Thursday, June 30, 2011

One data point is not enough! : Why personal experience fails as evidence for God

Jeez, they have been so many eventful moments since I have 'come out' as an atheist. Perhaps none has been as bizarre as a few weeks ago when I was out at a dinner in New York. On that occasion a lady told me that I could have a relationship with Jesus if only I would take the time to ask him. I told her that would be a very tough ask, because I had never seen him and have no clue where he is. I told her it felt a bit weird to just start talking out loud in the hope that he would just happen to hear me. In fact even if I was lucky enough to 'hear' something  from out of the dead air it would be impossible to know if it was He. It would be like taking me to a school hall with 900 screaming children telling me I need to talk with Jabari Smith and giving me no further information on how to  identify him. It's highly unlikely I would successfully make the connection.

I honestly  have no idea how to even begin to try to find Jesus. Finding Jesus is a step that most Christians take for granted, but I would not know where to start looking for an immortal, non physical, spiritual being.  I explained to my friend that since she had the personal relationship with Jesus, presumably knew what he looked like, where to find him, what his schedule was like and  the best way to approach him, it would  be better for her to do the introduction. She would be the ideal person to break the ice, so to speak. Once she pinned him down and pointed him out I could go from there.

She laughed a bit at what I was saying but it didn't take her long to agree that I had a point. It would  be better for her to ask her Lord to come and show himself to me. We both recognised in those minutes it was strange that God would provide the greatest evidence of his existence to those who already believed anyway and be stingy with giving the revelation to skeptical people honestly and often painstakingly searching for the truth. So, she agreed to call upon Jesus to explain himself and to my surprise that is exactly what she did. Yes, right there in the middle of the restaurant she cried out loud to her Lord and Saviour. As she closed her eyes, and stretched out her hands in front of her, these words came forth from her lips:

" Dear Jesus, I plead with you tonight, you have never failed me before. Please reveal yourself to David, you know he has a scientific mind so he is asking for more from you, you know exactly what it is that  he needs. So please provide him with that which will satisfy his questioning mind. I ask this in your name, Christ Jesus, Amen."

I stood there still wondering whether to laugh or stare at her in amazement.Quite a thing to have somebody spontaneously pray for you in the middle of a busy New York restaurant. I kept my composure however and answered her very seriously. I told her that there is no way that I could ignore a prayer like that if I was God. If God was kinder than I was, which was unquestionably the case as far as she was  concerned,  I didn't see how he could not answer such a prayer from a sincere believer. What's more, she claimed God had never failed her before, why would he start now? So we just agreed to wait and see what God would do. Well unfortunately, I have to report that he has not shown up yet. Still, I have to remember that our time is not God's time so I will continue to wait patiently.

While waiting on the Lord, I am starting to realise that Jesus may be delayed because he must recognise the conundrum he is in, trying to answer that restaurant prayer request. One of the consequences of having a 'scientific mind' is that to accept the truth of any claim you require that it be verified by other observers. Yes, one of the most important aspects of the scientific method is intersubjectivity.Other people must be able to do the experiment and get the same result. One person's observation how ever dramatic or amazing is not sufficient for something to be accepted as truth. Even if the one observer in question is ME. To put it simply; one data point is not enough! You can't use a subjective experience to draw a conclusion about the objective world. If personal experience was just used to determine whether God existed in you that would be one thing. No, religious people are claiming God exists for everybody and is part of  a universal objective reality and that changes the game entirely.

Many people think that the reason they know something is real is because they see it with their eyes, hear it with their ears or feel it in their fingers. This is not the case. I know that the sun is there not only because I can see it, but many around me also have the same experience. They observe the same colour as me, the same temperature and the same shape in the sky. If I was the only person seeing the sun or if everybody else saw the sun was green , I would have to question my own powers of observation. I would have to think I have some flaw in my biology. Indeed that is the method through which we determine whether persons are suffering from a mental illness. If what they claim they see is not what others considered normal are seeing, we say the person that 'sees' differently is delusional. A 'shared reality' is an assumption that we all make when examining the world.So, even if Jesus came in front of me, raptured me into heaven, sat me down on his knee, gave me all the powers to do miracles for a day it still wouldn't be enough. For it could  all just be in my head , purely a dream.Without someone else to experience it with me it is just one account, one solitary data point.

I spend most of my days doing doctoral research, specifically looking at issues related to energy. I am trying to figure out what causes Caribbean countries to adopt or not adopt renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. In trying to understand what are the factors I have  visited  11 countries and done 80 interviews in total with various stakeholders who have a myriad of different perspectives on the issue. I am following that up with surveys and more quantitative analysis. Still, even after such a study the most I can do by the end is say that the data suggests that the truth is "X". Just imagine if I had just spoken to one person in one place and said " Aha, now I understand it all !" or worse yet just written an essay of my own experience of working in energy, and presented it as "evidence of truth." Rightfully, I would be laughed out of my thesis defence.

I went through that example above to show how difficult it is to provide evidence to a 'scientific mind.' It also starkly contrasts with evidence from the 'religious mind'. For Christians the greatest evidence for the love of Jesus is the personal experience. How often have we heard that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship.  Make no bones about it, Christians may come with their armoury of cosmological, teleological or ontological arguments but once you dig beneath the surface it is all about faith. I have been told in quite a few discussions recently with Christians that they did believe the bible at first by blind faith. It was something that was taught to them when they were a child and they accepted it. But, they go on to emphasise that through their own lives since then, they recognise that what they learnt was true. When they say this to me they often look proud of themselves, because they think they have followed the scientific method that I promote so strongly.

 However, this is another point of diversion between faith and science. In science we are challenged to disprove that which we first believe. You try to disprove a hypothesis and if it survives these attempts then it can earn the right to be accepted as a theory. So, not only do you need many data points you need to seek out persons who interpret the data differently or have alternative explanations. You have to find the skeptics and try to convince them. This is what religious people almost never do, they go in at the outset looking for data that confirms their initial premise, leading to what is known as confirmation bias. Christians are perfectly happy to ignore alternative explanations that skeptics provide, but still regard the interpretation they have chosen to accept as evidence for their God. This is a fail from all perspectives. They end up with one data point and a questionable one at that.

Perhaps its because my career is in research, but in talking with christian fundamentalists I always try to get to the root of the personal experiences they have had.The personal experience that justified their conclusion that the entire gospel as told in the bible is true. They often speak of one event early in their Christian lives that did it for them. Quite often the great experience falls somewhat short of the miraculous. Here are some examples I have encountered:

Christ without Concordance
- Soon after I accepted Jesus into my heart, I read the gospels which talked about the promises of God and Jesus. Without the use of a concordance or any other outside guidance I was able to see the promises being fulfilled in other books on the bible as I read them. That is something that nobody I know has been able to do unless they had a concordance. There is no way I could have done that without the help of Jesus himself, that's how I know his promises are true.

Playboy versus Economist
- "One week  after I became a Christian I went to a barber shop and was waiting to get my hair cut. On the table were two magazines, one was Playboy the other was The Economist. I took up the copy of The Economist and started to read it. Someone I went to school with, that had not seen me for years came into the shop and saw me reading. He said, " You are a changed man. Years ago I am sure you would have picked up the other magazine." That was a sign to me from God. I had asked him to give me evidence, through other people's observations that I was a changed man. The fact that people like my old school friend could see I was changed after accepting Christ was the evidence I needed that Jesus was real."

My Grandmother was a Christian
- "I grew up in China and one of the strongest relationships I had was with my grandmother. She was always there for me and instilled in me a strong self belief and sense of moral values. Unfortunately she died two years ago.When I came to Canada I found a church where I was taught all about Jesus and how he died for my sins. That really moved me. Recently a family member in China revealed to me that my grandmother was actually a Christian, I never knew that when she was alive. In China life can be difficult if you say you are a christian so you have to keep it hidden. I realised right then that the reason my grandmother was such a loving person was because she was a Christian just like the beautiful people that I met here in Canada. After this I was sure that Christ had a plan for me and I accepted him into my heart and was baptised."

Moving as these accounts may be, it is hard even for the most ardent believer to understand how any of these examples are proof of  Jesus and God. Indeed, when I listen to some of these types of testimonies I make a point of looking in the faces of other believers present.Often their facial expressions and body language indicate that they are not really convinced by their fellow believer's evidence.  They will say something like "well if that's what you believe, hold on to it, that's your testimony, nobody can take that from you." You don't get a "Wow, I understand that is definitely clear proof!"  Yes, that's the great thing about these personal experiences, they only have to be good enough for YOU. It doesn't matter if they are laughable to every other Christian at the table. The only people that matter are you and God. In fact the more individual or personal the experience is the stronger it is regarded. So, in Christianity one data point is actually better than many. The whole thing is just backwards.

Of course, many Christians will say that it is not one data point. There are thousands and millions of personal experiences with Jesus. Surely even by the standards of  the most rigorous scientific study, this is enough data. The problem with this is that many of these testimonies are of the type I talked about earlier. Only accepted by the one who experienced it. Each of the testimonies are like experiments conducted with only one data point. And each experiment is rejecting at least some part of the methodology used by the other scientists, even if the conclusion and results are the same. The thing is, in many situations the conclusions contradict directly, it's as if some people see a yellow sun while others are seeing  green, blue or purple. Not everybody is seeing the same Jesus. In such a case we just can't aggregate the individual 'studies'. It still comes down to many single unreliable data points. There is a view among some Christians that if you  stack  enough invalid  pieces of evidence together at some point you have enough to make one good piece of evidence. Unfortunately it doesn't work like that in the scientific world. One million multiplied by zero is still zero.

So, given the sample size problem that God will have in giving me an experience to satisfy my 'scientific mind,'  my wait may be indefinite. Still, as my friend in the restaurant noted, God if he is there, knows exactly what I need. He is, after all, supposed to be omnipotent. I tell you, if he can convince me that I only need one data point for evidence, I pray that he also convinces the other scientists at this university. If he does that miracle, he would immediately make my thesis defence a real 'walk in the park.'

Monday, June 20, 2011

What type of non- believer are you?: The Five Categories of Atheism

So, here I am, back on Canadian soil. The suitcases have been put away but there is much unpacking to do in terms of what I have learnt on my trip to the Caribbean and New York in the last couple of months. I have made it a point to try to find freethinkers when I travel. Those interactions I think make the overall journey so much richer. Some of these exchanges will no doubt make their way into future posts.

In talking to atheists, it's interesting to realise the differences in where people are at. It is intriguing to explore their attitudes and feelings about being an atheist or even their willingness to be identified as such. Many people speak of how becoming an atheist is a gradual process and it can't and doesn't happen overnight. That is absolutely true. I think what we often neglect to talk about is the gradual changes you go through after you become an atheist. Based on my discussions,  I realise that there is definitely a process of change within atheism. Richard Dawkins famously developed a seven stage scale for extent of belief or non belief in God. The scale I am proposing here  is one for atheists. I have identified  five distinct stages you go through once you come to the conclusion that, in all likelihood, no gods exist.

It's June now, and in the Caribbean that means hurricane season. So in line with that I have decided to label each stage as a 'Category' just like they do with hurricanes. Coincidentally, those storms can also range from Category one to Category five. Please note that these categories basically apply to the deconverted atheist, the one who once believed. Like all classification lists there will be areas of overlap. Nonetheless, I think the categories are distinct enough that we can make the five separations.

So here they are! My Five Categories of Atheism.

Category  One (1):  I am only an atheist in mind

At this stage you realise that God either does not exist or the probability of existence is extremely small. At this point  by general definition you are an atheist but you don't admit that even to yourself. You don't want to identify yourself with 'those' people. You are an atheist in mind alone. The mere thought of being an atheist is just paralysing but you quite readily recognise the logical contradictions within all of the religious traditions and the incoherence of the God concept itself. You would be willing to identify these in discussions with other theists but will still categorise yourself as vaguely spiritual or if pushed say you are an agnostic.

Category Two (2): Ok, I admit, I am an atheist.

This is the stage where you outright say to yourself, " Ok, I have to admit it, I am am atheist." This stage is both exciting and scary. You have the feeling like you've cracked the code and figured out the mystery. You have admitted the non belief to yourself and may even share it with one or two friends or family members very close to you. However if you do share, you beg them not to tell anybody because you feel that you are not ready to face the indignation and shock of those in your immediate society. You are still emotionally invested in the faith and fear being cut off from your loved ones. You have a bit of shame associated with your non belief at this point. Nonetheless, you walk around happy within yourself that you have come to a position that is your own and you can live with. You have eliminated the discomfort of that cognitive dissonance  that you had before in trying to reconcile what you learnt through the scientific method with what your 'holy book' said . At this stage you often start to explore more of the resources out there on the internet and reading the classic atheist books such as 'God Delusion' and 'God is no Great.'

Category Three (3): I am searching for other non believing intelligent life.

At this point you become  more confident in your position that God does not exist but still feel uneasy talking  about your position with those around who  have not had your experience and cannot understand. You wonder at times if you are alone. This leads you to search for other 'intelligent'  atheist life. Looking through the 'galaxies' to find others of like mind in the universe. It's a bit like the scientists sending out the SETI signal. This can be done through actively joining an atheist/ skeptic group or even starting one. The meet ups can be successful  but very often  when you are on an isolated 'planet'  you have to engage people through virtual linking. This might be joining Atheist Nexus or a Facebook organisation or 'chatting' with a friend you met by chance somewhere who you discovered didn't believe either. This stage can be very tricky because as open as you are with non believers at these meetings or online you are still very careful not to share your views with others in your circle that still believe. This is where you as an atheist lead a double life.You have two distinct social lives.The atheist group completely hidden from the theists.  You are ducking and weaving at skeptic events hoping that you won't be embarrassed by bumping into a theist friend at the wrong time. Or you are continuously monitoring your online profiles, using all sorts of aliases to ensure that no one can trace you back to these non theists platforms.

Category Four (4): I am an atheist. Deal with it!

This is the point where you recognise that being an atheist is fine and something you should wear proudly. By this time you have had enough interaction with fellow free thinkers to realise they and you are not crazy. You realise that atheists are actually just regular people with the same likes, dislikes and quirks in personalities as anyone else. Most importantly, you realise that atheists are not in any way morally compromised and indeed discover that atheism in many cases promotes a superior form of ethics. At this point you will tend to feel more settled and perhaps start to see yourself more as a Humanist. Recognising that atheism is perfectly respectable and defensible you at this stage start to share your atheism in a wider circle and basically considers yourself  to be 'out.' You will share your non belief with anyone so long as the time and place is appropriate. You are not worried at this point about backlash and social ostracisation because you feel extremely justified in your point of view. After all, you have thought long and hard about the position you hold having gone through those three prior stages. There is again a degree of liberation at this stage because the double life is over and there is not now a need to pretend to believe in order to fit in. However you still don't consider it necessary to trumpet your non-belief or push an anti God agenda. You just want to be respected for who and what you are.

Category Five (5): I don't believe in God and neither should you!

This is the final stage on the chart. You will say that you don't believe and that nobody else should either, because the whole idea just doesn't make sense. By this time you are not only proud to not believe but  your outrage about the consequences of belief on society means that you are quite prepared to go out there in public and become an active advocate against religion. You are no longer satisfied with the ' live and let live' attitude. You recognise that you will face some antagonism but you are quite prepared to face that because you are convinced that you are fighting for the social good of  your community. You are the type of atheist that many believers will label 'millitant.'  Yet, it should be recognised that even with your 'extreme'  form of atheism you are not advocating forcing atheism on the general population. No, that would make  you a Category six atheist and I can't include that  as a category because I frankly have never met, listened to or read anything from an atheist who has advocated such a campaign. Category six atheists are in the same category as God, purely hypothetical entities.

However, you as a category five atheist will not compromise on the severity of your language. You will unequivocally state your position on faith, calling religious texts ' fairy tales'  without batting an eyelid. You will not worry about the pain such truths may cause. You will always remind the theist or the Category four or below atheist that whatever pain religions feel by hearing these facts today is  much  less than the pain and even deaths that have been caused by the ignorance, lack of critical thinking, discrimination and bigotry that have stemmed from people following a faith of lies. You will emphasise that all that matters to you is that everybody honestly seek the truth and that no free passes be given to certain belief systems because many people say they can't live without them.

So, those are the type of atheists I have met. I have not met any of them who fall outside all those categories. Let me know if you have. Of course, not all atheists will go all the way through to Category five. Some may actually never get past Category one, others may settle somewhere between two and four. I consider myself Category four at the moment. I am still not sure that I desire to reach Category five. However, there are definitely times where I have been pushing up into that 'five' territory. Perhaps I can say I level out at around 4.6. It will be left to see over time what will happen.

So, if you are an atheist, what Category are you? Are you looking to move up? I think its important you know and keep asking yourself that question. I also think it is critical that those of us hoping to drive the atheist movement know. It will be unreasonable to expect people in Category one and two to be out in the vanguard with us that are in the high fours or fives. We have to let people grow and move to higher categories at their own pace, or stay where they are if that is what they prefer.One thing  that should give us hope is that I have only seen  these atheist category movements in individuals go in one direction. Up!

Hurricanes can downgrade, but atheists do not. Once clouds of atheists come together and the system becomes more organised, believers know the winds of change will be irresistible. That's what I think makes those in religion so very, very scared.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What atheists can learn from Angry Birds

It couldn't last forever. My sojourn in the Caribbean has come to an end and I am on my way back to Calgary Canada. On the way I am making a stop in New York with my sister and her family. There has been especially a lot of playtime with my five year old niece. One of her favourites and mine is the game ' Angry Birds' popular on Apple  devices. Simple in concept, it has proved addictive for people from my niece's age group up to the 'on the go' business executive.

For those not familiar with the game, there is a demonstration you can watch in the video above. Each level consists of a scene with some pigs either shielded beneath or sitting on top of a physical structure made of some combination of metal, wood, stone or glass. There are a number of birds that are controlled by the player. The player is required to launch one bird at a time using a slingshot. The aim is to hit the pigs and try to destroy them.  Experts from all over have discussed why the game has taken off  the way that it has. One thing for sure is that Rovio the creators have hit the jackpot.

Why are the birds angry?

The more I play the game the more it becomes clear to me that one can learn a lot more from this game than just how to propel a virtual slingshot. While playing with my niece a couple of nights ago she asked me earnestly, " Why are the birds angry? What happened to make them like that?" It was a very good question and one I could not readily answer. I also made a bit of a double take. For once this type of question was not aimed  directly at me. I can't count the number of times I have heard  that sentence uttered with the word 'atheists' instead of ' birds.'

When I looked a little bit closer I did  find rather surprisingly that there are quite a few similarities between angry birds and angry atheists. Indeed I now see many intricacies within the game that have something to say to those of us that have chosen to be involved in activism in opposition to religion. I can tell you that being a person carrying the name David, I identify very personally with  the challenges of launching my tiny slingshots against the Goliath that is religion. In playing with the Angry Birds I feel their frustrations when they fail in their mission and share in their euphoria when they move on to a higher level.

Reading the background story

Nonetheless, I have to admit that my niece is right. The reasons for the birds desire to obliterate the pigs does seem a bit obscure. If you read the background  story write up for the game it does say that the pigs have taken and hidden the eggs of the birds, but there is nothing that happens within the gameplay that suggests this happened. Many people that I come into contact with are similarly bewildered at non believer anger. Certainly on the face of it, it seems that the majority of the religions aren't bothering anybody.What we see day to day, particularly in the Caribbean, is people dressed in their finery going to church, joyful singing with tambourines and people in organisations coming together to plan picnics and fish fries. Yes, the images of the fundamentalists flying planes into buildings, blowing up abortion clinics or trying to milk people's worries and money over impending doomsdays are there. But these realities are far removed from the typical West Indian worshipper.

However, just like the scenes we see in the Angry Birds, the state of play we see today in religion does not tell the whole story. There is an entire history that has been played out before.The background story to the game reveals that humanity has been denied much in terms of opportunities for women, blacks, indigenous cultures and many other marginalised groups. Religious people never read the part of the background  story that shows how we often resolve conflicts by letting competing 'wills of God' fight it out through bloody wars that have led to millions of deaths over millennia.There is a documented history that shows how faith has held us back from reaching the pinnacle of social and scientific development. However,  just like those playing Angry Birds none of the background story is given to everyday gamers who are addicted to playing for salvation.

Only those with an above normal level of curiosity  take time to read the background notes on the fantasy game of faith. Those of us who are so inclined often get angrier as we recognise that priests and clergymen have hidden much from us. The 'eggs' containing the criticisms and challenges to holy books are kept strategically out of view and create an illusion that atheists through their protestations are simply making much ado about nothing. For many believers the background story we delve so hard to discover is a mere foot note in history. For them it is about as relevant as the blurb that gives the background story to the Angry Birds game.

The believer knows that the only thing he needs to understand in order to score heavily in faith is the one central message in the game's  instruction booklet. The message that  tells him that he is playing for God  and whatever moves he makes should be because God demands it  and not because his  innate moral sense tells him he should act that way. Those instructions are so simple it is no wonder that people find this game so attractive. It's up to us  atheists to make sure people think about the rules a little bit more before they take up the game controls.

Be careful what you aim for

It is my experience that in playing any video game, you work out the most effective strategy over time. Many times the strategy you end up sticking with is not the one that appeared to make the most sense when you first played. Angry Birds is no exception. The first thing that I did when I started to play was  to aim the slingshot at an angle that would hit the pigs directly. There are often as many birds available as there are pigs to be destroyed and if you take out one each time you fire you are well on your way to getting rid of them all by the end  of the level.  However, this it turned out was not the best approach. If you were a little bit off you could end up just missing everything and sometimes the protective hats that the pigs wear in the game make them survive even when they are hit full on. No, a much better approach in the long run is to aim at the structure surrounding the pigs. By breaking those down you can often get rid of many pigs at one go. It is also great if you can focus in on the weak points where wood and glass predominate. These parts tend to break much more easily than the more rigid stone and metal structures.

Atheists and persons trying to encourage persons to look at their belief more critically often make that same mistake. The technique regularly used is trying to deal with believers one by one. We hope that we can just approach them with our killer arguments  to make them stop believing . It seldom ever works. What I think we should be doing is seeking to weaken the structures that support religious thinking, those that protect it and hold it up. These structures are the institutions in society that actively promote and support the practice of faith. The structures I am talking about are not the churches.Those are built from hard stone  and even a severe impact from a missile in full flight  is not going to make them rock. No, the structures I am talking about are the ones that sometimes are called the softer ones, the more informal institutions.

Breaking down the institutions

These informal institutions are things found in the subtle messages society gives that shape behaviour. In the Caribbean these are around in abundance. These institutions include messages embedded in our culture that emphasise to our citizens that you cannot be a truly moral person without  belief in a God. It comes in the form of the national television stations and media companies that appeal to a person's belief in the Almighty to promote safe sex, sober driving and the liberation of women from spousal abuse. It can be seen in an education system that makes sure that every child is taught how to pray before they learn how to put together a proper sentence. A system that makes kids memorize bible verses by rote just as they do their two times table.We observe it in a  legal structure that puts God at the centre of the Constitution and tells us there is nothing more honourable than swearing on the bible. It's the structures like these we need to aim our slingshots at.

In short we must aim to change the environments the theist is living in so that it becomes more difficult for the individual to sustain a life based on faith and reject reason and common sense. There are many studies over the years that have shown that the individual merely reflects the society and environment that surrounds him; although most people consider themselves independent agents nobody really acts on their own. The individual merely conforms and is constrained by those structures that are present in society. It is a phenomenon known as institutional isomorphism and it has immense power  The way I see it, is that once we deal with these institutions, the individuals will take care of themselves.

How can we change these institutions? We can seek to put in place educational programs that emphasise the scientific method and critical enquiry and de-emphasise the idea that everything in the world was neatly manufactured by a super-being who lives beyond the cosmos. We can seek to make amendments to legal provisions or practices which make assumptions about behaviours based on a persons religious belief. We can  reach out to parents to make them reconsider their idea that a bible is the best gift you can give your child and tell them that sparing the rod does not necessarily mean spoiling the child. We can try to break persons free from the mould that says the best way to get discipline in a society is to preach " do as I say and not as I do."

Changing the Culture

I know many will say that this is unrealistic, that changing culture is something that takes a long time. It is slow and sometimes huge efforts lead to only minuscule changes.  This is of course true, even in  Angry Birds structures can seem unperturbed  after four or five birds have crashed into them at warp speed. Still I have learnt to wait a few seconds after every bird has been launched in a level. Quite often when you are sure you have failed to make the necessary strikes the whole structure just falls down under its own weight. We must not give up hope because change seems slow.

Indeed, it is interesting to see over the years how many education programs in the Caribbean have been launched with the stated intention of changing societal behaviour on a fundamental scale. Millions of dollars have been spent  to try to change the behaviour of the individuals by going after the collective. The AIDS program is one that readily comes to mind.  The recent Polite Percy drive in Barbados has tried among other things to teach the importance of being on time for appointments.  That would be a cataclysmic cultural shift because punctuality is something as natural to Barbadians as maple syrup or apple pie.

Yes, one thing that Angry Birds has taught me is to be patient. You must be prepared to go through several trials before clearing a level. I have learnt that you have to be not afraid to practice and experiment sometimes. Every time I have engaged in discussions over religion and faith with a believer I have gone back analysed it and try to realise what approaches work and which just leave me falling to the ground  with a broken beak. I am constantly refining my technique and I think my effectiveness is improving. I am not complacent though, I know there are new belief systems coming out everyday at a rate even greater than that at which Apple comes out with new levels for the Angry Birds app. I can't even begin to anticipate the new spiritual levels I will be exposed to in future debates with theists. Regardless, I will keep myself prepared.

Flying among the Birds of Prey

Another thing that has come clear to me as I have been flying through international skies  is that I am one bird among many. Religion is holding sway in the world, but non believers are there. I have had the pleasure of meeting with some and they are working hard at making a difference in their own individual styles. There are not too different from the different coloured birds in the Angry Birds game,  each with their own special powers and skills. Some are explosive and seek to blast belief to smitherines, some are more subtle in their methods but it is the combination of efforts of these birds of prey that  I believe will eventually topple things like belief in prayer among the masses.

So, Angry Birds has taught me a great deal and in the end it has given me hope. There is no doubt that religion has its weak points.  There are right at those junctions where rigid doctrinal texts are connected by weak threads of logic. We must remember that if we aim at the shaky parts of  a structure even the strongest institutions can fall. Once we continue to carry our little stones of reason in our slings I am confident that one day the walls of belief will come a tumbling down.