This post is a response, a part of what will be an ongoing conversation with my friend wwf who has given this all-too-familiar-but-wiped-under-the-rug topic a (re?)start.+
To make a case for atheism and a case against the need for organized religion*, I do have to make a few assumptions about belief:
i. Your god did, at least, direct someone to write those books, if he (ever wondered why it’s usually ‘he’?) didn’t write it himself.
ii. The books claim mutually exclusivity in being correct.
iii. That, in fact, there is a great deal of similar phrases, ideas, metaphors (oh I like this one), stories, beginnings, endings & predictions amongst all these books or as some claim: complete each other. (“Spiritualists”, yes, that one is for you).
iv. That your god somehow intervenes in the workings of this world and our lives. Even now.
There is a reason I named this blog “Infinite Ascent”.
So, lets begin, what is atheism? It is purely a rejection of belief in the supernatural, the god-of-the-gaps, the creator of any caste, creed or religion. That is all that this term dictates. It does not describe morality, scientific inquiry or political ideologies. I will come back to this, maybe later as the conversation progresses. I think at this point, quite early indeed, I should mention why I take this stance and perhaps that would be my opening statement.
“I want to live my life taking the risk all the time that I don’t know anything like enough yet, that I haven’t understood enough, that I can’t know enough, that I’m always hungrily operating on the margins of a potentially great harvest of future knowledge and wisdom. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” – Christopher Hitchens
I am considered to be one amongst the many nerds that inhabit this planet along with the ‘normal homo-sapiens’ on this tiny planet in a rather ordinary solar system. (I resent the term nerd, by the way.). Now I have been bought up in a very normal home and a quiet neighborhood almost completely shielded from the perils of the normal world (Though, I doubt the meaning of ‘normal’ and how biased that term is), but, indeed, it did direct my approach towards many things – education, behavior towards others, view on politics, religion etc. My grandmother, who was a chemistry professor with a zeal to teach that is similar to how Dr. Feynman would explain magnetism, is my Jonathan Livingston Seagull (if you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend you do.). Indirectly, without my conscious knowledge, she taught me to be inquisitive & questioning of authoritative claims. I accept that I haven’t been very vocal in my school or undergraduate days unlike now. My father, a scientist and professor, remains a constant of source of encouragement in my pursuit for understanding this world better and my mother who, again, without ever having to directly mention any words, taught me to see all people without coloring them by their beliefs. But neither my grandmother was, nor my parents are people without faith. A lot on the liberal side, indeed. This is where I come from.
Losing my religion.
I get questioned a lot, especially these days – surprisingly from people who have been on my Facebook friend list for quite a while, who do give their opinions on topics such as sports, tech, music, humor etc. “Are you an… atheist?” they ask. (How do people actually use their Facebook app? – a topic for another post, I guess). A simple ‘yes’, of course, doesn’t suffice, and then I, yes, I have to do the justification – and not them – for disagreeing to reject the obvious: that there is no plausible & provable way a ‘allah’, ‘jesus’, ‘brahma’ or FSM can exist. Funny how the world works.
Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” – Douglas Adams
Now, I have never been really ‘religious’. Though I was indeed someone with tremendous amount of respect for this divine entity that was presented to me – in various forms – many in the hindu community, one in the christian, one in the muslim. I could never really make out the difference. Even as a kid, these holy books never made any sense to me. Really, why would god need a book to communicate with? and chants and prayers? Why would he (why ‘he’? was a question too) would create us to do a role play when he knows what will happen in the end? Many questions that were never answered when I was a child, and now I know for a fact that it cannot be.
I can’t pin point from when on I never believed in a deity of any that is clearly defined. But there are several factors that have had a compounded effect in helping me conclude that I need no such belief. The first was my interest in the stars. Sometime during my 4th – 5th grades, I was gifted the “Childcraft Encyclopedia”. Book #7 – The Universe was one that absolutely blew me away. A few years later, it was the ever popular “Brief History of Time” that completely changed my understanding of the universe and gave me a small sample of what is out there and what part is still unknown. Come undergraduate, I read Dr. Michio Kaku’s “Hyperspace” – a fun read on space in higher dimensions, possible explanations for the origins of the universe. I had never connected all this to a god. I had almost no interest in any such beings, any religion. But the spark came from fiction, surprisingly: Da Vinci Code – an average piece of fiction. And this was 6 years ago.
In these past 6 years of being an atheist, I have never had a single moment where I have had to reconsider my stand.
Against all gods.
That was a slight digression into my past, perhaps amusing to you. Now back to what I was talking (rather, typing) about earlier: the questions I get. I will try to answer as parts – why god, why faith & why religion.
“Why is the purposeful suspension of critical thinking a good thing?” – Bill Maher
When we were young, we have all wished for miracles – of various kinds – god to help us in exams, to win that game, to get that game you longed for etc. A year ago, my young cousin told me about her tooth-fairy to which I could only give an amused smile. I wasn’t sure if I should break the superstition. But she is still too young to understand.
What I am getting at… is that this same superstition (is there another?) is seen amongst adults. “Oh I believe that allah has this n that planned for me if I blow myself up”, “My faith tells me he made the universe in 6 days and adam n eve made us all…”. I really have to ask you – are you even thinking about what you are saying? Faith is by definition belief in that which has no proof and usually claimed by the faithful (even the liberal ones) as what we should have, to hope… or rather wish for.
I agree, we have all have faith in some or the other. I have faith in reason & the Enlightenment, in the spirited adventure of scientific discovery, in the ability of humanity to rise above itself and in love towards ones of our own species and the rest of it. I am not arguing against that which has gotten us this far. (Before you say “ah, even religion took us forward”, no, religion only slowed us down.). I am arguing against superstition and its, yes, sale in bulk. Some of you might say “Ah, we eat the flesh of christ on sunday but astrology… ah, pure hokum” and some vice-verse and others would say that both are superstition but that their god spoke to a desert nomad who was probably a schizophrenic as well. Really, aren’t you being hypocrites? Where are your critical thinking faculties which you so very correctly apply to everything else but your religion/faith?
“Religions tell children they might go to hell and must believe. Science tells children they came from the stars and presents reasoning they can believe…” – “Phil-Hell-Eenz“
That one quote captures almost everything I despise about religion and why I embrace science as the only tool available to us which can reveal the deep mysteries of the cosmos and at the same time help us lead better lives.
As far as I can remember, religion has asked me to believe – in the eternal, ever existing being – the multitude of gods that are a part of the religion I had once followed. Many a times I have wondered – why do these beings seem to be an anthropomorphized versions of the natural world, only to answer to myself that maybe these are the gods taking care of all these events. Slowly these beliefs have eroded, making way for naturalistic explanations. Not for all, I will get back to the ones that have not been answered.
Similar cases can be seen in other religions as well. Like Christianity’s (rather, the church’s) vile idea of limbo which is now taken off (it was not a core doctrine, but practiced.), its sale of indulgences, its pathetic excuses for pedophilia & Islam’s intolerant stand on free speech. Christianity’s rise also saw the end of the great library at Alexandria – and death of amongst many, the philosopher & mathematician – Hypatia (maybe for other reasons as well) who had almost discovered what Copernicus would find out 1300 years later – displacing earth from the center. They took nearly 400 years to apologize for Galileo being right. To save their own ass (at least), they sided with Hitler. And Rwanda? How so low its teaching that some one was crucified for my sins which I may or may not make or were made? Its obsession with what marriage should be defined as as if it has some moral right to say so. This (Set aside ~40 minutes; part of a big debate which ended like this) is a better summary of why the catholic church is far from being any good unlike any claims made about its greatness.
Islam? Should I even start on this? And what about hinduism? I must praise it for coming quite close to modern cosmology, but still it too is filled with its superstitions, its vile (now mostly defunct) practices – sati, its caste system – part of the books or not, it was and is part of the culture and mostly, for its current ardent followers – its absolute obsession with making India a ‘hindu state’ (a topic I will get back later).
What has religion done other than segregate? Even today – at least in my country – religion plays a role in who you can be with, family “statuses” make and break relations – be it christian, hindu, muslim or division based on geography. Religion stopped science advances – even in the past decade – by the stupidity of the decision to ban stem cell research to take an example.
If (not A) does not imply B, so why science then?
When I became convinced that the Universe is natural – that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, of the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust.” -Robert Green Ingersoll
In these past 4 years, I have read, watched, listen to more about the study of the natural world than ever before. I have learnt a bit of what is already known – at least I think of it that way. And what is known is certainly hinting that we know more n more about less n less. Compare what the the last 400 years of scientific advancement and the 4000 years of religious history. Our ever increasing knowledge gained through science and reasoning has showed us our real place in vast cosmos, birth of life, our relationship to earth and the universe, improved our way of life, made us realize that beyond our color difference, beliefs, education, location on the map, age or sex – that we are all the same. It has given us a new understanding of our existence and continues to enrich us with reality – that though we may be insignificant and even the planet doesn’t consciously know of our existence – we are, as the late Dr.Carl Sagan says, a way for the cosmos to know itself. In the whole of the cosmos – though unlikely – we might be the only beings capable of understanding all this. At every stage – religion has had to recede its claims of god and his magical ways when science provides a natural explanation. flat world, wrong, (imperfect) sphere. center of universe, no, far from being significant. diseases? no witchcraft or prayer, yes medicine. religion says yes slaves, humanism & science – no, we are all the same. etc etc…
I find this path to be more enriching than to live in hopes of living past my death or praying to something for there is no evidence or even a single good reason (at least one plausible reason for any one god). Better to be living for the now and to ensure a future for our species than to let people maintain superstition and have delusion make claims in public spheres. I also find our reality to be grossly out of place with belief in organized religion out there. The fundamentalists are cuckoo into ‘believing’ nonsense over provable fact. And the liberals are already walking on thin ice attempting to be accommodating of both science and religion when clearly the two have no correlation. Really – jesus n resurrection when the bible seems to be all messed up n conveniently read as metaphor or literal so as to fit current scientific understanding? that allah spoke to a desert nomad? that gods n demons actually churned the seas? all or some of this and you agree that we are a product of astonishing natural phenomena? I am surprised anyone can call themselves rational and still have this cognitive dissonance within them. I mentioned earlier that I call this blog “infinite ascent” for a reason: its just as a celebration of the ever ascending human spirit. Victory over dogma, superstition, improving our life, and preparing ourselves for the future.
I simply reject or rather, do not even begin to accept a case for god of the books because of the implausibility of such a being ever existing. I shall go into more details as the conversations progresses.
pardon, the thoughts might be a bit mixed up. I shall make up for it in the later posts.
+ – It is also in response to the many arguments/debates/discussions that some notice and take part on my Facebook page.
* – This is necessary because devoid of religion, god has no ‘specific’ meaning; we would be all atheists with respect to another’s belief. A case against organized religion and its spin-offs is necessary condition, certainly not a sufficient condition for proof against a personal, interacting god.