the gods are not facts


Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle…

Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic faith, which if a man keep whole and undefiled, he shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the face, whatever the future may have in store for him.

T. H. Huxley (Victorian mutton-chop hottie, “Darwin’s bulldog”, and coiner of the term “agnostic”),”Agnosticism”, 1889

I have a confession to make. Okay, maybe its not actually a confession if I’ve never actually kept it secret, and have blogged about it before. In my head, I am agnostic. Why, you may ask? Well, because (as an IRL scientist), when it comes down to it, the only intellectually honest position I can take on the question of whether or not Divinity (in which ever form/forms identifies with) “exists” (what a loaded term), in the absence of evidence*, is agnosticism.

This does not mean that I have not experienced Divinity. This does not mean that I have not had personal experiences with deities. This does not mean that I doubt the experiences of others as being anything less than authentic and honest (okay, in the interest of absolutely honest disclosure, there are occasions where I have done this, I’ve seen some weird ****).  Instead, it means is that I completely and utterly acknowledge that there is no measurable, verifiable evidence for the existence or nature of the human idea that we call “god”.

I acknowledge that, given the dearth of evidence otherwise, in thousands of years of human existence and billions of person’s experiences that there has not been one shred of verifiable, repeatable, physical observation, (combined with the many, many quirky things that our brain does when interpreting the world around us) that it is highly likely that our experience is mostly in our heads. The possibility always remains that this (the logical position, based on the lack of observable evidence we have) is incorrect and that, indeed, we simply lack the technology or the understanding to perceive the causal agent people’s experiences of god…whether that be the gods or something else).  It also means that while I acknowledge that while extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, I also acknowledge that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence…particularly when (and *no* this is not a “god of the gaps” argument) advances in technology have often been a requirement for the advancement of human knowledge.

I am a practicing Pagan. I have numinous experiences. I talk to the gods and they talk back. I practice magic. I believe in ghosts. I believe in a divine Universe and in gods that are a product of its unfolding. I practice divination and witchcraft. I ask plants for permission before I harvest them. I thank my food for its death when I eat meat. I use crystals and herbs. My kids have spell bears and dream catchers. I fully acknowledge that my experience of the gods and other phenomenon are real as an experience.
But I’m also a scientist. I make lifelong health quality and life and death decisions on the safety and health of people on fairly regular basis, that are based on empirical data. I look at research on a daily bias, I understand and can account for the limitations of a poorly designed experiment or conclusions. I understand many of the  limitations of the human experience, because if I didn’t I’d not be very good at my job.

This means that I understand that personal experiences are just that–they are personal. The brain and the manner in which we use it has many flaws. It ridiculously easy to implant false memories, to remember things that aren’t there, to not see things that are, to see connections were there are none, to miss connections that are, to be programmed to think in a certain way, to have the filter of your experiences be interpreted according to your preconceptions, and I could go on…its a long, long list.
Knowing this, and calling my experiences “objective” or “concrete” is a lie, to myself and to others. My experience, your experience, the experiences of any theist, may actually be based in an objective and physical (or some other phenomenon) reality that we have not yet perceived. But there is no objective or concrete evidence of this in 200,000 years and billions of individuals’ lives that go beyond or disprove the parsimonious explanations of how and why religious experiences arise.

My personal experiences are not evidence of deity, my personal experiences are anecdotes. And anecdotes are not evidence. Anecdotal testimony isn’t reliable until its investigated, corroborated, and replicated without finding any other plausible evidence-based, demonstrable, testable explanations. I mean really, look at the problem of “witness testimony” in court cases that jails innocent people (more sauce). Our senses, our experiences and our memories are fallible, we connect the unconnected and draw false conclusions (I see this a lot at work), we entrench ourselves in the idea of something being *true* even in the face of mountains of data otherwise (look at evolution deniers, holocaust deniers, and people that refuse to think that humans might be putting enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to make life very uncomfortable for ourselves). AND to top it off, the more often we recall something out of our memories, the more it changes and distorts—our own brain, remembering something, becomes it own game of telephone (sauce, extra sauce, extra extra sauce, radiolab sauce).  If the human brain were a computer, it would be a darn buggy one.

I am not indecisive or sitting on the fence.  Often agnostics are accused of “fence sitting”…an accusation that I find patently unfair in most instances. Some agnostics are theistic in practice, and others are atheistic or non-theistic in practice, but very few use the reality of a lack of evidence for deity as an excuse to be unsure about religion in general and their own spirituality in particular…and those few often are operating on a faulty definition of the term. Rather, I find that the accusation of “fence sitting” is a statement upon the accuser, either of their own misunderstanding of the term (because it is frequently misused) or because of (what seems to me to be) their own projected insecurity in their faith.  I am not a fence sitter, I’m a person that knows the difference between personal experience and observable evidence, and chooses to value both.

Maxim Monday: Be (religiously) silent (Ευφημος ιοθι)


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Disclaimer: I wrote this last week Tuesday and scheduled it to post today. I forgot about it until just now… If it seems a bit blasé or like it was written with a bit more levity than one might expect in the aftermath of the terror attacks last week, it is. I thought about taking it down and rewriting it, or just holding on to it for a while…but too much levity or not, its something that needs to be said.

You may or may not have noticed, but there’s whole lotta “holier than thou” goin’ on ’round the internet. From Starbucks cups to the literal polytheist vs everyone else match #892 Pagan Blogosphere bitchfest, there isn’t a corner of the internet where someone isn’t thinking someone else is doing religion wrong, while their oh-so-persecuted selves are the only one doing it right.

I have been inspired to discuss my oh, so favorite Delphic Maxim. I call this the “religion is like a penis” maxim. You know how the saying goes (though there are a few variations)…


Look, everyone has an opinion on the nature of the Divine (whether it be one god, many, or none, or something else altogether).  And everyone has (or has interpreted) experiences that have convinced them that their opinion of the Divine is the *right for them* opinion of the Divine.  But somehow, *right for them* just becomes *right*.  And then it seems to follow that since we are *right*, everyone that disagrees with us must have the *wrong* opinion.  And of course, if they actually think that their opinion is the *right* opinion, it must be because they have decided that they are somehow *better* than those of us that think in this other way.  And if they think they are *better* thank we are, then it follows that we should be personally insulted!  And since we have been personally insulted, we must immediately get angry and Defend The Faith.

But I can’t help but think that when we feel the need to Defend The Faith against those whose personal experiences and interpretations of those experiences differ from our own*, that we do so from a place of insecurity.  Because if the gods are, indeed, literal and discrete entities with capability that far outstrip those of mankind, then those gods should have the capacity to inform those *wrong* worshippers that they are, indeed, actually *wrong* in a way that they would be heard and understood…but if they aren’t actually doing that, then it seems like it should follow that maybe they (the gods) don’t actually care as much as we do about either orthodoxy or orthopraxy.  Else, the people making these sorts of doctrinal tests are really no better than some of the more obnoxious fundamentalist Christian denominations.

When we open our big, fat mouths and proclaim that we understand the substance and nature and desires and will of the Divine for each and every single of the several billion people upon this planet, we look like a jerk.  Claiming to know the will of the gods is pretty much the ultimate hubris.  Our experiences of the gods are individual experiences.  Certainly, they are often shared among people with common beliefs (by the way, there are likely evolutionary reasons for that–both biological and cultural), but there are also differences in those experiences.  And if we can’t talk about our religion without waving it in air and whacking people over the head with it, maybe we should keep it in our pants.

So go ahead–long for wisdom** and please, honor providence** (where ‘ere you may find it)!  But don’t forget to control anger**, exercise prudence**, and find fault with no one** while you are at it. After all, you are not a god…so restrain the tongue** when you decide to open your mouth, ‘else you might betray your inability to think like a mortal**.  Keep your religion in your pants.

*telling someone else that they are incorrect is radically different than telling them that you disagree with them, and why–the first is an argument, the second is a discussion

**yeah, these guys are all Delphi Maxims too :)

beautiful monsters


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1457:   As I sit here by the open window, I’m struck by how global we’ve become…because of technology, I am acquainted with roughly the same number of people living in or around Paris as I was with people in New York City 14 years ago.  The sun streams in, and I listen to the tennis tournament across the street at the park and the cars speeding by on our “quiet” end of a local thouroughfare (all things are relative, “quiet” is about 60-80 cars a minute on 4 lanes on a Sunday afternoon); the night before last I was waiting up late to see if one our forum members (the last person I knew that I hadn’t seen or heard was okay) had checked in–not only was he in the area, but the concert venue was right up his alley.

I’m drinking tea and listening/half-watching to Lindsey Stirling and Katy Perry on YouTube (kids choice, not mine) while bread bakes and the hubby cleans the kitchen.  Its about time to make dinner…chicken cordon bleu casserole with rice and broccoli, and I have a cat that alternately wants to walk on my keyboard or knaw on my screen as I look at overnight oats and smoothie recipies on Pinterest.  It seems very much at odds with the aftermath of terror, both in Paris, and Beirut the night before, and in the countless places around the world.

1615:   But of course one cannot simply sit and blog, uninterrupted…this is why I seldom get more than one blog post a week out anymore, and sometimes none.

I wonder, while I go about my day, if someone is learning that a coworker or cousin or childhood friend was killed because there are people whose idea of god is so small that they seek to destroy everything that (by their own holy book’s admission) he created that doesn’t agree with every warped interpretation they’ve cherry picked out of it. I think occasionally of the families–parents, children, partners, right now raw with grief over the pain of having their beloved mother|father|sister|brother|husband|wife|child ripped from them too soon. I wonder angrily how people will politicize this one…what seed of hatred that they harbor in their heart that they will dredge out to bloom in the name of righteousness.

The first of Chickadee's backpack tags for her little group of friends (one of them is from Paris).

The first of Chickadee’s backpack tags for her little group of friends (one of them is from Paris).

I live in incredible privelege. Some of it economic, some of it is societal. When my kids ride the bus, I wait at a bus stop chatting with a Muslim mom in a niquab who drives her neighbor, a Hatian mom who speaks very little English to pick up their kids every day…another mom is from England, and two other occasional bus rider parents are a Chinese grandma and a stay-at-home dad (I’m going to miss this diversity when we move). Its a lower-middle/middle class neighborhood with one of the handful of good schools in the city, and a large park with a great playground. There’s some crime, but anything more than the occasional overnight car break in is unusual. My kids have never known violence…they’ve never even seen The Hubby and I get in an arguement that wasn’t fake and/or silly. How do you explain this to a kid whose playmate is Parisian, here for a couple of years because of a parent serving abroad?

1849:  Sometimes I forget that my empathetic little pop tart can be remarkably pragmatic–we have now been elbow deep with perler beads making “France hearts” for a while. My job is the ironing.

On Friday night, I read a sentence in a comment by another member that hit me–Wisdom is scattered in the wind, and no man is able to assemble it.  Immediately, my response was this:

But we can try.

And indeed we must.

…there is, after all, only one other choice.

To go give up and give in. I’m all for knowing when to bend—when bending is the strategy that will achieve eventual effective results.

If insanity is defined by doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then call me insane. I will tilt at windmills and rage against the dying of the light, that one day those of us fighting to piece together the wisdom of humanity and live within the dictates of compassion will be a vocal majority.

Because that one day will come.

But not today.

Today we are still beautiful monsters…capable of depravity and terror in equal measure with kindness and nobility. And I have faith that we can still answer the former with the latter.


1931: Biology has had a controversial hypothesis that goes by the moniker of the “hopeful monster”–a term used to describe an event of spontaneous change (the specific changes probably aren’t important here, but just as an FYI, they are mutation, saltation, and speciation) in an organism that positively promotes new evolutionary groups. The name was created by the originator of the now defunct idea, Richard Goldschmidt (occasionally the term gets trotted out again for other ideas like punctuated equilibrium), but it has always stuck with me as a description of ourselves as a species.

We may not be undergoing speciation events, but our cultural evolution works at a pace that biological evolution will never emulate. As a species, we are beautiful and tragic hopeful monsters, full of depravity and virtue. Giving up because sometimes the former seems too much to overcome with the latter is not an option.

When we look at the big picture of human history, it becomes clear that Theodore Parker and Martin Luther King are right–the arc of the moral universe bends slowly, but it bends towards justice. But it only does that as long as the we are guided by the better angels of our nature and as long as we do not allow evil to flourish by doing nothing.

2057: Exactly six hours since I started this…

I think I’ll close with a prayer I came across on the internet a while back.

Let the rain come and wash away
the ancient grudges, the bitter hatreds
held and nurtured over generations.
Let the rain wash away the memory
of the hurt, the neglect.
Then let the sun come out and
fill the sky with rainbows.
Let the warmth of the sun heal us
wherever we are broken.
Let it burn away the fog so that
we can see each other clearly.
So that we can see beyond labels,
beyond accents, gender or skin color.
Let the warmth and brightness
of the sun melt our selfishness.
So that we can share the joys and
feel the sorrows of our neighbors.
And let the light of the sun
be so strong that we will see all
people as our neighbors.
Let the earth, nourished by rain,
bring forth flowers
to surround us with beauty.
And let the mountains teach our hearts
to reach upward to heaven.

(Rabbi Harold Kushner)

Wordless Wednesday: 3 Sailors and a Soldier



me and my grandpa navy pics

grandpa tom army

Scotty on the bataan


Salt Marsh Goddess

You may need
a super-human
super-natural god/dess,
hammer or harp in hand,
horse-bodied or jackal-headed,
Lady of the Lake or Lord of the Seas.*

But I have the deep, deep ocean
and strong winds driving waves upon the shore
driving me to my knees for absolution;
A sun that warms tender shoots,
crooning them from the loamy body of a Living Earth;
The caress of the Willow branch as I lie beneath her roots,
book in hand, and squirmy child in lap.

The Salt Marsh Goddess speaks to me in ringing tones,
as clear as any god of myth does for you
& she speaks in a thousand tongues–
Spartina, Juniperus, Myrica, Sesarma,
Uca, Littorina, Malaclemys, Ardea, Alligator
…just to name a few.

While you argue
over how to resurrect
gods of long passed cultures,
I’ll be the one covered in mud and dancing with the rushes,
celebrating a goddess born of glaciers.

*(And that’s okay for you.
But its not enough for me.)


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