Saturday, February 23, 2013

Irreligious Definitions

Because those of us without an organized religion don't have, well, an organization to label us by, the terms to describe us can be a bit nebulous and confusing.  As with most discussions, having common definitions is critical to moving on to the actual merits of your arguments, so here are some of the common terms that help define the landscape.  I've tried to keep them both accurate to both the academic and the common usage as much as possible.

God - A little-g god is, generally, defined as a being outside of space and time, and capable of inexplicable power.  Exceptionally hard to nail down a more specific definition.
God - Big-g God is commonly used to refer directly to the Christian or Abrahamic god.

Allah translates to English to mean "The god", making it also Big-g God.
Yahweh is old enough that we can't be certain, but current thought is that his name is actually more descriptive, coming out as either "The Creator" or "He who falls (storms and enemies)".  I think this is probably because he originated before monotheism was "a thing".

Theism - The belief in at least one god.  This also carries strong connotations of the god or gods intervening in our universe.

Deism - The belief in at least one god.  By contrast, this usually means that the god or gods are no longer around; they created the universe and then left.

Polytheism - The belief in at least two gods.
Monotheism - The belief in exactly one god.  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all go here.

Pantheism - I got this one wrong when I first posted it.  It's the belief that the universe is the physical manifestation of God, rather than a separate creation by God.

Gnosticism - The belief that you can know and/or do know whether there is or is not a god or gods.
Agnosticism - The inverse, that you cannot know and/or do not know whether there is a god or gods.

Anti-theism - The belief that there is no god.
Atheism - Commonly means the belief that there is no god.  Since that's actually the definition for anti-theism though, atheism is a bit more subtle - it's the lack of belief.  If you think of Innocent or Guilty, atheism is "not guilty".  In short, there isn't enough evidence to believe that a god actually exists.

Most persons of strong faith are Gnostic Theists, where they 1) believe there is a god, 2) believe they can, and do, know that there is a god, and 3) that this god is a "personal" god, and has intervened in the universe, and likely, their own lives.

Irreligious - A person who does not follow organized religion.
Religious - A person who does follow an organized religion.

These have no distinction for a god belief.  If someone believes in a god and that Jesus was probably divine, but is separated from the codification of any particular Christian church, they are irreligious.
Buddhism, by contrast, is structured and codified and organized.  It does not, however, make any claims about a god at all, making it compatible with other religions.  This makes Buddhism inherently atheistic, though you can add theism to flavour.

Agnostic - A person who does not believe we know, one way or the other, that a god exists.  In my personal experience, including when I used this to describe myself, persons who use this label generally hold faith to be a deeply personal issue with no right or wrong, and say "to each their own".
Atheist - A person who doesn't believe in a god.  In my personal experience, persons who use this label generally hold the merits of faith to be open to debate and scrutiny, and find those merits lacking.
Arrogant atheist - Aside from being an ad-hominem attack (calling someone names, essentially), these are atheists as described above who feel the merits are so lacking as to deserve ridicule and mockery.

Superstition - A belief in the supernatural.  Atheism only responds to the god claim, so there are still atheists who believe in ghosts and such, but they are often among the minority for self-described atheists.

And now, a brief history lesson:

Christian is a relatively new term to be brought into common use.  While it had meaning, the term was largely empty and unused before the 1960's.  Prior to that time, Christians usually identified as their sects - Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and so on.  As such, Atheism was actually one of the largest "religious" sects in the west, and politicians attempted to distance themselves from their religion and befriend atheists in an attempt to show that they would not mess with the other Christian sects.  With the 60's though came the fight against legalized abortion, and sparked the great reunification of Christianity.

Before the industrial revolution, atheists as we know them today were exceedingly rare.  Because there were so many unknowns even in day to day life, it was mind boggling how there could be no god at all.  The skepticism often took the form of deism, rather than atheism.  This conceeded that perhaps the universe was started by a god or gods, but that they have either left or choose to not interfere with our world.  As science has filled in many of the gaps, with sanitation and germ theory, up to geology and cosmology, it's no longer impossible to believe in no god at all.

Evolution Definitions

I wrote this post up a while ago in relation to a discussion I was having about evolution.  I posted it on Facebook at the time, but I forgot to put it up here.  So... here it is.  If nothing else, at least I can reference it later.

Not that a million other people haven't done this, but I doubt most anything I post is all that original. I've tried to make sure all terms and definitions are real, accurate, and succinct. I mean brief. Right, I also tried to use as much normal English as reasonably possible.

Evolution - The build up of changes in a species of organism over generations.

Micro evolution - Smaller changes that do not change the "essence" of a family of organisms, and do not cause speciation.

Macro evolution - Larger changes that do change the "essence" of a family of organisms, and/or does cause speciation. This is what my post this morning was about.

Aristotelian essence - "Of Aristotle". In this case, he is credited with creating a whole school of thought around what "it"-ness is, what makes something itself, and not something else. If you're reading this, you might enjoy reading up on it more here.
Also, you now know a 6-syllable word.

Speciation - The point where two populations with the same ancestor can no longer interbreed. All modern dogs can interbreed, but they cannot breed with bears despite the common ancestor.

Ring Species - These are populations that blur the line of speciation. A can breed with B, and B can breed with C, but A cannot breed with C. They get their name from a population breeding and spreading around a valley or an island, in a circle, so that when the two groups meet on the other side they can no longer interbreed, even though they can both still breed with the original population.

An explanation with pictures can be found here.

Mutation - A change in the structure or placement of genes. Common types are:

Deletion - When copying strands of genes, a chunk is skipped and doesn't get copied.
Duplication - When copying strands of genes, a chunk is copied twice.
Translocation - When copying strands of genes, a chunk is copied but put in the wrong place in the strand.

Selection Pressures - Any condition that changes whether a specific trait is negative (reduces reproduction rate), positive (increases reproduction rate), or benign (does not change reproduction rate).

Natural Selection - The primary means of selecting mutations in nature. The traits commonly positively selected here will be related, but not limited to, nutrient collection, energy efficiency, predator deterrence/protection, and mate selection/attraction.

Selective Breeding, aka Artificial Selection - One of the forms of human selectivity. Obvious examples are dog breeds and race horses, or selective plant pollination. Less well known are cases like Aurochs, the predecessor to the modern day cow, and bananas, which are a mutation of the plantain and aren't actually speciated.

"More evolved" - The idea that one species is more adapted than another. This usually involves a lot of judgements about the current environment or applies human values (such as thinking more gooder) to the target species. Because of the subjectivity of the claim, I feel it's generally meaningless. You could argue that it's based on the number of genes present, but that also has problems: what about genes that don't do anything? Anyway, there are plenty of other organisms that have way more genes than humans. These include a plant with 50x more genes, or an ameoba that has >200x more genes than us.

Aneuploidy - Having too many or too few chromosomes. Common examples are Down Syndrome, or XYY males. This was something I cited in this morning's post without knowing the name.

BONUS - No promises about normal English here.
Teleology - Any claim that nature has a goal or intent, in the way that humans do. In this case, that evolution is trying to make the most highly evolved organisms possible. Evolution is thought to be a byproduct of accidental mutations, guided by a selection process of current adaptations in the current environment, rather than a consciousness that has a specific life form in mind.

I normally come across this concept in theology, in the form "God created the universe so that we would be here today." Without knowing God, we cannot know that this was his intent rather than a butterfly-effect, some accidental happenstance from his actions. Assuming of course that God is real, an assumption I don't usually make.