Saturday, March 31, 2007

Atheist Ten Commandments

While doing readings in science verses religion, I came across a web site that was a source for what is termed "The New Ten Commandments" which I prefer to term the Atheist Ten Commandments (but that is a point of view that I wish to push at this point). The reading of these commandments struck me as a perfect example how evolution and neurobiology are far better at explaining the morals of humanity then scripture ever could. The very notion that people get their morality from scripture (and in the Abrahamic religions, a number of people do) is a specious notion. The following is a much better decalogue for this age:

First Commandment: Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.

Second Commandment: In all things, strive to cause no harm.

Third Commandment: Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect.

Fourth Commandment: Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.

Fifth Commandment: Live life with a sense of joy and wonder.

Sixth Commandment: Always seek to be learning something new.

Seventh Commandment: Test all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them.

Eighth Commandment: Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.

Ninth Commandment: Form independent opinions on the basis of your own reason and experience; do not allow yourself to be led blindly by others.

Tenth Commandment: Question everything.

In addition here is the website where these can be found with the detailed explanations of each and how to apply it to your life:

The New Ten Commandments

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Friday, March 30, 2007

The Perils of an Atheist Teacher

While working on a post previous to this one, I started to wonder what the ramifications for my well-being might be if I were to let slip out during my class time that I was an atheist. Now I must admit that I have a bit of a cover but it is in no way meant to be a cover for my atheism. I practice Soto Zen Buddhism and it's associated techniques of meditation (termed zazen in Buddhist circles) and I have been a 'somewhat' practitioner of Zen for over 20 years ever since I began my practices of the martial art of Aikido. So, when it invariably happens that a student asks what I believe in, I state that I am a Zen Buddhist. Now these are 8th graders and so they are naturally curious about their instructor that they are due to spend months with before moving on. In addition the brain of an 8th grader is growing in its number of connections at a rate only surpassed by the newborn to 5 year-old. This makes if difficult for me to want to 'put-off' my students so I resort to my Zen answers rather than risk what unknown ramifications may come about due to my atheism. Though I am honest with my students, it seems that I play a sad bit of subterfuge with them as well since I omit the answer that they should be expected to get - "Yes Virginia, I don't find it logical that there is a God."

Richard Dawkins talks at length about how misunderstood and even hated atheists are in America and in a suburban/rural environ it is especially true. Never mind that I remind my students CONSTANTLY that the scientific method of investigation does not abide unsupported, untestable, magical belief that has not factual evidence to support it or that the term belief is really inappropriate in a scientific setting. Never mind that I do my best to instill in my students the idea of experiment, hypothesis, and repeatable phenomena as the basis of science - the minute one of my students were to tell their overly-zealous, extremely pious, 'bible-thumping' parents I don't believe in God (any god for that matter) my effective days as a teacher could very well be numbered. Despite the fact that I have a very supportive administration at my school site, despite the fact that I live in the state of California with the curriculum explicitly stating that we should teach evolution, and despite some very well thought out regulations defending a person's retention should not be based on race, creed, color, or national origin it just seems to me that my lack of faith could be used against me.

I can envisage the following scenario: I come to work one day and am asked to meet with my principal. She states that she has received several complaints from parents that I stated in my class that I didn't believe in God and that they refuse to let their children be taught by some Godless atheist scum (or some words or phrases to that effect). I am then asked if it is true that I said that such a thing or stated any words that can be taken to state my position as an atheist. Now, I have a few ways I can handle this and none of them sit well with me. One, I can lie. Yes, lie. I can fall back on my notions of being a Zen Buddhist (because I am and , no, I don't see being an atheist and a Zen Buddhist as a contradiction - but now is not the place for such a discussion) and thus shield myself behind what most other people see as 'my religion' even though I don't share that view. Two, I can commit subterfuge a different way. I can state that "as a scientist" there is no place for God in the scientific approach to the universe and that the students must have 'misunderstood' me when I explained the limits and workings of science. Now, this would be using my science as a shield as well, but it may also be construed as a lie assuming I did in point of fact say I don't believe in a God. Three, I could deny the whole occurrence OR question what this has to do with my instruction in science in the first place, then bring out my ACLU membership card and my lawyers card thus ending the discussion right there (most administrators shudder at the thought of lawyers getting involved). This is not likely to leave an enduring good impression on my superiors and runs into some very dangerous territory indeed. Or, finally, I could simply state the truth and then ask my principal what she is going to do to protect my non-belief as much as she would someones stated belief in a being I consider to be a complete fiction. I am so unsure of how well my good principal would be able to protect me from her idiot superiors and their social/political expediency; that the one answer I desire to give I may never be able to state as a public pronouncement especially for someone in my position - and this is just as equally detestable from a purely moral point as is a lie or subterfuge ... so much so as to make me ill.

And so, where does that leave me? Well, in a perilous position to say the least where every word that I say concerning astronomy, cosmology, geology, evolution and the other ultimate questions of the universe that may not nicely jibe with a students indoctrination in the religious dogma of their parents could potentially be a land-mine. If not for the state of California's explicit science benchmarks and the ability of my administration to use these to protect me (assuming the intestinal fortitude of the chain of command is a constant), I could see a career of 20 years terminated terribly. I must admit also that I have seen my district stand up to the Eagle Forum and other nasty right-wing groups on other occasions and for that I am made to feel a bit better. But all it would take is one superintendent or school board member to feel they have an axe to grind or an example to make of me and all my good feelings could be terribly misplaced. I must admit that it is a bit like the feeling one gets having to work your way through a mine-field; no matter the administration, the regulations, my excellent reputation and record a determined parent could put me in their cross-hairs and see me destroyed. Sad. Welcome to the 21st century. Now I know a little how Galileo might have felt.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

The Case for Atheism

I just finished the book The God Delusion yesterday and was visiting the Richard Dawkins website as a follow-up. It was there, that I found the following video by Richard Hitchens. Now I don't agree with his politics often, but I find his discussion of the moral imperative of atheism to be cogent, exacting, lucid, and quite to the point:

Yes, to be an atheist and deny the delusions of gods and other unprovable phenomena is a moral imperative in my estimation and I use Hitchens discussion(s) as evidence of this imperative.