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Loan-A-Thon Dates:
January 1+2 (New Years)
April 1+2 (April Fools)
July 1+2 (near Muhammad Yunus' birthday and many national sovereignty celebrations)
October 31+November 1 (Halloween)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Congratulations we broke our year-end goal... again!!

Back in September I set a goal of $50,000 in loans by the end of the year. We broke that goal by October 8th. So we adjusted the goal to $150,000. We have now broke that goal!!

Way to go everyone. We are the number 1 team on Kiva in terms of amount loaned. I never doubted for a minute that we could reach our goal and also be the number 1 team in terms of loans (and coolness). It's difficult to describe how much fun and fulfillment I get from being a team member with all of you. I read all the board messages that flood my inbox ;)

Take a minute, on Festivus :), and reflect on the positive impact our team has had on the world in the last 4 months. I've personally witnessed the fact that lending as a team encourages many of us to lend more. Based on the pledges of others I've been encouraged to take a little more from the beer money (or entertainment) pile and put it towards the Kiva loans pile, which is superb!

What's next? The Kiva Obama Team has bought into our idea of Loan-A-Thons and challenged us to a "Loan-Off". Our Loan-A-Thon will be Dec 31 (New Year's Eve) and Jan 1 (New Year's Day)the 48 hour period from noon on Dec 31st until noon on Jan 02, Pacific time (Kiva time :) which would be 3:00 PM Dec 31th until 3:00 pm on Jan 02 EST). I vote for tracking based on Eastern Time Zone (I guess I'm biased) but using that timezone will probably accommodate the Obama team since Washington DC is in that time zone (I'm pretty sure) I agree with Jennifer from our team, let's to Pacific Time since that is the timezone Kiva uses. The Obama Loan-A-Thon is on January 20, inauguration day. And probably the day before or after (maybe someone from team Obama could put a comment on this blog to let us know).

What's after New Years? We set a really large goal for 2009 and try and collectively tap into the other atheist communities and get them to join our cause. I'm still trying to get PZ Myers from the Pharyngula blog to accept my gift certificate. Any help in bringing it to his attention would be greatly appreciate ;)

Team Captain

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tell Children The Truth About Santa

I do not have any children, yet, but I pledge to tell them the truth about Santa Claus from the beginning. I will not pretend/lie that Santa Claus is a real person who delivers gifts all over the world to children on "Jesus' birth day". In what type of world is that possible? A magical, miracle filled world. But that's not the world we live in and I don't want children to get the wrong idea. I will let them know that Santa Claus is "make-believe" just like Superman and Star Wars.

If we are truly free to believe what we want and pass that onto our children then my children will be in kindergarten debunking Santa Claus. :)

It is a little known fact that the North American aboriginals were raising their children to be well balanced members of their community without spanking or hitting their children before Europeans came to the Americas. Considering that and the reality that we know a whole lot more about the world, history, the nature of life then did our grandparents we should be open to new ideas when it comes to the education and relationships parents have with their children.

I believe that telling children Santa Claus is real when they are young is the first remember-able lie that parents tell their children. When a person is young they are still learning how to remember. This accounts for why we don't remember the earliest years of our childhood.

I still remember the pain of finding out Santa Claus was not real. On reflection I experienced a major episode of cognitive-dissonance. I remember being in complete disbelief of this new fact. If Santa were not real then my parents lied to me? If Santa were not real who gave me those gifts from Santa? Why would they lie to me? Where was the reasoning?

There is no reasoning! All that remains is an ironic similarity between a child's head over heels faith in Santa and an adults head over heels faith in Jesus. The study of Santa and the building of his folklore can be of great interest when contrasted with how other mythical characters such as Jesus developed. There was a Saint Nicholas who was known for his gift giving and after his death was consider a saint for children (as well as sailors and other things) even though he was never formally made a saint. These tidbits of historicity can be pillars of foundation for folklore.

If you are giving gifts to your children and spending quality time with them over the holidays, where is the need to tell them the gifts are from Santa. Tell them it's you! They will love you instead of Santa. Get them to respect you. Let them know other children are not as fortunate and their parents lie to them about Santa. No child will respect you for crafting an elaborate time extensive lie. It's as simple as equating Santa Claus and Mother Goose. Children understand nursery rhymes are not real.

Christians started the tradition of tagging a new ideologically based holiday/festival on top of a pre-existing one. Remember Saturnalia? It was the religious (often referred to as pagan) festival of ancient Rome near the end of December. Christian developers placed Jesus' birth day as December 25th so that one holiday could be placed over/next to the already existing holiday. No Christian then or now could determine Jesus' actual "birth day" and this is because Jesus is mythical and was therefore never born in reality. If you would like a reference to a modern religious institution attempting to do the same thing the 4th century Christians successfully accomplished then see Iran. The Iranian New Year (Norooz) which is part of the pre-Islamic culture in Iran and dates back 2500 years (almost a millenium before Islam) is being swarmed by new Islamic public holidays around Norooz to drown out the non-Islamic celebrations.

Perhaps, although I'm speculating, the cultural crafters of Santa Claus (who were Enlightened) had the intention to drown out Baby Jesus with Father Christmas and send the future children (all of us) a hidden message!

My proposal is that we should worship the cell and more specifically the human and plant cells (Eukaryote) during the December holiday season. Tag a new ideologically based celebration to an old one. We should launch an army of atheist/biologist artists to craft the stories, the new traditions, the poems and songs of our new holiday. In the spirit in which the Mitochondria gives energy to the cell we should give gifts symbolic of the energy and love we have for friends and family.

Happy Cell-ebration!!

By Peter

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ravens are smart

The April 2007 edition of Scientific American has a very enlightening article on the intelligence of Ravens. This image is just a small sample. The article explains how Ravens can memorize 1000 places to hide their food they can identify individual Ravens and Humans. They can perform logic and appear to be very intelligent.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Love: A Complex Emotion

What is love? Love is a wonderful and complicated emotion. It doesn't simply come from the ghost in the machine or the soul in our bodies. Nor does it come from a spiritual power or energy. It comes from within humans and higher order organisms from our brains.

You might wonder how it is possible to develop such a strong sense such as love from merely a network of cells. But our cellular network is vast and interconnected and the interaction of this internal network with our external environment makes it possible to experience the emotion of love. It is our five senses that stimulate this beautiful emotion. It is also our innate desire to feel love. Emotions of empathy and sympathy help to facilitate this emotion of love as well as our innate sexual desires. These emotions were all necessary for the development of pair bonds, the parent-child bond, and alliances outside of the family not only in the human species but also in other mammalian species like whales and chimpanzees.

Every human experiences this emotion. It is very real. But in our culture today love is difficult to understand. For thousands of years love has been bound to different belief systems that set rules and ideals for how love came about and how it should be utilized. For so long our ancestors have believed that love is everything but an emotion. That it comes about through practice of certain rituals and traditions. That it is not something that naturally happens but that one must behave in a certain way, such as praying to a sacred higher power, in order to be blessed by such a feeling. What this has done throughout human culture around the world is misinterpreted the true nature of love.

Love does not have to be a difficult emotion. A person can feel love for many things but there are different types of love. Our innate desires facilitate our love for our family members because we are related to them by blood and they care for us and interact with us while we grow. We also feel love for our friends who are not related to us because we build trust and loyalty with them. We can feel love for things we are good at doing such as sports, writing, traveling, and designing. But the most difficult love of all is the pair bond because there is much at stake for each person in the bond. Although there are benefits, the costs are heavy when a pair bond breaks because the bond cannot be repaired the same way a friendship or family relation can.

The exclusive pair bond is complex because it is a fairly new development in human history-- it is only 10,000 years old. Forged in the time when people developed permanent settlements. It formed so couples could improve care for their offspring and to ensure that the offspring were genetically theirs. It was a way to protect a family unit in a human tribe or society and to maintain unity. But today humans are protected by their governments and family units have less responsibility to care for their whole family. It is no longer necessary for parents to wholly focus on the unity of their family because they are aware that a system exists to care for them through taxes and social programs.

The pair bond has lost its significance in this civilized society. Although pairs still desire to have children their focus is not on the unity of their family but on the pair relationship. In a time when careers are important to both men and women because of their education and desire to do what they are good at it seems that the end goal has become skewed. The pair bond has been changed to simply two people coming together for sexual desires and companionship. The meaning of the pair bond has changed but the type of love has not.

If this new pair bond relationship is to work, love needs to be rediscovered as an emotion that can protect this bond. The primitive and ancient meaning of love as a blessing through prayer has disappeared and the desire to form a pair bond simply to build a family unit has faded. People who care less about family unity and more about satisfying their desires need to understand love in a new light and both partners need to understand their love for one another. The way to do this is to express through communication what love means to each other continuously. In this new pair bond love is satisfaction of the desires of sexual pleasure, beauty, friendship (trust and loyalty), work and play.

Family unity is no more. Satisfaction is everything and two people must learn to satisfy each other in order for this type of love to last. Love may be a complex emotion but we must learn to understand and convey what it means to each of us without boundaries and limits.

By Rajvee

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Is Atheism A Religion?

This post is a spot for our Kiva team to chat/debate (if anyone is up for it).

My initial thoughts; it heavily depends on how religion is defined. I won't venture to define religion.

I think atheists can form a religion, such as, Humanism. Not all atheists are Humanists. Many Buddhists are atheists. Is Buddhism a religion? I think so but it is also a philosophy. The teachings of the Buddha can be useful to people in the cross cultural way that the teachings of the Ancient Greek Philosophers are.

How is atheism different from agnosticism? Is Agnosticism a religion?

Your Thoughts?

Memetic Transmission

Our human ancestors traversed the Earth searching for food, shelter and water and in doing so began to settle in groups (composed mainly of relatives and allies), in large part, for protection and security from other groups. Through language and interactions between groups of humans our ancestors created and proliferated memes or ideas that were important to follow in their time. During the time of early humans it was their five senses that enabled them to maintain their health, security, and group cooperation. In order to find nourishment and strength, our ancestors had to use all five senses in concert to determine what was edible, digestible, and of course palatable.

At that time, they were not too worried about the amount of fat, carbohydrates, sugars, and proteins in their food, but they did eat what they felt gave them more energy, stamina, and hydration since there was not always an over abundance of food available. This ensured that they could eat in moderation so that there was enough to go around and that they could heal properly and swiftly so as to not prolong their weakness. Although they did not recognize it at the time, they were finding ways to strengthen their immune systems in order to fight sickness caused by bacteria and viruses and to maintain their health.

Moreover, security was a major factor that influenced early humans to form groups and maintain cooperation in order to avenge against enemies looking for food, a place to settle, and in some cases women to join their group. So perhaps another important meme was mating outside of the group in order to add diversity to a particular group. At the time, these early humans did not know that they were, in turn, expanding their genetic diversity by mating with someone outside of the group. But, it was their senses like touch and sight that helped them to determine that there was a need to add outsiders to their packs. Their inherent sexual instincts for a non-relative helped them to diversify and grow their tribes.

The use of their five senses helped early humans to use logic in their behaviors and actions. As time passed, existing memes were strengthened and new memes were created that sometimes replaced existing memes (memetic competition). Much archaeological evidence shows that early humans crafted different tools and objects out of rocks and bones for security, hunting, and ornamental purposes. The creations can be seen to have happened all over the world at around the same time during the time of the early humans. A meme, governing these creations, had spread all over the world by humans because it was so important for protection, food, and leisure.

Leisure was important since it satisfied the senses the way food and shelter did. It allowed early humans to play with their logic skills which, in turn, improved their reasoning skills, although they did not realize this at the time. It offered a means of inventing new things from old creations. For example the creation of a sharp rock knife may have enabled the creation of a flute from carving a piece of wood. And from this could have resulted the creation of carved stone sculptures or jewelery. The use of their logic helped humans to further their knowledge of their surroundings and this gave rise to new and more complex memes, some of which had evolved from existing memes. Some of these more complex memes include livestock herding and agriculture, from the meme of food security and wealth, and wearing clothing in order to maintain hygiene to protect from harmful bacteria and viruses (from the memes of good health and longevity).

In today's modern societies there are an overwhelming number of memes that are built on older memes from the time of the earliest humans. Our logic and reasoning skills that are governed by our senses and ultimately our brains have been improved over tens of thousands of years that today we live in a world of countless creations. We thrive on new discoveries, not only based on our surroundings and lifestyles, but on the nature of the universe. These new discoveries enable today's humans all over the world to expand their knowledge of life and the universe further improving our logic and reasoning skills.

The difference today is that we are capable of being fully aware of how we impact ourselves, each other, and our future. We now have the ability to weed out such memes like the belief in God that no longer apply in this modern day. This meme, that was established in order to maintain group loyalty and cooperation long ago, is no longer necessary in a time of democratic influence and social justice. With all that we know today, we can have control of how our future will be. However, with the long-lasting meme of religion among today's societies, we have a tremendous obstacle to overcome in order to establish a safe and prosperous future for humans.

By Rajvee

Friday, November 14, 2008

God's Trash

I was recently snorkeling off an island in the Caribbean sea, Curacao, and I saw a flatfish. I was excited because I had read about this evolutionary marvel over at Pharyngula. The flatfish is extremely well camouflaged and I only saw it because it was swimming. When it stops swimming if you take your eye off of it for more than a few seconds you will lose sight of it. The flatfish is a great example of the novelty, beauty and intricacy of the evolutionary process. To see the fish body form adapt in such an interesting way is beautiful. The flatfish has both eyes on one side of the body, the top, the interesting part is the top of his body is actually one side of his body. So one eye migrates over the symmetrical center of the body to the other side during the development of the juvenile flatfish.

I shared my story of the encounter with the flatfish with a local friend of mine and he told me that in Papiamentu, the local language of the island, the term for the flatfish meant "God's Trash". I forget the actual local word but I remember the meaning.

Recently, one of my debate strategies when discussing religion is to highlight what I perceive as a major difference in world view between atheists and theists. When someone or a culture has a belief in a Creator God who can create and destroy the Earth at his will then the Earth is not precious. Something that is truly precious, if lost, cannot be replaced. However, if there is no God then the Earth is precious! If we allowed the Earth to be destroyed we will have lost the one unique place in the universe that is ideally suited for our form of life. Atheism makes me an Environmentalist! It makes me care for the Earth in a much more profound way than Creationism ever could!

My story above highlights how a culture that is heavily influenced by religion can have it's thinking altered to the point where a life form, such as the flatfish, can be viewed as God's Trash. An organism that is viewed as out of favor with God. From my perspective I don't understand why God would create trash? Moreover, if God can create trash then he can clean it up and many religious people feel that we can pollute the Earth because God will clean up the mess since God will protect us. This is the view of Evangelical Christians, many of whom believe End Days will come in their lifetime.

By Peter

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

We just passed 100K in loans!!

Congratulations to everyone on the team, we have made it to $100,000+ in loans. We are 2/3 of the way to our year end goal of $150,000.

Lately there has been some really good discussions on the message board and Jim from our team setup a Facebook Group; thanks Jim! Here's the link.

We are now ranked #2 in terms of total number of loans and we have closed the margin considerably under the category of total money loaned.

Hello to all the new team members; this team is doing a great job at growing. Nobody but Team Obama can compete with our membership numbers. Who knew there were this many monkeys lurking in the Kiva bushes ;)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembrance Day

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada. A day to remember all the Canadians who fought and died in World War 1 & 2 and all the other wars Canada has fought in.

Lets also remember that we fought WW1 & 2 to protect England and not to protect Canada. Believing in Nationalism and God contributes to soldier enlistments and the war machinery. Like the great John Lennon said imagine a world with no countries and no religion, nothing to fight for and nothing to die for (I paraphrased).

One of the major generational gaps between my generation and that of my grandparent's generation (McCain's generation) is my generation's view that our loyalty should be to humanity and to peace not to god and to country.

Whenever we remember war we should think about peace. We should think; who are the real heroes of peace? I would argue that Gandhi and the Dalai Lama were last centuries heroes of peace. Gandhi used non-violence to win independence for India. The Dalai Lama choose peace and non-violence over the sovereignty of his country.

The youth of the world are ready to move beyond war. War does not benefit the common man and be careful not to make yourself a pawn in a horrible game. We need to send a message to the wealthy 1% who fabricate these wars in order to profit from the war machinery (remember 50% of the USA budget goes to the military). Maybe, in the New Year, we will see a grassroots campaign to charge George Bush, Dick Cheney and their crew with war crimes for invading Iraq. To see them answer for their crimes would be a joyous justice!

By Peter

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween Loan-A-Thon Results

Awesome work everybody. We really kicked it into high gear over the last two days.

According to Chelsea's rough figures we started the Loan-A-Thon in 4th place with about 2753 loans and we ended in 2nd place with over 3000 loans. If you consider some people made their Loan-A-Thon loans early we probably made about 300 loans. Considering many who participated made multiple loans I'd guess that we had about 100 to 150 team members participate. Which is just spectacular. We are such a large team and yet a close-knit and focused team. Our passions for helping improve the world are radiating widely. I'm so proud. It really is fulfilling to be a team member with all of you. Kiva was fun before team lending and now... it's way more fun.

A week ago we were 20K behind the Christians in loan total and today we are only 11K behind. We are also, more than half way to our year-end $150,000 goal!

George, from the team, posted a PDF screenshot; documenting our moment of success. Some team members are suggesting we pick other special days. I'm in for a New Years Day Loan-A-Thon... anyone else?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Religion unnecessary for Altruism

Joe from our team posted this link today on our message board:

This is a great article which confirms what I have been proclaiming and suspecting for a long time. Religion is not necessary for and does not boost altruism. The simple reason being that altruism is an evolved human characteristic and it evolved in us before we had language and therefore before we had religion.

Religious people like Atheists/Agnostics are equally capable of being altruistic the differences appear in the expression of altruism. Many religious people by tithing at church feel that they are being good to other people and therefore diminish the amount they cooperate in the community-at-large because they feel they are doing more than their part at church. However, there is an ulterior motive when they give money at church and that is to boost their reputation amongst their fellow church-goers.
Humans are evolved to be acutely sensitive to our reputations as do-gooders in our social groups because this promotes strong cooperative bonds that help the species. This psychological mechanism was originally unrelated to religion, the authors write in the Oct. 3 issue of the journal Science.
Unfortunately tithing is arguably the worst form of charity because it contributes to the teaching of false beliefs, mental suffering (hell, torture, sin, etc.) and only a fraction of the money is put to real charitable causes (4% of the money tithed to the Church of England goes to charity).

We know this does not apply to all religious people because we see them at doing real good for others. I would argue one main difference between the expression of altruism by religious folks and atheists is the size of the "in-group". For religious people the in-group is as large as their religion; for Christians about 1.9 billion; for Muslims about 1.1 billion. For atheist the in-group is the whole worlds population 6+ billion because we know people need help regardless of their religion.

When debating with religious people I often hear them proclaim that without religion society would fall apart there would be chaos, anarchy and people would commit violent and violent sexual acts with no hesitation. It's worrisome that some people have the impression that those things would happen. I kindly point out that we have laws which punish people for crimes and that is the main reason people refrain from criminality if they are so inclined (or in a desperate situation).
In fact, the courts, police, cameras, credit records and other justice-related authorities can serve the same purpose nowadays, encouraging prosocial behavior among large groups of strangers.
I also point out that human nature is not all bad; every person is both good and bad because of our evolutionary heritage (attack the enemy but protect the family) and we can to some extent choose how to behave. People have good in them and they want others to see the good in them so if they are in a position in society where their needs are met then there is no reason for their bad nature to surface and want to act out negatively towards others.

Indeed, this is one of the main arguments for improving the living situation in the Palestinian territories. In Palestine, the territorial situation is uncertain and the in/out group definitions are clearly defined and we see Muslim suicide bombings (which is altruism towards Muslims but a horrible crime against humanity). In Iran, where suicide bombing occurred during the Iran-Iraq war, we no longer see suicide bombings because the in-group (Iranians) are no longer being threatened by the out-group (Iraqis) and the standard of living is high considering Iran is not in the World Trade Organization. If Palestine had a clear territorial definition and an improved economy we may see more of the good nature of Palestinians; and even business cooperation with Israel. However, I'm not trying to claim an easy solution to a difficult problem.

The beauty of Atheistic Altruism is the following:
  1. We know there is no higher power governing our behavior or decisions.
  2. We know that all people are related through a common ancestor and in an evolutionary sense we are all related; and we all suffer.
  3. We know people need help and we are faced with three decisions:
    1. Do nothing.
    2. Do harm.
    3. Do good and help.
I am proud of how many of us choose to "do good and help".

By Peter

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Afghanistan: Blasphemer sentence reduced

A student and part-time journalist in Afghanistan was recently sentenced to death but upon appeal the sentence has been reduced to 20 years in prison.

I agree with the many negatives pointed out in the article about the situation but I wanted to highlight one positive that was not really stressed. He won't be killed! Under the Taliban they would not have even given him the charade of a kangaroo court. There were people 'protesting' in support of his death penalty which I'm sure in an unstable place like Afghanistan puts pressure on the judges to go along with public opinion. Thankfully the judges were more tempered than the average Afghan's thirst for Islamic "justice".

The judges may have reduced his sentence as a baby step away from radical Islam. If in five or ten years there is a rule of law in Afghanistan which allows for a more moderate interpretation of Islam there could be a possibility of his release. While it might not be the intention of the judges, by leaving him alive this gives his family, friends and supporters a cause to organize around. Not only can people fight for the struggle of women's rights but their struggle is personified in the attempt to release this young man from prison.

We have seen these struggles between radicals and moderates in Iran and Turkey and the progress that has been made there, especially in Turkey gives us hope that Afghanistan can be reformed.

Like I mentioned in my post on Reforming Islam any changes towards a more Humanist society in these Muslim nations is going to have to start with a reinterpreting of Islam. There have been many recent Islamic scholars who reinterpret the Quran to say that X,Y or Z scientific discovery was first mentioned in the Quran. While this is convenient revisionary history it's an example of reinterpreting the Quran without being blasphemous.

If you put Mohammad and the Quran in context, Mohammad was a champion for women's rights in his time and if God/Allah told Mohammad to improve the rights and condition of women in the 7th century then why would it be blasphemous for God/Allah to be on the side of an interpretation of the Quran that furthers women's rights in this time?

By Peter

Sunday, October 19, 2008

48 hours Halloween Loan-A-Thon

If you haven't heard already our team of Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious is holding a 48 hour Loan-A-Thon in celebration of Halloween (the holiday that most frightens fundies). Our goal is to boost our loan total and promote the team. So bring a friend.

Everyone has different means and available funds to loan through Kiva so what we are asking is to try and make 1 more loan than you normally would have. If everyone of our members just makes 1 loan during the Loan-A-Thon that will boost us into first place and put us a lot closer to our year end goal of $150,000.

The Loan-A-Thon is over a two day period October 31 and November 1 2008. Originally, teammate
Chelsea, had planned a 24-hour Loan-A-Thon just on Halloween but some of our more knowledgeable team members pointed out that usually there is a huge crop of new loans the first of the month so we have extended the Loan-A-Thon to November 1.

I pledge to loan $100 which is probably double what I would have normally loaned in October.

I'm still waiting to hear a response to my Open Letter to PZ Myers (the infamous Atheist); if you are in ear-shot of him let him know there is a $25 gift certificate waiting for him at Kiva.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Reforming Islam

Many of us engaged in the culture "wars" (or the struggle to modify the meme-pool) are focused on the arguments of Christians and weeding out the religious influence in our western liberal democracies. However, those of us who are secularists with a Muslim background or with friends or family with a Muslim background the "war" is at a very different stage.

In many Muslim countries if you convert away from Islam, either to Christianity or to Atheism, you have signed your suicide note and will be killed (this happens in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and probably several other Muslim countries). This is simply an unacceptable situation that Enlightened people around the globe should work to resolve.

In Iran if you are a non-believer you have no rights; no human rights at all according to their civil code. Don't fall for the Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, it's a propaganda move and amounts to nothing more than Sharia Law written in a format digestible to the Western reader and does not apply to non-believers.

So where does that leave us and where do we go from here?

We attack Sharia Law by using the Quran and providing intellectual material for moderate Muslims who believe in God (whatever that means) and who have the credibility to argue against Sharia with the Quran.

Surah 3 verse 7 from Skeptics Annotated Quran:
He it is Who hath revealed u nto thee (Muhammad) the Scripture wherein are clear revelations - they are the substance of the Book - and others (which are) allegorical. But those in whose hearts is doubt pursue, forsooth, that which is allegorical seeking (to cause) dissension by seeking to explain it. None knoweth its explanation save Allah. And those who are of sound instruction say: We believe therein; the whole is from our Lord; but only men of understanding really heed.
Same verse from
He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except God. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: "We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:" and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding.
This verse of the Quran is our intellectual jackpot. It basically states that parts of the Quran are literal and parts are figurative and it's up to the wise men to figure out which verses are figurative and what they mean. Under the limitation that no one but God can be perfectly certain of the figurative meaning but people are free to search for their best interpretation (which amounts to consensus view).

Along these lines I'll be reviewing the Quran and making future posts on how best to water-down Islam for the 21st century. If we do not prepare for an intellectual offensive from Islam we will be defenseless when Muslim's try to bring Sharia Law to the west, which they have already tried to do in Canada. Canada is specifically being targeted by the forces that are working for an Islamic World because Canada has unique protections for religion that are not available in the USA and parts of Europe.

By Peter

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Canadian Election: A high note for Secularists

Stephen Harper (whom I strongly support) won his second minority government last night during the Canadian elections. I'm very proud that the Canadian elections have not sunken to the lows of the USA elections where pandering the the religious folks is a daily chore. There was almost no mention of religion in this election.

Probably a lesson well learned by all the parties after watching John Tory's (from the Progressive Conservative Party) failed attempt to be leader of Ontario by proposing to bring religious schools into the publicly funded fold (like the constitutionally protected Catholic schools... if you did not know Canada is not a Secular nation). The public of Ontario firmly rejected John Tory and stood up for the Enlightenment Principle of free, public and secular education for all.

We barely had any mention of abortion this election which is great. It seems like the Canadian public (and the Liberal scaremongers) have decided to bury the issue 3 feet deep. Hopefully one day it will be buried 6 feet deep and never will return.

It wasn't too long ago when Stockwell Day was the leader of the right-wing in Canada and the media hounded him for believing in creationism (I guess it's hard to blame them for that).

I've noticed that Stephen Harper has even toned down his "God Bless Canada"; refraining to only use it at large speeches (so not to be ranting that phrase everyday). He even sort of pauses at the end of his speeches; lets the music kick in then mumbles "Godblesscanada".

By Peter

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

John McCain believes in a flat Earth

I watched the second presidential debate, the town hall format, and was shocked when I heard John McCain say "We have gone to all 4 corners of the earth" (Youtube 2:28). Clearly this means he believes in a flat earth since only a flat earth could have 4 corners! Any other rational person would have said "We have been around the globe". During presidential debates the candidates choose their words very carefully. McCain may be sending a signal that if he is elected he will continue the mission of the evangelical protestant church that devised the God-based illogical war on Iraq and a stem cell policy from pre-Germ Theory thinking.

I used to be under the impression that John McCain was a religious moderate but after picking Sarah Palin for VP (whom a moderate would never be comfortable with) and claiming we have been to each of the four corners of the earth (I wonder where he thinks the corners are?); now it is clear that he is a Christian fundamentalist. Thousands of years ago before people had circumnavigated the earth (or had globes in classrooms or had pictures of the earth from space) it was understandable to believe the earth was flat. Even Euclid thought the earth was flat and he was one of the smartest people ever to have lived.

Nowadays, you would only find people who believe in a flat earth because they are Bible literalists because that is the only source of teachings which still preaches the flat earth theory. See Isaiah 11:12 and Matthew 4:8.

What are McCain's positions on the age of the earth and the "end times"?

I think a person who believes he is capable of serving as president from age 72 to age 80 and appoints a successor who believes the "end times" will be within her lifetime is not putting country first, he's putting God first!

On top of all that I mentioned above McCain has been bragging during this race that being a POW is a major qualification for being president while it clearly is not. McCain's judgment is severely flawed!

By Peter

Monday, October 6, 2008

Yeeaahh... we reached our goal of $50,000!!

I'm so proud of everyone. We have reached our 2008 year-end goal of $50,000!! But WAY early... we did so much better than I original predicted and I'm very proud of everyone for being a member of the team and helping to show that "reality-based" thinkers have compassion and are excited to shape the world to be a better place.

So what now? Let's keep up the pace and maybe try and turn it up a notch. We raised about $1,250 per day since the team started. At that pace we should be able to raise a total of $150,000 by year end. So to me that next goal just makes sense. What are your thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment.

Along with our goal to raise $150,000 in loans through our team by the year end of 2008, I thought of another side goal we can pursue.

We slipped in the rankings from #2 to #3. We are still doing well at trying to catch Kiva Friends but we need to turn things up a notch to catch Kiva Christians (in total money loaned). Kiva Christians had a lot of help from one of their members which may be a church. I for one am happy that a church has focused their funds towards Kiva. I wish all churches would do that. Some teams may get a short term boost from one big member but we still have a lead in the number of team members and we can use that to our advantage. Kiva Christians has a loans per member ratio of 5 and ours is 1.8.

I think we can increase our loans per members and I think our target for the year end of 2008 should be 3 loans per team member. Of course, it's voluntary and we welcome and are happy to have members who can only make 1 loan but some of us are addicts and we'll make more than 10. But setting a loans per members goal can be a great way to rally for more loans and to have fun. It may also encourage some of our team members who have joined multiple teams to rally their loans to our team until we reach this loans per member goal. Thoughts?

Oh and hopefully Obama wins the election but I'm happy to have them stay a spot behind us in the rankings ;)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Gift Certificate to PZ Myers

Today about 500 loans were added to and for the first time since team lending began in August the Kiva Christians team has surpassed us Atheists in the rankings. Now is the time to call out to our community and invite our prominent members to help us in the great cause to end poverty and engage in some friendly competition. In this spirit I have sent a $25 gift certificate to PZ Myers along with the open letter that I have reproduced below.

Open Letter to PZ Myers:

Dear PZ Myers,

I invite you to join our team of compassionate Atheists at In order to get the fun started I have sent you a $25 gift certificate which you can use to loan, interest free, to your first entrepreneur. Be careful though, it's addicting!

We are currently in a time of financial crisis where people are panicking that they may not have access to the credit and banking services they have come to rely on. In the spirit of consciousness raising I would like to point out that billions of people live everyday in the horror that they cannot access a bank or get a bank loan. Imagine how life in North America would grind to a halt and we would all become equally poor if we were locked out of the banking system. Those without access to banking have next to no opportunities.

To solve this problem Professor Muhammed Yunus from Bangladesh started Grameen Bank decades ago to provide low interest loans to poor people without collateral. In 2006 Prof. Yunus was given the Nobel Peace Prize and his work and philosophy has spread like wildfire all over the world. One of his great discoveries is that the poor amazingly have a 98% repayment rate!

Fast forward to today. is a online service that links lenders with borrowers, through local micro lending institutions. In late August, Kiva launched team lending and I immediately setup a team for Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious and a corresponding blog to support the team. Back when we had a handful of members I set our first goal to raise $50,000 in loans. We are currently past $40,000 and have over 800 members. Once we smash our first goal... we'll set a new one. I invite you and your minions (of which I am one) to help us raise more money.

One of the most fulfilling experiences of starting this team has been that I've discovered that there are tons of Atheists on Kiva and we are dispelling the myth that Atheists are not compassionate. Until today we were ranked #2 but we've just lost our second place spot to Kiva Christians. I thought you might be able to help :)

The great part about Kiva is that when an entrepreneur pays back the loan you can use the funds to loan to another entrepreneur... so the fun never ends (or you can cashout the loan but that's less fun).

One last thing, there has been debate on the team message board (you have to join the team to see the messages) over whether Atheists should direct their lending based on whether a local micro finance institution has a particular religious affiliation or stance. Inline with our nature as freethinkers there has not been a resolution to that question. In the mean time some team members have created a GDoc which lists a few MFIs (Micro Finance Institution) that have no religious stance.

Kind Regards,
Peter from Atheist Monkey

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Sixteen Decisions

I finished listening to Creating a World Without Poverty by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammed Yunus from Bangladesh. I listened to the unabridged version but I recommend the abridged version because he tends to repeat.

Yunus is an economics professor turned banker to the poor. His moment of inspiration came decades ago when Bangladesh was in a famine and the economic theories of the West, that he was teaching, which were supposed to bring prosperity seemed to be lacking in effectiveness in Bangladesh. He recounts his first loan of $27 to a village of poor people who were caught up in a borrowing cycle caused by one of the local loan sharks. He loaned them $27 at no interest to get them out of the cycle.

I could immediately sympathize with this unfortunate situation having watched "pay day" check advance loan companies grow in Canada over the past decade. In Canada it is a federal crime to charge more than 60% per year interest. Yet these payday loan companies have been charging several hundred percent interest. These companies are now under legal scrutiny in Canada. If this type of wrong doing can be perpetrated in Canada imagine what happens in the 'third world'. Loan sharks prey on the poor and nobody steps in to intervene. Well, in Bangladesh Muhammed Yunus stepped in to provide an alternative.

Low cost loans to the poor. A 20% or 30% interest rate may seem high to many in the industrialized world but that's a great bargain when you are borrowing a small amount and have no collateral and no other access to capital.

After convincing the government Yunus was able to setup Grameen Bank as a social business. A social business as defined by Yunus is basically a profit seeking business that pays no dividends to shareholders and it's main priority is to effect social change in the area within which it operates. Social businesses can have investors but the investors can recoup their initial investment and nothing more. A social business seeks profit only to be self sustaining and to expand it's social good. He contrasts this with traditional businesses by calling them "profit maximizing businesses".

Grameen Bank, as one of the world's first examples of a social business, has learned many things by experience. One of those important lessons is to use community organization as a means to improve the social condition of the poor. Not only do the poor need access to money from a bank in order to build a mini-business but they need moral and educational support from their peers.

In order to make long term improvements to the conditions of the poor, education and lifestyle changes need to be made. Through several iterations Grameen Bank has developed the following Sixteen Decisions which borrowers voluntarily agree to abide by to help further the social goals of lifting the community out of poverty.

The Sixteen Decisions:
  1. The four principles of Grameen Bank --Discipline, Unity, Courage, and Hard Work-- we shall follow and advance in all walks of our lives.
  2. We shall bring prosperity to our families.
  3. We shall not live in dilapidated houses. We shall repair our houses and work towards constructing of new houses as soon as possible.
  4. We shall grow vegetables all the year round. We shall eat plenty of them and sell the surplus.
  5. During the plantation season, we shall plant as many seedlings as possible.
  6. We shall plan to keep our families small. We shall minimize our expenditures. We shall look after our health.
  7. We shall educate our children and ensure that they can earn to pay for their education.
  8. We shall always keep our children and the environment clean.
  9. We shall build and use pit latrines.
  10. We shall boil water before drinking or use alum to purify it. We shall use pitcher filters to remove arsenic.
  11. We shall not take any dowry at our sons' weddings; neither shall we give any dowry in our daughters' weddings. We shall keep the center free from the curse of dowry. We shall not practice child marriage.
  12. We shall not inflict any injustice on anyone; neither shall we allow anyone to do so.
  13. For higher income we shall collectively undertake bigger investments.
  14. We shall always be ready to help each other. If anyone is in difficulty, we shall all help.
  15. If we come to know of any breach of discipline in any center, we shall all go there and help restore discipline.
  16. We shall take part in all social activities collectively.

Maybe for a North American or a European these values may seem self-evident but for people living in poverty within Islam the principles above are in drastic need of being spread. You could think of these Sixteen Decision as the "prosperity memes".

I think it's great that Yunus has devised a voluntary system where people are choosing to educate their children, live environmentally sound and care for their community. The dowry system alone is known to be harmful to the poor because a family may have to give away their life savings to get their daughter married. Also, child marriage is a huge violation of human rights and in many muslim countries girls are married off as young as nine. It's brilliant that Grameen Bank is asking the women who borrow money not to hurt their daughters in this way by marrying them off young. This type of change from within has been lacking in the muslim world and it's a ray of hope to see that the rate of children being educated going up and the number of children per family going down since the time Grameen Bank has been operating in Bangladesh.

Yunus mentioned in his book that the Bank focuses on loaning to women because men are more likely to spend their profits on themselves than on their family. Women are more inclined to spend on their children and by having a set of decisions they have agreed to for the betterment of their community they can more easily get their husbands on board with their spending choices. This also gives women an important status in the family which is severely lacking under Islamic law (women generally have half the rights of men).

Yunus has created and inspired many other social businesses and is a testament to how one person can change the world!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Everything happens for a reason

"Everything happens for a reason". I've heard that saying a lot. Whether it's from a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, a spiritual person or even a non-believer. It seems like some Memes are hard to shake.

Why I am bringing this up? Well I do not think everything happens for a reason and I think that religious people hold these types of bite size sayings in their minds as part of their religious thinking. The Bible is too big, confusing and boring to be a daily source of advice and council (unless you keep it handy as a reference guide) so people need little nuggets of philosophy to constantly hold close in their minds as a way to think through life's tough situations.

If you think scientifically you will understand that things that happen in the world/universe do not have a grand reason or purpose behind them. Things happen to you in your life as a matter of coincidence and reasoned decisions that other humans make that may effect you directly, indirectly or randomly. The laws of physics along with the uncountable variable of things that other people are doing in the world at any given moment set the environment for the things that will happen to you. There is no one or no god setting the stage for what will happen to you.

From anecdotal experience I feel like one of the major paradigm shifts in thinking someone needs to make when changing from a religious based thinker to a free thinker is to drop the notion that everything happens for a reason.

I feel there is a "spiritual" (in the emotional sense) awakening when one accepts that things do not happen for a reason. Because no one has declared a destiny for you; you are free to tunnel the path through life that you desire. Your situation in life or something tragic that happened to you or a loved one was not because a god does not like you or has cursed you. Whatever position and situation in life you currently find yourself in can be changed if you reflect on the power you have to shape and change who you are as a stream of thoughts and how you want to experience the rest of your life. Instead of dreams you can have goals. Instead of prayers you can have plans. It's a liberating feeling.

I think that atheists and philosophers should develop new bite sized memes to keep in our minds and to teach our children. These bite sized memes can serve as simple scientific answers to life's complicated questions that can help us feel more connected to our existence and the world around us. The responsibility to truthfully raise the next generation of people is on the shoulders of those who have seen Enlightenment and have not shied away from its bright glare!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

We are 50% of the way to our year-end goal of $50,000

We are currently the group with the most members and we have now raised $25,000 in loans in less than a month. We are doing great work for the world. I only wish that there were more available loans so we could explode our team in size.

Right now I'm listening to Creating a World Without Poverty by Muhammed Yunus which I downloaded from He is the Noble Peace Prize winner in 2006. He started the whole low-cost micro finance industry, decades ago, by setting up Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. I found it interesting that in order to receive a loan from the bank you had to agree to a set of ethical values (approx 15 of them) and join a borrowing team. One of those values is to put your children in school. Since Islam does not promote educating the young in anything but the Koran, Yunus has cleverly realized that to get people out of the grips of poverty that people need to work together and educating children is a central goal.

Update: The ethical values I was referring to in the post from Yunus' book are called "The Sixteen Decisions".

Decision #7 is: We shall educate our children and ensure that they can earn to pay for their education.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Matthew versus Peter - Believer versus Skeptic

In the North York region of Toronto, Canada we generally get two types of Christians who go door knocking: Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. I rather enjoy when someone comes to my door and wants to debate religion with me.

I've debated Matthew, a Jehovah's Witness (JW), on two occasions over the past year. I'd guess he's in his early twenties and has come by with a different female JW on both occasions. They canvas the neighborhood in a few teams of two.

Matthew was very pleasant to talk to and had an optimism about his religion that I could not shake. I got the impression from Matthew that he was genuinely curious that Rajvee and I do not believe in god and that we were so confident and ready with answers to defend our convictions.

Matthew pointed out that god's name is Jehovah and that through studying the bible he's come to believe in god and the bible. I explained to Matthew that I did not believe in god and that there is no evidence for god and that science provides a more plausible explanation of the origin of life. I let him know that I studied computer science and physics in university and I've done a lot of reading on evolution. Matthew asked how I explain life if I do not believe in god. I gave a brief explanation that science believes the universe started with a big bang which there is evidence for and that created the particles that eventually formed into atoms. I explained that after a few million years stars and galaxies formed and all the chemical elements (atoms) that are in the periodic table are the pieces that form all matter. Then I explained that 4 billion years ago the Earth formed around our Sun and after millions of years of atoms interacting to form molecules and molecules interacting to form complex molecules, that a molecule that could replicate was formed and that all life shares it's ancestry with a cell that formed 100 million years after the formation of Earth. I explained that evolution over almost 4 billion years has produced animals as refined as human beings.

Matthew then asked me how science can explain something as complex as the brain. I responded that we do not know everything about the brain but that brain research is an active field of study. I explained that we do know it's made up of trillions of neuron cells which act as a decentralized computer processor which produces a stream of thoughts and we experience 5 thoughts per second and the process of evolution has produced our brain which is the best in the animal kingdom. I said other animals have brains of varying degrees of complexity and that is evidence that our brain is decedent from a simpler brain, the brain of an ape.

Matthew had a curiosity about science but from the questions he was asking he clearly did not give scientists an authority above his religious teachings. He felt that humans were different from animals because of art and language. He believes human life began 6,000 years ago with Adam and Eve, although he believes that the Earth was around geologically as long as scientists claim but without human beings. I asked who Adam and Eve's children married to further the human species. Matthew informed me that it was a case of incest. I had never previously got a clear answer from anyone about that and have read different Christian interpretations at Skeptics Annotated Bible.

Matthew did not even bring up Jesus (I was surprised) his arguments focused mainly on the concept of God and he was prepared to defend the whole bible. None of my knowledge of the 4 canonical new testament gospels was of any use. If ever there was a question he could not answer he said he would research the answer.

On the second visit from Matthew we again debated (for a shorter time) and Matthew brought a text with him titled "Life How Did It Get Here? By evolution or by creation?" on the "binded" side of the book it says "Creation". It was published in 1985 and is clearly out of date, but it is an art work of propaganda. I may create a separate post to elaborate on the critical notes I've made throughout the pages of that book.

I did share a nugget of wisdom with Matthew from Richard Dawkins - The Selfish Gene (2nd Chapter, first paragraph):

In the beginning was simplicity. It is difficult enough explaining how even a simple universe began. I take it as agreed that it would be even harder to explain the sudden springing up, fully armed, of complex order-- life, or a being capable of creating life. Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is satisfying because it shows us a way in which simplicity could change into complexity, how unordered atoms could group themselves into ever more complex patterns until they ended up manufacturing people. Darwin provides a solution, the only feasible one so far suggested, to the deep problem of our existence.

By Pete

Friday, September 12, 2008

Set Your Life Free

What humans really desire in life is comfort and security. This desire comes from the knowledge of being alive in a vast universe and knowing that we only have one life to live in this reality. Although this is a realistic view we constantly question the unknowns in life that reality has to offer.

From within the scientific realm we can see that humans have made truly wonderful discoveries that help to bring us closer to the truth but from the outside science can be thought of as just another belief system with gaps that may make life look hazy and confusing. I myself do not have this opinion but feel that science, and only science, can bring us closer to knowing our reality and the truth about our universe. But, for someone who does not know much about science, such as not knowing the structure and function of DNA, the feeling of knowing their reality comes from somewhere else that is not related to, nor can be compared to, science.

Another belief system exists in our reality which has gained much power from the time it was first conceived, religion. Although it may have been devised as a way of adhering a growing society or reaching out to those in need, its powers today wield a strong influence on the majority of human beings around the world. Many religious belief systems have forced their way into the minds of many and these beliefs have been passed down from generation to generation slowly transforming into beliefs that many have made a part of their biology, such as the soul. Today human beings grow up in societies that teach about the importance of a particular religious belief system to help people believe that there is meaning in life and that our moral compass can be derived from believing in religion. By doing this human beings can more easily believe that their actions in life are governed by a higher power; a power that has all of the answers for life and the universe. By praying to this higher power, God, one can remain close to God and in so doing can find knowledge about their own existence as well as comfort and security that humans long so much for.

The problem with this kind of adherence to a religious belief system is that people are given a false sense of reality. When reality is skewed by merely a religion then the facts of science are broken down into very little pieces and scientific credibility and truth are lost. Since religion offers comfort and security to people through the idea that there is a higher power governing their actions there is little need to believe in something like science that to them seems down right confusing. But, science is not confusing at all. For someone who is seeking comfort and security science offers much more than what a simple religious belief can offer. Science can provide every person on Earth with the knowledge of comfort and security; one does not have to go as far as praying to God somewhere in the sky for comfort and security but rather can create it themselves from the knowledge of their own lives. For example, if we hold ourselves accountable for our actions we can ensure that the next time around we will perhaps make a better decision and create a more desired outcome. If we constantly seek forgiveness from God we will never blame ourselves for our bad decisions and, in turn, never learn from our mistakes.

We need to devise a set of common values that human beings can follow in order to lead a life of peace, love, happiness, and security. If we can find harmony in life through following a set of sacred values then following a religious belief system will seem unnecessary, almost silly. For those who strongly adhere to a religious belief system, they will need to find 'salvation' by first getting in touch with their biology and family history. Knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are and about your heritage can only set you free from religious belief!

By Rajvee

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

We are team #2

We have just become the number 2 team in terms of amount of money loaned and we are about to become (or may be in a few minutes) the biggest group in terms of members!! Good work everyone.

I did a little investigation on the number of Kiva lenders who have joined a team. This is not a scientific analysis but just some estimates based on what I dug up. There are approximately 334,000 Kiva lenders. I added up the number of team members on the first 15 pages of the community area and then added 20 members for each of the remaining 80 pages. Based on this there are approximately 6015 Lenders who have joined a team (this does not take into consideration that people may be members of more than 1 team).

Our team has 360 members. So our team represents 6% (360/6015) of all team lenders. Unitarians are 1.1% (67/6015), Flying Spaghetti Monsters are 0.5% (31/6015) and all other religious teams combined are (115/6015) 1.9%. There is no way to know if this is reflective of the whole Kiva community, and clearly not everyone lends based on their religious beliefs, but our numbers surely are impressive.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a moderate Christian friend of mine where he said religious people give more to charity. I think the work we are doing here has drawn that old idea into question!

By Peter

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Expand Your Knowledge Through Self-Conscious Reflection

Self-conscious reflection is the highest level of operation of a human brain. Although human beings have evolved from primates, these organisms lack the ability to reflect. This is evident in the behavior of primate species, such as chimpanzees. Chimps like to play games with their friends but cannot strategize and think about how to improve their skills while playing a game. They lack the ability to organize multiple thoughts and ideas in their brains because their brains are not as complex and well-developed as human brains. However, the brains of primates are well-developed compared to brains of lower order mammalian species such as dogs and mice.

So how has such a marvelous characteristic evolved in human brains? Self-conscious reflection is built on several levels of processes that Marvin Minsky calls the Six-Level Model of the Mind:
1) instinctive reactions
2) learned reactions
3) deliberate reactions
4) reflective thinking
5) self-reflective thinking
6) self-conscious reflection

Instinctive reactions are already operating in a human at birth since these reactions have evolved from the time of the earliest humans. The next two processes are developed at an early age as a young human being explores and studies their surroundings and interacts with their imprimers (family and friends). Throughout adolescence the remaining processes are developed and strengthened as a result of new experiences that challenge an individual to think about their choices and reflect on their actions.

Education tremendously facilitates a human's ability to problem solve and make informed choices and goals. It helps an individual gain knowledge of life and the universe and, in turn, expand their minds to different possibilities in nature. Educated individuals have the freedom to reach the highest level of the mind which is self-conscious reflection. For those who are oppressed by their communities, families, and poverty there is much difficulty in reaching this level because they lack the basic knowledge of life and nature to facilitate their human abilities-- they are limited in their abilities to learn and grow as a human being. This is the case for Muslims around the world, particularly women. It is also the case for many people who are forced to believe in religion at an early age without the proper knowledge of other religions and belief systems.

In many parts of the world, there is no open discussion about religious beliefs of other peoples around the world and, as such, a person's scope of nature and world views is limited to the belief system their family and community hold so strongly. When a child grows up in this environment and is forced to adhere to one religious belief system they are robbed of their freedom to learn about all religions and make informed choices. They become limited to learning only about their parent's religion. This hinders a child's ability to reach the higher level processes in the brain because they are taught about a world-view that is skewed and inaccurate. Since there is little discussion about religion in the modern education system today a child remains closed-minded about the differences and similarites between all people and their world-view is reduced to their own communities and families. Their level of understanding of life and nature remains immature and simple. As they grow up their transition to adulthood is more difficult because their view of the world does not change so much as a result of the influence on them to adhere to their religious belief.

Any idea they encounter throughout their life which encourages them to question their belief system is ignored and dismissed because of what they have been taught to believe by their family and community. To these people the complexities of science are misunderstood, like the structure and function of the cell, so they remain immature in their thoughts and practices. They build their knowledge around their religious belief, whether moderate or strong, and leave out important facts, such as quantum physics, neuronal transmission in the brain, and evolution, which they find unnecessary or insufficient to learn. Their religious belief helps them to fill in the gaps so there is no need to further their understanding of the facts. But, what their religious belief actually does is hinder the development of their mind. Having a religious belief is closing one's mind to the world and all the possibilities in the universe, it negatively effects the way people live and think.

Self-conscious reflection, the highest level of the mind, can be reached by an educated human being that considers all the possibilities of a given idea and that can let go of their pre-conceived beliefs about an idea. The reason for this is that in order to comprehend a particular fact or concept one cannot believe in something that is unproven or make-believe because it may conflict with a given fact and cause the person to be confused and misunderstand the fact itself and all other facts and concepts related to that fact. When ideas and concepts are understood properly a person can self-consciously reflect on their thoughts and come to accurate conclusions and decisions. Moreover, this reflective process can stimulate new thoughts and questions that are completely in line with existing facts and concepts.

Self-conscious reflection is important because it gives human beings the power and encourages them to understand their own nature and the nature of the universe. It helps people to understand their niche on earth-- that we have evolved over millions of years for the purpose of surviving for as long as possible on planet Earth. And in doing so, we have been able to sense the beauty of nature and depend on the fruits of it. Isn't life grand?! It should be, since all life has worked hard to survive for millions of years and make the Earth their home.

Charles Darwin was a very intelligent man that had reached the highest level of the mind, and this is a remarkable feat in his time. He was able to properly collect, analyze, and organize his thoughts to correctly explain the concept of evolution. He devised a concept from previously built concepts. What a remarkable human being indeed! If it weren't for him, our children today would not have the benefit of understanding the history and biology of life on Earth.

Why should we hinder our children's brain development by teaching them about our religious beliefs thus limiting their horizons. What ever happened to the idea that "our children are our future". Education in today's modern societies cater to the proper care and development of our children, which is funded by the citizens. Why should we interrupt this education by teaching our children about magical beliefs that conflict with what they are learning in school. There is no benefit in this but rather the cost of burdening our children with the difficulty of grasping scientific, mathematical, historical, and social concepts. What a burden! It will be our children that will build institutions and projects, based on the foundations earlier generations have built and preserved for them, to carry us all safely into the future (Dennett, Breaking the Spell 2006). Our children need to be encouraged and given time to grow and learn. Open discussions about religion at home and in the education system are important for there to be an open society and for expanding our knowledge of nature and the universe. With this knowledge people can focus on making the world a better place to live and recognize that their lives do have meaning.

By Rajvee

Sunday, September 7, 2008

$10,000 loaned. I'm so proud

I'm so proud to have discovered all these atheists hiding in the Kiva bushes. In 11 days we have loaned $10,000 to the working poor. We are team number 3 in terms of members and amount of money loaned (we are team 4 in terms of number of loans but inches from spot 3). Great work everyone!

I took a screen shot to remember this moment. We are 20% of the way to our 2008 year-end goal.

I cannot wait until there is a greater inventory of loans... I have an idea or two to increase our membership. If anyone else has ideas they want to share please leave a comment.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Are ghosts real?

I know.... ghosts are NOT real. But to my surprise some atheists, or at least one, believe in ghosts.

There are many paths one can take on the journey to becoming an atheist (or going back to the atheist they were when they were born... but that's a debate for another day). So it can be refreshing to discuss the details of our atheism and share our views.

An old friend of mine and I were sitting on the dock at his cottage, late one evening with beers in hand. I brought up the subject of ghosts by saying "Remember when you said you believe in ghosts? Well, I think, if you really think about it you don't believe in ghosts. Because if you don't believe in god then you don't believe in a soul and if there is no soul then nothing leaves the body when you die and there cannot possibly be ghosts.". He responded that he had seen a ghost on two occasions and how do I explain that.

Here are his two encounters with ghosts and my explanations.

First encounter, he and a former girlfriend were in the girlfriends house they walked into the family room and pictures that were on the bookshelf and ALWAYS facing forward were all (several pictures) turned around (facing backwards). He claims no one else was home and that several minutes earlier they walked into the room and all the pictures were facing forwards.

My approach to this was first to say "Did you actually see the ghost?". His response was "No". I said the following are more probable explanations then a ghost.
1) Your girlfriend turned all the pictures around without your knowledge (this was not a convincing explanation).
2) Someone else, earlier that day, turned the pictures around before the two of you walked into the room the first time. Upon, entering the room the first time you did not notice the pictures had been turned around. You left the room and then came back several minutes later and noticed the pictures had been turned around. (Like when someone gets a haircut and you don't notice right away). For me this is the most probable explanation but I still had not convinced my friend.

I also questioned by what theory are ghosts able to move physical objects, my friend responded that poltergeists can supposedly do that. Which I rebutted by saying that's just in the movies and there is no evidence for ghosts or that they have those abilities.

At this point what I really wanted was to show him this video on youtube by Mahzarin Banaji at the Beyond Belief 2006 Conference. Without the Internet at hand I went on to explain that scientists have now discovered that consciousness and our feeling of self is really a production of our brain. And that we have one conscious thought ever 200 ms, or 5 thoughts per second. This stream of thoughts determines who we are and how we feel. I know I left my friend with some insight to ponder for another day and we moved on to the second example.

The second encounter was a more vivid experience. My friend recounted that on one evening, in the early morning hours, he was a passenger driving in his friends car and they were heading back to town. For various personal reasons the driver was in a hurry to make it home in the neighboring town. My friend because he is nice and probably because he was drunk said to his friend "don't worry about taking me all the way home you can just drop me here and I'll walk". Bad idea since there was only 20 minutes left in the drive but the walking would take him 4 hours (I'm sure the alcohol effected the decision). About 3 hours into this walk he passed the Masonic Lodge that is on the outskirts of town, which has an adjacent graveyard. Since I've driven by there before I acknowledged that it would be a spooky place to walk by in the wee hours of the morning (or night). My friend said that as he walked by the graveyard he saw a ghost appear about 1 metre beside him and he knew it was a ghost because it had no feet. He said he closed his eyes a few times and re-opened them and the ghost was still there (a figure of a man). The ghost scared him but did not harm him and after a few minutes of walking he closed his eyes again and re-opened them and the ghost was gone.

My response to this was that I believed he thought he actually saw a ghost but that the human mind has the awesome power of allowing us to hallucinate and that drugs are not required to invoke a hallucination. Since he was tired from walking so long, partly drunk, a fan of horror movies and since he just walked by a cemetery those were enough elements to allow his mind to fabricate that a ghost had appeared before him. Since he "witnessed" the ghost my line of reasoning was not easy to swallow.

I then noted that when someone takes a hallucinogenic drug it's not the drug that has the information for the hallucination but it's the mind that formulates the hallucination (that seems real) because the drug causes the mind to cascade it's thoughts in a way that it normally does not do. I also recounted a lesson I had learned by reading "How to See Yourself as You Really Are" by the Dalai Lama. One of the Buddhist philosophers, in the book, reminds us of the experience of being in a dimly light room and seeing a coiled snake on the floor (vivid in your mind) and then turning the light on to discover the coiled snake was just a coiled rope. Where did the snake come from? It was dependent on the mind. And the mind has the power to formulate images of things that do not exist outside the mind.

With all these examples and explanations I was not able to completely convince my friend but I was able to get him to agree that it was in fact MORE probable that he hallucinated then the alternative that ghosts are real.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Freedom From Religion

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides for the freedoms of conscience and religion; as well as the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression. These freedoms can be limited by parliament but needs to be justified by the Supreme Court of Canada. The US Constitutions first amendment provides for similar freedoms of religion and specifically that the government cannot choose one religion over another. The purpose of these freedoms is to allow different sects or denominations of the various mainstream religions a safe and comfortable environment to practice their respective religions. What I really want is freedom from religion! So the children of the future can grow up without falling prey to religious ideas.

My problem is that none of these freedoms apply to people who are not deluded by religion. Intellectuals, Brights, Non-religious Peoples or Atheists (whichever terminology you prefer) do not have equal rights under the law because they are not part of a religion even though they amount to 1.1 billion people collectively. This is the third largest identifiable group behind Christians and Muslims and ahead of Hindus and Buddhists. Who's responsible for clouding this fact? Why is it that atheists feel like outcasts? Why are many of them in the closet? If you add Buddhists to the secular bandwagon there are slightly more of "us" than Muslims.

"Let my people go"
-- Moses, Exodus 5: 1 (KJV)

I want to be free from religion, I want my neighbors to be free from religion and more importantly I want all children to be free from religion. If an adult wants to violate his "freedom from religion" and become a religious/cult member well that's his/her choice but placing children in Roman Catholic schooling because their parents are infected by the Christian Religious Meme (x-meme) is child abuse. Considering the cloud of doubt over whether Jesus Christ existed and the greater doubt over his alleged divinity and the fact that God does not exist it is immoral to teach children about Baby Jesus and the fabricated Nativity. I have derived this moral from the moral that people should be truthful with each other and that they should share the true knowledge of the universe with each other. People should not be able to refer to the x-meme in court or use it as a defense against crimes they commit. They should not be able to request concessions from their employers or the government because they suffer from the x-meme. We don't allow people infected by HIV to donate blood and we should not allow those infected by x-meme or any god-meme to teach children. We simply cannot trust them to tell the truth. There was a time when we trusted the tobacco companies to market to minors but we no longer give them that liberty. I would like to see it that all paranormal businesses (churches, pyschic parlors, mosques, synagogues, etc) require entrants to be 18 years old. If sexual materials should be kept from minors then certainly religious material should be kept from them too.

It seems like there is an unwillingness by religious people to admit that other humans can accept the fact there is no God. They believe there is something wrong with atheists. Should they be free to believe this? Are people still free to believe in racism?

The experience that prompted me to right this blog entry was my recent visit to a hospital in Ontario Canada for a routine blood test. I had to register with the hospital and in doing so they asked me a handful of questions, one of which was "what is your religion?". My knee-jerk response was "there is no religion". The lady understood that I meant I am not religious. But sadly the computer system they use at the hospital does not have an option for "none" so I was labeled as "NON-D". For those who live in a Christian influenced community you will understand this to mean Non-Denominational Christian. I chose not to say anything because I prefer to be a pleasant person and I know that the person who asks the questions at the hospital is not the person who decided what questions to ask. However upon reflection it is offensive to my intelligence to try and label me and then mislabel me and it is beyond apology for the government to be collecting this information and implying that I should have an answer to "what is your religion?". Immediately after I answered I contemplated the thought that I should have responded "Bright" and then went through the mutually awkward exercise of explaining the term but they would have probably still labeled me NON-D anyways. I checked with a Hindu I know and she was labeled as "PRESB" or Presbyterian. Knowing about Christianity, I came to the idea that maybe the hospital asks your religion because Christians like their "Last Rights" read to them on their death bed. But if that's the case they may read the Last Rights to an Atheist or a Hindu with no regard to their beliefs. If indeed the hospital takes this information so that they can perform services for you after you die then why can't they ask each person what arrangements they want after death and then maybe we would see a service in the name of freedom.

Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God (see the Canadian Constitutions preamble). Where is the room or tolerance for those who do NOT recognize the supremacy of God. When you hear people tell you that Canada is secular that's just political lies. Canada has a Monarch who is God's representative on Earth. In what way does this contribute to this pretend notion that Canada is secular? In the US, atheists are constantly (see Google) having to fight religious symbols and slogans that are constantly being forced, by the majority Christian population, on all citizens whether through religion in public schools or crosses on public grounds. Christian charities get special tax treatment that Atheist charities do not both in Canada and the United States. This allows extremists like Osama bin Laden intellectual material to convince Muslims that Christian Nations are coming to dominate the Islamic world!

The liberal western democracies of the world lose credibility with the Islamic world because from an outsiders perspective it's clear these democracies are Christian based. The type of reasoning that leads to the legitimization of the Pope among world leaders is what has given the Iranian religious leaders all the intellectual capital they need to establish a Muslim based democracy which has a supreme leader (also known as a supreme judge or Supreme Islamic Jurist) who filters all the societies activities through the lens of the Koran and Islamic Sharia Law. How can we criticize them? In what way are we different? Is not our Queen similar to their Supreme Islamic Jurist? Is not their Guardian Council similar to our Senate? You have to swear your allegiance to Mohammed to be involved in the democratic operation of Iran and you have to swear allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen, ruler of the Church of England to be involved in the upper levels of Canadian democracy. Where is the clear difference? Iran has freedom of religion.. anyone born to Christian parents or Jewish parents or Zoroastrian parents can keep practicing their faiths. But Atheists/Non-believers well they get no rights, not even the right to life!

For a truly free society to exist people should be free to have opinions, thoughts and beliefs that are based on evidence and the scientific method. "Truths" that are determined through non-repeatable experiments or experiences like Moses talking to God through a burning bush or Mohammed discovering God up on the mountain or the infamous non-discovery of cold fusion are not real truths and we should not respect them no matter how taboo that may be.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

We are awesome

In less than a week we loaned over $5,000 we have over 125 members and we are ranked 7th on the Kiva communities page. Way to go team!

Our exposure on the first page of the communities section will help us get more members. I'm just so proud that we are ahead (way ahead) of any religious organization. Before Kiva Teams we were just a bunch of individual atheists wondering who were these other lenders and what are their motivations. It feels really good to know there are so many of us with Atheism as a common interest.

Over the next few weeks I see our team being in the top 3 with only Bloggers and KivaFriends being able to compete with us. In a few months I think we'll be team number 1.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Our first goal and our mission

Wow. 25 members already and $1,100 in loans. Great job teammates.

As captain, I am setting our first goal to loan $50,000 by the end of 2008. So we have 4 months to raise those funds. Certainly to reach that goal we will need more than 25 members. Member growth rate is doing great so far. Tell your friends. Soon we'll be on the first page of the Community area on Kiva, that will give us more exposure.

Why is it important for Atheists to loan as a team?
By loaning as a team we provide tangible evidence that Atheists are making a difference in the world through altruistic acts. Many in our world hold the false belief that atheists do not give to charity and do not have a strong sense of helping others.

Kiva is a great opportunity (since the stats are public) to show that Atheists are making a difference. And who knows maybe we will be the number 1 team one day.

As, The Crater Lake Hermit, points out in the comments, when religious people donate to a religious organization the use of the funds is not openly disclosed. In many countries, including Canada and the USA, churchs (and the like) do not have to pay property taxes or income taxes and are not required to file a tax return. This means there is not any requirements (or overview) on the uses of funds given to a church. So if there is a pastor or minister in your area driving a Mercedes or BMW, now you know how they get away with it. I'm surprised religious people don't demand more scrutiny over the funds they donate for charitable endeavors. Maybe it's because questioning is a sin (whatever that means) in the christian church.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Welcome to Reality

I've been considering creating a blog focused on atheism for a while now. My impulse moment came when the opportunity to create an atheist team on the lending to the poor web site

Check out the team here.

I think it's important for freethinkers to organize our support for the well being and education of other humans (home sapiens) on Earth.

This blogs goals are to discuss atheist philosophy and promote our Kiva Team (since this is also the team web site). If any team members have suggestions for the "We loan because" and "About us" sections of our team page, please leave comments. I tried to make them as simple and inclusive as possible. Being freethinkers I'm sure we all have our own reasons for lending ;)

Why am I writing on atheism? Because I love reading about religion and trying to understand why my fellow humans are so gripped by the concept of gods. I find the study of religion and religious people can bring insights on the nature of human beings.