Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Non-Believer in a world of Believers

Many consider atheism to be a belief system, which is of course contradictory. The definition of belief is an acceptance of something as true, by way of an emotional and often spiritual sense of certainty. As such a belief system is not underpinned by an opinion based on known facts. Belief is the sort of system used to explain ghosts and gods. I have no doubt a good many humanists of the modern day employ the same gut thought in their belief of mankind as god.

But anyone that has worked through the information that is readily available in this current slice of time and concluded god does not exist should not have to suffer the label of atheist nor believer – both being constructs of faith societies.

We think, therefore we are.

God based faith is a perfectly acceptable medium for those that make a conscious effort towards ignorance. And there are a great many that put a lot of thought into building complex constructs to perpetuate this ignorance.

But in this modern world where we have so much knowledge it really does take that leap of faith to ignore the truth before our eyes. The moment you accept evolution as being the journey of life you must have problems with faith. You can wriggle and plot on ways that evolution fits into the genesis stories. But the problem you will always have with that Jewish Genesis account of this worlds creation, is that it evolved from Babylonian stories adopted by incarcerated Jewish slaves. How do you ratify as truth a legacy of stories that evolved via word of mouth over three thousand years ago, stories that evolved through hundreds of successive generations that really did not have a single clue about anything other than agriculture – the great perpetrator of human life on this planet.

It is only in the last four hundred years that man has started building a knowledge that has been underpinned by great thinkers such as Newton and Darwin. And most of what we know today has been learned in the last one hundred and fifty years. If faith is a wilful step of ignorance, actually believing those legendary genesis stories as a truth today is an act of stupidity.

Believers with faith tend to focus on those that prise open their clam shut minds, so it stands to reason Darwin would become the focus for those that scuttle from cover. Anybody that has read the origin of species will know that Darwin knew little of what he was opening the door to and a lot of what he thought was wrong when correlated with what we know today. But we should consider Darwin wrote in a time when most people thought the world was seven thousand years old, that fossils really were the remains of animals that didn’t make it onto Noah’s Ark and that a glowing Caucasian created everything you behold. Which makes Darwin quite remarkable.

But Darwins principle of evolution through natural selection is a seed for thought that can only grow if you open your mind. Believers will make chanted claims such as: ‘Incomplete fossil records’ without the slightest comprehension of what they are talking about. Of course what we know is incomplete. Does that mean we shut up shop and stay ignorant?

A sense for reason will acknowledge that we cannot take a three thousand year old text as a definite truth ordained by a since absent deity. A sense of reason will take a simple truth and look at in context.

We did think the world was seven thousand years old and then it we thought that maybe it was older. Thought evolved as we studied more and came to realise through successive thoughts that the world was four billion years old. Since that time, with the information we have learned in that time, we have come to think the world might be four and a half billions years old. We are big enough to know that any statement of known fact is based on what we know at that time. We know that what we learn may change that, but we are not so ignorant to believe that what we know is right and will always be so, because someone told us so.

We know that the world is probably over four billion years old and cellular life probably appeared very shortly after. We do not know how that occurred. It is very likely we will never know. Of course we will never know anything for certain, we can only take what we learn and shape our thoughts with what we learn.

It was thought that single celled life quickly evolved to multi celled life. But we now know that single celled life was probably the only form of life for almost three and one half billion years of this planets life. We know that repeated meteor impacts almost wiped out life on this planet on multiple occasions and that somehow single celled life evolved only six hundred million years ago into multi celled life.

We do not know exactly when of course. It was about six hundred million years ago. And then multi celled organisms continued to evolve around the simple Darwinian principle of survival, that when resources for propagation fail the best adapted to the environment will survive.

And so through a continuous cycle of growth and changing environment on this planet through hundreds of millions of years, through ice ages and through the absorption of carbons into the ground from all cellular life and then through the shifting plates of this earth’s surfaces and the molten fires of volcanoes that released carbons to create a shield that warmed the earth’s surface that melted the ice. Through meteor impacts that wiped out dinosaurs but not all life, through the continuous flux of weather and temperature and mutation in reproduced cells that in turn perished and sometimes survived. We eventually come to life as we now know it. Which is thought to have branched out from other life forms about six million years ago and further branched out to closer incarnations of Homo Sapien two and one half millions years ago.

We do not know everything of course. And to say we do is just plain wrong. We know evolution is what brought us to this point. Evolution will never change as a substantiating concept for our existence but it would be ignorant to assume what we now know will never change. Just as we build and re-assess our knowledge of all things. Humanities great legacy is the quest for knowledge and understanding, despite its tendency towards belief.

It is a great shame that those with faith have held sway over humanity for so long. And that humanity through this still struggles to wriggle free of belief. But then I suppose there would be little for me to write about.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Doing Bad Things

A great many people dream of writing a book, at least it would seem to be the case judging from the people I talk to. And a few of them do go on to write. And then a few of them go on to start their book.

Writing the book is not a project to be taken lightly, at least if my experience is anything to go by. Its not even just writing what you have to say in a clear and enterprising way, keeping your reader turning the pages. But in creating characters that live in peoples minds. In creating an overall construct that reveals these characters and their story to a finale that leaves the last page turned and the human mind wondering if that author has written any other books. Hopefully not with the intention of avoiding them. Most of that won’t be news to anybody that has spent any time writing.

The thing is though, if you are going to accomplish all that then at some point in time during your story you are probably going to have something horrible happen to someone good. This will usually be at the hands of someone bad.

And therein lay the problem. Most of us are in the main good people who would find it difficult to even contemplate assaulting, stabbing, beating, injecting with drugs, raping or shooting.

Despite the occasional blood rush in matters concerning religion and inanimate objects I would consider myself as standing among the good people.

So … progress on the book writing front had slowed of late as I have now come to the point of writing the bit where the bad people do the horrible stuff to the perfectly innocent and undeserving central characters.

It is not so much just in writing these acts but you have to think through actions and causes, work out logical processes and justifications for the bad things. Basically start to think like the perpetrator of these deeds. And then describe them in such a manner that brings home the horror of the situation to the reader and then manifest the trauma within the victims mind and even physically.

The weird thing is that having put it off for so long, now I have started this process it has been rather more enjoyable than I ever imagined it would be. Thinking like a bad person has actually come quite easily. Sure I have felt guilt as the deeds have emerged onto the page and some of the deeds are not very nice at all. But there has been something quite satisfying about the whole process.

I think it is the novelty of doing something you know to be absolutely wrong while knowing nobody is actually getting hurt. And knowing you are solely responsible for deciding whether they get caught, whether the victims get revenge or the bad person goes on to do more bad things. That in order to read about a murderer, someone has to commit the murder in their minds and then write it down.

I suppose I must have known that would have to be the case but it did not become real in my mind until I had to actually do it.

(Loud nefarious laugh slowly fades into the background).

Friday, September 05, 2008

Our House

It could probably be traced back to one summers evening in August 2004, but I will not bore you with the often complex paths that led to the union of Priddeesh and yours truly. A more accurate marker for the beginning would probably be a Holiday to Edinburgh in August 2006 where it rained for an entire weekend. During which Priddeesh caught cold and was very grumpy. Upon our return she never made it back as far as her flat, instead she decamped at mine, wrapped herself in a blue blanket and spent a week alternating between looking pitiful on the sofa and bed. And she never left.

I am not totally sure I remember there being any agreement along the lines of ‘Lets live together.’ Priddeesh just never went home. And soon after something very strange started happening in my flat. The clean lines were rapidly consumed by ’stuff’. And then soon after the open spaces vanished and were replaced by things to put the stuff in. Wicker baskets seemed to breed faster than march hares, bags of wool appeared from nowhere, clean and polished table tops were consumed by celebrity magazines with faces I had never seen. My once proud DVD collection was now littered with fitness DVD’s and then even worse I would find DVD titles like ‘Fifty first dates, Knocked Up and Forty Year Old Virgin’ ejected from the DVD player anytime I settled down to watch a movie. Penny Vincenzi books started piling up by the sofa and then a book case to put the books in and then more wicker baskets. And then a load of medical books. My neat and compact dining room table morphed one weekend into a big fat study desk. And then there were the clothes.

I think the clothes are what did it in the end. And now I am beginning to think they were all part of a cunning master plan. They always existed in neat ironed and folded stacks but they seemed to be everywhere. I brought a great big set of bedroom drawers and still neat stacks of clothes would sit insolently on the living room chair, or hang tired from the washing machine as if they had fallen asleep trying to crawl onto the kitchen floor. Or sat waiting for attention on the end of the bed. Summer clothes were levered into a giant suitcase. I’ll fit into those again soon clothes were stacked in draws beneath the bed. I threw away my old clothes to make space. And then one evening in October 2007, with the rain pelting against the window of my refuge - my study. A sweet voice floated in through the door: ‘Johnie, come and look at this!’

I ignored the request of course but little Priddeesh is not one to be swayed lightly, especially when she has a master plan brewing. So she appeared in the doorway of the study with her laptop balanced in one hand. ‘Johnie, look at this.’ She repeated. The screen was then positioned directly in front of me. I was staring at a house.

‘A house?’ I said.

‘Yes Johnie think of all the room.’

I often thought about having lots of room, but that was in the days before. Now my days were cluttered but joyous and fulfilled. And the source of my joy now wanted a house.

Almost a year later I find myself sitting on the living floor beside the brick surround of the fireplace in our new house, of that house. I think on the stress of the last two weeks, I think on the stress of the last three months, of the stress of May earlier in the year. During which I spent four weeks unemployed while looking for a job that would pay the mortgage for ‘That House’, or the hours I spend commuting now and the early starts and late nights. Of the months I will spend decorating. I listen to the busy movements of Priddeesh as she opens windows and cleans through the kitchen. She doesn’t stop talking. Excited jabber that I intermittently acknowledge while sorting through the vast amount of double glazzing keys, of her plans for a vegetable patch out back and a bench and table for the small square of grass off to the side, for a patio and for the border. And how she can just imagine children running around here and what a great place it would be for them.

I cross my legs: ‘But we don’t know anyone with children.’