote from an early 20th century publication:

“The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” — Infants’ Department, 1918

It was also common for young boys to wear a dress for the first few years (until they were “breeched“). Here’s a photo from the Smithsonian showing Franklin D. Roosevelt when he was about 3 years old:

Franklin Roosevelt around 3 years old (Image from Smithsonian)

I’d like to stress that my main point isn’t actually about whether or not men and women are identical.  Although I have certainly argued against the idea that gender roles are the results of significant and relevant biological factors (i.e., that gender roles are “natural”), my main point is that this is a particularly striking example of an area where preconceptions can and do have a strong effect on what kind of research is done and how we evaluate and respond to the results.  It’s far to easy to gild our social choices with wishy-washy science (in this case, evolutionary sociobiology) in an attempt to justify them.  The very act of asking certain questions instead of others requires decisions that will inevitably reflect the social, political and ideological dynamic of the humans involved.

My Own Bias

Given that this post is supposed to highlight the relationship between science and socio-cultural factors, it would be remiss to ignore my own bias.  The decision to write about the interaction between science and society is, clearly, a political decision.  In choosing which “myths” to present, I inevitably project my own views about the world (or how it could/should be).  I might have chosen to address any range of subjects, but I wrote about some things that matter to me (for whatever reason).  We like to think that science provides some kind of objective truths, but which questions we ask and how we report and interpret the results will always be affected by our social, cultural and political filters. The scientific endeavour, though a profound and valiant undertaking, is nevertheless a quintessentially human one.

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Homo Sapiens and God Myths

Homo Sapiens and God Myths

Christopher Hitchens


Sex With Animals Linked to Penile Cancer

By Maureen O’Connor

Sex with Animals Causes Penis Cancer

Sex with Animals Causes Penis Cancer

Men who put their penises in animals have a higher likelihood of penis cancer, a new study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine reports:

We think that the intense and long-term SWA [sex with animals] practice could produce micro-traumas in the human penile tissue. The genital mucus membranes of animals could have different characteristics from human genitalia, and the animals’ secretions are probably different from human fluids. Perhaps animal tissues are less soft than ours, and non-human secretions would be toxic for us.

Is there a take-away lesson from this story? The Huffington Post offers:

A member of a pro-zoophilia group told The Huffington Post by email that the results of the study should prompt people to take precautions, like using a condom, when having sex with animals.

A bold and stirring call to action. If you like this story, the Huffington Post also recommends “16 WAYS to Drive Your Goat Lover WILD,” “PHOTO: Marmaduke Nip Slip” “GALLERY: Sexy Sheep of the Meadow.” [HuffPost, image via]

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In Ancient Greece, the animals fuck you.