Sunday, January 31, 2010

Symbiosis and Spirituality--Morality Monopoly

Religion has cornered the morality market.  Think of it.  Functionally speaking, what is the one institution in modern society that teaches morality on any advanced level?  Well, a tad in philosophy class (esoteric theory) and maybe a few ethics class (liability dodging).  Other than that, it's the churches that teach Americans what they ought to be ashamed of. haha.

I'd like to see that change.  I don't know how it will, but I'd still like to see it change.

Since "going secular" this has been a great obstacle in my mind.  It was one of my favorite things about Christianity to delve into the moral teaching of Jesus.  I found them incredibly rich and stimulating.  Can it be replicated or is the magic recipe of frankincense, myrrh and brimestone copyrighted?

So, I'm going to provide a few thoughts/lessons that might be a potential means to gain moral insights from symbiosis.  I'm fully aware of the limitations of nature--that it's inherently amoral. As well as my own fallacies--I'm both guilty of the Naturalistic Fallacy and the Moralalistic Fallacy.  These teachings are more the result of my own musings and personal internal, subjective heart worldview of late than they are any attempt at a sophisticated system of ethics.  You may find them scientific heresy, but hopefully they'll be moral heuristic.

Here's the question:  Is it possible to, using the framework of religious moral teaching, gain moral insights from nature and more specifically symbiosis?  Let's try. :)

How does religion teach morality?  I'll break it down into three categories of didactic methods.

1. Story/Narrative--think about it, what percentage of the Bible is story?  Gee-willakers.  Practically the entire thing.  Why?  Because stories are the lingua franca of the common man.  They are an incredibly powerful and easily absorbable means of teaching morality.  It gives concepts skin, flesh, personality.  Be like this person, not this one.  Do what this person did, not that one.  

2. Principles--Simplistic religion receives this as straight forward divine fiat, but more advanced religion interprets commandments as principial templates that embody the "spirit of the law".  Examples: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." "It is more blessed to give than receive."  "Turn the other cheek." "Do not remove a fly from a friends head with a hatchet."

3. Progression/Goal/Exemplar--I see this as religion's way dangling the carrot in front of us.  It comes in a wide array of different forms.  It can simply be--you do this you go to Heaven, but it often exhibits itself in much more complex forms such as: be like Christ, reach Nirvanna, becoming enlightened, absolving yourself of the desires of the world, Scientology levels, and I'd even put Kohlberg's six levels of moral development in this category.  It gives a valuable guiding incentive.  Even if it's nothing more than the subconscious, "I want to be a good christian."

I will apply this thinking to symbiosis to give an example that in the words of Lewis Carroll, "Everything has got a moral if you can only find it."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

True Life is Stranger than Fiction

I recently posted as my status on Facebook that I thought true life was stranger than fiction.  I was surprised by the response I got.  There was one English major/writer that had quite a bone to pick with that thinking.  I stand by my statement.  Below is a partial response to my friend..

How do you tell the difference between a lie and the truth?

That's a very complex question, but there are always bread crumb trails to follow to decipher the 'truthiness' of a statement as Stephen Colbert puts it.  I'll break it down into the classic communication majors matrix:

Sender: does the person have the classic signs of lying--looks up and to the left, blinking alot, repeat your question to stall answering,  motivated to lie blah, blah, you know that stuff.

Message: is the message consistent, plausible, simple, overly detailed, under detailed, easily retold the same, corroborated,  has a beginning, middle and end, conflict, resolution, involves relationships, intimacy, etc.

Receiver: is it too tailored to the audience to be entertaining, creative, insightful, quotidian, etc.

The bottom line is that even the best fiction is predictable in the way that it's unpredictable.  Truly strange fiction would be random, erratic, lacking flow, resolution and any of the meta narrative and structure that we seek.

If that weren't enough fiction has one major limiting factor--it's human made.  It's got our finger prints all over it.

It makes me think of aliens in movies.

They have the same basic body set up we do: tetrapodal, thorax, abdomen, head, hands, 2 eyes on head, mouth in front, nose, ears.  Even our most creative aliens are really just comical reshapings of ourself.  We think we're being creative making them green, but we're not.  It just ends up looking less like an alien and more like what a human would think an alien would look like.  It's the same with fiction.  The more creative we try to be the more we're really betraying the fact that it's the mental product of a highly intelligent ape.

Reality's different, though.

Shit just happens.  :)

No creator.  No divine mind that's guiding evolution.  No particular reason that gravity has to pull.  No reason for electrons to spin around protons.  No reason light is a wave and a particle.  No reason that black matter adds weight to the universe or that black energy is hurtling the galaxies apart.  No reason life had to happen, complex life had to happen, multicellular life, sexually reproducing life, chordates, jawed fish, lung fish, tetrapods, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, monkeys, apes, hominids, Homo sapiens had to happen.  There are an infinite amount of other possibilities that could have quite easily not resulted in you or anything like you.

But it did.

From whence did we come?  To where do we head?

No body knows and if anyone tells you otherwise it isn't too hard to tell they're lying.

Why?  Because true life is f***ed up strange.

Protean Behavior

Game Theory: in essence is the idea that in games it's smartest to not only pick the next best moved based on the principles of the game, but also on the anticipated move of the other player.  It's thinking about thinking.  It's predictive playing.

Biological Context: there is a constant cat and mouse game (quite literally in some cases) that operates between predator and prey over generations and millenia.  The prey that can best anticipate how the predator will hunt them can out smart them and survive.  The predator that can best predict how the prey operates or will flee gets the next meal.  On some level this can operate along the lines of the Red Queen hypothesis, where both parties are evolving to have greater levels of skill and adaptation, but equally so and therefore are locked on a treadmill going no where (think Alice and Wonderland).  

Game Theory in Games:  the best move is the unpredictable one.  You may have a Royal Flush, but if you 'tip your hand' and people can predict that you do you have no real advantage.  Lying, randomness and unpredictability win.  Class room example: the game called "Matching Pennies."  The game can be played were one person is the 'opposer' and the other is the 'matcher.'  Both will either pick or flip their coin at the same time.  If both match, then the 'matcher' wins both coins.  If they are opposites then the 'opposer' gets them both.  Without prepping the kids on the best strategy the game will at first start off quite boring and strategy less with both sides equally winning.  The lesson really starts when the students start to anticipate what the other will do and incorporate long runs of the same side to add unpredictability.  In the end, the best strategy is true randomness.

Greek Terminology: Proteus was a sea god that could change his shape unpredictably to avoid capture.  Protean behavior is the random actions of animals to be unexpected.

Biological Application:  Haven't you ever seen a pet gerbil, rat, fish, dog, cat, squirrel or other animal FREAK OUT when startled?  That's Protean behavior!  I see it with my catfish every time I turn on the light in his tank.  Also, I know you've seen it with squirrels that try to randomly jink, zig zagging to confuse your predator car.  They're trying to shock, dismay, startle, confuse and be unpredictable to gain a slight edge and avoid capture.  Think of it like this, if every time a mouse jinked to the left when startled by a cat the cats would 'learn' through selective pressure to always dive to the left.  The same would be true if they went straight, right, up, etc.  The best move is unpredictability.  Predators exploit the same strategy too.  Aboriginals, weasels and other predators have been known for their 'crazy dance' to confuse and mystify their prey and while they're still trying to figure out WTF--WHAMO!  Din-din.

Human Implications:  maybe that ability was where our creativity first came from!


Kudos go to Geoffrey Miller for The Mating Mind, from which a plegorized the ideas for this blog from.

Monday, January 18, 2010

7 Reasons You Should Want to Be Related to Monkeys

1.  We are the latest link of a chain going back trillions of generations and billions of years, a weaving, winding branch with millions, upon millions of radiations since its root--as Darwin pointed out, many of those deceased branches are the rock that we build our houses and the ground beneath our feet. "We" made it through the Archaen, the Cambrian, the Carboniferous, the Jurassic, the Cretaceous, the Pleistocene. "We" battled trilobite, tricerotops, smilodon and spear tip. "We" have swum, crawled, burrowed, stalked, fled, climbed, scampered and sprinted. Watch this vid with a similar idea put to music--

2.  It castes the light of understanding on human nature, psychology, and human foibles. Don't take this as an excuse for vice. Those from the religious right often despise this type of thinking since it seems to give a license to behave like an animal. I'm not doing that. I'm not giving an excuse to act like an animal, I'm giving an explanation for when we act like a human. Our finitude, our instincts, the always incomplete process of evolution limit our abilities. We're a work in progress and that's the only way we'll make sense of ourselves.

3.  You understand the masterwork of humanity. We are the possessors of the most complex structure in the known universe--the human brain. We, a collection of vibrating molecules, can contemplate our role in the universe, can be moved to tears by the love of another, paint the Sixteenth Chapel and write the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

4.  Truth is always more beautiful than lies. Note: beauty does not equal attractive. The mythological accounts of the creation of the universe and man man be attractive to the reader, but since they're basically founded on lies they can never be truly beautiful, because they're never be virtuous. Reality will always be more more breathtaking because it's real.

5.  Accepting that we're the product of evolution at the same time means that the timeline arrow of progress is still going on. Not only can we help shape that by our own reproductive choices, but increasingly more so through harnessing the power of genetic modification. For crying out loud, we've made rats that can glow in the dark! That's awesome. If that weren't enough we can also tantalize our imagination about the future evolution of humanity. What's next?!...

6.  We can appreciate animals on a deeper, more empathic level because we understand first hand that their minds aren't that differnt from ours. The emotions they feel are real. Their loyalty like that of our own.

7.  Our body becomes a history wonderland. Two arms and two legs becomes the digitless fins of the first tetrapod, five fingers becomes a nostalgic throw back to our amphibian ancestors that first walked the land, a dextrous opposable thumb that could touch the tip of each of the other fingers--an advancement that made tool work possible, our lungs--the modified gulping sacks of fish, our jaws--the revolutionary advancement of the Silurian period fish, our eyes--portals to our past souls that went from eye spots, to a pinhole eyes, to enclosed chambers, to a lensed masterwork with an iris, an iris that if is blue is only as old as 10k +- years.


"In psychology, bicameralism is a hypothesis which argues that the human brain once assumed a state known as a bicameral mind in which cognitive functions are divided between one part of the brain which appears to be "speaking", and a second part which listens and obeys." The Almight Wikipedia

perhaps my notion of sensing 'god' in the past is little more than an advancement of the sense/voice of the 'other' in my mind. Here's how this might work: there's has been selection pressure in human evolution to give sexual selection favoritism to those that can easily and adeptly communicate. Part of learning how to do this in an advanced manner very well may have developed from a mental ability to model/practice having conversations in our minds. Think of your own experience. Haven't you on some level experienced a sense of both speaking to another (who is yourself, but a different yourself...) as well as hearing our 'conscience'/Jiminy Cricket which 'speaks' to us from within and without...IT's hard to describe without sounding like a stark raving lunatic, but perhaps you will with very little effort understand what I'm saying.  We have a built in "other" inside ourselves--a speech modeling simulator that allows us to have internal dialog with ourselves. This ability may have been valuable to allows us to train to be able to fluently communicate ideas. Perhaps a side effect of this isn't in fact that far off from our sense of 'the other' in spirituality both as a soul and as the presence of a deity.
Much more could be said about how we needed to be able to understand another beings mind, which is a very advanced form of cognition and primatologist debate on how well other primates can do it.  No question that we do it so well that we give inanimate objects animation, personification, identities, names and imagine they have a mind.  Ever gotten angry at a machine/computer?  Then you're guilty. :)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Role of Human Hair in Evolution

  • Why is a bearded lady so strange that it warrants being in a circus freak show?  Those with one more x chromosome don't get the same attention.
  • Why when apparently about half of all men go bald are we so ready to spend thousands of dollars on creams, plugs, inplants, toupees, wigs, etc.?
  • Why are we so largely hairless as a species (as opposed to our current day relatives and conceivably our ancestors)?
  • Why do we have hair on our scalp that doesn't stop growing?  Why is that hair so distinctly segregated from the rest of our face?
  • Why do we have little tufts of hair in strategic spots on our post-pubescent bodies?
  • Why is there such variance of hair colors, textures and straightness in different ethnic groups?

To get to the 'why' we'll have to first ask 'how.'  How could they have evolved?

As a review, we'll need to look at this through the lenses of natural selection (it made our ancestors survival advantages) and sexual selection (it gave them reproduction advantages).  With that in mind, let's list out some different hair attributes and consider their potential origins.

Baldness--Allow me to give separate but related example.  Nightingale birds can have as many as one thousand distinct sings.  It's the variety that makes it sexy to the females.  One possible reason that may have come about is that it takes a long time, often years, for a Nightingale to learn that many songs, so a large repertoire of songs means the bird is old.   Old equals sexy.  Why?  Essentially an older bird by displaying age is also displaying how well his genes have sustained him up to that point.  Health+age=good genes.  Isn't it possible that baldness could have evolved as a similar indicator of age/genetic virility?  Just maybe.  Also, as the link below points out, the farther back the hairline the more masculine the appearance of the face.  Could it have been a selection for men that with age become have the appearance of increased masculinity?  Perhaps you've heard that men that go bald have higher testosterone levels.  Baldness could have been used as an indicator to females of men in their status and resource prime that have an accompanyingly high level of testosterone.  
Also, as a runner I know that I sweat the most profusely from my forehead.  Why would I do that?  Because without doing any tests I'd very readily care to bet that it's the site that I shed the most heat from.  Could it be that baldness was a means to shed heat and increase endurance in men for hunting and fighting?  I don't think that's so far fetched.

Forehead Hairline--check out <> for a very interesting test that points out that a low hair line is feminine and a high hairline is masculine.  Could this explain the existence of bangs?  

Pubic hair--puerile joke from my middle school days: what do you get when you turn 3 blonds upside down?  Three brunets.
I might suppose there are really three things we have to explain here: the location of the hair, the color of the hair (that's what the joke was referring to if you didn't get it) and the curl of the hair.  Location--could be related to moisture aeration and creating space between skin on skin contact, which would could help prevent fungi and other nasties from growing.  It also, clearly, shows reproductive maturity (duh) and could be a through back to the preclothing days.  It also interesting to consider how this might be related to the phenomena of the "little black dresses."  Could it be that the dark color similar to body hair triggers an unconcious romantic response?  Who knows.  Or, could pubic hair have evolved to conceal STDs that might have otherwise prevent copulation?

Glabrous Skin--it's probably just a subjective preference that's been reinforced, but it could also have to do with a preference for youthfulness (or just the appearance of youthfulness), which can be concomitant with less genetic mutations.

Facial Hair--I don't have to tell you of its connection with testosterone levels, which can be paired with higher levels of sperm and muscularity, which can be an aid for strength and therefore defense and hunting.  It could also be something similar to the commonly known 'silverback' status.  Not only indicating a certain hormonal balance (and the beneficial phenotypes therein), but also a maturity as well and concomitantly the experience and stability to provide.    Also, a full beard could be conceived to act has a "false jaw."  The shape and jaw size can actually be used to sex a skull and the larger the jaw the more likely it is to be male and to be perceived as masculine.  Increasing the apparent size of the jaw by covering with the prosthesis of a beard can increase the perceived size and therefore masculinity of the face.

Eye Brows--interesting to think that these evolved to emote.  The ones that had more expressive faces got the date.  It also may be to direct sweat away from the eyes as it descends.  It makes sense that only we have eyebrows since we're natures greatest sweaters.

Gray Hair--is gray hair just a break down of pigment production or could it actually be a sign of age.  In going out on a limb here, but there are times when age can be prefered.  Why?  Well, if an organism has lived to a ripe old age this can be an indication of superior genes.  It isn't easy to survive in the wild for long.  If you've done it, then you must have some pretty good genes.  This can be seen in Nightinggale birds that accumulate songs over time have a corresponding amount of appeal increase.  The balance that sexual selection must strike is the attraction of youth and its lack of mutations which can accumulate over time and the attration of age (think Sean Connery, George Clooney, Harrison Ford) to show superior fitness over time. 

Long Hair-- Did you know that hair keeps growing indefinitely and fur stops at a certain length?  So, why are we the only primate that has hair and in only one spot on their body?  ya, it protects from the sun, but I think it is funner to think about how it could have been used as sort of a sanity test.  In the book The Mating Mind Miller talks about how that the human mind can be analgous to a peacocks tail.  It's a costly, difficult to fake, complex structre that demonstrates a number of things--purity of genes (since, for example, half our genome is brain genes--if a huge chunk is good, mostly likely the rest is, too) and ability to overcome what is known as the 'handicap principle,' which means they can sacrifice resources and still remain healthy (the human brain can burn 6-7k calories a day during intense thought, such as chess grandmasters).  It'd work like this: sanity means a good brain, which means good genes and those that are able to keep their hair either long and unknotted or short and well trimmed it would show a proclivity to better brain and therefore better genes and groups that had longer hair on the top of their head had a superior means to other groups for distinguishing quality from poor genes.   It very easily could have turned into a status symbol for healthiness, cleanliness, sanity,  and culture saviness.

Nappy Hair--I’ve heard that it offers lice protection.  They aren’t able to easily move through the dense mass of curcly hair.

Body Hair--I wonder if a certain amount of body hair might actually catch enough sweat to aid cooling.  Meaning, without any body hair our sweat might simply poor off our body without having the evaporative cooling effect.  Hairs catching the sweat a little might cause more evaporation which might cause more cooling.

Why I Quit Seminary

I almost died within feet of the exact spot that I was born.

For several days I had been battling unrelenting food poisoning (or so I thought), wild spikes in temperature to 104.5 and exhaustion like I've never experienced before or since.  My appendix had ruptured.

That, however, wasn't what my doctor had diagnosed.  I was prescribed medicine for food poisoning and told to go home and rest.  Days went by and I was slowly rotting from the inside out.  When I could barely hold myself up to walk across the room I called my family and we went the hospital.

It was there that the first deep axe swing was sunk into the felling of my faith.

I can remember staring at the ceiling (I was there for 8 days.  that's quite a bit of time to uninterrupted time to contemplate) dispassionately accepting: "My ancestors were apes."  What I had accepted at face value from the Bible was wrong.  A piece of vestigial tissue several centimeters long that almost killed me proved that.  This organ, once used to process cellulose in my ancestors now was a perfect pocket for deadly bacteria that would love to make a meal out of me.

It was that pivotal moment that started my turn from faith.

There were things that for years i had accepted as 'mystery' that started to break down into 'iron/bronze age mythology.'

Question #1
A reoccuring question arose: did I really believe the miracles in the Bible happened?  The question often took on a more specific nature, did I really believe that Jonah spent three days in the belly of a whale?

Really thinking through it, if miracles happened they had to have had a method of occurrence.  If Jonah was swallowed, what organism could have done it?  What was the 'fish'?  My understanding is that while whales are enormous, most are plankton feeders and could not swallow a man.  They're essentially slurpers.  There's hardly anything out there that could have swallowed a whole man without any mastication.  Could it have been something extinct, like Carcharidon Megalodon?  Let's say it was something crazy like that, how would Jonah not been dissolved to bits by the acid for three days?  How would he have breathed?  You could just say it was a miracle, but even a miracle needs a M.O.  Did oxygen miraculously appear in his lungs while his body was shielded with some divine acid deflecting force field?

A tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Come on. Really?

Or, take another example--walking on water.  Let's say Jesus and Peter walked on water.  How?  Did the water become viscous?  Did their bodies become hyper-buoyant so that they floated on the surface?  Were they weightless?  Was it like walking on a smooth surface or was every ripple and wave jarring or possibly painful and sharp?  These questions aren't an  attempt to count angels dancing on needle points.  They're an effort to pass the story through a b.s. determination matrix.

These thoughts haunted me.  

Time passed, I graduate from UCF and enrolled in the Reformed Theological Seminary.  This was a means to the ends of furthering my ministry readiness, in addition to being a Pastoral Intern, playing guitar/singing on their worship team and being a youth minister at another church.  I remember Dr. Steve Childers giving the convocation service for the incoming students and saying how much seminary can challenge your faith in so many ways (not just academically).  He went so far as to say that some of the people there at the service might even lose their faith during their degree.  I remember thinking how that seemed impossible to lose your faith in a seminary and even if that were possible I dismissed his hyperbole for myself outright.  His words now seem almost prophetic.

The first objection concerned the content of the Christian scriptures and the second was their means of transmission.  Part of going to any reputable seminary is taking Greek.  As a part of the three semesters of Greek that I took one of the things that you have to learn a good deal about is the manuscripts that we use to compose the Bible.  Massive volumes and whole careers are dedicated to deciphering the minuscule flecks and fragments we have of incomplete and contradictory copies of copies.  We don't have the originals.  What we have are a plethora of bits and pieces of manuscripts copied years/generations after the original with hundreds of thousands of slight (and in some cases major) variations .  All this on top of the fact that we can't even be sure who wrote the original!

It came down to this, I felt like I wasn't really sure who wrote what, and even if the right apostle wrote it, how do I know that what we have is what he wrote?  AND even if he did write it and we have the right version, how do we know that we're translating this ancient, esoteric language correctly (examp.-->does John 1 say that Jesus is divine or not?).  and while we're at it, how does inspiration work?  So, the thoughts, words, use of amanuensis, the transmition of the text through copying, and the choosing of the cannon were all inspired?  And what about the varying accounts in the Gospels, the reference to extra-Biblical books like Enoch and the Assumption of Moses, the weeding out of other apocryphal and pseudopigraphal documents,  the view of women in the Bible, and the pericopes that are debateable in origin like the end of Mark or John 8, etc?

Question #2
If the Bible is divine then why can't we agree on the original message, messenger and message language?

The next major serious objection was one that had to stew in me for a few years until it reached a boil.  In an introductory theology class one of the optional papers really stuck out to me.  The concern that it asked me to address was how or whether or not mentally handicapped people can understand the Gospel and have saving, efficacious faith.  "Wow!" I thought. "Now that's something I've always wondered about."  This type of question is more often phrased as, "Can babies that don't hear about Jesus go to Heaven?" or "What about some tribal bushmen in Africa that have never heard about Christ?"

I researched.  Checked out books.  Got on the internet.  Talked to people about it.  The answers didn't sit right with me.  If a more conservative stance was taken, then there were some people that got to go to heaven simply because they knew the right people. If a more progressive stance was taken (like almost all Christian denominations with babies going to Heaven) then there was a huge, monstrous loop hole (or just a hole in the logic) in the doctrine of faith.  Bottom line: faith wasn't the only way to get to heaven.

This objection became much more palpable, tangible and inescapable when I went on a little trip--to the other side of the world.  I went to China on a missions trip.  One image in particular became burned on the retina of my consciousness.  I was able to spend some time in a city called Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province.  By the way, have you ever heard of Chengdu?  Neither had I.  Yet, the city is about 3 million larger than New York city.  There was one particular city corner downtown that we were standing at waiting for the light to change so that we could cross the street.  I looked to me left.  I looked to my right.  I looked behind me.  I looked ahead.  In each direction (which, by the way, was a completely unencumbered view since I was a giant at 6'3" in a land of munchkins) I could see tens of thousands (without exaggeration) of people.   Hordes of people going to work, headed home, with worries, with secret triumphs, with to-do lists, with families, lovers, histories, futures.  And all of them...going to hell?

Question #3: Did I really, really believe that all those Chinese, 1.4 billion were all going to hell because they hadn't accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior?...

It often is that people aren't too shallow to think on deep, philosophical verities of the universe.  It's more often that they have more important things to do first.  Like ministry.  And so was I.  I had big questions looming in the back of my mind, but I also had a job, friends, home work, deadlines, entertainment, etc.  These questions would sprout up perennially when I had motivation to question.  When burnout would set in.  Fatigue from school.  When people became odious.  I'd like to pause for a second and be honest in saying that, yes, in some ways I did want to stop believing (I say this to the Christians that might want to simplify my entire story and say that my objections were nothing but straw man arguments really trying to mask and hide my inner rebellion).  Large decisions like vocation, religion, social spheres, identity are never, ever made purely on the basis of logic and reason.  We think with the same organ that we feel with and the two often alloy (how easily we see this in the cross-hybridization we see in the language of "I feel" and "I think).  Reason may keep us out of the gutter like gutter guards in bowling, but it's motivation and emotion that toss the ball.

So, back to the impression that China had made upon me.  If Christianity was true, I began to see the overwhelming need that there was over there.  Straight up, literally like a billion people headed straight for eternal torment and damnation.  If Christianity was true, I needed to be a missionary there.  But.  But, I didn't want to go.  I liked America.  I like freedom.  I liked dairy products. I like sit down toilets.  I like home.  Home!

And back at home I was working at two churches and suffice it to say that people were behaving like people.  Glorious and self-sacrificial and other times greedy, clutching, duplicitous (just like me)--the dual nature of man.  Sigh.  To summarize much in a little, I didn't want their life.  i didn't want to think like them.  I didn't want to judge like them.  I didn't want to be afraid like them.  Afraid of losing.  Afraid of being wrong.  Afraid of questioning.   I didn't want to maintain a false sense of security in a lie like them.  I didn't want to foster a system of untruths for convention, hegemony or social status.  And i didn't want to work in the speed dating, social club churches of America.

i just wanted to be honest.
I just wanted to be able to change my mind if I wanted.
I just wanted to have the freedom to question.
I just wanted to be able to stay in America and no worry about indoctrinating others with a system of beliefs they have done quite well without for millennium, thank you very much.
I just wanted to be me.

There were other key moments, watching Letting Go of God by Julia Sweeney was one.  Reading the Pseudopigraphal Gospels was another and other modern apocryphal cannon like Bart Ehrman's stuff.  I remember being in a panic about losing my faith and going out and buying Miracles by CS Lewis, reading the whole thing in one day and being totally let down that someone I viewed as one of my spiritual gurus couldn't even answer my questions.  But, as is often the case, it was one personal touch that was particularly guiding.

I was arguing on my old Christian blog with people, you know, "defending the faith!" (which was actually largely because I had to in order to get an 'A' in my apologetics class) and within that blog I made what I thought was going to be a coup de gras blow in a particular argument with a particularly bright fellow.  While it was more involved and I don't want to get into it now I was basically arguing from the beauty of the universe and saying that must be a artist if there is all this beauty--there must be a creator if there's a creation.

Boy was I headed for a side swipe.

Never even saw it coming.

Which has more beauty, mystery, compelling simplicity: a universe that some ethereal spirit being popped into existence
a universe that simple is.

Is evolving, morphing, transfiguring from one degree of wild singularity and white hot nebulous gasses to the self-organizing spin of the spiral bands of the galaxies, to the supernova burp of star dust that we are composed of on a wet iron ball orbiting our star made up of a masterwork of macro-molecules machines composed of millions, billions and trillions of simultaneously coordinated synchrony.

I'll phrase it like this:Which is more beautiful: a finished painting or a canvas that is painting itself?  A plan or a stunningly serendipitous, felicitous happenstance?  A loaded deck or a legitimately won Royal Flush?

That it had to happen or that it just did happen?

It's a subjective argument.  But one that stuck in my craw.

To quote Darwin, "There is grandeur in this view of life."

There is beauty in a universe that owes nothing but serendipity.