Category Archives: Atheism

Suspicious Miracles

It takes great courage to hold yourself responsible for the things that go wrong in life. But at the same time, when you take credit for the good things that happen, you are accused of hubris. There is a tendency among people to attribute all the successes in life to “miracles”.

A miracle is a positive spin on superstition. All over the world, miracles are frequently said to occur and after a great deal of hue and cry, eventually they are forgotten. Perhaps the most hilarious miracles have to do with images of the “Virgin” Mary or Jesus Christ appearing on pieces of toast. Consider the absurdity of this – assuming God exists and Jesus Christ is his son, the best way for an omniscient and omnipotent being to advertise his presence is to appear as a burnt photograph on someone’s breakfast.

The absurdity of these claims makes me question the average intellectual prowess of even the most rational people I know. Everyone has heard about the Godman Satya Sai Baba. His organization brought water, education and electricity to many impoverished regions of Andhra Pradesh in India and it deserves recognition for these things. These acts alone would have brought respect to anyone but he found it necessary to proclaim himself God.

Not only that, as proof of his divinity, he resorted to cheap conjuring tricks which any magician worth his salt can reproduce in an instant. Yet, people are gullible enough to fall for his tricks and even worship him.

People are sensitive about their beliefs. They have made an emotional investment in their icons which is a far more important investment than mere monetary involvement. When a person’s deeply held belief is challenged, he would go out of his way to refute the evidence and it usually culminates in an ad hominem.

Consider the case of Indian rationalist Sanal Edamaruku. He has been at the forefront of exposing godmen and busting fake miracles all over the country. Recently, Sanal was called by a TV channel to investigate a supposed miracle in Mumbai. Water had started dripping from a statue of Christ in a church and it was quickly proclaimed a miracle. Sanal looked around and discovered that Capillary Action was causing the water from a drain behind the statue to travel up the wall and leak from the statue. People were consuming this water from the sewer as it was said to be “holy”. Later, during a debate on TV with members of the catholic community, Sanal was threatened with arrest for “hurting the religious sentiments” of the people on the debate.

When it comes to religion, I can appreciate why people want to believe in a supreme being. Being under the watchful gaze of a puppeteer gives people the false reassurance that they are not truly responsible for their actions and in some ways, this gives them a licence to indulge in tasks that they would otherwise not consider ethical or moral. And it hurts nobody’s ego to imagine that the most supreme being in the Universe is taking an interest in their day to day lives.

But it annoys me when people take a feeling of being in awe of the universe and condensing it into a series of irrational beliefs. Take for example the Indian pseudo-science of “Vaastu Shaastra”. Supposedly, the answer to all of mankind’s problems is redecorating. Would moving the bed to align with the rising sun help a person’s alcoholism? Similarly, should the sight of a man producing ash from his hands make people bow their heads in awe?

At a time when technology has given us so much power and made life so much easier, do we really need to be in awe of cheap tricks and call them miracles? The miracles of science are here for everyone to enjoy and not for a special few. Please, let’s not waste our time on false Gods and fake miracles.

3 Comments

Filed under Atheism

Evolution

It is a matter of grave concern when a nation such as America, whose constitution is one of the greatest historical documents ever written and which has, for so long, embraced the principle of separation of Church and State, is in danger of being held hostage by religious extremists.

If you shout long enough and loud enough, any reasonable person will suspend his arguments to let you finish. When it comes to evolution, the Christian establishment in America is shouting ever louder. When your beliefs are questioned, and they are in danger of being proved incorrect, it is natural that you will seek to defend it using whatever means you can.

Evolution has provided an elegant and simple explanation for the development of life on our planet and it has given scientifically valid reasons to reject creationism, which is the bedrock of the Christian faith. But there are many who still fervently believe that the Earth was created 6000 years ago in 7 days by God and if that is not regressive thinking, I don’t know what is.

Considering that the Bible was written two millennia ago, it is natural that it would contain wrong explanations for several phenomenon. We tend to invoke the supernatural when we fail to find an explanation for something and the men of that time were ignorant about many things. We have always wanted an explanation for our origins and the idea that a supreme being created us and appointed us masters of the world is appealing. It would have been even more so in centuries past. Evolution though, was a game-changer.

When I was in school in Mumbai, science was not a particularly well taught subject. Not many subjects are because teachers tend to stick to textbooks and few of mine made the effort to teach above and beyond what the books contained. Evolution was not very well elaborated and beyond the fact that Charles Darwin came up with it and some short explanation, nothing more was conveyed. As a result, I never gave it much thought. Questions about human origins never played a part in my day to day life and as a result, evolution went unnoticed.

But years later, as I journeyed to America, I was struck by how many pitched battles were being fought between men of science and people of religious faith who came up with an innocuous term to describe creationism. Intelligent Design tends to give creationism an advantage because it sounds a lot more like a scientific theory. This is what it is being claimed as – an alternative hypothesis to explain human origins. But it is not. It is merely a ploy by Christian Fundamentalists to impose their religious beliefs on children.

Considering how desperate they sound, with the screams getting louder and more hysterical, it seems like the ultra religious are playing their last big hand. It seems like the final throw of the dice. But it is time to counter this. An attack on a basic scientific principle, which is the basis of all biology, will not stop at that. There will be attacks on all aspects of science that contradict religion and humanity might be in the danger of being pushed back to the dark ages.

People of reason need to make a stand and rise against this. We need to educate ourselves and educate others about basic science. Will reason triumph or will regressive thinking win? Only time will tell. But we better make a good fight of it.

 

 

 

15 Comments

Filed under Atheism, Opinion

Life, The Cosmos And Everything

“How much would you pay for the Universe?”, was the question asked by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. What is the universe worth? There is a curious school of thought which makes some regard themselves as above and beyond the world. They seem to look at the Cosmos with a strange detachment – as if they can divine it without discovering anything about themselves.

But we are part of the Cosmos. Inextricably so. To know the Cosmos is to know ourselves.

There are some who would rather not think of such things. Some who question those whose business it is to question. “Why do you want to know?”, they ask. Some want to give up even before they begin. Should we let sleeping dogs lie?

Yet, our curiosity has long been the hallmark of our species. We want to know. Is there any evolutionary advantage to this? Perhaps. I will leave that to the biologists. But what is certain is that this curiosity has served us well over the millenia.

There are some traits which we have not been able to shake off. We tend to group ourselves within clusters without realizing that we are connected to everyone else. Before we are black or white or brown; before we are Indians, Americans or Chinese; before we are Hindus, Muslims and Christians, we are human. We are the descendants of a tribe of bushmen who migrated from Africa more than 50000 years ago. Will we ever appreciate that?

Going back even further, we are connected to every living thing on this planet. From the humblest bacterium to the most gigantic mammal, we share the essential building blocks of life. We are nothing but combinations of chemicals which, for an unknown reason, gained consciousness and populated the planet in an explosion of life. Will we look at a chimpanzee and realize that our DNA differs by around 2%; that we share a common ancestor?

And finally, the most poetic fact about the Cosmos. We are connected to literally everything we see. Every bit of matter is made of atoms, atoms that were spewed from the explosions of entire stars billions of years in the past. When you die, your body disintegrates and the atoms that make you, go back to the Cosmos. Parts of you will end up as other people, parts of you as a rock, you will end up in the ocean, in trees, in grass, in the air and a part of you will reach the stars. When you consider this, you realize how small minded you are when you worry about the little things. And you realize how absurd it is to fear death or to imagine a heaven where you spend an eternity in boredom.

The Cosmos made you, you are part of it. It is all that is within and without. Enjoy your moment under the sun and live your life free because really, there is nothing to fear. The Cosmos will take care of you.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Astronomy, Atheism, Life

A For Agnostic Atheist

For those close to me, or for that matter not so close to me, it has been clear for some time that I am severely lacking in faith. It would not be fair to say that I was a skeptic for many years. In all honesty, it has been less than two years that I rejected religion in all its forms.

What is my outlook towards the existence of God or Gods one might ask. I will not be so arrogant as to say that I know with complete certainty that God does not exist. All I would say is that since there is no evidence for his existence, he does not exist. But this does not mean that I have a closed mind (ironic that atheists are the ones accused of being close minded). It means that if, and it’s a long shot, if someone shows me irrefutable evidence that God exists, I will accept his existence. To quote Christopher Hitchens,  “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

For all intents and purposes, I describe myself as an agnostic atheist. Why not just an atheist? Because no one who puts scientific inquiry above everything else should be arrogant enough to rule out something outright. However, as it stands, there is about as much evidence for the existence of God as there is for the pink unicorn. So I use the term atheist rather loosely.

Why am I an atheist? If we think about it, aren’t we all born atheists? Whether the concept of tabula rasa is accurate or not has not been proved but it is reasonable to state that our perceptions of spirituality and religion are shaped by external influences. You do not always make a conscious choice to believe in something when you are young. A child of Hindu parents will be brought up to practice Hinduism and the same holds true for a child born to parents of every other religion. To be completely honest, isn’t this anything more than passive brainwashing?

What is the harm in doing this one might ask. One might argue that this brainwashing does not harm the child in any way. Perhaps not. But if you can be brainwashed into believing that there exists a God who loves you but will punish you if you don’t pray to him daily, you can also be brainwashed into believing that God will punish you for not taking someone else’s life. But I agree that this is an extreme example.

And how does one know which God to worship? As Richard Dawkins puts it, “We are all Atheists about most of the Gods there ever were. Some just go one God further.”

This however does not mean I want to destroy religion. What I would like to destroy is lack of reason. A blind faith in something that harms others. I respect the right of EVERY person who believe in what he or she wants to believe. I will fight for the rights of the most religious person to believe that the world was created in 7 days and 6000 years ago. But while I respect the right to have a belief, I am not obliged to respect that belief itself. So while you are free to have faith in what a book written 2000 years ago says, if you try to incorporate those beliefs while taking decisions that affect me, I will take objection to it.

The universe holds several splendors, some of which we have not even imagined. Is it not satisfying when we realize a little each day about how it works? What religion offers is an illusion of certainty. It says with certainty that it knows why we are here, how we came to be and where we will go after we die. But it is this religion which once said with certainty that the Earth was at the center of the Universe. It is religion that made Gods of meteors and demons of eclipses. Religion that equated earthquakes with God’s wrath and tempests with his breath. But the spirit of inquiry has proved all these “certainties” false. In the immortal words of Neil deGrasse Tyson, “God is nothing more than an ever receding pocket of ignorance.”

We all strive to find meaning in this world. We all would like to know what our place in this universe is. Religion can make you believe that there is someone up there looking out for you. But I find solace in the fact that while we do not know everything, we, as a species, will never give up trying. We will never rest till we find our answers. And if our hypotheses are proved false, we will start again from the beginning with an open mind. It is this attitude that makes me happy that I exist right here, right now, unfettered and free of what my less knowledgeable forefathers held to be true.

7 Comments

Filed under Atheism

I Got Published

Well, sort of.

My post on “The Euthyphro Dilemna” has been published on Generation Atheist.

It’s a great blog with excellent articles. Do check it out.

4 Comments

Filed under Atheism

The Ultimate Question

Being a skeptic comes at a price – you have few romantic notions about life.  We are dead for billions of years then, apparently without any rhyme or reason, we are born, gain consciousness and all too soon, we die again and considering the evidence we have, or rather the lack of evidence, we never live again. The ultimate question for me is, what is the purpose of life?

Everyone has probably asked this question. The religious have their explanations but no evidence to back it up. The Hindu would tell me the purpose of life is to accumulate good karma, then die, be reborn ad infinity till  you finally break out of this cycle and gain a place in heaven. The followers of the Abrahamic religions also have their improbable tales of being born to not violate the “10 things we should not do” laws and finally meet God in paradise. Oh and if you are Muslim, you get 72 virgins to rape in the bargain.

Perhaps the most annoying point some people cutely try to make is, “The answer is 42! We should figure out the question!”. Up to a point, Douglas Adams fans are tolerable except when they stop asking the important questions and go on and on about the number 42 and about Adams’ genius. He clearly was a genius. You are not if you don’t stop.

This of course brings one back to the question itself. You can phrase it in any way, but for me the ultimate question will always remain, “What is the purpose of Life?”

While we waste our time fighting futile wars, supporting and living in an unsustainable monetary system and arguing over petty points like spelling mistakes, there may be a simple answer. I am an atheist but that does not mean I claim with certainty that God does not exist. I just say that I don’t see any evidence for it and hence do not believe in his existence. If anyone out there can show me incontrovertible and scientific evidence that there is God, I will become a man of faith. Show me any evidence for the purpose of life and I will believe in you.

Perhaps there isn’t any purpose to life and this is what I am inclined to believe in because there is no evidence to believe there is one. But like every other thing that we humans come up with, I propose a simple answer. How about we as a species for once agree that perhaps, for now, the ultimate purpose of life is to discover the ultimate purpose of life?

 

10 Comments

Filed under Atheism, Life, Questions

Religion and the Flying Spaghetti Monster

“Our only dogma is the rejection of all dogmas”, goes the general philosophy of The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and this, my favourite religious organization, always makes me wonder – what defines a religion?

To quote the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is ” a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith”. Another definition is “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods.”

An interesting case was decided in the US Supreme Court in 1965. In United States vs. Seeger, the Supreme Court ruled for Daniel Seeger, who sought exemption from the military draft for conscientious objectors, without express belief in a Supreme Power. In its opinion, the supreme court said, “[The] test of belief “in a relation to a Supreme Being” [in a law providing for conscientious objector status from military service] is whether a given belief that is sincere and meaningful occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God . . . .” (source).

The facts of this case were that Seeger was a student who claimed exception from the military draft because his religious belief, he objected to war and that he should be granted exemption from serving in the military. He did not specify that his religion submitted to the belief in a “supreme being” and that his skepticism or disbelief in a God did not necessarily mean lack of faith in anything whatsoever. He was convicted by a lower court on account of his disbelief in a “Supreme Being”, but the Supreme Court reversed the judgement of the lower court on appeal. (Source)

There is no definition of “religion” in the constitution of either India or the US and many other countries. Which is why I don’t see any reason for anyone to take the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster as just satire. It has all the aspects of any mainstream religion, plus the God tastes delicious!

If anyone can come up with a legal reason as to why the Church of the FSM is not a religion, I will be happy to hear you out.

Leave a comment

Filed under Atheism, Opinion, Questions