Atheist Children?

I’ve found another good article from a USA Today columnist. The article is Am I raising ‘atheist children’? and starts with a simple and perhaps proud proclamation of ‘I am an atheist’ and explains how that came to be as always being nonreligious. Personally, I went from Catholic to Atheist to Agnostic in my belief.

‘We are nothing’

I never describe our family as “an atheist family” (I prefer to say, “We are nothing,” as in not part of any religion), and I reject the notion that my kids are automatically what I am. I think that keeping them open to all the possibilities is more important than telling them what to believe in.

I know a lot of religious families who say they are a Christian, Jewish or Muslim family. And they are. They have traditions, rituals and celebrations that define what they are. They pass those things to the children, along with belief.

Most young children accept what their parents tell them as true, whether it is the existence of Santa Claus or Jesus Christ. It is important that children understand what their parents believe, but it is also important for children to know about all the options out there. This is tricky if a parent is a true believer of a religion and feels that her way is the only path. But how can children question openly when they are taught that there are absolute truths in belief?

My family doesn’t have a shared religion just as this country does not have a religion. I’m Agnostic, my wife is an unbeliever without want of a label, my son claims Atheist, and my daughter is loosely identified as Christian since she’s 11 and goes along to get along. I’m waiting another year or two before really discussing religion with her since I know a parent’s view and word has power that could be viewed as brainwashing in my opinion. I want her to experience society a bit more first before sharing my own belief in depth. I’ve primarly answered questions with more questions just as the closing of the article touches on. I want my children to develop their own religious identities in their own way so they can truly say their belief is their’s alone. I don’t see any wisdom in having the belief of your ancestors just because of where you were born and who you were born from.

Free will

Part of being a good parent is allowing our children to become whatever and whoever they become. Watching my children explore the ideas that are out there and grapple with the many, often conflicting, religious views in the world is exciting. They bring new understanding to things — not only for themselves, but for me as well. If my daughter came to me and told me she was joining a church, I would ask her how she reached her decision. But that would be my approach with any of the big decisions in my children’s lives. Questioning puts us all on a path to greater understanding.

As my children navigate their teenage years, I know that the understanding will be harder to come by. The questions will get tougher. The answers won’t always be what I want to hear.

But I’ll keep asking, and I’ll encourage my kids to be open and questioning. They might not end up like me, but I’m at peace with the idea that they will end up as themselves.

Evolution of the Eye

I’ve come across this great video demonstration of the evolution of the eye that explains how the current eye could have evolved from simple light sensors.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/01/1/l_011_01.html

The video is the best part of the PBS posting but it is accompanied by the following text:

When evolution skeptics want to attack Darwin’s theory, they often point to the human eye. How could something so complex, they argue, have developed through random mutations and natural selection, even over millions of years?

If evolution occurs through gradations, the critics say, how could it have created the separate parts of the eye — the lens, the retina, the pupil, and so forth — since none of these structures by themselves would make vision possible? In other words, what good is five percent of an eye?

Darwin acknowledged from the start that the eye would be a difficult case for his new theory to explain. Difficult, but not impossible. Scientists have come up with scenarios through which the first eye-like structure, a light-sensitive pigmented spot on the skin, could have gone through changes and complexities to form the human eye, with its many parts and astounding abilities.

Through natural selection, different types of eyes have emerged in evolutionary history — and the human eye isn’t even the best one, from some standpoints. Because blood vessels run across the surface of the retina instead of beneath it, it’s easy for the vessels to proliferate or leak and impair vision. So, the evolution theorists say, the anti-evolution argument that life was created by an “intelligent designer” doesn’t hold water: If God or some other omnipotent force was responsible for the human eye, it was something of a botched design.

Biologists use the range of less complex light sensitive structures that exist in living species today to hypothesize the various evolutionary stages eyes may have gone through.

Here’s how some scientists think some eyes may have evolved: The simple light-sensitive spot on the skin of some ancestral creature gave it some tiny survival advantage, perhaps allowing it to evade a predator. Random changes then created a depression in the light-sensitive patch, a deepening pit that made “vision” a little sharper. At the same time, the pit’s opening gradually narrowed, so light entered through a small aperture, like a pinhole camera.

Every change had to confer a survival advantage, no matter how slight. Eventually, the light-sensitive spot evolved into a retina, the layer of cells and pigment at the back of the human eye. Over time a lens formed at the front of the eye. It could have arisen as a double-layered transparent tissue containing increasing amounts of liquid that gave it the convex curvature of the human eye.

In fact, eyes corresponding to every stage in this sequence have been found in existing living species. The existence of this range of less complex light-sensitive structures supports scientists’ hypotheses about how complex eyes like ours could evolve. The first animals with anything resembling an eye lived about 550 million years ago. And, according to one scientist’s calculations, only 364,000 years would have been needed for a camera-like eye to evolve from a light-sensitive patch.

Let us bow our heads in thanks for atheists

Busy times in my life… so let’s resort to full quoting of interesting articles again. Here’s another good article about freethinkers.

MIDWEST VOICES: Let us bow our heads in thanks for atheists

The re-awakening of atheism in America is going to make for some very interesting times. Leaders of the Christian Right have spent years trying to cast themselves as the voiceless victims in a secular society, but the scapegoating is over. (Want to talk marginalized? How many atheists have there ever been in Congress or the White House?)

Nonbelievers know a lot about Christianity and Judaism, most having been raised in religious families. Believers, however, are somewhat less clued-in about atheists. Here are a few simple truths about who they are, and aren’t.

Atheists are well-behaved. Atheists seem to play well with others overall. They’re not in the news for getting caught doing things they tell others not to do. Most co-exist peacefully with believing family and friends. They pay taxes.

Atheists don’t start wars on behalf of atheism. They do join the military, however, and contrary to the cliché, they are found in foxholes. In fact, there is a lawsuit now against Defense Secretary Robert Gates and a major who harassed a group of “foxhole atheists” who simply wished to exercise their freedom of/from religion while serving their country in the Middle East.

Atheists have a thing for the American Constitution, particularly the First Amendment that separates church and state. They are secularists who support a government free from influence by any religion. They’re not anti-religious but nonreligious.

So when people like Mike Huckabee announce they want to “take this nation back for Christ” and make the Constitution fit the word of God, atheists worry, and feel that everyone else would be wise to worry along with them.

Atheists don’t take up much space. In fact, they only comprise 0.4 percent of the U.S. population, according to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, conducted through the Graduate Center at CUNY. (Agnostics would add 0.5 percent, the nonreligious 14.1 percent more.)

A total of 900,000 people isn’t even enough to fill 10 football stadiums, but evangelical leaders insist the godless are behind the decline of a whole nation. Uh, okay.

Atheists make good neighbors. Chances are, if you lived next door to an atheist, you might never know it. Atheists aren’t known for going door-to-door or shore-to-shore to un-convert people. They will help you even though there’s no heavenly reward in it for them.

Atheists will not infringe upon your life uninvited. On the other hand, you have to wonder about the neighborliness of certain believers when you see, for example, the miracle of the multiplying churches and neighborhood-munching mega-churches.

Thanks to the Religious Land Use law, passed in 2000, it’s lots easier now for religious groups to build more tax-exempt houses of worship, often against the wishes of neighborhoods which they burden financially and environmentally.

Atheists are lousy fundraisers. If you really want to raise a ton of money, oh, say on a weekly basis, don’t ask an atheist. Go to the folks with the know-how.

Televangelists raise almost $100 billion a year. In fact, they are so good at talking money out of people’s purses and bank accounts that six major Christian ministries are under investigation by the Senate Finance Committee.

These prosperity preachers tell their followers that God wants all of them to be well and be rich. (Serendipitously, God wants the preachers to have fancy cars, huge houses and the occasional Learjet.)

Atheists are the quiet type. Religionists have counted on atheists’ need for self-protection, but things are changing. Witness the popularity of Christopher Hitchens’ insightful book, god is not Great, the movie version of “The Golden Compass,” the mainstream media interest in the nonbelievers’ demographic.

There’s a new dialogue beginning between mainline believers and atheists, and among atheists themselves. While militant New Atheists fight on intellectual turf to replace dogma with rational thinking, humanists encourage believers and nonbelievers to get the moral work of peace, social justice and saving the environment done together.

Right-wing Christianity shook the atheist community out of its complacency with its relentless rhetorical badgering and attempts to co-opt the country. A missing piece of the real picture of America is finally being restored. Amen to that.