Category Archives: Science

Skeptical Gardener

I’m very happy in my new home. I’m especially happy with my large yard. I’ve already picked a small patch for gardening, and may try to weasel my way to expanding the borders if I can get the BF to cooperate with my plans. As spring planting time is nearly upon me, I’m gathering all my supplies. Reclaimed wood, containers, seeds, and information.

As I’ve been researching for things to plant, I’ve found that some are being claimed to have special properties. For instance, I’ve often heard it claimed that marigolds repel aphids and that nasturtiums repel rabbits. Such a thing is incredibly useful to gardeners, if true. And even if it isn’t true, there’s no harm in pretty flower borders decorating the veggie patch, is there?

Still, I would look very silly if I said to someone who knew better that this magic flower over there kept pests at bay, only to have him turn around and tell me that it’s doing no more to ward of pests than it is to ward of tigers. Just because the pest isn’t around doesn’t mean my plant actually put up an effective force field. Why did I think it would? Because someone told me?

When I first heard claims of pest-control plants, I was eager to accept it as truth. After all, I heard it from gardeners, people who have been working the land longer than I’ve been alive so I’d think they know a thing or two. It would certainly benefit me if the claims were, indeed, accurate. But just wanting something to be true doesn’t make it so, nor does hearing it from a perceived authority. This is something I gave little though until I considered another kind of plant use claim, on that I doubt, that being medicinal plants.

I’ve always found the effects certain plants are said to have for humans very interesting. Some flowers and herbs, I am told, have medicinal properties and can cure things like headaches and stomach upset, can promote healing, or can help you lose weight. I’ve even heard such lofty claims as this or that plant can prevent or cure cancer.

Do some plants really have the medicinal effects claimed? Maybe. I mean, it’s known that some plants can have an effect on animals. I mean, as an example right off the top of my head, the effects (medicinal and otherwise) of cannabis on humans are well known. And if I’m not mistaken, the developers of pharmaceutical have been known to look to plants, on occasion, in the development of new drugs. Plants can affect people as more than just a source of nutrition, and sometimes do so in some pretty strange ways.

I’m not questioning whether or not plants can possibly have medicinal uses. It’s whether or not the specific plants claimed really work as claimed, and whether or not they are really more effective and safer than commercial drugs. I’m not one to just believe whatever I’m told. Not without proof.

Sadly, I’m finding research on the matter a bit difficult. Actual scientific studies on such matters are hard to come by, and definitive conclusions harder still. Meanwhile, there remain so many claims out there, and it seems like more are sprouting up all the time as the “alternative medicine” movement gains steam online. It is therefore difficult for me to determine which claims are true, or at least plausible, and which are just “alternative medicine” hogwash. Honestly, I’m inclined to doubt “alternative medicine.” I doubt that any plant is medicinal until I can verify that it is.

It would be nice if I could grow my own personal pharmacy. However, until I can find proof that the herbs and flowers I’ve been told can do this or that really do as advertized, I will have the lingering and uncomfortable suspicion that I’d just be doing the gardening equivalent of superstitiously throwing salt over my shoulder, getting, at best, a placebo effect.

This doubt in herbal medicine makes me also wonder about the pest-control claims of companion plants. These claims too would be nice if true, but are they really? I don’t know.

This feels like an odd post to write because I’ve basically proposed a problem and then didn’t follow with a solution, making this post seem somewhat incomplete. The truth is, as of right now, I don’t have an answer.

Atheist Stories Pt. 3: Believe Or BURN!

I was well known in school. I might not have always been well-liked by some crowds, but I wasn’t generally hated either. I was that weird kid who would refuse to play kickball but would doodle in gym class instead. My mother was often in a hurry in the mornings and would yank on my hair while attempting to brush it out, and so I developed an aversion to hairbrushes. My hair was cut short so as to not be much work, and it was often messy. As for clothes, I mostly just threw together an outfit without much care apart from ensuring that I was covered (bright green sweatpants and a Power Ranger’s T-shirt with a hole in it seemed like a good match.) I didn’t much care about being attractive. I just didn’t really care at all what anyone thought of me. In a way, I miss being able to carry that sort of attitude.

I badly needed glasses, but I never got them until about second grade. Even then, I often lost them. Of the friends that I would make at recess, I would often have trouble finding them again due to my poor vision. I can’t say that I felt all that lonely though. I usually was happy to entertain myself drawing. I even brought my sketchbook with me to gym class and would sit out games of kickball in favor or doodling.

I was never much bullied. Sure, kids tried to bully me every now and then, but that never went all that well for them. I was no push over. I was a very confrontational child and would stand up for myself. For a time, I was a regular in the principle’s office because I wouldn’t let any Zero Tolerance policy rob me of the right to defend myself when needed. Of course the loser of any scuffle, even if he started it, would paint himself as the victim and me as the aggressor.

I had a few friends, in a circle I kept very small. Then I had a room full of classmates, most whose names I couldn’t be bothered to remember (it was a good year if I knew the teacher’s name.) And that was my school life, pretty much.

There was one girl in particular, who I got along mostly OK with, by the name of Dorothy. Admittedly, she was quite annoying. She was known to be excessively loud, clingy, and careless (she had once dropped a rock on my head off a playground, and had also spilled milk on my head in the cafeteria once.) I was mostly only friends with her because her name reminded me of The Wizard Of Oz, and I had a tendency of feeling compelled to be nice to people, no matter what they’ve done to me in the past, as long as they were being nice to me at the moment, which she usually was.

It was at her invitation that I first attended church. I reckoned I may as well find out who this god character everyone keeps fussing about is. I had little else to do on Sunday mornings anyway.

I’ve always loved the gothic architecture that some churches have. I love the soaring, stained glass windows, and the images that they would depict. I loved the repeating patterns of elegant, pointed arches. I loved flying buttresses that climbed the wall with such grace. I love the strong, stone pillars. Then there was the towering spire, visible from quite some business away, with its breathtaking presence. Before I first attended church, I associated that sort of gothic cathedral construction with all churches, probably because that makes churches highly recognizable. I thought that they were all designed in this fashion.

I’d often wished that I could find a church of that type for sale, and was able to get it zoned as a residence. I was a bit of an odd child, maybe, but it’s hard to deny that a building with that sort of construction would make for a beautiful and rather large dwelling. I imagine that the chapel would have good acoustics, and the pews already provide ample seating, making it the ultimate home theater room.

Much to my surprise the church I was brought to wasn’t at all what I imagined. It was actually quite ugly. I’d seen this building before as it was close to my home, but if it weren’t for the large stone cross, I would have never guessed the hideous thing church. It lacked any symmetry or aesthetic form at all. It looked like a collection of children’s building blocks just thrown together. The exterior was stucco and painted bright blue, and much of it looked to be in disrepair. It certainly lacked the beautiful architecture of the Catholic Church down the street.

I once revisited this church building as an adult, just a few years ago. By then, I’d thrown off the shackles of religion. My purpose for visiting was not one of faith, but of consumerism. What had once been a church had been turned into an antique store, now called Church of Mouse. The building seems to lend itself as well to this purpose. I amuse myself today at the thought of religion as an antique. It seems appropriate, really.

The adults of the church seemed very sure of god, and would talk about him with certainty to each other rather than just when speaking to children as with Santa. Adults can’t be wrong, can they? It was at this church that I learned that, at the age of 8, I was a filthy, dirty, sinner deserving of not only execution, but also the most horrific tortures imaginable for an infinite sentence afterwards. Apparently, snatching a cookie before dinner or feeding my peas to the family dog were very grievous offenses in the eyes of god. As for my young self, it was the first time that I had been told that I was so evil and worthless, the worst of my crimes being simply being born.

It wasn’t all bad though. As it turned out, the members of this church, and only them, the brilliant people that they are, had the cure that I need to cleanse myself of my wickedness and escape condemnation to hell. How lucky for me that I happened to meet people privy to such a thing. It’s odd that no one who didn’t claim have the cure ever even mentioned the need for one, considering how much people went on for the cures of diseases. I would think that this hell would be far worse than cancer or AIDS (whatever those were.)

Thanks to the kindness of the pastor, I was quickly “saved” from from my sentence to hell which, until I met the church people, I never even realized was immanent.

Wait, the concept of hell seems a little bit implausible. I mean, where is it? It can’t be under the crust of the earth, that’s where the mantle and core are. Don’t ask questions! Don’t even think questions! Is it supposed to be on another planet? How do we get there? How do we even get anywhere anyway if we’re dead?

STOP THNKING! STOP DOUBTING! STOP ASKING QUESTIONS! That’s just the devil infecting your mind and trying to trick you into doubting, the punishment for being a victim of this trickery being that eternal torment in hell. Oh no! Sorry, god. I didn’t mean it! I’m so sorry! Please forgive me. I promise not to doubt for a moment ever again. Please don’t burn me. Amen.

And so I became indoctrinated and easily manipulated puppet. I was even an instrument in my own indoctrination. Do as god/I say(s,) hate what god/I hate(s,) hate who god/I hate(s.) Wow, it sure is lucky that I found a teacher who is so in tune with what god thinks. It’s very convenient that he can hear god. … Why can’t I hear god?

Anyone familiar with operant conditioning can see what’s going on here. You do something, so you’re punished (the mere thought of punishment, especially one so severe, is its own punishment here) so eventually, you stop doing that thing (even when that thing is only a thought.) I was not to doubt or to question. To do so meant thinking of hell, the punishment for thinking and questioning. Skepticism was simply not allowed. It was blasphemy. Once that much was accomplished, it was easy to convince me that “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” was a sensible argument against respecting the humanity of those evil homosexuals (whatever those were.) I could not ask, “by why is being gay wrong?” expecting any deeper answer than “because god says so,” otherwise… hell.

I don’t remember Santa Clause ever threatening me with anything apart from coal. Even then, that punishment was just for being bad, he didn’t seem to care if I believed in him or questioned his reindeer or not. And that punishment at least was temporary, I’d have next year to learn from the punishment and do better.

Just nod your head. There’s a good little sheep.

It should be said at this point that, for the most part, the church fold were nice. They picked me up and dropped me off every day in their church van. On my first day, they introduced me to everybody and the adults shook my hand, a respect I was rarely afforded as a child. Every day there were snacks available for free, which I appreciated as I rarely awoke in time for breakfast.

The pastor was personable, always chatting with everyone, even the children. And the lessons for children were fun, we mostly played games and watched Christian cartoons. The church folk even got me a Christmas gift.

This was not a fire and brimstone church. Nor was there a time in which they attacked science, at least not in front of me in the time that I attended. Still, all that is needed is the threat of hell, for crimes real and crimes only thought of but not actually carried out, and the rest of the indoctrination takes care of itself.

And then, something even more terrible happened and I was plunged into my own personal dark ages, which I didn’t manage to crawl out from until embarrassingly recently. One day while I was chatting with an adult neighbor about dinosaurs, I imagined how they died out something like 65 million years ago, way before the first humans. Then he did something I wasn’t expecting.

His words were simple, shattered my perception of reality. I was that day made into a creationist, not because of any evidence or convincing argument, but because of the blind fear that church had conditioned me to develop.

He asked me how that was possible for the dinosaurs to have lived and died so long before the existence of humans, given that the sun, earth, humanity, and all animals were all crated in the same week according to the book of Genesis.

It was at this point that my brain short circuited, a portion of it ceased to function properly. We all joke about hearing something so dumb, that it makes the rest of us dumber for having heard it. To my shame, I can honestly say that this is exactly what happened.

I had heard the story of Adam and Eve before, who hadn’t? The sins of the first humans are, as I had been told, to reason that I deserved eternal torment. I even attempted to read Genesis as a child, but the strange form of English used in the King James Version was not one that was fluent in. Somehow, it never occurred to me before my neighbor asked the question that there might be a conflict between the Bible and the truth. I had never considered it before. But now I could no longer deny the contradiction. I then had to make a choice. I should have just said that the bible’s account of the origin of life on earth was simply wrong, as the evidence that I was, by then, well aware of clearly shows.

However, I just couldn’t say that the bible was wrong – it was the word of god, I’d been drilled to believe. I’d surly go to hell if I didn’t believe the bible. I’d go to hell if I even thought about disbelieving the Bible. To deny the Bible was evil. Satan, I was told, would do anything to make me doubt, and would come in a form that seemed reasonable and attractive.

Science, I had to convince myself, was evil. I had to believe that scientists in many fields, some of the smartest people on the planet, were all wrong. I convinced myself that I was required to believe that dinosaurs never existed. So severe was my fear of torment should I accept dinosaurs that when the marvelous BBC documentary Walking With Dinosaurs, which depicted the awesome creatures in a way I had always wished Paleo Word could, was shown in class, I refused to look. I put my head down on the desk, closed my eyes, and tried to block it all out. It broke my heart that I had to give up my dream of being a paleontologist.
I even rejected fun things like Pokemon, simply because the word “evolution” is used to describe the monsters’ transformation which is nothing remotely like actual biological evolution. Pokemon, at the height of its popularity, was quite difficult to avoid. The devil sure was a crafty, um, devil, trying to lure me to the darkness with cute yellow electric rodents. Or maybe the lord was testing my faith. Given what I’d been carefully lead to believe was at stake, I couldn’t afford a bad mark in god’s grade book.

My parents, to their credit, tried to help me. My father offered me the idea that time was relative and that the bible didn’t really mean six literal days. My mother suggested that I attend different churches or investigate other religions. Sadly, I was dug in like a tick. I was sure that either option meant eternal death. In hindsight, I wish they wouldn’t have just stopped babying me and flat out told me that I’d bought into bull. But they let me believe whatever I believed, even to my detriment, in much the same way most us are told that we must respect any religious belief, no matter how absurd. It’s all the same anyway, I would have probably just dismissed their attempt to de-convert me as the work of the devil or something and buried my head deeper.

I tried not to think about dinosaurs, or the age of the earth, or evolution, or anything that wasn’t consistent with the religion I’d been fed. I couldn’t argue against any of it, so I tried to block it out. I couldn’t doubt, I’d be punished. And I prayed in school before eating my lunch, even though the kids in school mocked me. Oh well. The Bible says that Christians are persecuted, so I figured I was being a good little martyr.

I couldn’t not pray, I’d be punished for that too. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with a start, trying to remember if I’d prayed before bed or not and then praying anyway for good measure. Please don’t burn me.
When things went well in my life, I credited god. If there was a substitute teacher on a day that I’d forgotten/neglected the previous day’s homework, then god was looking out for me, personally. If a stalled car started, it was god. If my mom made angel food cake, well, that was obviously god. What sense did it ever make to thank anyone else?

I’d been told that I can ask god for anything, and he may or may not oblige. However, I was required to believe that he would deliver whatever I prayed for, else I was doubting his power. But he still might not deliver if it wasn’t in his plan. So… if I prayed for something, I had to believe that it would be there, and was god’s plan, until such a time as it wouldn’t be there and wasn’t god’s plan. I have trouble explaining the cognitive dissonance this particular dilemma caused me, apart from saying that it now reminds me of Schrödinger’s cat.

I was convinced that whenever anything went wrong in my life, I was either being punished for something or tested. Did I just trip and scrape my knee because I was bad and needed to be punished? But I just prayed for forgiveness not even an hour ago, so I should be freshly forgiven! I must have done something wrong that I didn’t realize was wrong. Maybe I’m incapable of realizing everything that I’m doing wrong because I’m just a mere human and am not the all-knowing god. … This game seems rigged. Sorry! Don’t burn me!

​Maybe bad things are happening to test me. That’s what happened to Job, right? If I remark on, even in my head, how bad things are, or how unfair god’s justice system seems, I’ve failed. Am I supposed to be… thankful when I’m hurt or hungry?

​When I was 11 years old, I was shot. I am a perfect example of the harm even personal, non-violent religious belief can do. I, a mere child, was shot. And I was convinced that I deserved it. Whatever I did to deserve such punishment, it must have been awful. I truly believed myself to be a worthless creature, to deserve such a thing at only 11. I was certain that I did not deserve to live. Is that really such a stretch when Christianity had taught me that humans all deserve eternal death?

Atheist Stories Pt. 1: Speak

Atheist Stories Pt. 2: The Little Scientist

Atheist Stories Pt. 3: Believe Or BURN!

Atheist Stories Pt. 4: Bullet And Belief

Atheist Stories Pt. 1: Speak

The line spilling out from CU Boulder’s Mackey Auditorium was a long, slow one. The people waiting in line wondered aloud if the author would be able to sign all of the books of everyone waiting in line. One person said that they overheard one of the security guards say that the author would only sign about 100 books and turn everyone else away. To be fair, it was late. It wasn’t hard to imagine that Richard Dawkins would probably prefer to return to his hotel room, or wherever he was staying while touring the United States, rather than entertain the crowd of fans all night.

As I stood with my copy of his newest book, The Magic Of Reality, the very book that he had just finished giving a presentation on, I kept my hopes up. Just being here meant a lot to me. That man’s work has had a lot of influence on who I am and how I see the world today. It was amazing to have had the pleasure of hearing him speak in the auditorium, where he had the full attention of the audience. He was every bit as intelligent and witty as person as he’s ever been in his books or on film, and with that same dry sense of humor.

​There was only one more thing that could have made the evening perfect. All I wanted was a signature. I said to the gentleman ahead of me, “Well, if Mr. Dawkins doesn’t have to hear every single person’s personal atheist story, we might get our signatures.”
The man grinned cheerfully and responded, “Oh, don’t worry. Mine is only about 20 minutes long.” And then he proceeded to tell me about some project he and some other people were working on, atheists tracts fashioned as elaborate satire of the infamous Chick Tracts. Later, an excited woman who had evidently been at the head of the line told the man that she’d had a chance to talk to Mr. Dawkins about their tracts, and Mr. Dawkins like the idea. I was happy for them, although they were strangers. But I was happier still that they, and a group of other people, left the line soon after.

​I think that every atheist has a story. For most, it involves escape from the religion that they were brought up in. For such people, de-conversion isn’t always easy. Investigating what you’ve held so deeply to be true, and rejecting your old notions if you could not justify them. To do so means changing who you think you are, how you perceive yourself as a human being, because it means re-defining your identity, to which religion had for so long played a major role. It means admitting that you were wrong. Doing this requires lot of honesty and courage. Being “out” as an atheist requires even more, as it means dealing with the judgments from society, and possibly even being ostracized by family and friends.

Even those who have never had never been part of any religion from which to escape have stories. Nearly everyone has at least heard of religion. And despite how evangelists seem to believe as they knock on my door to deliver me “the good news,” I have heard of Jesus, as has everyone in the US and much of the rest of planet. It’s unlikely that anyone who has never subscribed to religion in their life time has never been proselytized to, directly or indirectly. At such an occasion, the non-believer was in a position to consider religion, even if just long enough to reject it.

What’s more, whether we were always atheists or escaped from atheism, we are affected, as is everyone else on the planet, by religion in some way. All too often, religion impacts scientific advancement, education, domestic laws, and foreign affairs, and never in any positive way. All the more reason to speak up and be heard. Tell politicians who pass laws based on their personal convictions to their myths of choice, “Speak for yourself.”

Every atheist has a story. I think most of us would like to tell them. I had an atheist story that I, of course, would have liked to tell Richard Dawkins. I wondered how fast I would have to speak to be able to tell it in the moment it takes for him to write his name.
Well, it didn’t matter. The late-night book-signing was neither the time nor the place, and I’m sure Mr. Dawkins must be just about sick to death of hearing everyone’s story by now anyway. Heck, he looked like he had just about had it with singing books by the time it was finally my turn (Yes, I made it!) It seems signing books was every bit as tedious as I expected it must be. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have everyone want to tell you their story too. He smiled politely.

I said “Hello, sir.”

He said “Hello,” back. Then he quickly signed by book, returned it to me, and waved the next person forward.

I was happy, absolutely giddy, to have gotten his signature. That was more than enough for me. I believe my exact thoughts at the time were, “HOLY CRAP! Richard Dawkins signed my book! He even smiled at me! He is so awesome! Squee! Forget rock stars, I want autographs from kick-ass biologists! Oh, hi, boyfriend. I totally didn’t forget you were here. OK  Maybe I did a little. But isn’t Richard Dawkins great?!” Yes, it seems that I might just be a bit of a fan-girl over a 71-year-old science man. Is that weird?

​So I didn’t bore Mr. Dawkins to death and irritate everyone who stood behind me in line by telling my story. Still, I think it’s important for atheists to tell their personal stories, even if we can’t deliver them in the three seconds it takes scientists to scribble their names. The perspective of atheists is a valid, yet tragically overlooked one. Mr. Dawkins himself spends a great deal of time speaking about atheism, and even endorses the Atheist Out Campaign which encourages atheists to come out of the proverbial closet in the same manner as homosexuals. The goal is to foster a visible and vocal atheist community. To speak about being an atheist is an important part of being “out.”

​So speak up. Speak out. Be heard. Tell your story. You might just inspire someone else to do the same. Each voice may be small by itself, but together, we can be hard to ignore.

Atheist Stories Pt. 1: Speak

Atheist Stories Pt. 2: The Little Scientist

Atheist Stories Pt. 3: Believe Or BURN!

Atheist Stories Pt. 4: Bullet And Belief

God VS Air

As an atheist, I have encountered many arguments offered by believers for the existence of their version of god. These arguments are, of course, completely without merit, as you would expect from people arguing without any sort of supporting evidence. It’s difficult to say which argument is the dumbest, because there’s no reasonable way to argue for the unreasonable.

One of these especially poorly thought out arguments goes something like this:

“So what if you can’t see god? You can’t see air either, but you believe that it’s real.”

I’ve been offered this argument from Christians and Muslims. I imagine adherents to other religions would likewise offer this sort of argument; it just happens that I haven’t personally run across any such people. In the US, most theists are Christian, so they’re the ones most likely to offer me this argument. I was only offered this argument in person by a Muslim because I was in Qatar at the time, which is an Islamic nation. What I’m saying is, this argument is not nearly as clever or unique as the people who offer it seem to think it is.
In the past, I’ve countered the argument in a number of was:

1. By pointing out that the statement is a logical fallacy called a non sequitor argument. Non sequitor comes from Latin, meaning “it does not follow.” Basically, a person is saying that this one non-visible thing (air) exists, therefore so does this other non-visible thing (god.) To illustrate the flaw in this, suppose I said “You can’t see unicorns, but you can’t see air either!” No one will be convinced by that because we understand that just because one thing exists does NOT mean that some other unrelated thing exists.

2. I would again mention that adherents to other religions could well make the same argument. To a proselytizing Christian, I could recount the story of when a proselytizing Muslim gave me that very same “air” argument, only he was arguing for Allah (which is actually the same god of Abraham, just a different version.) I would then point out that, at this revelation, the Christian is not convinced to convert to Islam. Nor is he convinced to convert to Unicornism.

3. The most obvious and frequently-used way to counter the “air” argument is by pointing out that we can prove the existence of air in a number of ways. Even first graders can prove that air exists with simple experiments. More than that, we actually can see air. Then, when I’m done listing every single evidence I can think of to demonstrate the existence of air, I point out that there is no evidence for god, therefore making the two incomparable.

Having given the argument much thought though, I’ve decided that, while all of these responses are correct and are more than sufficient to keep an atheist from being convinced to convert, none of them really do much about the theist. Allow me to explain.

Responses 1 and 2 deal with logic. Religious belief is, by nature, illogical. On some level, the theist probably realizes this, at least to some degree. So they won’t hear any argument that other religions say the same thing. They’re conditioned to think that even if other religions make the same arguments, only their own religion is correct about it. As for the non-sequitor, well, that’s all the theist has to resort to using as he has no evidence, which is the point.

Response 3, proving air, is trivial. The theist already accept the existence of air and, in making this argument, is confident that you accept air as well. He can be reasonably sure of this because he is well aware of the evidence of air. Since he has no evidence for god, and he has no evidenced for god, else he would provide that, he tries to put god on the same level of reality as air by making the false comparison.

So, I’ve decided that the best course of action is to surprise the hell out of a theist. Since we realize his expectation and reasoning, he can turn it against him and maybe even demonstrate that he is not actually as confident in god himself as he is in air.

What we do is simple, we deny air. In my head, the scenario goes something like this. Your own mileage may vary.

Theist: “You can’t see air either, but you know that it’s real.”

Athiest: “Of course I believe in air. But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend for a moment that I really don’t believe in the existence of air. How might you go about convincing me?”

Assuming the theist actually plays along instead of, perhaps realizing his flaw already, and/or responding with insults, he might answer by listing off evidences for the existence for air. The theist might not mention the fact that yes, we can see air, however. When viewing air underwater, you observe bubbles. One might argue that you’re not really seeing air, but the space where water isn’t.

However, you can easily see air by looking up. Air is made of matter, it just happens that it’s not very dense. If you look through enough of it, you’ll be able to see that there is something there. Look up at the daytime sky. From Earth, the daytime sky is blue. However, when viewed from the moon, the daytime sky only shows the sun and stars against the blackness of space. Why is that? It’s because we live under an atmosphere. If you understand how vision works, you understand that when you see an object, what you’re really seeing is light bouncing off of that object and into your eye. When you see a blue sky, you are seeing the light being bounced off of and scattered by the air. You observe blue because that particular wavelength happens to be scattered the furthest.

However, there are plenty of other evidences of air which your theist would easily be able to provide. They would probably mention that we can physically feel moving air, we can even be thrown by it. We can observe other objects being affected by air currents as well. We can objectively measure the speed and direction of that air movement. We can use our understanding of air movement in a number of ways, including predicting weather patterns, moving sail boats, and powering wind turbines. We can even create our own air movement by use of fans, propellers, and impellers. Manipulating and creating air movement has allowed us to use aircraft and hovercraft.

We can also feel air in another way, by sensing its temperature. We can also observe air temperature causing objects to change physical states (objects freezing, melting, or steaming.) We can even objectively measure air temperature through the use of thermometers, and have different measurement standards for doing so. We’re able to use our knowledge of temperature to predict air pressure and movement. We can also manipulate air temperature and predict the effects of doing so, allowing us to use this ability to cook in ovens, have air-conditioned homes, preserve food, and fly hot air balloons.

We also feel air pressure. We’re so used to feeling a particular range of air pressures within our atmosphere that we might not be aware that we feel air pressure, however, if we were suddenly placed in a vacuum, the effects on the human body would be very noticeable. We can measure barometric pressure, and we use this to predict weather and to adjust the altimeters on aircraft. Additionally, we can measure and manipulate air pressure in containers. Doing so has allowed us to properly inflate vehicle tires and the skirts of hovercraft, operate air-powered machines, bring breathable air with us as we explore the depths of our oceans, and has allowed us to travel safely in space.

The fact that we can contain air is further proof that it’s a physical thing. As I said, we contain air in balloons, paper bags, bubbles, as well as tires, aircraft compartments, machines, and SCUBA tanks that I’ve already mentioned. And I already mentioned that we can manipulate the pressure in these containers, allowing for passenger comfort in aircraft, portable breathable air, efficient transportation, moving parts, air guns, air bombs, and popped balloons.

Once we have determined that air is composed of matter, we can figure out what that matter is, what gasses make up its composition, and we can measure what quantities we find different gasses. We’ve been able to determine that the air around us here is about 78% Nitrogen, and 20% Oxygen. We’ve discovered how important oxygen is in our respiration as well as in the operation of combustion engines, and we have noticed the difference in available oxygen as we move higher and lower in altitude. We’ve also been able to weigh different gasses, discovering that Hydrogen and Helium are much lighter than Oxygen and Nitrogen, a knowledge that has allowed us to make blips, zeppelins, and balloons float. Understanding the composition of air has uses in chemistry. We can, for example, create gasses through chemical reactions. We create CO2 simply by mixing vinegar and baking soda.

Yes, these are examples of what our theist friend would probably provide. You’ll notice that, the theist resorted immediately to using evidence to prove air, just as anyone would. I think that’s a reasonable thing to expect from anyone, even a theist.

You’ll notice, however, it’s not likely that a theist will respond by arguing “Well, you can’t see air, but you can’t see atoms either!” And they won’t further go on saying “You can’t see this thing X, but you can’t see thing Y either,” going down the list of non-visible things until they find something that you will accept. Such a response would be silly. When people can back their arguments up with solid evidence, they do. There is no need to rely on non sequitior arguments or word games for things that actually do exist.

As the theist’s “air” argument is used instead of providing evidence, it’s an admission on the theist’s part that they don’t really have any convincing evidence, especially not on the same level as we have for the existence of air. In doing this, the theist is, without even realizing it, admitting that even they do not believe in god as much as they believe in air. They realize that I, like they, believe in air based on science and reason, things that their belief in god lacks.

Drive-By Thoughts: Fantasy Vs. Reality

No one’s feelings are ever more important than the truth.


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