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Core Beliefs

I am happy and confident to have the following core beliefs:

Naturalism

I am a naturalist. The natural universe comprises all of reality. Our universe is all there is. I totally reject the supernatural (including gods and other magical beings, objects, and powers) because the supernatural is inconsistent with scientific knowledge and essentially lacks any credible evidence. Extraordinary beliefs require extraordinary evidence, but the supernatural does not have even a modicum of substantiation. Anything that appears to be supernatural has a natural explanation, whether it be due to simple mistakes, wishful thinking, fraud, or even a poorly understood natural phenomenon.

While I greatly enjoy fantasy (whether in the form of books, movies, and TV shows) and sometimes even think that it would be awesome if magic existed, I can distinguish between fiction and nonfiction. But this reality is all that exists and we should live in the here and now, and not base our actions on the mistaken belief that there is anything else.

Favorite Quote

“Seeing reality takes a lot of imagination - but it takes disciplined imagination, which is sensitive to scientific knowledge, humble before it, and committed to consistency with it. The undisciplined imagination cannot learn because it refuses all constraints; it claims "Anything is possible!" when in fact, much of what it imagines is not possible, while most of what is possible, it will never imagine. Scientific knowledge does limit the imagination, but only in the same healthy way that sanity limits what we take as real.”

Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams, The View from the Center of the Universe

True Knowledge and Understanding

Science supported by engineering and technology is by far the best means we have of obtaining real knowledge and understanding. They fundamentally work because they are evidence based and self correcting. Ask the universe the right question in the right way and reality will supply the answers and point the way to new questions. The make clear and testable predictions that actually come true. The have done more for humanity than anything else. We owe them (and the associated scientists, engineers, and technologists) our health, longevity, the food on our tables, and our high standard of living. We would still be nomadic hunters and gatherers if it was not for them. Most fundamental scientific truths are supported by so much credible evidence that they can be trusted because even if they must be modified in the future, it is likely that the modifications will be enhancements in unusual circumstances rather than outright replacements. For example, this is why the vast majority of intelligent educated people accept evolution by natural selection.

On the other hand, religions and most fields of philosophy have generally been spectacular failures in terms of providing specific, objectively verifiable knowledge. Blind faith, wishful thinking, prayers, and bowing down to religious authority are highly effective ways of being mislead into believing untruths. They are not to be trusted.

Secular Humanism

I am primarily a secular humanist. Specifically, I am a proud atheist (secular), who believes that it is up to humanity to solve its own problems (humanist) rather than rely on some mythological being to deal with them, either now or after we die. The only qualm I have about secular humanism is that it is species-specific. Understanding evolution and something of how brains function, I also ascribe varying degrees of compassion and rights to animals, especially those that are either close relatives to us on the bush of life (e.g., great apes, monkeys, prosimians, and many mammals) or that have obtain high levels of sentience through convergent evolution (e.g., dolphins and other cetaceans and certain birds). I suppose that I would expand my circle to include intelligent aliens if we ever get credible evidence of their existence.

Although I was brought up as a Southern Baptist Christian by a fundamentalist mother, I eventually came to realize that the only real reason that I believed in such truly unbelievable things as deities and miracles is because of when, where, and to whom I had been born: hardly a valid reason for basing my life on a specific set of supernatural beliefs. Once I realized that I had been brainwashed as a young child by my parents and authority figures like preachers, I decided to study all other major religions. While in college, I read all of the holy books of all major religions, and realized that each one contained things I could neither believe in nor condone. It took a while but I finally outgrew that one final fairy tale of childhood and matured to became an atheist. I now believe that in order to adequately fight religious fundamentalism and stand up for the rights of all American including atheists (15% of the population), I can no longer remain silent about one of my most core beliefs. I urge all other atheists and secularists to come out of the closet. The following express my view on the subject far better than I ever could:

P.S. Please do not try to convert me. You will be wasting precious time for both of us, and life is far too short to waste it in such a manner. Been there, done that. And if you feel you must pray for my “immortal soul”, please don’t tell me about it. Double blind studies have proven that prayer doesn't work, and besides, it's illogical to believe you can change the mind of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent deity anyway, even if one existed.

Only One Life

Life after death is essentially wishful thinking without any credible evidence to support it. Given that we are only alive once, barring medical resuscitation, we need to make our lives count in the here and now. The best way to do that and achieve fulfillment is to do something to leave humanity and the planet better because of you. Be creative, whether intellectually or artistically. Make a difference that you can feel proud of. Try to live without regrets.

When I die, I want something good to come out of my death. I want to benefit others as it will be too late to benefit me. Use my body to help others: organ and tissue transplants, medical research, and medical education. Funerals are for the living, not the dead; hold one for me if you want, but do not spend money on useless funeral scams to prove that you love me. Love me now and save the money to benefit it living; it cannot benefit the dead.

The Hard Problem

I firmly believe that there is a rational naturalistic reason for everything. That includes everything from the origin of the universe to human consciousness. I am fascinated by the problem of finding an objective explanation for subjective experience. I totally agree with the Australian philosopher, David Chalmers, on what he called the “hard problem.” Even if we eventually understand exactly how the physical brain works,I don't see where that even begins to explain where subjective consciousness comes from. Having spent many years with computers, I find the zombie metaphor (i.e., people without subjective experience who behave just like people with subjective experience) compelling. I just don't understand why subjective consciousness exists. I do not for one moment equate the objective behavior of the physical brain with subjective experience, even though I believe that the mind will eventually be shown to be a function of the brain. They are two distinct things, and correlation and cause do not equate to identity. On the other hand, I firmly believe that the mind must eventually have a satisfyingly scientific explanation. Thus, I believe that the current foundational theories of science (general relativity and quantum physics) will need to be enhanced to explain consciousness as well as matter and energy. And although I totally accept quantum physics, I don't totally buy the Copenhagen interpretation that implies a conscious observer is needed to collapse the wave function; the universe existed for billions of years just fine before there was consciousness, so that isn't the answer either. Anyway, I hope this hard problem of philosophy and science is solved before I die. But I doubt it will. Sigh.

Vegan Philosophy and Lifestyle

For most of my life, I have been more of a carnivore than an omnivore. I really love the taste of meat, especially a good steak. I also love the taste of chicken, ham, and sea food. For years, I did my very best to ignore the many reasons why eating meat is not a good idea. It was largely a case of out of sight, out of mind. Perhaps the truth is closer to the fact that I did not want to think about it because as long as I didn't know and didn't think, I would not have to change.

For years, my son Kodiak, and more recently my son Isaac, have tried to get me to change. Finally, Kodiak got me to watch the documentary, Earthlings, narrated by Joachim Phoenix. It is shocking, disgusting, moving, and life altering. For those of you who are too squeamish for Earthlings, you can watch an excellent PG short film at www.VeganVideo.org.

Now, I have no choice. I am in the process of becoming Vegan and have taken all forms of meat including even eggs and dairy products off my menu. This also includes no longer buying clothes made with animal products. I am doing this for philosophical, ethical, and logical reasons. A good book to read for health reasons is The Food Revolution: how your diet can help save your life and our world by John Robbins. I am also doing this for myself, my family, humanity, our descendants, and the other sentient life forms with which we share this planet:

  • Health:
    • Enlightened Self-Interest - I want a long and healthy life, both for myself and my family. Unfortunately, many scientific studies show that eating meat as opposed to a vegan (or even vegetarian) diet is a major cause of heart attacks, strokes, high levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol and low levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, osteoporosis, and kidney disease as well as colon, breast, lung, prostate, cancers. Milk is a major cause of prostate cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and (surprisingly) osteoporosis.
    • Antibiotic Resistance - The widespread (mis)use of antibiotics in animal feed is directly leading the the evolution of antibiotic-resistant germs, and thereby additional human misery and death. Because I have a chronic autoimmune disease, I must take several drugs that weaken my immune system. The last thing I want is to be infected with a disease that has become resistant to all major antibiotics so that factory farms can increase their profits.
    • New Tropical Diseases - Rain forests are being cleared so that cattle can be raised, and this puts people in direct contact with wild animals, some of which are reservoirs of deadly diseases such as aids and Ebola. Cutting down rain forests for cattle is also contributing to global warming, which allows tropical diseases to migrate into temperate zones, thereby putting people at risk of diseases such as yellow fever and malaria.
    • Rising Cost of Health Care - Annual medical costs in the United States directly attributable to meat consumption is somewhere between $60 and $120 billion, considerably more than the medical costs of smoking."
  • The Environment - TBD (carbon footprint, methane, global warming, deforestation, loss of biodiversity,  )
  • Starvation - Enormous amounts of farmland and grain are being used to feed farm animals. A plant-based diet would take far less land per person and thus support a large worldwide population. If people did not eat meat or animal products, this land and grain could be used to feed people and help put an end to starvation and malnutrition. Eating meat directly increases the amount of hunger in the world. I cannot in good conscience keep eating meat if that contributes to other people's pain.
  • Compassion for Animals - TBD (sentience, pain and fear, cruelty)
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