Atheist

When I was a kid at school, everyone knew I was stupid.  They had measurements, tests, exams that proved it.

Then, at age 11 we all sat the “11+ exam” which separated the clever from the stupid in preparation for the next stage of our education.

Everyone was amazed that I was one of only four kids in my school who passed.  No one could understand it, but you can’t buck the system, so I went to grammar school.

We were “streamed” according to ability, as measured by tests.  As I was always bottom of the class, what everyone always knew about me was validated: I was stupid.  (I was 30 years old before I noticed that it was the top class of five classes that I was always bottom of).

No-one really expected me to do well at GCEs, but I passed enough to get me into 6th form (university preparation).

Finally I lived up to expectation and failed 2 out of 3 “A-levels”.

Except that, in my 30′s, having noticed the facts above (that we had all missed before) I went to university part time as a post-grad researcher (even though I had never attended as an undergraduate) and got a Master of Philosophy degree (M.Phil. — it’s a sort of “PhD lite”).

My curriculum at school was biased towards the sciences: I studied maths, physics, chemistry and biology.  The “A” level that I did pass was physics.  It was well known that I was a bad student and did no studying in the sixth form; even so, I passed physics.

So here was a set of data, available to people with sufficiently scientific minds that they were employed teaching science, that seemed to indicate that I wasn’t stupid.  I later learned that only 10% of children of my generation went to grammar school.  That fact alone puts me in the 90th percentile.  That I was regularly at the bottom of the top 5 forms puts me at the 98th percentile.

And yet they believed me to be stupid, treated me as though I was stupid.  I’m not whining; I just want to show that these people who believed themselves to be “hard-nosed scientists” could not see beyond their beliefs about me.

If we talk to people about belief they tend to self-sort into roughly four groups:

  1. Religious.  These people believe in God, no question.  ”Faith” is an everyday concept for them.  Many tend to be evangelistic, keen to have other people join their religion, although some religions are exclusive: if you aren’t born into that faith, it’s very hard or impossible to join.
  2. Spiritual.  These people recognise a spiritual dimension in their lives but are often wary of joining a formal religion.  They may want to avoid being categorised.  But they usually have faith in their own expression of spirituality.  These people are seldom evangelistic but are often happy to talk about their beliefs to anyone really interested.
  3. Agnostic.  These people don’t know.  If someone could prove to them the existence of God, or prove to them that God does not exist, then they would sign up.  In the meantime they sit on the fence and probably don’t give the matter much thought.
  4. Atheist (includes Humanist).  These people are quite certain that the whole religion/spirituality thing is a fairy story.  They, like the religious people, are often evangelistic, hoping to persuade others of their beliefs.

Now here’s the interesting thing.  All of these groups require faith to hold on to their position.  Let’s make it really simple.  However much you believe in God you cannot prove God’s existence scientifically; probably not philosophically (unless you create your own system of philosophy that sets out with God as an a priori fact!)  This is obvious to a religious person: they accept as part of their religion that it involves faith.  Faith in God is something they are pleased and proud to proclaim.

But, on the other hand, atheism requires faith, too.  If we can’t prove that God exists, we also can’t prove that God doesn’t exist.  An atheist might say that there is no evidence of God’s existence and a religious person might cite any number of phenomena they they consider proof.  But an absence of proof doesn’t constitute proof of absence, and anyone styling themselves as a hard-nosed scientist/atheist should recognise this logical position. You need faith in the non-existence of God to be an atheist, just as much as you need faith in the existence of God to be a religious person.

I also notice another interesting phenomenon.  If we lay out these four positions on a spectrum with say “Extremely Atheist” on the left through to “Extremely Religious” on the right, it seems to me the people with the strongest faith tend towards the poles: those in the middle are more wishy-washy.  And the tendency to evangelise happens at the poles, too.  I never came across an agnostic standing on a street corner waving a placard saying “I’m not sure whether God exists or not, join me”.

So, what has this all got to do with my school experience?  I am fascinated to look back and notice all those scientists and logical positivists who held a position of pure faith, ignoring facts that might have suggested they were wrong.  Holding me as “stupid” was an act of faith.  It is true that I was gangling, unattractive, socially inept and an idiosyncratic learner.  But they had plenty of evidence to suggest that I wasn’t stupid, and I’m sure they could have found more if they’d looked.  For instance, for many of my years in grammar school I would have Mr Firth for history one year and Mr Hughes for history the next.  It went back and forth for several years that way.  In years when I had Mr Firth for history I usually came somewhere near top of my year in the exams.  In years when I had Mr Hughes I usually came somewhere near bottom of the year.  Not only could no one understand this phenomenon, no one could, apparently, suggest an hypothesis that could be investigated.  No one adult, that is.  All my peers knew the problem.  Mr Hughes liked smaller boys who were still wearing short pants.  Being taller I wore long trousers.

Scientists are human and they, whether they believe in God or not, often hold on to acts of faith independently of evidence that suggests they may be wrong.

We have the ability to be curious.  It’s not exclusive to humans–it is a survival mechanism for many species.  We also have a process for testing hypotheses and adjusting them if the facts don’t back them up.  This is how knowledge progresses.

I have also noticed another fault-line into which we can insert an analysts’s scalpel: those who rely on scripture to find truth and those who seek out truth.  It happens in particular in a corner of the world of nutrition in which I am currently exploring.  There is a nutritional idea called “Paleo” … the underlying idea is that there is considerable evidence that our paleolithic ancestors were significantly fitter, stronger, more disease-free than we are today, and that we might see what evidence we can find about what aspects of their life-style we could emulate for our own benefit.  There is considerable anecdotal evidence that the paleo/primal lifestyle has improved the lives of many, and not a few scientists who can point to some strong epidemiological evidence as well as some molecular models to explain their findings.

There are probably as many different flavours of paleo eating and living as there are adherents to the idea and some of those different flavours are very different from others.  They probably all range themselves against the “Standard American Diet” (appropriately known as SAD) or processed and junk food.  I particularly appreciate the work of Jimmy Moore, founder of the “Livin La Vida Low Carb” website.  Jimmy is running some research at the moment on the effectiveness of the “ketogenic” diet.  He calls it his “n=1″ research … in other words, he only has one research subject, and that’s himself.

This idea is echoed by others, like Dr Holly Lucille who asked in a recent post on her Facebook page “Who Is your Primary Care Giver?“.  (It should be you, if you haven’t guessed!)

This is a loose-knit community of people who inquire within as much as without, who have developed a body of knowledge that they check against the known facts, and then go their own way.

Sometimes I don’t necessarily agree with their way: it wouldn’t suit me.

For instance, this morning I came across a Facebook page that is new to me: “Primal Journey“.  It is a lovely page, has some stunning photos of food recipes, but the woman who runs the page eats stuff that I can’t eat, and that I may recommend that others don’t eat … if they are like me.  I, by the way, am a  65-year-old-man, with an incredibly low tolerance to carbohydrates, and type 2 diabetes.  The picture shows what she has achieved by following her own interpretation of a primal lifestyle.  Whatever your “paleo scripture” may tell you, it seems to me that she’s certainly got it right in her n=1 piece of research.  I called my wife over; her reaction was that this is the most amazing “before and after” photo we’ve seen (and this world is full of them).  My attitude is, if you’ve found a path that works for you, then follow it.  I believe that is what God asks us to do (oops; shown my hand!)

At the other end of the spectrum is another attractive young lady, Kate Giovino, who also shows us how she looks on her Facebook page. Kate also, clearly, has a regime that works for her (except that we don’t have a “before” picture of Kate, so maybe she was always this slim and fit).

I first came across Kate when she commented on a post from someone who describes himself as the “Primal Toad“.  He likes to post interesting questions on Facebook and see what responses he gets in the comments.  Last Sunday he asked:

There are now HUNDREDS of “Paleo” or “Primal” books available for purchase. And I mean where those 2 words are in the title of the book.

Do you see this as a good thing? Bad thing? Or are you just whatever?

Kate was one of those who responded and a conversation ensued.  It became apparent that Kate was very angry with Stefani Ruper and Nora Gedgaudas.  Well, I’ve been reading up about these two women; I don’t understand what Kate’s angry about.  Nor, apparently, did the Primal Toad.  The discussion became “one-sided” heated with the Toad trying to mollify and see both sides but Kate sticking to her scripture guns.  This led to a new post on the Toad’s website:

Dear Paleo Police,

Please stop your attempt to tell someone how they can or can not eat. There is no right or wrong way to eat “Paleo.”

These internecine fights seem to go on everywhere.  Jimmy Moore was recently attacked and came up with a similar response in his blog post “10 Critical Issues The Paleo Community Must Address“.

 

 

I am an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church.  A neighbor recently noticed the “Minister” sticker on my windshield and asked me about it.  He asked “What do you teach?” which turned out to be a profound question for me.  I don’t think I teach anything in the sense that he meant.  What I would like people to learn is, firstly, the most fundamental belief of the ULC:

You have the right to practice your own beliefs, so long as you harm no one.

And next I would like people to understand that scripture as we have it today was written down by a human being, and that human may have got it wrong.  In fact, a very short theological study will show how people can (and do) change scripture to suit themselves.

Back in school I was taught that the sixth of the 10 commandments was

Thou shalt not kill

I was rather surprised to discover recently that in more recent versions of the bible this has become

You shall not murder

which is very different (and in the original Hebrew it is “murder”, which, I guess, is in line with the ancient Hammurabi code and used by the Jews of the time).  I find it interesting that, here in America, Christians who tend to be against gun control tend toward the “murder” interpretation of the sixth commandment, whereas the pinko-commie liberals tend to go for “thou shalt not kill”.  Somehow it seems to line up better with “love thy neighbor“, “turn the other cheek“, “vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord” (in other words, you tend to the beam/mote stuff and leave the big stick stuff to me) and other items of the socialist manifesto (or can we find those things in scripture?)

Of course these arguments about scripture can (and will) go on for ever.  As will the arguments about the existence or non-existence of God, or the “correct” way to pursue a Paleo or Primal diet.  I often have the feeling (I may be wrong: it has been known!) that those who cling to scripture are frightened of something.  Scripture is a set of rules by which we may live our lives, and we all know, do we not, that

rules are made for the guidance of wise men and the blind obedience of fools.  (I’ll send a free copy of Susan’s recipe for totally carb-free ketogenic chocolate to the first person who can tell me who said that, and what he reached for.)

If there is no god then we have to decide for ourselves what is the best way to behave and how we may work out what constitutes ”best”.  And if there is a God then, in His wisdom, He gave us intelligence, morals and ethics, and the freedom to use them to live in the best way we can.  It is part of God’s gift to us that we can pursue science.

If you are living the best way you can then I applaud you and will see what I can learn from you and I ask that you do the same for me.

God or Science?  There is no question: God gave us science and expects us to use it responsibly.  And if there is no God then we humans made up science–and we still have a duty to use it responsibly and not to oppress others with it.

Thank you Jimmy MooreThe Primal Toad, The Primal Journey lady and the millions of others who are true scientists, and who share their results with the rest of us.

Interested in Paleo, Primal, Low-Carb?  These are some of the major works of scripture (although their authors wouldn’t see them that way!)

[simpleazon-image align="none" asin="0470913029" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51fDTshjJYL._SL160_.jpg" width="106"]  [simpleazon-image align="none" asin="0982565844" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51F9XVQYELL._SL160_.jpg" width="114"]  [simpleazon-image align="none" asin="0984755101" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51k%2BrjruDaL._SL160_.jpg" width="123"]  [simpleazon-image align="none" asin="1591138043" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/5170IClvOJL._SL160_.jpg" width="101"]  [simpleazon-image align="none" asin="0553380788" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51lAkdvlNBL._SL160_.jpg" width="98"]  [simpleazon-image align="none" asin="1400033462" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41ikBliWK8L._SL160_.jpg" width="105"]  [simpleazon-image align="none" asin="0307474259" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51Ni96jsZzL._SL160_.jpg" width="104"]  [simpleazon-image align="none" asin="1594774137" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51oICmnk22L._SL160_.jpg" width="107"]

Postscript

If there’s one thing that’s liable to unite all these different factions of the tribe Paleo, it’s if a VEGAN happens to enter the room, and if they are a raw-food vegan, well!

Now I’m at risk of becoming  alienated from everyone here, but, deep breath, here I go.  I have to say that I don’t think the vegan lifestyle would work for me: I am HIGHLY carb-intolerant, I do well on meat, and the weight is falling off.  I once was a vegetarian for about 5 years, but my knees gave out, I had an inner sense that I needed to come off my veggie diet, and within days I had gone from cripple to hiking canyons in the Uzège in Southern France.

Scott Jurek Ultra-runner

But consider Scott Jurek.  Here’s a clip from his bio on his website:

Scott Jurek’s outstanding competitive resume includes victories in nearly all of ultrarunning’s elite trail and road events, including the historic 153-mile Spartathlon, the Hardrock 100, the Badwater 135-mile Ultramarathon, the Miwok 100K, and—his signature race—the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, which he won a record seven straight times.

For those of you unfamiliar with ultra-running, let’s just take one of these races, the Badwater 135.  It is a non-stop, 135-mile race across Death Valley in the Mojave Desert, in the height of summer, with a cumulative climb of over 19,000 ft.  He broke the record, finishing with a time of 24 hours, 36 minutes, 8 seconds.

He’s not only vegan, he’s a raw-food vegan.

I’m sure that all of us paleo/primal/low-cal afficionados can find plenty to criticize about Scott’s diet.

If only we could catch him.

If all this blows your mind, check out these books:

[simpleazon-image align="none" asin="0547569653" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/5135SJAluHL._SL160_.jpg" width="106"]  [simpleazon-image align="none" asin="0307279189" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/5117MxRQidL._SL160_.jpg" width="104"]

 

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