Friday, August 3, 2012

Intro and Profession of Reason

So I've been a part of the team here for a few weeks and have been trying to figure out how I wanted to introduce myself. My name is Dante, and I've been friends with Tweenky D and Nathan Piccolo for awhile now. Although I've left the deep south for greener pastures, I still stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters back home fighting the fight for humanist values.

When Tweenky asked me if I wanted to contribute to DFFT, I was conflicted, as I often keep to myself and don't often put myself out in the public forum. But after tossing it around, I started to like the idea more and more, and, well... here I am.

Like Tweenky and Nathan, I'm originally from Mississippi. I spent the better part of 30 years there. I don't think I was ever actually religious; my parents were never the churchgoing types. But some of my close family were deeply religious, as was most of my community, so there was a strong push to conform. I flirted with Christianity a couple of times, but could never quite find satisfactory answers to my questions. I was conflicted for many years; my parents had always taught me to question, and I had loved science ever since I received a book on astronomy as a child. I even flirted with Wicca in the vain hopes of impressing a lady I had my eye on, but that worked about as well as you might expect.

As a teenager, I was as credulous as anyone: I believed in ghosts and UFOs and psychic powers. To this day I'm not entirely sure why, but the idea of hidden knowledge... knowing things that most people didn't... was a powerful lure into the world of woo. The irony here was that Carl Sagan was a hero of mine at this age, but I never quite made the leap during my younger days.

It was not until I had met my wife and begun to stand on my own two feet that I truly started down the path to skepticism and freethought. I had entered my final dance with Christianity and was growing increasingly dissatisfied with the lack of answers; evolution made sense to me, the Bible didn't. Big bang cosmology made sense, the Bible didn't. And so, over a period of about a year, I began to purge myself of any beliefs that couldn't stand up to the light of scrutiny.

Some time after this, I found the online skeptical community and ever since I have thrown myself in with this crowd; above ALL else, I identify as a skeptic first and foremost. This has been a vital step in my path to atheism and humanism.

Now, nearly ten years later, I find myself still regularly challenging myself, still submitting my beliefs to the crucible of reason. It's not always a comfortable process, but it's the only way I can be honest with myself.

I'm not exactly sure what I will talk about here. I'm am interested in a dizzying array of topics; my academic training is in computer science and mathematics, and I'm currently working as a computer security researcher, but in general I am interested in almost anything, from physics to economics to military history. I hope I can offer something unique to DFFT and not make Nathan and Tweenky regret offering me this spot. :)

I want to end this with a Profession of Reason: what I believe, in no particular order.

  • I believe that the scientific method is the only way we can truly understand reality and the world around us. 
  • I believe that authority is to be distrusted and questioned. Respect should be earned by those in power and not freely given. A title, name, or fancy hat does not command respect or obedience.
  • I believe that everyone has value, from the greatest king to the lowliest pauper. Society should be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable.
  • I believe that women are human beings and should be treated as such. Feminism is not a dirty word.
  • I believe that race is an absurd concept and has no scientific validity. The color of ones skin should never be a proxy for ones abilities.
  • I believe that everyone has the right to love freely, regardless of their sexual preference. Consenting adults should be able to marry in whatever arrangements they choose.
  • I believe that transgender people should be treated with dignity and respect. 
  • I believe that dogma should not be tolerated. Skepticism and critical thinking should be encouraged, not snuffed out. It is never wrong to question.
  • I believe that everyone has a right to their own beliefs and to freely speak their mind. They do not have the right to enforce their beliefs on others, nor do they have the right to go uncriticized for shooting their mouth off. 
  • I believe that the free market is a powerful tool that can provide both limitless opportunity and devastating harm. The free market is not perfect, and should not be treated as such. We should help those who fall through the cracks or are harmed by the market's ruthlessness. 
  • And most importantly, I believe that there is so much I don't know, and so much that I don't even know I don't know. This has been the hardest, and yet most valuable, lesson of my life. Ignorance in itself is not bad; only willful ignorance.
At any rate, I look forward to posting more and seeing where this experiment goes. Thank you again to my gracious hosts.