Sunday, October 27, 2013


As an atheist, surely you must have no purpose in life?

I'm certain you've heard that question, or a similar one posed to you, the open atheist. It's both an insulting and an ignorant question. It's insulting because the underlying assumption is that without the acceptance of THEIR personal choice of gods, you must not know what to do with your life. You must be wandering the world aimlessly, without purpose or direction, randomly performing sinful acts and caring for no one but yourself. As an atheist, I can assure you that that is not how my life is lived.

It is an ignorant question because it presumes that purpose is something of a modern creation, or at least since their holy book of choice was written. Purpose has been demonstrated by mankind in many ways throughout time. Early man had the purpose of gathering food and water, staying safe in their environment, and reproduction. Later, purpose may have been more closely tied to communal living, caring for elders, and of course, survival of self and family. In recent history, we have enjoyed the privileged position of being able to wonder why we are here. What is our purpose in the world? Is there a god? We get to spend precious energy helping others not of our familial DNA to live better lives. We can volunteer, donate blood, and truly help people that we don't even know. So purpose has changed through time as the world's societies have grown and changed, and if you are in a position to perform any of these acts you should consider yourself fortunate indeed.

Purpose in life is therefore independent of a deity. You can attribute your life's purpose to your god, as many do, or you can live a good and purposeful life without a god. Purpose existed before god, purpose existed during theistic times, and the individual search for purpose will continue long after science has relegated god to the history books. ~R

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Eucharistic miracles?

Recently, I was asked for my opinion of the following video regarding a supposed Eucharistic miracle occurring in Venezuela. Since twitter limits you to 140 characters, I felt that this would be a more efficient way to summarize my humble thoughts.


Brief preface: I do not believe that I am biased, but I am definitely skeptical. If evidence is presented that proves the existence of a god or gods, then I'm in. I have no vested interest in there NOT being a divine creator. But belief for me cannot happen without that proof. No amount of 'you have to have faith' or pleas of 'can't you just feel it?' will get me from atheism to even basic deism.

Eucharistic miracles (basic summary): The wafer that represents the body of Christ in the instances of these miracles, actually undergoes a visible change into something that mimics blood or even, in the Venezuelan case, becomes blood and cardiac tissue that is attributed as being the physical manifestation of the body of Christ. Regardless of the facts, this is how it is being presented to the rest of the world.

I watched the video contained above. If the Venezuelan Eucharistic miracle is current, legitimate, and has tangible evidence, why has it not been submitted to the world as proof of Christ's divinity and of the Christian god? Surely, if the claims are honest, true, and verifiable, this would be compelling evidence supporting the Christian deity. At the very least, the claimants should submit their evidence and collect their prize money via: or

If the presenter in the video is accurately reporting the 'scientific analysis', his information is inaccurate. The claim is that a wafer placed in holy water has grown into a piece of beating, living, cardiac tissue. He also claims that the scientist that evaluated the sample states that the tissue is human heart muscle (proven easily enough), and specifically that it is from the left ventricle. He continues on with the details of the sample analysis, but this is where I have to stop. Brushing the dust off of my pathology training, there is no way to tell the difference between cells of the left and right ventricles. Vertebrate heart muscle is easily identifiable by its intercalated disks, structures not present in regular striated muscle. Atrial and ventricular cells are slightly different from each other, but the cells of the left and right ventricles differ only in their number relative to the rest of the heart (the left ventricular wall is generally much thicker than the that of the right). The left side has a relatively bigger distribution of purkinje fibers (a network of fibers that help to organize the electrical conduction of the heart so that contractions occur in an organized fashion), but that is also relative to the amount of tissue constituting the myocardium. A piece of cardiac tissue, without the entire organ as reference will not give you an answer as to the ventricle from which it originated (or represents). So, on that fact alone, I call bullshit.

Information and support on and for these events are almost exclusively found on catholic websites and texts. Secular resources treat them at best skeptically, and often just as simple hoaxes. Ultimately, I know what the believer's response will be. Miracles exist outside the purview of science. It's a believer thing, you wouldn't understand.

The want for an event to be miraculous seems to be deep seated within the mind of a religious believer, perhaps as a greatly desired physical demonstration of the things that are otherwise taken on faith. Lack of evidence for a set of beliefs creates this situation. When events happen that defy immediate explanation, those looking for miracles will find them. It's simple confirmation bias and a
common mind-trap of expectation.

I sincerely encourage people to provide rational reasons as to why I am wrong or mistaken in any way. I am particularly interested in the thoughts of those with pathology and physiology expertise. Physicists and neurologists may be more interested in the end of the video. As always, I will consider it a chance to learn something.

But for now, I say keep on moving. There's nothing to see here. ~R

Friday, July 12, 2013

The religious perspective through analogy

A Testimony:

I am at the top of my world, none challenge me, not even the shadowy figures that I see just out of the corner of my eye. But, I cannot live without my loving god that provides me the light which appears without my understanding, the warmth which comes from a place that I know not, and the sustenance that appears without warning from above. So every night I pray. I pray that I am worthy, for surely without my personal savior, I am nothing. I would die. My god gave me this life and in turn I surrender myself and wait for my place in heaven, whenever god sees fit to take me. I do not pretend to know the greater plan, as it is beyond my ken. I will not question the path laid before me or make simple selfish demands in an attempt to satisfy earthly needs.

Indeed, I have experienced near death, and have felt the hand of god upon me. I have even heard his dulcet voice. I was then returned to my world both whole and healthy for reasons unknown to me. I am thankful for such a loving god, although I do fear his wrath and work daily to live up to his expectations. It is a challenge, but it is one that I accept without question.. 

For I am a fish in a tank, and this is my reality.

Your perception of reality is entirely dependent upon your perspective, both in time and experience, but also in location and geography. Open your eyes and see beyond your own glass walls

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Intelligent design: a cognitive cop-out

Creationists believe in the words of their holy book to tell them how the world came into being. Atheists understand that while science answers many of the mysteries of our physical world, it does not pretend to KNOW all the details, nor does it attempt to fill any of the gaps of knowledge with a weak contrivance of an explanation passed off as truth. Proponents of intelligent design, however, bait you in with science - deductively, not inductively - contending everything is designed by a supernatural creative force with some unknowable overriding intent.

I can understand why someone might be tempted by such thoughts. It is often presented to you like a gilded lily. For the weak minded, the one that understands some science, but who also needs to have a divine creator to pray to or to praise or to even blame, intelligent design is for you. It removes the need for facts in places where none exist, and alleviates your mind of the burden of thought because those gaps exist. Poof! You can believe in scientific evidence AND you get to keep your god! Isn't it wonderful?

Of course not, as one of my twitter friends so aptly put, it's creationism dressed up in a fake lab coat. It parades itself as scientific theory and demands to be taught in public schools. As its basic hypothesis, that there is an intelligent designer, cannot be tested, it in no way even approximates a scientific theory. It does not deserve public recognition as truth or science, let alone deserve public funding or classroom time. It is simply pseudoscience. 

Since intelligent design is a complete cognitive cop-out, I find that I have more respect for creationists. At least they don't try to put their fairy tale in a lab coat.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Don't believe the hype

I saw an interesting comment on twitter today about people speaking In tongues. To one believer, it was all he needed to confirm what he already wanted to be true: God is real. For a skeptic like me, I want to know who witnessed this event, what biases they held, the history of the tongue-speaker, etc. I will not settle for something as flimsy as a report of speaking in tongues as proof of a supernatural being. In fact, I would not settle for my own witnessing of such an event to be proof of a deity without more information. Simple observation of a phenomenon does not provide evidence or explanation as to its origins. 

This conversation led me to do some learning on the topic of 'religious miracles', an idea I have long scorned based on my own science education. But what about my own biases, surely they affected my judgement somehow? I decided that I needed to achieve a deeper knowledge on this subject as I, admittedly, knew of only the most commonly discussed events. 

The first example I came across was exceptional. Father Francis Xavier, a missionary who spent many years in India, China, and Japan, whose purpose was to convert the heathens he and his cohorts encountered into believers and members of the Catholic Church. Well after his death in 1552, reports began surfacing of the miracles that had occurred during his missionary work: He had the gift of tongues (language), he was able to burn holy water instead of oil, a crucifix lost to the sea was returned to him by a crab, he was able to change salt water into fresh water while at sea, and he had raised no less than 14 people from the dead. Pope Urban VIII was very impressed by this, while simultaneously being appalled by the scientific discoveries of Galileo.

Of course, the truth is somewhat different. Through historical documentation of his own writings during these times, he reports on a great many things including his difficulties learning the Japanese language, and the daily work of conversion. Not once does he, or his other companions, mention anything remotely miraculous. In fact, Joseph Acosta specifically states in his letters that no miraculous powers were used during their missionary work. 

So what is the genesis of the miracles of Saint Francis Xavier? It seems likely that oral histories, though recent, had been contorted as they were passed on, like a bad game of telephone. The tendency toward exaggeration is a part of the human condition - an observational bias. As a result, history can become what we want it to be, bending to the needs of our own biases, whether we recognize it or not. 

These events are a direct result of the old school version of media hype. And I don't buy it.

Friday, June 14, 2013

"I'll pray for you"

In the recent past, I have made a public request regarding people praying for me. Specifically, don't. That has apparently prompted one twitter theist to add me to his "desperately in need of prayer list". On the surface this little aspect of social media seems innocent, but is it? What's wrong with praying for someone? Nobody gets hurt, right? Lets think about this: Do I really believe that this list was created so that the theist and his followers can peacefully sit about and think positive thoughts about me? Do they truly have concern for my 'soul'? I fear a far more plausible explanation is that this is a list to identify those individuals present in a public forum, such as twitter, that think differently from them. To identify dissenters. To point them out in such a way as to encourage rabid bigotry so they can feel better about themselves, and even more powerful in their beliefs. I remain unconvinced that this was an attempt to affect me in any kind of positive way. On the contrary, I am certain that this list is a manifestation of passive aggressive hatred. Theists are still just human, and like the rest of us they are often imperfect in wonderful ways. 

So, unfortunately, I have come to understand that "I'll pray for you" is the theist's version of a condescending "fuck you". Lesson learned.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Religious respect?

Does your religion deserve respect? I'm sure you feel that it does, but you need to consider yourself a bit biased. 

Imagine you and your neighbor are of different faiths - you are a devout catholic, he is an equally devout Islamist. You KNOW he is wrong in his beliefs, and that his ignorant unwillingness to know Christ the savior promises him an eternity in hell after his death. But you smile and wave. He looks at you, and with the same conviction, feels and KNOWS that your stupidity in not understanding and abiding by the tenets of the Qur'an is a sentence to eternal torture of the same ilk. And he smiles and waves back. Who is right? Can you both be right? Can you respect the person and not the belief? Of course you can (But no worries, in this scenario both are good people who happen to be deluded by theology).

A belief system does not automatically receive respect from the world simply for existing, or for having a large number of adherents. Comments and dialogue that disparage your belief system, when based on fact, are perfectly appropriate. Ideas are NOT people. Your offense to this challenge is not an entitlement, it is a sign of weakness and an inability to defend your position based on anything other than faith and conjecture. Rational minds deal with facts and articulate questioning is a method of testing the validity of a belief system, religions the world around fail this test repeatedly and predictably. So no, your religion does not get automatic respect. And no, it is not a personal attack. Get over yourself.