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The Alliance for Positive Thought Blog

"Religion" Redefined


I ran into Bill Hartnett recently, an author and policy advisor in privatization and sustainable development.

I asked him about his thoughts on the most effective ways to ensure sustainable development, and he cited the motto “reduce, reuse & recycle,” but also stressed the importance of education and getting the message out.

“It’s hard sometimes to convince people to abandon a view that they are firmly committed to,” I said. “What we need is a highly contagious mind-virus.”

“A meme,” said Bill.

“Right. I believe that what we need is a secular alternative to religion.”Before I could go on, he interrupted:

“Well, when you say that, what do you mean by ‘religion’?”

“Well,” I said, “Religion means many things. One aspect includes a commitment to a deity or some supernaturalism.”

Quickly, he fired back:

“What do you mean by supernatural?”

“It means a commitment to a belief not grounded in a naturalistic method like the scientific method. Such a method requires us to be open to any data that might contradict our deeply held beliefs.”

I was right where he wanted me.

"But the Dalai Lama has said that we should question and reexamine even our most deeply held beliefs in light of scientific evidence.”

Bill was right, of course.


Is Climate Change Real? Does it Matter?


The global scientific community agrees that average global temperature is on the rise, despite local anomalies. 2008 was one of the 10 warmest years since records have been kept. But critics of global warming science have not given up. Global temperatures fluctuate, and skeptics point to periods of cooling as evidence against the dangers of emissions. And scientific consensus may change: the climate heretics might turn out to be right. But there is strong evidence that the current connsensus represents reality.

One Antarctic ice shelf has quickly vanished, another is disappearing and glaciers are melting faster than anyone thought due to climate change, U.S. and British government researchers reported on Friday. Climate change is to blame, according to the report from the U.S. Geological Survey and the British Antarctic Survey, available at pubs.usgs.gov/imap/2600/B.

But the question is not whether climate change is an important issue, but whether the timescales reflected by most current models are accurate. No one doubts that humans have the potential to alter their environment, now or in the future. Local environments, like Los Angeles are clearly affected.

The question is whether or not carbon emitted by current methods of energy production will create climate outcomes that are unacceptable for the next few generations, and whether there is anything humans can do to avert these potential pitfalls. The current consensus is that the answer to both questions is yes.

Critics may or may not be right. Every generation has predicted that the end is nigh, and none has experienced the manifestation of their predictions. But even if we are again proved wrong, our priorities, if we value environmental protection, will prove right.

The decision about which policy to favor in the short term will impact life's survival prospects, whatever our scientific understanding of climate turns out to be.




Are we losing touch with nature? How could we, when we and everything we create, are part of nature?

With so much of life based on electronic representations of reality, humans risk losing touch with nature, says University of Washington psychologist Peter Kahn.

From web cams that offer views of wildlife to virtual tours of the Grand Canyon to robotic pets, modern technology increasingly is encroaching into human connections with the natural world. Kahn and his colleagues believe this intrusion may emerge as one of the central psychological problems of our times.

It's true that the environment that we live in now, the “manmade” environment, is different than the environment we used to live in, the “natural” environment. But if we are part of nature, then it seems to be a mistake to chalk these differences up to human meddling. If nature meddles with nature, it's all natural. As a scientific naturalist who believes that humans are part of an evolutionary chain, it's hard to define the difference between natural and artificial. If beaver dams are natural why isn't the Hoover Dam?


Nonbelievers Rising


Under the headline “Rise of Atheism,” AFP has recently reported on a British group that is selling “de-baptism” certificates.

More than 100,000 people have recently downloaded "certificates of de-baptism" from the Internet to renounce their Christian faith.

The initiative launched by a group called the National Secular Society (NSS) follows atheist campaigns here and elsewhere, including a controversial advert displayed on London buses which declared: "There's probably no God."

The response from Christian bloggers has been mostly laughter and puzzlement. Why, they ask, would an Atheist legitimize baptism by authoring a ritual to undo it? If it's meaningless, then an Atheist wouldn't care if they were baptized at a young age or not. Right?

One commenter argues that

The “debaptism” effort represents a certain breed of militant, confrontational atheism more concerned with vehemently disassociating themselves from Christianity than maintaining actual religious freedom.

On face, these objections seems reasonable. In fact, no Atheist believes that they are accomplishing any spiritual feat by purchasing a debaptism certificate. This is a publicity effort, it's true, but is not being done because atheists are militant. You don't have to be a violent anarchist to want to express your (dissenting) views.

Nonbelievers have just as much of a right to publicize their opposition to theistic views as the theists have to promulgate them. The societally acceptable reaction to the news that a Mormon is going on a missionary trip is to say something positive. Missionaries are a part of our history, and viewed by Christians as noble. But an atheist who offers a half-joking novelty item for sale on the internet is viewed as “militant.” Atheism is just not socially acceptable in much of the English-speaking world.

If atheists don't make their views known, and vigorously argue their case, they will lose the battle against religion. Theists have TV commercials, TV channels, missionaries, bestsellers, worldwide financial reach, political access. The truth is powerful on its own, but so far, religion seems to have the upper hand.


Lazy Doom


An article in today's LiveScience.com posits the theory, oft repeated in science fiction, that humans will become lazy from technology. This laziness, Dave Brody argues, will keep us Earth-bound forever, and is the reason why we don't see extraterrestrials.

Why don't we see intelligent extraterrestrials, when the galaxy should be chock full of them? Hubot Roboman tells us the answer: Every technological civilization gets to this point. If you have virtually limitless entertainment everywhere you are, why would you ever go anywhere at all? Any parent whose child plays a game involving a screen and a microprocessor knows this devil all too well. So the number of intelligent species who can kick their addiction to The Too-Easy Life is obviously vanishingly small.

But the author underestimates life's potential to convert diversity into success. Some humans will like living outside the technological bubble. The descendants of those humans will spread to the stars.

Any successor technology to life will demonstrate diversity as a necessary result of complexity. No worry is necessary about robots being unable to pursue survival: if they fail to evolve, they will be a dead end, easily replacable by the next generation of life. If they are successful enough to supplant life, they will need to evolve, and thus will find and exploit all available niches, including space.

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