Sunday, August 28, 2005

Religion, Spirituality and Fate

Part V : My Views on Atheist Arguments.

I would consider most of the arguments of positive atheism, appealing to a logical mind, which analyses rather than accepts things as it is. Positive Atheism is a term coined consciously to emphasise that atheism is indeed not negative although it is a negative form of theism. Nevertheless, I have certain strong arguments running against the very basics of positive atheism. Before I present my point of contention, I would like to bring out a few basic philosophies of positive atheism: -

(a) There is no god, fate, supreme power or force.

(b) Belief in god makes man a slave and robs away his free will to act. Man’s will is supreme and he is capable of doing anything. Man need not be subservient to anyone, even god.

(c) Creation is by Evolution from single protoplasm and many strong positive atheists extend this theory of Darwinian evolution and natural selection to even the whole universe as such.

(d) Man does not need religion to be moral, upright and virtuous.

(e) Theists have the advantage of grabbing the child as soon as it is born, force their beliefs about god in a child’s mind and program it irretrievably. Instead, the child must be given the time, education and wisdom and most importantly, the liberty to cull and chose between theism and atheism.

The philosophies I have listed above are some of the many other strong beliefs they have and propagate. For all those who have read my previous parts of the blog series on Religion, Spirituality and Fate, these statements would find a striking similarity to my own views on various issues, most noticeably about evolution and supremacy of man’s will. However, I have the following arguments to be presented which in my own view questions the very basic building blocks of these philosophies of positive atheism.

The atheist’s arguments that they don’t need religion to know what is right and wrong, stands no good, if you realise that the concept of right and wrong has infact flowed from religion itself. I feel that the collective conscience of mankind, ethics and what is right and what is wrong, who is to do what and who cannot do what, has all evolved and flowed from religion itself. Over a period of thousands of years, these things have got internalised in our society and in our fabric of life so much that it escapes our attention and we take them for granted.

Firstly, is anyone a born atheist? Yes and No. Because, all new born children in this world are like a clean slate. To emphasise my point, I will draw the example of feral children. Those children, who are born human, but abandoned and brought up by animals or who grow up on their own are known as feral children. Now, should we discover them on a cave and bring them inside the society, would it be possible for them to instinctively know what is right and wrong? Would it have ethics? It simply is an unprogramed human mind. In an hypothetical situation, when one starts teaching them virtues, it would again be from those told time and again by religious scriptures, stories and epitomised by legends and mythological heroes or else, concepts borrowed from them and retold with local and more human heroes. Isn’t listening to stories the favourite pastime of any child?

Coming to next important issue. When a child is born and it is growing up, how can you explain so many things to that child and make it understand the concept and logic behind it? Say, you want teach your child not to steal. Is it possible or does the child have the mind and maturity to understand that stealing is not good for the collective happiness of the society? Firstly, it wouldn’t understand what is a society!! Then only it can understand why it is not good for the society. And most importantly, you would want your child not to steal even as it is learning why stealing is not a good thing!! Now, how would you do that? Isn’t it an easy method to explain so many things and make it follow, in the name of god? So in effect, somewhere deep down, religion and its teachings runs deep in the fabric of each man’s life. There is no way one can escape this. Each of us know stealing is bad. But how is value that stealing is bad has got internalised in our fabric of life? Its religion that has got it internalised over thousands of generation of mankind.

Let us again take the example of stealing. At all times there are two kinds of people who don’t steal. There are those who don’t do it because it’s a sin as per their religion and there are others who don’t do it because it is bad for the human society. Since, most of us don’t have the maturity and as such, humans have a tendency to act on free will, we need some guiding factors for controlling them. The best way is to put the fear of unknown. Should all of us don’t steal because it is not good, then its an ideal world. But imagine a world without perception of god or a supreme force. There will be a set of people who wont steal because it is bad and then there will be those who would say “Who cares?”. And then it would be ultimate chaos. So, I feel, it is absolutely essential for a concept of religion to guide and mould the majority. Ofcourse, there will always be a minority who has the providence of understanding why we do what we are doing and who do it for the right reason. And this minority is able to exist because there exists a majority who are controlled by their conscience closely guided by their religion!

Coming to their other argument on losing man’s free will to god. This is highly debatable point. God or no god, Is there anything called a free will at all?? Leave aside losing one’s free will to god, I feel, when we as human beings, started living in societies and became gregarious animals, we renounced a part of our free will for the collective interest of the society. Again, in a world without theists, will these atheists have free will, an environment to do anything and everything they like? I doubt. One man’s meat has always been someone else’s poison. What I do agree is that, most of us, most often, abdicate our will to rise above the ordinary in the name of fate. That most definitely will not be present in a atheist’s world!

Last but not the least, I would like to conclude that after so many billion years of human existence, religion undoubtedly has been playing a vital part in keeping this humanity sane. Man is indeed what he is because of religion. It’s so very true both in the positive and negative sense.


Barath said...

Nice post!

reminded me of an anonymous quote ...

"God is an adult's imaginary friend!"

Its ones option to belive in it or not...!

Nyways you have been tagged! check my blog...!

soumya said...

"Its religion that has got it internalised over thousands of generation of mankind"

no dear, it has happened in reverse ... whtevr got internalised we named it as religion ...
children r shaped by love, greed, fear and ... and not by religion ...

The Soul Doctor said...

@ barath

very well said. Infact, i believe god to be my friend;)

@ soumya

its the case of chicken from egg or egg from chicken.....the question is not who came first.the fact is subsequent chicken are coming from eggs and eggs are being produced by chickens. both egg and chicken are true. one cannot prove eggs or chicken's existence without the other!!

Lakshminarasimhan said...

SK! just glanced through several topics youhave keyed. They seem interesting... atleast, matches with my interests.

One of my college teachers, a christian by birth and upbringing is spending his retired days blogging. ( He wrote a 6 part series on why he 'converted' to atheism in the past 15 years. I have pasted below my response to his series.
I guess, it is not essential to read his article before reading my response. Go through this and go get back as and when you can.
take care.
anbudan Lakshminarasimhan

His series ‘Why/How I underwent conversion’, is an excellent thesis that analyses the intricacies of different religions. In the first essay, he underscores the need for ‘objectivity’ and ‘rationality’ in analyzing religion and God. In the second, he brings up the apparent irony to the belief in existence of God: Is God really omniscient and omnipotent? Does the world run by God’s plan (pre-determinism) or by man’s free-will? The third part of his series was answers to questions posted by several readers, and the last three are a detailed analysis of the history and teachings of different religions. He is convincing in his argument that religions are man made and it is not wise for us to divide ourselves based on religion. The controversies and contradictions in the history and teachings of the different religions highlight the fact that, even this record of history and translations of the teachings over centuries, is highly inaccurate and so, bewildering to a present day reader. All through, he highlights the importance of rational thinking in following the teachings of any religion. Still better is being humane and not blindly ‘religious’ as per ones own interpretation.

Rational thinking! This is one of the key elements that has helped man kind be where we are today. Rational thinking enables one to think logically and not blindly accept or deny any idea or concept received through indoctrination or by personal bias. It is rational thinking that has made man the most intellectual organism on earth, and helped us advance in science and technology. Science and Technology, a by product of our rational thinking, has helped us do several things that were unimaginable in the past.
For instance:
We can put satellites to go around the earth, or even explore the neighboring planets. Though these space instruments don’t last for long, we can replace them.
We can design distillation units that can separate salt from sea water and make it potable, though this process is very expensive to do at large scale.
We can make robots execute functions we want precisely. There is still room for refining the control of movement in robots, nevertheless it is a great achievement.
We have the intelligence to harness power from radioactive fission. Though we know in theory that nuclear-fusion is a far efficient and cleaner process, we are far from achieving it in practice.
Atleast a handful of our species can understand complicated science such as ‘theory of relativity’; though we ourselves don’t understand or even know what it is all about, we can atleast accept and be happy that someone of my species knows what it is.

The list can go on endlessly! All these stand testimony to the great human intelligence – a product of our ‘rational thinking’.

Now let us take us away from our books and classrooms and any other source of passive indoctrination, and just look around us.

The stars (sun included) are perpetual source of energy where nuclear fusion keeps happening practically endlessly. The planets and satellites that float around in the space do so without need for repair or replacement. The giant scale distillation system that takes water vapour from sea and provides it in potable form as rain has been ‘cost effective’ and going on for ever. The huge diversity of organisms on earth, the various functions they do, their movement so precisely coordinated are way ahead of any man made robots we can imagine. Just look at the gaint redwood tree… it can suck water from soil and take it up hundreds of meters against gravity, for hundreds of years! I wonder how long human intelligence will take to design such a magnificent system.

This list can go on longer than the endless list of human achievements. Inspite of this humbling contrast, the human mind tends to think that such more efficient and elegant things can be put in place and kept functioning just by ‘random chance and evolution’. Now, if any so-called rational mind places a bet on ‘random chance’ to bring about such precision and elegance, I challenge them to this game: remember the toy we get in our ‘fancy stores’, one where you need to push 5-6 steel balls to the centre of concentric circles; just keep shaking this toy and show me you can get all the steel balls at the centre ‘just by chance’. Your time starts now…tick tick tick…

May be real rationalism will set in by now! If just five small balls can not assemble at one spot for a moment just by ‘chance’ without the interference of an intelligence to direct it, how could the first molecules (RNA?) orchestrate themselves into self-replicating systems, eventually leading to the highly complex living systems we see today?

There definitely is a higher intelligence than the human mind. It is this intelligence we call God. Our understanding of God varies from person to person. Some are ‘realised’ souls, and others are like us who can hope to understand God someday. As of now we may not be able to perceive the ‘proof’ for existence of God, but as my scientific mentor says, “absence of proof, is not proof of absence”. We may hope to understand God someday.

When a contemporary scientist says there are ‘10-raised-to-the-power-500’ universes and there are 9 dimensions, and our awareness is limited to only 3 dimensions, we are ready to accept, even if we don’t understand what it actually means. That is because we recognize the scientist’s expertise and acknowledge our own ignorance in that field. Leave alone such complex theories about nature of universe or theory of relativity; even something as simple as repairing a cycle tube puncture or a torn footwear, we take it to an ‘expert’. But when it comes to God, we think we all are experts and every Tom, Dick and Harry comes up with his own ‘expert opinion’! So much for ‘rationality’ and ‘objectivity’! Sometimes I wonder if ‘rationality’ is called ‘rationality’ because it is so much rationed amongst us!

Another question that comes to ones mind is, “If God is so intelligent, then why did he take so long to design/evolve human beings”. In asking this question, we assume ‘humans are the ultimate creation of God, and creation of humans was his sole purpose’, which is a fallacy! Secondly, if there are more than 3 dimensions, and time is one of the dimensions we can not perceive, then ‘different time points’ are just two spots on the canvas separated from each other! So, the question of ‘why this long’ does not arise!

Interestingly, in a 6-part series, Sam-ji actually has only 2-points against existence of God. All the rest is about religions! Sam-ji wonders if whatever happens is predetermined by God, or it is freewill of man. In considering these two possibilities, he fails to see that the reality could be a mix of these two. To draw an analogy, in any video game, the overall game plan is ‘predetermined’. The player takes himself from one situation to another, one stage to next. At each juncture he has to choose (freewill) from a few options, and his decision at that point determines his next step. The freewill choice predetermines the next step; the predetermination defines the choices freewill has at the next step. These two processes go hand-in-hand.
‘Pre-determinism’ or ‘Fate’ is a dynamic process; it puts you in situations and leaves it to your free-will to decide what you want to make out of the situation you are put in. To give an example, ‘fate’ could leave a person rich, but it is left to the freewill of the person to use the money to generate jobs and help others, or to use it up in his sense gratifications! The way we use our freewill today determines what situations we will be put in future.

I guess these concepts serve to counteract Sam-ji’s questions about God.

Though I would love to elaborate on how some of the ‘wrong lessons’ passed down generations in the form of religion could actually be a result of errors in communication and misinterpretations accumulated over the centuries, I don’t want to make this write up longer than what it is now. I do agree with Sam-ji that the religions as they are presented to us today are not completely unquestionable.

All through his essay, Sam-ji takes credit for ’15 years of deep contemplation’ before he arrived at the ‘truth’! You may remember, initially he prayed so earnestly to get back his absolute faith in God; may be God’s way of re-instating faith in a troubled mind is to first remove all the ‘blind faith’ he held in rituals and religious practices. That has taken him 15 years of research and contemplation. Now that his mind is cleared of the ‘blindness’, may be, he is set to think rationally and accept the existence of the superior intelligence!

The Soul Doctor said...

My Dear LN

I must appreciate the clarity of thought and the candidness with which you have placed your seemingly logical arguments. Nice.

Before embarking to write a reply to your comments, I must clarify that I am not an atheist. I don’t deny the existence of a supreme being. I am just introspecting and being a little inquisitive. I don’t accept god in the form that has been presented to us.

Rational thinking! Don’t you realize that what ever you have written in favour of god is also a product of rational thinking?! The rational thinking that has made someone deny the existence of god. How can you question rational thinking by rationally thinking??

If indeed you need to think about god in his absolute form, you need to get out of this subset of human rational thinking. Else, no amount of explanations would actually be correct if you try to explain the superset sitting inside the subset. A form of heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

Your challenge to make the steel balls enter the core box randomly is childish. How many million yrs and how many zillion combinations must have taken place for the first RNA to have formulated? And then how many zillion errors have taken place while mutations resulting in so many billion species of varied colour, type, structure and families? If indeed there is a supreme being, then it is absolutely unbearable to even think that he will make his own creation a prey for his other creations to survive!!

Absence of proof is not a proof of absence. Today a person A claims that B is the biggest thief around. But he doesn’t have proof. How logical is for him to appeal to the world to believe it? Even in that case, close friends like me would choose not to believe it and then there would be some who will believe it , there will be a third group who will choose to be careful with you and there will be finally those who will be indifferent. Now, does this grouping prove or disprove the statement? No. God is a concept much more grander than B being a thief. And hence this division.
For a common man, a scientist coming and saying that there are more than 3 dimensions and there are 1000000 universes are of no value. He does not choose to argue or introspect. But GOD is an operating system for him. Theism and Atheism are the way his mind has been formatted. Its like FAT 32 or NTFS system. The way it has been formatted decides how his mind operates and he has every right to know, argue and if need be change the way he thinks. Its after all his life. Remember, the greats like Newton, einstien and scores of unsung achievers were all some Tom, Dick and Harry before they rose to stardom with their inventions and discoveries and philosophies. So never underestimate a Tom or Dick or Harry or for that matter yourself.

As far as predeterminism and fate are concerned I have written in detain in my part 4 of the series. Is there anything called the free will in real sense? That itself is highly debatable.

As far as superior intelligence is concerned, just glance through my blog titled who is the successor of man in the cycle of evolution.