Friday, July 6, 2007

The Skeptic's Primer - Answers to Difficult Questions

Q: Is(Are) there (a) God(s)?
A: We don't know.
Complex A: We are a Story Telling Species*. We consume verbal, written, audio and visual entertainments regularly that delight our senses, spark our imagination, and cause our minds to real with imagined possibilities of the strange, spectacular, and sinister. While we don't really know if there is anything out there, we excel at creating stories about unheard of and unwitnessed wonders that delight, dismay, and/or detail the peccadilloes of our imagination. In short, we make stories up about daily events - it is not a great stretch to think we might make stories up about events that are outside of the ordinary. In spite of a wealth of literature concerning deity(s) in our common mythology, there is no evidence to support the existence of any one god or god(s).

Q: Is there life after Death?
A: We don't know.
Complex A: Evidence suggests that the "Self" exists because of electrical and hormonal activity in the brain. When a person or animal dies, all electrical activity in the body and hormonal production ceases. While there may be border states of "changed" perception during the shut-down of these processes that may lead to imagined experiences or simply altered state recollections from those brought back from the brink of death, there is no evidence that any process of self or thought continues on after electrical brain activity and hormonal production ceases.

Q: Where does morality come from?
A: Morality is likely the combination of environmental influence and evolved behavioral instinct.
Complicated A: We have observed that altruism triggers the pleasure centers of the brain. We have also observed patterns of behavior that suggest that altruism functions in an environment of natural selection to aid in the preservation of a genetic line.

*Being a Story Teller Species* (See above) we excel at making up just-so stories and cautionary tales that help clarify and outline what social groups perceive to be moral and ethical behaviors, but those behaviors are not sourced in, or derived from these morality myths, but rather seem to derive from observed behaviors of parental and mentor figures, as well as social influence from peers.

Q:How did the Universe Begin?
A: We don't know.
Complex A: We have cosmological evidence that suggests that the universe may have begun in certain ways, and can answer with a fair degree of certainty that what we observe supports our suggested conclusions...but we're open to new evidence - whether that be more evidence supporting our current theories, or new evidence that suggests a new origin for the universe.

*Being a Story Teller Species* (See above) we have made up many stories about how the universe may have began, stretching our imaginations to their unfettered limits as best we could. While these stories, myths and legends may be compelling, there is no evidence to suggest that any of these stories are anything more than myths and legends.

Q: How did life begin?
A: We don't know.
Complex A: We don't know. We have seen experiments where complex proteins have assembled and replicated themselves, even mutating and changing into new "organic" substances through multiple combines (See Spiegleman’s Monster). This suggests that life may have began in this fashion. We also have genetic evidence that suggests that all creatures came from a common source of genetic information deep in the past. Combining this information, our best hypothesis is that life began as a complex soup of chemicals that combined to form precursors to what we now know to be the building blocks of life.

*Being a Story Teller Species*, we have created many stories, myths and fables about the beginning of the universe, world, life, etc....but there is no evidence that suggests any of these origin myths are accurate or representative of what actually did occur.

Q:What if I don't want to live in a world without God(s), Afterlife(s), Reincarnation(s) or other "out of body" phenomena?
A: The desire for something more doesn't make stories, myths, or legends born of that desire truthful.
Complex A: *Being a Story Teller Species* with grand ideals and lofty aspirations it may be comforting for us to create stories, myths, and legends about a protective powerful figurehead that help us make sense of things we don't understand. The fact of this comforting or palliative effect is not an argument for the truth of these myths and legends. Whether the stories are true or not true, the fact of reality remains the same. It is perfectly acceptable for there to be questions about life, the universe, and everything to which the only answer we have is “We don’t know.”

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