Big History: An Introduction

What is big history? This emergent and interdisciplinary field, enriched and pioneered by Dr. David Christian of Macquarie University, encourages a more holistic understanding of human events than does the traditional study of history. While historians are concerned with understanding the past in context, and considering cause and effect in human terms, big historians are concerned with understanding the past not only in its immediate human historical setting, but in the context of scientific and physical laws of nature as well. If history is written by the victor, then big history is written in the stars themselves.

Screenshot 2015-12-20 at 1.39.32 PMDr. Christian, bolstered by the support of philanthropist Bill Gates, first injected big history into the public sector with a 2011 TED Talk, providing an 18 minute overview of world history. In this sensational talk, which has garnered more than 5 million views since its publication, Dr. Christian identifies the basic principles of big history, including the concept of Goldilocks conditions and the various “thresholds” of complexity that we observe in the universe. At various moments in the cosmic past, Christian states, certain Goldilocks conditions have come about, in which “not too little, and not too much” of certain components — usually energy or mass — have allowed the universe to reach states of increasing complexity.

Starting at the Big Bang and the first moment of time itself, Christian traces the cause-and-effect of each moment and identifies these thresholds. He highlights the six universal thresholds of complexity as follows:

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New Pages on Civitas Humana!

It’s been a while now that the ‘Recommended Resources‘ page on the toolbar has merely stated “coming soon!”. Sorry that it didn’t come sooner, but now a number of books on topics of secular humanism, naturalism, materialism, cosmology, ethics, and more have been added as recommended readings. This list will no doubt also be expanded with time.

Likewise, the blog series “Thinking about the ‘Metaphysics’ in Metaphysical Naturalism” has been turned into a new page, titled ‘The Metaphysics of Metaphysical Naturalism‘, for easier access at the top of the blog.

Civitas Humana now has a complete toolbar, which addresses multiple issues of secular humanism and naturalism. Just one more improvement to add to this resource!

Onward and upward,

Francis Adams

From Angry Atheist to Happy Humanist: How to Stop Hating on Religion and Start Celebrating Secularism

I deconverted from Protestant Christianity over 5 years ago, right after I began my freshman year in college. It was, I suppose, a fairly typical and drama-free deconversion: I progressed out of the fundamentalism of my childhood, becoming more and more concerned with the verity of my worldview all throughout high school, only to then be exposed to a diversity of new ideas and information in college. I participated in a fairly moderate, non-denominational Christian congregation for the beginning of my freshman year, until eventually coming to the conclusion at my dorm one night, under the stars, that I was, indeed, an atheist.

angry-atheistThe first 3 years of being “religion-free” went by for me with a certain level of ambivalence for all things spiritual. However, in more recent years, I have noticed a less tolerant trend in my attitudes and approach to religion. For a while, whenever I encountered religion or a religious person, I would become frustrated and discouraged, and my mood would be immediately dampened. “Religion in all its forms is backwards, outdated, and just plain wrong,” I would silently say to myself. “Why is it that a majority of people in my culture believe in an anthropomorphized, invisible deity in the sky, when there is so much real beauty, majesty, and wonder in the universe surrounding us?”

This article is not going to attempt to answer that question. Instead, it will focus not just on denouncing the religiosity around us, but on what we freethinking, godless, and sometimes angry atheists can do to better represent ourselves and our worldview, while being empathetic and diplomatic towards believers. I am confident, given global trends towards secularism, plus the truth value of atheism, plus time, that religion will continue to diminish as a cultural force, until it no longer holds the level of normative sway that it currently enjoys in most parts of the world. Below is a list of things to remember that might help atheists and secularists be less angry at religion until then, while also being able to communicate with those who are still very much invested in religious worldviews.

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Defining Theism, Atheism, Supernaturalism, and Naturalism

This (older) article was just thoroughly expanded and revised on Κέλσος. Since its topic relates to the recent posts and discussion about metaphysics on Civitas Humana, I thought that I would reblog it here as well.

The article, in part, discusses the definition of naturalism vs. supernaturalism, but the major contribution that it provides is its definition atheism vs. theism, which hasn’t been discussed previously on Civ. The article discusses both the theologian’s monotheistic conception of ‘G’od and the ancient idea of polytheistic ‘g’ods, and provides a definition of atheism that denies both.

Κέλσος

A common slogan in religious apologetics is to claim that a-theists do not really understand what theism is, and that most atheistic critiques of theism hit the wrong target. Such criticisms have been expressed by apologists such as David Bentley Hart in The Experience of God, and Randal Rauser in “Atheists Who Don’t Know What They Don’t Believe In.” Among others, philosopher Daniel Linford has responded to this talking point in his article “Do Atheists Reject the ‘Wrong Kind of God’? Not Likely.” Moreover, such a critique misses the mark, since, even if the average atheist on the street might not have the most extensive knowledge of theology when put on the spot, there are plenty of professional atheist philosophers, such as Graham Oppy, who responds precisely to theological arguments in works like Arguing About Gods.

But what is this objection really all about?

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Three Problems that the United States Must Address by the Mid-21st Century

One of the upshots of secular humanism is that it encourages us to look towards the future and the needs of our descendants when shaping our values, goals, and policies—instead of living selfishly and only in the demands of the present. As such, one of the major topics that secular humanists need to begin seriously discussing is how we are to take care of our homelands, both in a national sense and in a global sense, in the 21st century and beyond. As we move into a new era of progress and change, having abandoned so many decrepit past systems of practice and belief, we must continue to root out those systems still in place that are antiquated, no longer serving us most effectively or justly. Where these systems have decayed, we must replace them; where they have become destructive, we must reformat them entirely. It is only by this self-evaluative process that citizens of advancing nations—and especially of the United States—can truly hold themselves as good custodians of their country and protectors of their people.

The following list contains three of the most pressing issues from a secular humanist standpoint that currently weigh on the United States:

  1. Economic Inequality
  2. Domestic Issues of Social Justice
  3. Climate Change/Renewable Energy

This list is by no means extant, and in the course of its arguments will present some uncommon or uncomfortable evidences; however, the astute reader will notice the common themes of systemic injustice and political inefficacy that underlie each point. Ultimately, although solutions have been hinted at where possible, only through the increasing discussion, awareness, and action of (or on behalf of) those currently most affected by these budding challenges will the United States be duly prepared to set sail into the latter half of the century.

 1. Economic Inequality

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In Favor of Losing Your Faith: A Letter to the Lukewarm

This message is not intended for the very assuredly religious. If your religion—be it Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hindu, Islam, or some other iteration—is central to your daily life and/or to your self-identity, then perhaps check back another time. I can no more convince you away from your beliefs than you can coax me towards them. Let us part here, then.

Neither is this message especially meant for those already settled into stable secular worldviews. Much of what is presented here will likely seem superfluous to you, and perhaps redundant in light of your own thoughts. If you do choose to continue reading, just know that it is not to you that I address these words.

Rather, this is a message for the nominally religious, for those who claim religious affiliation by proxy of something or someone else, and, especially for those who claim it out of some uncertainty or fear. To all the half-observant, prayer-dozing, “my parent(s) follow X religion and therefore I too follow X religion” theists, and, again, especially to the confused, afraid, or newly-questioning, this is for you.

Dearest lukewarm believers,

The time has come to reconsider your faith.

As harsh as it is, there is no way to sugarcoat this statement without it losing its urgency. It is urgent. Those of you who claim a religious affiliation out of tradition, conformity, or fear have the potential to be immensely powerful agents of change, if only you will choose to be. Our world and its future depend, in part, on the thoughts and actions of those nominal theists brave enough to critically consider their worldviews.

Hear me out. Here’s how:

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5 Reasons Secular Humanism Is Winning

Being nontheistic in a culture that is still predominantly religious can be, well, really, really hard. It seems that almost everyday I have some discouraging encounter with popular religiosity. Sometimes it comes from something as simple as reading a news article about a former presidential candidate predicting the “End Times” of “scripture” out of disagreement with some less-than-apocalyptic U.S. foreign policy decision. Other times it comes from meeting people whose understanding of American politics can basically be summarize by this (and who, more disturbingly, are probably registered voters). Or other times it comes from merely logging on Facebook and being bombarded by a slew of “inspirational” memes like this posted by conservative friends and family.

It can all be immensely frustrating and discouraging. As a secular humanist, I believe very deeply that, at this point in history, progress cannot truly be made nor human society be truly advanced until religion becomes an artifact of our past rather than something we practice in everyday life. Encounters like those cited above, however, demonstrate that a high degree of religious delusion still saturates our culture. I’m sure that I am not the only atheist who is depressed by these encounters.

But never fear, fellow humanists, for in this cultural tug-of-war, we are winning.

Below is a list of things I like to remind myself of whenever I am saddened or frustrated by the reality of a religious global and national majority. I hope you too will use it to remind yourself that, for every frustrating online exchange with an apologist, atheists and secular humanists are winning. For every report of dogma-bred terrorism in the Middle East, we are winning. For all the times you’ve held your tongue or turned away or gone to Christmas Mass with your family to be nice, we are winning. The road of change ahead is long and arduous, and there is still much work to be done, but I for one will hold my head high because no matter what, we are still winning. Here’s why.

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