Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On Prayer

Since becoming an Atheist I'm very often told that I'm being prayed for. Honestly, upon this happening I usually chuckle. I can't see any harm done. In fact, I somewhat appreciate the concern. Surely, if graced with revelation, I would be amazed and retract my rejection of a deity in embarrassment. I admit I could be wrong…

This will not be an attempt to hurt feelings, but an encouragement to critically look at the underlying paradigm of prayer, of which I feel is always ignored. The paradigm being that god is:
1) omnipotent, knowing all of your needs and wants.
2) sovereign, having absolute control over the universe, making manipulations like healing disease a non-issue.
3) loving, wishing the least amount of senseless suffering for his creation and wanting to impose the most enjoyable existence upon them.

If you don’t know me, for the sake of my argument, assume you know me, and you are a person that prays to your God(s) of preference to reveal themself to me…

I would challenge you with this: What would it mean if God did answer your prayer and revealed himself to me? Would you acknowledge that god changed his plan of action per your request? If so, do you then acknowledge that he would not have done so apart from your request? If so, and it turns out your pleas some pull with the big man, how do you justify praying for a perfectly affluent American young adult who is not suffering any ailment or in the slightest physical distress? I ask this because- if god really does answer your prayers, why then should he not help those across the world on your behalf? Undoubtedly, there are billions of individuals that are desperately in need of god's incomprehensible kindness and love he is so readily capable of relinquishing – for god is love, no? If he does indeed consider your request, and even answers accordingly, how could you ever justify wasting a second of the day off your knees begging for the starving HIV infected children of Africa, the homeless disaster-ravaged survivors of Japan, or any other person on this planet, who by your beliefs, will ultimately burn in unfathomable agony for eternity? More good could come of your life if all you did was survive and pray.

Now, some may say that god's will is concrete-that it does not change, which would render his children's prayers vacuous, even more so... I have to ask this person: Why pray? Do you really fancy sending unrequited and inconsequential thoughts skyward so much? Is there no greater comparison than that of child who speaks with and takes refuge in an imaginary friend? Of course the friend is conceived out of thin air, nothing but a self-contrived means to console the child’s own loneliness. How different is your god? He does not speak back, and he never will. The imaginative little girl's teacup will never lift off the table. Likewise, the soldier's gushing wound will never be sewn anew by an unseen healer.

Now, to those people who do not hold that their deity’s will is immutable: How can your god be loving and kind, allowing so much senseless suffering every day. If your god is omnipotent he will know the pain of every individual that has ever lived. He will understand the feeling of rape and comprehend the devastating psychological effects. If he were omnipotent he would know the world’s brutality and comprehend its magnitude more so than any other. Yet, he allows it. He is able to stop it, but doesn’t. If I had the ability to heal something like arthritis with no more effort than a blink, and I withheld this ability, I would surely be considered a cruel and evil person. Surely arthritis doesn’t kill and it’s not the worst of diseases, but it is agonizing! How do you ignore such a dearth of character in something you bend a knee to, give funds to, and worship? How are you so tolerant of the lack of existence and movement of your god in this world?

So many people go their entire lives and never force themselves to reckon their beliefs with reality. It takes effort, and it takes courage. A couple years ago I finally admitted to myself that I had been praying to a god that didn’t respond. My entire life I had prayed to him before every meal, when I woke, when I went to sleep, and numerous other times daily. I had cried out to him with tears and agonizing fear many times. Admitting that I had been talking to a sky fairy for my whole life was humiliating in the truest sense of the word. I was humiliated only in front of myself. I realized how arrogant I had been, thinking that the master of the universe heard my every thought and listened to my wishes. Only when I denied my self-centeredness did I realize that we, as people, have only ourselves to go to for help. Then I understood what it means to be a part of humanity, and helping people became so much more important because I knew there was no god there to do it in my stead.

If you must pray, please don’t pray for me. I’m a lost and unworthy cause. Pray for a dying child or dog or plant... Or, if you’re up for it, try going some time without praying and observe how the natural world goes about without your concerns sailing upward.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q-Dragon Interview

So I had the very cool opportunity to be interviewed by Q-Dragon from the youtube atheist community. He is starting a new theme of videos for his channel called "Brainstorm". His goal is to bring breaking science news and research discoveries to light for the public. I was his first interview and we talked a little about my blog, job at the NIH, and biomedical engineering in general. The video is embedded below. :)

Here is a link to Q's channel. Watch and subscribe! http://www.youtube.com/user/qdragon1337
Thanks for watching. Hope you enjoyed it!


Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Well, hey there. I apologize for my less-than-enthusiastic greeting. I hope it's not misleading though, because there are quite a lot of exciting things going on, leaving my exhaustion evident. In the past two weeks I have driven from Cincinnati to Maryland to Cincinnati and back, learned a new area, learned a new language (computer), learned a new field of Biology and Medicine, and learned a great deal about myself. I still have much to learn.

In my last blog I released the news that I would be moving 500 miles away from my home, school, family and friends to work at the National Institute of Health for six months. I have been here now for two weeks and am finally finding the confidence and energy to burrow deep into my work. I've gotten the majority of the basic concepts down in Python from going through two books: Bioinformatics Programming Using Python and Practical Computing For Biologist. I'm not finished with either, but having never done much programming work past a single course in MATLAB, I am enjoying it rather thoroughly. There is something rewarding about telling a computer how to do trivial and not-so-trivial tasks that would otherwise be impossible or too time-consuming otherwise.

Hopefully by the end of this week I should be analyzing some ChIP-seq and RNA-seq data. The objective, as best I comprehend it at the moment, is to find long non-coding portions of RNA. Previously considered 'junk' genomic material, these transcribed portions have a signature sequence pattern that we may be able to link to functional epigenetic mechanisms. I know most don't, but I find it all very interesting. My submersion into Immunology has been overwhelming, but drinking from the fire hose sure makes it obvious how important all this information is to saving lives and improving well-being. I think it is the pursuit of pure understanding that excites me the most--that is, comprehending at the most basic level how our molecules interact to make us impervious, resistant, and wholly vulnerable to assorted pathogens. The foreseeable accomplishments of the up and coming generation of scientists are encouraging.

Everyday, I get to go into work and feel absolutely stupid. I say, "I get to" because it is truly an honor and privilege to be surrounded by such brilliant and experienced scientists. They pull back my scalp and expose the nothingness that is my ignorance without even trying--completely unintentionally. I am the youngest in the lab by at least 10 years, and most of the time I'm absolutely dumbfounded by the shear quantity of information retained in my superiors' craniums. Everyone has either an M.D. or Ph.D. from an Ivy League, is a postdoc or PI, and has already published numerous papers. I am but a second-year engineering student, and I have no publishings, but I try not to be embarrassed. I would really like to get published while working here, though.

I know, I know, I'm pathetic...I'm a lovesick dope. I drove 9 hours home already to see my girlfriend, and was elated to find the drive not so taxing as expected. I listened to the second half of "The Moral Landscape" by Sam Harris on audio. It was the first time I've listened to a book, but I really liked it. It's very convenient to rewind an eloquent passage and just absorb. It makes the act of re-reading something seem like a chore. I think Sam Harris is a wonderful scientist, thinker and writer, and would recommend the book to anyone--Atheist, Christian, or anything else across the spectrum. If universally embraced, I think pressing towards the moral peak made accessible by science could absolutely change the world for better. Such things are beyond my lifetime, I'm sure. I also used the down time to catch up on some music and listen to a really good Christopher Hitchens debate. I'm a nerd. What other 19 year old do you know that listens to debates and audiobooks on long drives? If you do know one, let them know that I'd like to be friends with them. All in all, I had a wonderful weekend with my beautiful girlfriend. It was just what we needed.

Now that I'm finally settling down into my work and area, I should begin to write more. I wish I could have kept this blog at the pace it was going, but life seems to have intruded. My sober mood has risen from my realizing that I'm really growing up. It's happening. The sun-bleached-haired kid that used to be so happy to just ride his bike around the cul-de-sack is standing in the back of my mind, waving his goodbyes. It's not a sad feeling, but more, I don't know, real and accepting. It's happening, and that's that.

Be looking for another post tomorrow. I'll be embedding an interview I had with Qdragon from youtube. Here's the link if you just can't wait: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYIKaSqcpKI&feature=feedu


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Update: National Institute of Health, here I come!

Fall and Winter quarter 2011, I will not soon forget you. I've experience more emotion these past few months than I ever could have anticipated--I've been learning on an entirely new front. Stepping away from the science and philosophy books, if only momentarily, has given me the time to reflect on where I've come from, where I'm going, and whom I would like to bring with me. In hindsight there hangs no veil obstructing what and who is fueling your climb to maturity. Oh, blessed hindsight.

I think most have seen my deconversion as a genuine. Of course, some hold a different opinion. The ideas and emotions expressed weren't fabricated in an attempt to arouse sympathy, or even attention. I wanted my story known for the benefit of others like myself--others who just needed a little boost of courage to find what they can truly believe, or more appropriately, what they can’t. I assure you, I am still an atheist. My rejection of religion led to another rejection, that of my best friend. I struggled with this desertion for months, but it’s passed, and better things have come.

Oh, hindsight, your perception is sobering. The removal of distractions thrust windows open, heralding the cool breezes of opportunity. I made new friends, ones who support me apart from their personal bent of religion. I’ve found a mentor and a partner, and I’ve never been happier. The guidance and support these two individuals bring me keeps me going. Without these people I know I would never be privileged the opportunity to harken this news: I will moving to Maryland for six months to do research at the Molecular Immunology and Inflammation Branch of the NIH. It’s an amazing opportunity, and I consider it a great honor.

I’ll be leaving Cincinnati the first week of April, and to be honest, I’m a bit scared. This fear stems from the separation between my girlfriend, my home area, and myself. I’m excited to expand my horizons in science and research, but if granted one wish, it would be for my girl to be by my side while I do it. You don’t realize how essential a person becomes to your daily life until you’re faced with an impending separation from them. I love you Jordan, and the next six months should stand a testament to my devotion to you and our life together, no matter how stressful the distance may be.

My sappy declaration out of the way, I have a few other things I’d like to discuss. I assume I’ll have quite a bit of alone time in Bethesda, and I plan on cutting through my book list with haste while writing a lot more. However, I have to be careful with how I represent myself online while working at the NIH. I don't think blogging will pose a problem, but I would never wish to bring harm to their name, nor anyone I will work with. After working these issues out I should resume a more frequent blogging schedule. I have a multitude of ideas I want to discuss, but they will necessarily come second to my comprehension of T cell differentiation ☺

I hope to keep this blog updated and make a lot of new friends on this journey.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I Could Have Never Known

Well, that was exciting!  For any of you who missed it, the past three days of my life have been jam-packed. Honestly, I’m still a bit overwhelmed. I started Monday by checking my blog stats and was 2 views away from 1000. Having been averaging about 50-60 hits a day, I was thrilled and proud of what I had accomplished.  I planned on celebrating later by writing a 'thank you post' to all my readers, whether they offered support, criticism, or both. I was excited about breaking the big 1000, but what was about to ensue blew my mind; I could have never known. 

I went through a normal day of classes…kinda. I left my mac in my room as motivation to pay attention in physics, not that it really worked. The rest of the day was filled with more classes, an apartment visit, and a great evening discussion with the UC Provost and UC Dean of Graduate Studies about various topics from science education, theology, and synthetic biology. Pretty cool, right?!  It was wonderful to have an open and friendly discussion about ‘The Big Questions’ of life even though, for the most part, we cordially disagree. I’ll remember this meeting for a long time, as it was very encouraging, enlightening, and the direct predecessor to the most exciting night of my life thus far.

Arriving back at my dorm, I hopped on my computer for the first time since morning. While surfing the web as usual I came across my blog stats, did a double take, and literally about passed out! An unprecedented 800 page views and counting for the day! What the hell happened!? Ken Ham happened. After reading a few of the many new comments, I was directed to Ken Ham’s facebook page.

For those of you who don’t know, Ken Ham is the founder of Answers In Genesis and builder of The Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky. He is also working on a new Noah’s Ark Exhibit that will attract 1000s of children and their families from all around. From my perspective, Ken Ham is one of the greatest con men and deceivers alive, as he is one of the largest advocates of the intelligent design movement- a group solely devoted to teaching a literal view of the Bible and a 6-day creation of the universe by the Christian-Judeo god.

So why did he post my blog to his facebook? Well, for one, we know each other. As I’ve mentioned before, whenever he was in the states Ham attended the same Baptist church as I did while growing. He was a celebrity, a hero; always giving guest lectures on ‘creation science’ at my school and church. Furthermore, Ham decided to make a demonstration of my deconversion story as the terribly sad path a great number of my generation is taking- the path away from God.  A trend he has written a book about called Already Gone. However, I couldn’t have cared less what Ham thought of my deconversion; I was getting hundreds of blog hits! Any publicity is good publicity, right? And as it unfolds, that statement holds true. Ham merely sparked the flame, and for that I owe him.

Fortunately, I didn’t take the opportunity for granted. I immediately tweeted all of my favorite skeptic and atheist youtubers and bloggers with the news. PZ Meyers retweeted:

Congratulations! You made Ken Ham cry! RT @BMEJake: KEN HAM Put a link to my blog on his twitter and facebook! http://tiny.ly/IawB

as did some other big name tweeters. The blog views continued rushing in and I soon became completely and totally overwhelmed, all I could do was laugh and pace around my room with excitement. That is, until I caught wind of the comments on Ken Ham’s post put forth by his groupies. As if my rejection of Christianity wasn’t hard enough on my parents, many of Ham’s minions blamed them for my deconversion, causing them much undeserved pain and upsetting them greatly. I had intentionally written a beautiful disclosure to my parents to ward off any flack they might receive in the crossfire. I know my deconversion wasn’t their fault, but try telling that to someone who’s hero (Ken Ham) just announced all over the web that their firstborn is an example of a degenerate trend in society. I know it hurt(s), but there was nothing I could do but reassure my undying love for them. Rarely have I felt more helpless than when my actions or words cause my parents unintended and unwarranted pain.

 All in all, I have met many great people throughout the past few days. Much of the conversation has been constructive, and that which hasn’t only further drives my passion for science education. I’m amazed at how many people don’t comprehend the basic concepts of biological evolution and build mountains of assumptions and arguments off a false premise. The same goes for atheism. I received many comments accusing me a joining a ‘group of hate.’ The truth is I was never more hateful than when I was a Christian. I hated gays. I hated evolutionist. I hated liberals. I was racist. I even hated other Christians. I harbored more anger throughout high school than two men should in their entire lives. My peers may confirm this if they like. However, I do know that not all Christians are hateful, and a lot of my anger was due to the wretched environment I was caged in for so long. So, please, don’t throw that comment at me. I don’t think all of Christianity is a petri dish for contempt; some Christians are very capable of compassion and respect. I thank and commend those of you.

 While wrapping this post up I’d like to give a special thanks to PZ Meyers and Ken Ham (lulz) for the traffic flow. PZ has long been one of my heroes and the simple retweet was an incredible honor. To everyone that spread my blog, THANK YOU! Overall, I was graced with over 2000 page views this week and broke 3000 all-time page views this morning. I thank each and every one of you for taking the time to read, whether you support me or not. I’m really looking forward to getting more involved in this niche of a community and would appreciate any help you can throw my way. If you have blog topic suggestions, I would love to take them in for consideration. Also, if anyone is good with blog design, I could really use some guidance, as I’m totally lost when it comes to html.

You will be noticing some changes to my blog over the next few hours/days. I have decided to change my blog name from The World As I See It, a complete rip off Einstein’s book (also the first science-related book I ever read),  to From Giants’ Shoulders. I pulled this title from my favorite Isaac Newton quote: “If I have seen any further it is only by standing on the shoulders of Giants” This quote means a lot to me as I feel it sums up the essence of science and knowledge. We are all building off of someone else’s ideas. It is the ‘Giants’ we owe so much to. I’m humbled every time I see this quote as I’m reminded that I could never have arrived at this stage of my life if it weren’t for the better men, women, scientist, philosophers, and truth-seekers before me.

Thank you all so much.

With love and respect,