Friday, June 19, 2009

The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason
-Benjamin Franklin


NOTE : My post about the London trip that i promised in my previous entry will be continued later so as to accommodate this post.

At the outset let me tell you that the following reflect my opinion about religion and science. I am of the opinion that religion and science are contradictory and while they can definitely coexist in society, the same person cannot be religious and at the same time scientific. I do not have any political affiliation and my views have arisen out of being a researcher of biology alone.

Why are we here? This is the question that any sane human being would like to see answered. I am invoking the sanity of human beings here just to allude to the fact that even in the 21st century, we are still surrounded by hypocrites, charlatans and preachers of falsehood that don’t want man to question, to know why he is here and what he is doing here. I would like to use this forum to give my views on the science versus religion debate and I am going to talk briefly about how and why it was a magnificent experience for me to transform myself from being an ‘agnostic’ (not a true agnostic as you will come to know by reading below) to an atheist.

Till a few months back, I was not being true to science. For a very long time now, I have been skeptical about religion. My questions about the various rituals and ceremonies that I had to grudgingly be part of were usually greeted with indifference and sometimes open mouthed horror. I was told to accept god on faith and here is where I had trouble with religion. While I always knew that God was not probably a very good explanation, I did not have the courage to talk about it and hid under the cloak of being an agnostic (a cloak under which a lot of my friends and close relatives stay hidden even now). Then, an atheist friend indirectly questioned my integrity towards science and I started thinking about it. I came across "The God Delusion" by Dr. Richard Dawkins and it was truly a momentous 19 continuous hours that I read it front to back. I started reading his other works and also books by the famous physicist Dr. Steven Weinberg and the transformation was complete. I am now an intellectually satisfied atheist but I am far from being a fundamentalist atheist. Give me logical evidence for the existence of god and also subject it to rigorous double blind experiments. If your God hypothesis is able to pass the experiment, then I will be the second person to start believing in your god, the first person being Dr. Richard Dawkins. All sane atheists that I know of are actually agnostic because we are just trying to tell that the existence or the non existence of God is like any other scientific hypothesis except for the fact that you have no evidence to actually prove the hypothesis. While religion asks you to accept things based on authority, the scientific approach promotes questioning and finding your answers and accepting them based on logic rather than based on fear or coercion.

Irrespective of the religion that you follow, the basic principle is the same: there is a supernatural being far more powerful than we can possibly imagine and perhaps that power had a hand in creating each one of us. This concept when propagated from the point of unqualified and untestable spiritual superiority, few people can actually question. Well, science has a problem with this. Our job as scientists and more importantly as curious human beings is to find out whether we actually need such an explanation. Scientists have demonstrated that every species that exist on this planet as of now have arisen out of a well documented process of slow and DIRECTED evolution termed evolution by natural selection (For the millionth time, Evolution by natural selection is not a random process so don’t ask me “OK so you think all of the things around us came by chance?”) and this is where I think we contradict ourselves by thinking we can be scientific and at the same time religious. If you are a strongly religious person, you expect thing s to be accepted based on faith and reason has no place in faith. If this is YOUR belief system, I am fine with it. On the other hand we are the skeptics who believe that logic and reasoning is required for any concept to be accepted as a fact and faith has no place in Science. If you think you are able to balance both well, you know who you are deceiving.

There is the age old argument that religion has morality written all over it. The religious argue that religion helps to build morality and character. I think we as a species are pathetic if our only source of being moral comes from the fear of punishment as laid out by books and arcane anecdotes. As Einstein (incidentally an atheist and not a true believer) said, if religion is the only reason we are moral, then our species is in a sorry state of affairs indeed. Ask yourself: will you stop being good if your religious book said you didn’t have to? If yes, then you are among the most immoral of all of living beings and you will go to ‘hell’ (assuming such a place exists) :)

Though I am an atheist, I still am a cultural Hindu. I firmly believe that religion has contributed very much to literature, architecture, poetry and music. Some of the best musical compositions have been religious. Our epics are also strongly rooted in religion. I am an ardent fan of the Bhagavad Geeta and I think it is one of the best self improvement books that man has ever written. Having said all that, I am also aware of that fact that all religions are based on untested and possibly ludicrous beliefs. Religion might have some inherent good but overall it has succeeded to do just the following: Divide people, Control people and Delude people. A few of my religious friends say I am proud to the point of being arrogant when it comes to science over religion. My answer to them is this: We provide you with evidence and ask you to interpret them for yourself and then come to a conclusion about the truth and you call us ARROGANT. Whereas YOU ask us to belive something just because your parents and their parents before them were taught to believe in something based purely on faith and without any evidence whatsoever . Are YOU not arrogant??

30 comments:

diwakar said...

"Give me logical evidence for the existence of god and also subject it to rigorous double blind experiments. If your God hypothesis is able to pass the experiment, then I will be the second person to start believing in your god, the first person being Dr. Richard Dawkins." this is still being agnostic.
The true atheist says ' I know that there is no god"- Kind of shutting of the door for any 'possible' future evidence.

diwakar said...

Religion had its uses _ It was a way of bonding for the community. the members had a common cause to workaround -entertainment, public works and so on. Also it provided a way to make the community members practice behaviors that were necessary for the common good. for example, patients with small pox were prevented from going to temples on the premise that the 'goddess' would get angry. In the days when there was no concept of microbes and infectious diseases, this was a way of survival.Even now, the fear of punishment, although league ones, coerce us into following good behavior.

diwakar said...

'Arrogance' is a term used sometimes when people cannot understand others. So the onus is on us to frame our arguments and evidence in a way that is better understandable.
But then why, in the first place, do we want to convert people to our beliefs? The ill effects of religion have come about because some use it as a tool to retain or gain 'power' or control over others. The problem may not lie with the concept of religion but with people who abuse it for selfish reasons.

Sri said...

It is inherent nature of Human beings to control other Human beings.Its basically same for all species.The dominance can be achieved using religion or some other means.Religion is very convenient way to dodge questions by pointing to some invisible and supreme being.This very reason is very well exploited by dominant human.The persons being controlled again use religion and look towards the sky just to overcome their inability to dominate/prosper.For centuries selfish people might have tailored the concept of GOD so that it can suit them.There may be a huge possibility that religion during its initial phase would have been something different.During initial phase the religion might have been created for development of all human beings.If all human beings develop then where is the chance of control?The bottom line is that today ,Religion(Concept of GOD)does not give a chance for atheist to ignore nor gives believer to accept just because it is not in its original form.

V Madhav said...

Diwa, Atheism means somebody who doesnt believe in god. In the same sense and to the same extent that somebody doesnt believe in Santa Claus. If somebody asks you whether you believe in Santa Claus, would you answer "No, I dont" or will you say, "I am not sure, I am agnostic about it, because Santa Claus cannot be disproved"? You will naturally say that there is no Santa Claus. And it is in that same sense, that Sriram also refuses to believe in God. But that doesnt mean that if evidence comes up, he will still close his eyes to evidence. So there is no contradiction here. Atheist is a convenient way of saying that one believes that there almost certainly is no god. Going by your logic, you must be an agnostic about so many things. To the extent that if I say that I have a shrunk invisible elephant in my pocket, you must be agnostic about it because you cannot disprove it. Being so technical only leads to such inconsistencies.

Sri said...

By the way Sriram do you still fill "the Religion" column printed on forms?

V Madhav said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
V Madhav said...

Diwa, as for your second comment, Religion probably had its uses. Though your specific example of a small pox patient being prevented from going to temple does not make sense, because, then how will be prevented from going to a place like the market or to other people's houses.
Moreover, the possible fact, that religion had its uses, doesnt in anyway mean that we still hold it in high esteem. For all we know, even caste system probably had its advantages, but we want to remove it completelu. It is for the same reason that even Religion has to be thrown out. Because, it creates non-existent, unnecessary and dangerous divisions between human beings.

Sri said...

Today Religion is Second only to health care.Its a very good ,non-taxable business.If one needs to change or abolish a system then one needs either support of super rich and powerful people or the support of masses.Religion is the only fabric that has Super rich and masses interwoven with a common agenda GOD. Whenever you channelize common hatred(like Hitler) or common goal ,it is nearly impossible to dissolve it.

SRIRAM THE GREATEST said...

Thank you for your comments.
@Diwa : comment 1: read the sentences that immediately follow this. I talk about how all sane atheists are actually agnostics too.
comment 2: in those days people were not allowed to enter temples because of their skin colour or just because they Happen to have been born in a particular family. You want us to think they had an altruistic motive to ban the lower caste from entering the temples too? the bottom line as Maddy put is this : your forefather did a lot of things some good and some bad. But the motive behind most of them are no longer relevant

SRIRAM THE GREATEST said...

@ Srikanth

Yes religion has been used by a lot of tyrants and despots. But we are not discussing that point. I am merely telling that religion has no basis considering that there is no proof for the basis of religion, GOD

by the NO religion actually helps people t develop because it asks people to be satisfied with what they know and prevents them from asking questions. Considering that asking questions has been the basis for human development, I fail to see how religion helps to 'develop'

and as for the 'religion' column in forms, I would like to see that removed from all forms. but as of now I just leave it blank because Atheism is not a religion. As Richard Dawkins put it : If atheism is a religion, then 'OFF' is a TV channel

siva said...

we are still surrounded by hypocrites, charlatans and preachers of falsehood that

don’t want man to question, to know why he is here and what he is doing here.

True there are many false preachers like false Scientists...but doesn't mean

anything except that we need to be carfeul on whom we follow.



Give me logical evidence for the existence of god and also subject it to rigorous

double blind experiments. If your God hypothesis is able to pass the experiment,

then I will be the second person to start believing in your god, the first person

being Dr. Richard Dawkins.

Expand your experimentation tools and then you can counduct lot of experiments.Just

after learning basic addition and subraction just becuase we don't understand

calculus it does not mean calculus doe not exist.

For that matter Can you measure sadness happiness etc and prove scientifically

whether I am happy or sad? If you ar enot able to prove will that mean I am

feelingless.

Regarding Natural SELECTION ...I am not a biologist so I dont much about it..But

what prevent existence of GOD if there was evolution may be its a part of

creationism...and moreover selection can be done only by intelligence and nature as

crude matter cannot have intelligence or should be imparted intelligence by

somebody.

In the last part I do accpet that religions have led to lot of fights and

battles..but its becuase of misunderstanding religion.

The last point about arrogance..yes it is arrogant for a first std student to say

calculus does not exist...it is better to believe in a graduate student of

mathematics who says calculus does exist...based on faith and then later understand

yourself when you work hard and pass your high school.

Even Now I will have to only BELIEVE that you are truly AETHEIST..can you prove so scientifically? not by external actions but you will have to prove your thought scientifically....

varun said...

Mankind's biggest insecurity has always been the end, in simple terms death. People shudder at the thought of decaying into smaller lifeless matter. so man found himself a way to feel good about death vis-a-vis religion. Most religions have their own idea of life after death and most of them have the heaven-hell theory. It is the insecurities of man that have translated into the mindless (unquestionable) pursuit of god. By insecurities i dont just mean death but also the unanswered aspects of life like the beginning of life etc. Personally I dont believe in mindless religious rituals and ceremonies. But Sri let me ask u a question, can u deny the fact that somewhere in ur mind there is a hidden belief of a supernatural power. I believe there is something up there. I would like to quote kamal hassan's dialogue, " I dont say that there is no god, but just that it would have been nice if he was there".
One more thing sri, on a lighter note religious worship is like masturbation everyone does it one day or the order in varying frequencies but in privacy.
NO OFFENCE MEANT TO RELIGIOUS WORSHIP.

R.Shiva Prasad said...

The Big-bang says, " life burst out of heavy dense matter for no reason"

Who or why the blast was initiated??

A design pre-supposes a designer..hope u will agree with that..:)

age old example u must be knowing...a pot is made out of clay by rotating the wheel at precise speed...NOw tell me who initiated that rotation..:)

R.Shiva Prasad said...

and fine....religion is just one school of thought about GOD...no one school had ever agreed with another one...:) inter-school competions'la sandai potadhu illiya namma ellarum..:)

SRIRAM THE GREATEST said...

@Siva : thanks for your comment

I think your comments stem out of a rigid stand that you have taken against science. As I have told you innumerable number of times, the peer review process ensures honesty and integrity in science unlike religion.

regarding expanding the experimental tools , can you please elaborate on what I need to do to 'expand' my experimental capability instead of giving vague statements? In my first grade, I did not know of calculus but that doesn't mean it didn't exist. whereas it looks like no amount of learning can make your god appear in front of me because you are not willing to subject it to experiments.

Regarding your view on the requirement of an intelligent being, well as you yourself have said, you know nothing about evolution and I suggest you read more about it before commenting on it.

You want me to prove that I am an atheist without any physical manifestation??? well Can you prove that you are alive without any physical manifestation???

SRIRAM THE GREATEST said...

@Shiva

A pot is a designed object whereas life and the different species that we see on earth are designoid objects ( in the sense they appear designed whereas they actually aren't) Please refer to any of the following works for a detailed explanation :

Unweaving the rainbow
Climbing mount improbable
The blind watchmaker
-all by Richard Dawkins

While i do agree that science knows very little about how life initiated on Earth, we are working on it. However the idiotic arguement that creationists (and unfortunately some of my ill informed science friends) provide seem to be this : Since A cannot give an explanation, then B must be the answer. Doesnt matter that B is based on faith and is full of ridiculous suppositions :).

siva said...

I think you misunderstood what i meant may be i Should rephrase my question:

Prove me by scientific methods that you are truly aethistic.I should be able to sense/see your thought without any ambiguity or faith involved.

Sri said...

You said "by the way NO religion actually helps people t develop because it asks people to be satisfied with what they know and prevents them from asking questions Considering that asking questions has been the basis for human development, I fail to see how religion helps to 'develop'"

I am just trying to point out that no one knows what was the primary objective of religion when it was first created.Due to such a large time gap between origin of religion and now it is hard to see its pure form.Today of course religion does not aid development.And I understood the message you are trying to portray in your blog post but I just want to start a conversation on Religion being prime business today.

And by the way though we have developed a lot in various fields ,the dependency on such technologies will decide the surviveability of mankind

Sri said...

@ Varun

"But Sri let me ask u a question, can u deny the fact that somewhere in ur mind there is a hidden belief of a supernatural power."

Human mind loves fancy things.Supernatural phenomenon is just highest form of it.Things which Humans cant explain scientificaly leads them to think more on it.Everyone loves to see supernatural power.An atheist will seek an answer for it while a believer will accept without questioning.

diwakar said...

@Madhav Actually smallpox patients and their entire families were quarantined from moving out of their houses.
The absence of religion will not ensure that mankind will remain united. They will find another excuse to fight, rape and pillage.I believe that throwing out religion will not solve all problems. People, who may not be as intellectual as those contributing to this blog, need a crutch to help them through difficult phases of life.
I am not disputing Sriram's beliefs but the point is merely that I feel his sentences seem to contradict each other. The only reason that I do not want to claim a title - atheist or agnostic - is that I feel it would be arrogant of me if I were to state that the knowledge I possess is absolute and the only correct one. I always want to entertain the possibility (however non existential I believe it to be) that I may be wrong or am unable to perceive what others do.
@Sriram Do not confuse religion and the development of social norms. The caste system's development had very little to do with religion. I do deplore the ill effects of many things my forefathers practiced. Over the years, the rationale behind many practices are misunderstood and then subverted to help a few retain power.
I feel you do not know enough about religion since you say that it prevents people asking questions. There is an entire upanishad called kenopanishad which is all about a small boy called Nachiketa asking questions about religion.You confuse religion and rituals. Your parents forced you to adopt some practices because they believed it would be to your benefit.
@Siva What do you want us to prove 'scientifically'? It is black when there are no other colors. Black by itself is not a color and cannot be proven.This is something similar. It is the responsibility of those who say that something exists to prove it, not the other way round.

V Madhav said...

Diwa,

1. There might have been practices to quarantine people having small pox. But what I am pointing out is your saying that religion had such uses does not make sense, because it does not solve the quarantine problem completely. So those problems alone cannot justify religion. I would rather try to educate people about how Small Pox spreads and ask them to voluntarily keep away from contact with other people till it is cured.

2. Sriram does not claim that throwing out religion will solve ALL problems. Of course it wont. He knows it very well. No single solution will solve everything. But throwing away religion will make the world that much better. In the same way that though throwing away the caste system will not make people united but with that done away with, the world would have one less problem to deal with. And reducing the number of problems in the world by 1, is indeed a worthy thing to attempt.

3. Though I agree that you should be open minded about things, my only point was that (and I will not use labels here), there is as much evidence for God as there is for Santa Claus or the Tooth fairy. Would you be equally open minded about Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy as you are about God? I dont think you would. You seem to give the God hypothesis more respect than the Santa Claus hypothesis, because, all our life we have learnt that respecting religion is the civil thing to do, even though you yourself dont believe in it. My point, and probably Sriram's point when he calls himself an atheist, is that God does not exist any more than Santa Claus or the Tooth fairy or the Shrunk invisible elephant in my pocket. But even people who dont believe in god, still give religion undue respect, by saying we need to be open minded, but the same people are not open minded about so many other things like Vinayaka's statues drinking milk, and it is that contradiction (of being open minded to god but not to Santa Claus) that I want to point out.

DMohan said...

When nobody knew enough of small pox to there was no way one could teach another about the ill effects. It would have the same effect we have with smokers but with far more deadly consequences.
Throwing out religion will require a lot of effort and resources. All I am arguing is that the net benefits may not be worth the cost.
The 'open mind' is nothing more than a desire not to displease others or close an argument that is getting out of hand.I still feel the concept of Santa is a good way to foster some good behavior in children.

Siva said...

@Diwakar

I just wanted to demonstrate that there are certain things that exist and cannot be proved by 3D objects and tools..
For example a person feeling happy or sad..a person having a thought all can only be felt by people...(though not all people if they themselves are under depression or sadness they fail to feel the other person's feeling...)..these feeling ,thoughts etc..are abstract and cannot be quantified by "scientific methods".BUt does that mean that a person's thought and feelings dont exist...it is true for people around who can feel it and not so obvious and does not exist for them..

DMohan said...

@Shiva I agree with your comments but I need to draw the distinction with religion here. If you are happy you don't force others to feel the same way. So if people cannot perceive god let them be. There is no necessity to force them to believe in something they cannot perceive.

DMohan said...

Our grouse with religion is that people have codified it and used it for the benefit of a select few.

SRIRAM THE GREATEST said...

@siva,
Happiness, sadness despair, anger etc are emotions and since we are only beginning to understand how our Brain works to produce a variety of these emotions, it is not yet known how we can quantitate happiness and sadness although work is going on in this area ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/happiness_formula/4783836.stm ). But by equating your belief of God to happiness and sadness, you are suggesting that your god is merely an emotion, a whim and may not have any physical form. and then you contradict yourself by saying God created the universe. Well who created God? if your answer is : god is timeless, eternal, then why cant it apply to the Universe as it is without involving god? In other words why cant the Universe be eternal?

@diwa,

Speak for yourself when you say "So if people cannot perceive god let them be. There is no necessity to force them to believe in something they cannot perceive." would you say the same thing about atheism. Shouldnt we raise awareness about the dangers of blind faith and senseless devotion? Imagine Galileo trying to decide whether or not to defend the heliocentric theory. Should he have respected the fact that the public was not ready to perceive the truth?

DMohan said...

@Sriram Galileo was almost killed because of his beliefs. Sometimes the world cannot easily absorb radical shifts, especially if the benefits are not readily demonstrable. So you need to strategically plan for that with baby steps. But then you must also be able to provide an inexpensive,readily usable alternative for the thing that you replace.

Siva said...

@Sriram

Ok Now that you have agreed that our present scientific tools have not led us to a level where we can quantify certain things (emotion is one example)..but they(things unquantified and uncharacterized by science) do exist because i have felt it and you have felt it too...
THis is an example..
THis does not mean that GOD is an emotion.(I dont know how you came to this conclusion)...
The whole point was to say that some things exist out of the present scientific methods which any true scientist would agree.
God is one such thing but unlike emotions and other thing which has been felt and realized by every one..This has not been felt/realized by everybody ..so you can very well be aethist until you realize it ...We are not forcing you to believe us..But you will not realize just suddenly on one blue mon day...read all the ancient scriptures ..and follow them(these are the tools i meant earlier,also when you start you will have to start with faith later when you apply the principles stated and see the results in your personal life then it is evidence and evidence only for you..this is similar to starting with an hypothesis and trying to prove it by experiments) and when you are qualified enough you will realize the answers for all that we are debating.....

I think I have expressed all my views on this topic..THis would probably be the last comment I write for this article..

SRIRAM THE GREATEST said...

@ Siva,

So essentially God is someone/something that presents himself/itself sporadically and only to a chosen few who have enhanced their 'experimental tools' substantially. This seems a good explanation except that it contradicts with something called logic.
Maybe we can extend this arguement to Santa Claus!!

You bring up the concept of happiness and sadness, As much as i would like to point out that these are emotions, I would also tell you that they do exist and has been independently and repeatedly confirmed whereas your eclectic god doesn't seem to be interested in showing himself/itself to everybody ( ironical and tragic considering that he/it is supposed to be the creator or EVERYTHING and supposed to be kind and good and all).

The bottomline is this : In the scientific approach ( incidentally all established scientific concepts have been developed using the 5 senses and did not require any 'expansion of experimental tools') you rely on reproducibility and independent confirmation. Since you are not prepared to subject your God hypothesis to test, your hypothesis stands REJECTED.