It’s no secret that Hinduism is the religion I do not believe in. But with that comes a different outlook to my atheism. It’s tempered by ideas about the gods gained from growing up Hindu. To me gods are less angry sky wizards and more players in a divine comedy. They have personalities, likes and dislikes. We know about Krishna being punished as a kid for nicking butter and while many of the Judeo-Christians may consider that lack of divinity to make their god less “divine” I think humanity is just as important.
Jesus died for your sins? So what? Vishnu lived to save humans a total of 9 times.
That’s the difference. I always considered Christianity to be a bit morbid. It was always about the death off Jesus and in Hinduism while death is a part of life, it isn’t the most important part.
But I believe in neither but you can take ideas from religion. Not all religious ideas are inherently bad. We can understand the value of bonding with family over Christmas, we just chose to not do so over prayer and instead over perhaps the cut-throat world of family politics or the even more cut-throat world of Monopoly.
We aren’t all that different. If we cut an atheist and believer in half we will have two dead guys who look pretty similar inside. We each have our idiots and bigots. But what changes is how we think about things. Or how we don’t think about things as the case may be. Without the overarching faith of religion where we take certain truths as undeniable we have to think outside the box.
1. Can you prove empirically that there is no creating agent for the universe? If the answer is yes, then you must show your work if it is to be considered anything more than just a claim
This is one of those “gotcha” questions.
The universe is like a box. It is a construct of space that we use to denote our known understanding of the world around us. At one point the Universe in our heads was very very small but still very large. The sky was but a tapestry and the stars were lights of spirits and gods. Pin-pricks of divinity that watched over us.
And then some bright spark went and spoiled it all by insisting it was probably just a gigantic ball of fire very very far away. Some say that mankind lost a little poetry in it’s soul that day, but I think that’s a foolish attitude. We can still say that “That the Stars Cry at his Passing” to show the intersection between grief and meteorology without getting technical about it.
But we know that the stars are gigantic spheres of nuclear fusion. And what’s more wonderous is that they are essential to life as we know it through both the production of the higher elements forged in their nuclear furnaces and through photosynthesis.
With each discovery the box that we live in got bigger and bigger. Until we realised how laughably small our initial ideas on the box were. On the scale of the universe we are the anomalous. The weird and the bizarre. We are as wonderful as the hurricane on Jupiter and as marvellous as a Binary star system. Because we are the only known planet of life we have discovered.
Through enlarging the box we have learned more about the universe we live in. We know how stuff in the box with us works and we can utilise those principles to explain and make things. This is what we call Science and Technology.
However remember, we are still inside the box. We may enlarge the box but there is a limit to science at the moment which is the wall of the box. We may yet break through that wall.
The religious hide god behind this wall. Each wall represents another fortress of ignorance where their gods hide, safe in the knowledge that no one can disprove of them so they must accept the hypothetical possibility of existence.
Once the moon was a god, and we put a man on the bloody thing. Why should we think your wall is any different to the wall that the gods hid behind a mere 2000 years ago?
There is no way to disprove the existence of anything. I cannot categorically say that unicorns do not exist. What I can say is that there is no evidence for the existence of unicorns. There is no evidence for the existence of any gods.
What we have is the notion that there must be a prime mover. And since the universe is complicated he must be more complicated (And male because ladies don’t like making things that aren’t cakes or pie) than said universe. This prime mover is “god” and is given all sorts of super powers to fit into this role.
But all of that was human invention. We had an unanswered question. What caused the universe? To which we ourselves made up an answer and over time we have attributed this answer with more embellishments to make it stick. To understand this principle we must go back to our childhoods. Which superhero did you want to be? Oh very few kids want to be Batman, but Superman? Why? Because he is a physical representation of power we can understand. He is based on classical ideals. In fact all the DC comic heroes of the main Justice League tended to fit into identifiable “tropes” of classical heroes. Superman initially was faster than a bullet, stronger than a train and could merely jump skyscrapers. He was indestructible but WW2 created a new level of power. By the end, Supes could fly and was effectively upgraded to “worse than a nuclear weapon”. Because the scale of power that we understood changed. So did Superman to remain “Super” rather than merely “Very Excellent Man” or “Above Average Man”. His powers increased to the point his life was challenge free so DC had to invent weaknesses first through Magic, Non-Dimensional beings, Kryptonite and Equally Powerful Enemies. Then came the era of better writing where Superman’s Greatest Enemy was one he could punch to pieces in seconds but who literally played through the weaknesses and ideologies of Superman. There was another character at this time with more powers than Superman called the Martian Manhunter. And he was Superman + everything but the Kitchen Sink. In the end to fix him they had to make him fear fire. Same for the Green Lanterns who had to initially worry about wood and yellow.
Because we created untouchable gods by accident. The same applies to the being we commonly consider as gods. You can see it in the Bible itself. In the Old Testament Jehovah has serious limitations to his powers. Yet we still consider him omnipotent when he actually regularly demonstrates a power level lower than most Hindu gods in any literature associated with him.
The truth is we just made him so in the same way that we made Superman powerful. We kept finding out how the world worked and had to keep removing “God Did It” as an answer.
The reality is that we don’t know what caused the universe to come to existence. We have theories and we are experimenting on it and people far more knowledgable about that sort of thing can talk you lot to death about that. But what people did was they created an answer. They created the gods to fill in that role of what caused the universe to be. Which is why we see gods have some bizarrely human ideas.
There was a hole in our knowledge and we merely filled it with magic and that is what a god is. We can no more disprove the existence of a god than we can disprove the existence of unicorns. There is no evidence to suggest the existence of one. Nothing. Nada. The entire reason for belief in such a being is that we have always believed. It is a tradition to believe in such a being.
And if we are to look at it with scientific rigour, science doesn’t disprove things. Science does not say that unicorns don’t exist. Honestly? Science says that there is no evidence to suggest the existence of unicorns. If you provided evidence science will change it’s stance. There is no evidence to suggest the existence of any such god. Not one iota. Everything we have going for it is mere conjecture and conjecture based on ignorance of scientific evidence and indeed how the universe works.
2. Can you prove deductively that there is no creating agent for the universe? If the answer is yes, then you must show your work if it is to be considered anything more than just a claim
I honestly do not know. What I do know is that to date there has been no evidence for any creative agent that’s a being. We honestly do not know. There are mathematical theories and hypothesis which support a creation of the Universe without the requirement of “magic” and let’s face a “god” works through entirely unknown, mystical and unknown principles that void all natural and scientific understanding and this is basically magic.
This kind of thinking is the death of progress.
Let’s look at Islam for this. Islam’s rising fundamentalism means that scientific enquiry has faltered and there is no academic rigour. What occurs is not science but applied theology. The attempt to find divinely ordained evidence. When we assume god is behind everything then we are not doing science but ideologically shoring up a faulty assumption.
The correct answer to what caused the Big Bang is “I Do Not Know”. If you think your god is an acceptable answer then you must accept every creator god as equally probable and to worship one out of the myriad is just intellectual dishonesty. Why stop at one god after all?
And I repeat. The people making the extraordinary claim are the ones who must provide evidence. There is no empirical evidence for any of the gods we have believed in. If you insist Superman is real you must demonstrate him and his powers in an empirical fashion. Otherwise he resides in the comic books. Why should we allow literature as evidence for your gods but not for Superman or Harry Potter? So we have to throw the literature out. Without the literature there is even less evidence for a god. Oh you can claim Jesus was real to which I will respond with then so are L. Ron Hubbard and Siddartha Gauthama that doesn’t mean Scientology, Hinduism and Buddhism are real too.
If we bring only empirical evidence to fisticuffs then I am afraid there is no CERN for gods. We have devices that are explaining how our very universe was created and possibly will explain how existence came to be. And it’s not being done by people pouring over scripture or through prayer but through testing empirical science.
I won’t rule out the existence of your gods. However it is a vanishingly small chance.
The fact remains that both of us have claims. It’s just that my claim is backed up by more evidence while yours are backed up by stories that are most likely as fictitious as Harry Potter. Of course we cannot get to Diagon Alley! It’s because we are Muggles! And Muggle Science cannot do that!
If we were to take the sum total knowledge of a major religion and destroy it and the sum total of science and destroy it, mankind if it survived would recreate the exact same science in the way it understands the world but would create an entirely different religion.
And so we put our faith in science rather than the stories of ancient shepherds who’s box of existence was tiny. And one day our ancestors may laugh at our own thoughts on how large the box really is. But I am pretty sure they won’t be doing so because they discovered Brahma or Yahweh or any other creator god.
3. What are your moral principles? List them completely.
Oh then we would be here for ages and I already have rambled on a lot.
I suppose if we can simplify it. Right and wrong are not based on your action but the consequences. What may feel good and right may in fact be harmful and wrong. We must think about what our actions have on our fellow man.
And why should we be good? Well? We are Part of Society. A human is weak, naked and slow. Humans are more than the sum of their parts though. We are thinkers and makers of things but that requires team work. And the team needs rules. If we let children play then they will fight. But then rules will be made. So that the game may continue.
Play in all animals is education for life.
I wish to be treated well, and I assume others wish to be treated well. If I do not play fair then no one will play with me. These are basic rules of the playground. The kid who cheats and who lies and who steals doesn’t have friends. In our ancestor’s world such people would have been abandoned to a feral death. Any society without rules and “moral codes” will perish and be weak.
Let’s look at the UK versus Afghanistan. In Afghanistan “might makes right”. You have to ask yourself what a man can do and get a way with and what the consequences of those actions are. In the UK? There are rules that we adhere to in order to have a smoothly running society. Which is why I don’t drive a Toyota with a machine gun strapped to the top around Manchester.
Basically? Be good to others and treat them like you would wish to be treated yourself, fight for the poorest so that others may fight for you and leave the world in a better state for those who come after us. And you don’t need any gods to be realise why these are good things.
And I understand that decisions are difficult. Many a time you will make the right decision for the wrong reason or the wrong decision for the right reason. Great evil has been done by men thinking they are doing good. No Nazi ever considered themselves the villains as they marched Jews to the gas chamber after all. So when in doubt, try to take the past of least suffering to others.
If I grew up in Afghanistan then perhaps I would have to have a different ethos to survive but within the luxury of the developed world, I don’t have to mark my territory and machete anyone who looks at me funny.
Oh and never expect others to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself.
4. What makes your moral principles “moral”, rather than personal guidelines? Perhaps you will want to define “moral” from the Atheist viewpoint.
Because they genuinely improve the lot of others. Why do you not murder? Because a god told you not to or because you know that stopping the life of another person means the termination of that person’s entire existence. Do you know how unique one person is?
Every single atom in you was forged in the heart of nuclear fire of unimaginable power in a star and as these stars died these elements were spread across the galaxy. And they formed more new stars and new planets and from that everything. Your shoes, your phone, your laptop, those bananas in your fridge. EVERYTHING was made in the heart of a star. Including you. Every single atom that is within you. You may be small and insignificant but you are unique in this existence. To eliminate a life? That is a waste. You only get one, imagine losing that chance to live.
To blindly obey a rule without knowing this? Then to me you are a parasite. Blindly feeding off the moral code without any understanding of it or rationale. Obeying it because you cannot think for yourself. You don’t realise that life is not just a beating heart and a functional brain but everything experienced. From jealous, rage and sorrow to selflessness, calm and joy. From Hate To Love. Every single experience you feel right now is important because it defines you. And we mostly have difficulty understanding each other because we rarely value this experience.
I have lost things you will never value. I have seen things you will not believe. And I have gained things that you will never understand, because you have not lived those experiences for yourself. I have seen the worst of mankind. I have seen women burned alive, children murdered. I have seen dismembered bodies and people who just couldn’t live another day and I steeled my heart knowing all this. I have dug graves.
I have also seen the best of mankind. I have seen fathers and mothers sacrifice themselves for the love of their children. I have seen strangers help those who are invisible to the rest of the world. I have seen the beauty of humanity and the ugly and I wish to make the world beautiful.
Each of us is a story, we are history in the making. Each of us is potential to do amazing things if and only if we try.
And to take that away? To take away days never lived and time never spent? That is a crime.
That’s why I am a doctor. Because the only thing I can do as a human is give the gift of time.
And you may see this as a personal guideline rather than some absolute morality and that is fine by me. I won’t hold you to it. The Avicenna Inquisition doesn’t knock on your door and forces you to do charity work. As long as you don’t harm people I am fine with whatever existence you chose. This is my code. This is my Dharma and like Karna I shall live and die by it unless proven wrong.
The path of good or the path of least evil. That is the best we can do in life.
You can seek to live in the Kingdom of the gods or in the Republic of Man. Heaven is what you make and in the words of Kabir.
Those who walk in the shade of love, have paradise at their feet. Heaven is what we make of it on this planet with the time we have. And part of what I believe in is making this place a little better in some small way.
5. What is the source of your morals?
Experience, Responsibility and a hint of too many Comic Books in my case.
6. What makes that source a “moral authority”, with unquestionable, indubitable ability to determine what is morally Good and what is morally Evil in a purely materialist context, where evolution has caused our existence?
Because it’s morality gained through living. Through immersing yourself in humanity. It’s not a code that comes from above but from within. It’s understanding of how the world works and why things happen. To the Christian theft is a crime, to me it’s a problem with other causes. Why? Because very few people steal for the sake of theft. They steal because they are poor or because they want something or because of greed. Those are “reasons” for theft. Not wickedness. We cannot stop all the reasons but those we can stop we can.
The Aztec believed in a god called Tlaloc. They believed the rains came from him. To satiate this bloodthirsty god required a crying infant. So they would sacrifice a terrified baby.
They believed this to be moral. They believed this to be good. They believed this to be kind and just. Just as Abraham believed that Jehovah’s instruction to sacrifice Issac was good and moral too.
And there in lies the problem. If we are to suggest that your gods are moral authorities they behave with less morality than me. Jehovah is a genocidal beast who exhorts slavery and rape. How is “he” any more a moral authority than Tlaloc? Tlaloc may have demanded the sacrifice of a baby a year but he never (allegedly in plot) killed the first born children of Egypt or wiped out all of humanity through drowning.
The Bible doesn’t say treat women as equals or don’t keep slaves. It tells you to not beat them with a really thick stick else you may kill them. That’s not moral that’s sound economic advice (if you are a slaver and a wife beater). We don’t judge our gods for their actions but if we look carefully most of our gods are terrible and immoral. We have exceeded them. We have made the world a better place by eschewing their ideas and by thinking for ourselves.
We cannot always determine what is right and what is wrong. And that’s because right and wrong are a very simplistic way of looking at the world. Too often there is no right or wrong. There are shades of grey. There are sometimes no win situations. The real world is a better teacher of morality than the tired dictim of religion because morality is flexible to the situation. It’s wrong to steal, but is it wrong to steal to survive? The Bible says all theft is bad, but you know for a fact that a rich man stealing millions is worse than a poor man stealing to live.
It is why people happily quote Leviticus while harassing women at abortion clinics or the GLBT while chomping down on Bacon Sandwiches. Because even their morality is a grab bag of ideas from experience. These same people know that they can never push for “slavery” because they know what will happen and indeed what has happened in human history.
Experience is the foundation of modern morality. To not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors. And accepting that responsibility of our selves means we have to think about our actions.
The superhero stuff probably made me want to do good. And maybe gave me a taste for capes.
7. Can you empirically prove your morals to be valid for all humans? If the answer is yes, then you must show your work if it is to be considered anything more than just a claim.
Jehovah exhorts his followers to genocide and advices them on slavery. He does not say “Lads! Stick to the inalienable principles of man” but says “The guys without foreskins? Kill em all! And rape their daughters! K?”. Oh you may say “But he gave rules on how to treat slaves better”, but honestly they were STILL slaves.
It is through our experiences with the evils of slavery and our idea that perhaps slavery may not be so good after all that we gave it up. It required a fair few flips in church ideology but they learnt not from their Bibles but by experiencing slavery first hand as observers and deciding that it was a truly inhuman institution.
And Christians supported slavery through the Bible. Leviticus itself which is used to harass and even justify the murder of Abortion Doctors and the GLBT supports slavery.
But we have moved past that by experience and by quietly ignoring the less tasteful parts of our religions.
See, people try to do the best that they can when faced with mad religious laws. They jump through hoops and make twists to be moral. But they do so because they understand experience and understanding and responsibility are better dictators of morality than any book.
All our current ideas of what is moral are not from any divine source but vital to survival of humanity. Evolution is not about you personally surviving but the species continuing. It’s why peacocks exist (they die much younger than peahens because they get eaten by predators because they are bright blue and slow compared to the camoflauged peahens). Their major disadvantage is overwhelmed by the fact that they DO GET TO BREED and breeding is what determines the next generation.
Now imagine an ape. A proto-human. It steals from the group. Now the group is faced with three choices. Either everyone steals from each other, or they tolerate this thieving simian or they chase it out from the group.
If everyone steals then the group’s cohesiveness is lost. There is no trust. There is no defence against predators, no cooperation against prey and to hunt and gather. If they simply ignore the thefts then they all get weaker and mistrust forments and there is no cooperation too. If they punish this caveman criminal then what we see is the origin of “the law” and “morality”. They may throw him out or beat him or not trust him. Now his chances to breed are diminished and his genes are written out. That is bad survival. Now cooperation? That passes on genes both by encouraging the social group to survive adverse events and by not getting your head bashed in by the group who is sick of your bullshit dragging them down.
There is an evolutionary benefit to being moral.
8. Why should anyone trust you, or any Atheist? Be specific.
Why should you trust any religious person or any person what so ever? You can live in a paranoid world of fear or you can have a little faith in humans.
Humans appear disappointing if you read the news but that’s because “Human Behaves Well, Everything Okay” doesn’t sell. “Human Eats Rare Faberge Eggs, Poops on Queen” makes headlines. Bad behaviour is rewarded by exposure. So we think the world is getting worse. The funny thing is murders are down, rapes are down and crime as a whole is falling. At no point in history have we ever been this “moral”. Oh you hear the naysayers and they usually bring up the crime of abortion or being gay but that’s just finding new things to be mad about.
Every Single Achievement today has been due to the sweat, blood, tears and brains of humanity. Through skill, courage, intelligence we have wrought the modern world.
Not the gods you chose to pray to. I may be untrustworthy but I am untrustworthy but at least I exist and can actually do something.
9. Can you prove, empirically, that the incident which is referred to as the Miracle at Lourdes was purely a physical phenomenon? If the answer is yes, then you must show your work if it is to be considered anything more than just a claim.
There are 67 claimed miracles at Lourdes and in hindsight many of them are NOT miracles. Basically? Any unlikely improvement in the condition of a patient is touted as a miracle which is nonsensical. Sometimes patients get better despite all statistical chance. Sometimes long shots win horse races too.
Medicine works on statistical probabilities. Using this treatment, 95% of people get better. Using this treatment, 5% of people get better. When you win that 5% lottery then it’s a miracle. Just because you don’t know how something happened doesn’t mean it’s a miracle.
Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray. In recorded History less than 10 people EVER have died due to that. A fish that’s not dangerous but painful attacked him, a man who wrestled man eating crocodiles and hit him in the precise spot with the precise force needed to kill him. It was bad luck and unbelievably so.
Not a miracle. If we are capable of accepting negative unlikely things as bad luck, then we should be more skeptical about miracles.
I once worked a miracle cure. Well the patient had a stroke. His hand had recovered but he couldn’t walk. Now if you are a medic you know that one of the most common areas of cerebro-vascular accident is the pyramid tract. A small area where the muscle control nerves pass through. If you regain the usage of the hand you should be able to walk.
Just 3 days after meeting me he was hobbling. In a week he was moving around with a cane. Miracle eh? No. I just made him use his damn leg by telling his son to not carry him around. Miracles are more amazing when you understand that they aren’t. Any improvement to a patient that’s not explainable by current medicine or by the doctors at Lourdes who say “I don’t know what’s improving her condition” is put down to Jesus when it could as well be Apollo, the Physician god of Greece for all the sense that makes.
Now as for the specific miracle you are discussing, we are probably trying to discuss the more infamous Miracle of the Sun or the Our Lady of Lourdes at Fatima miracle.
Get a Bright Light. Now stare at it, you already begin to observe the “floaters” within your eye making random shapes and moving about. Now shut your eyes. Observe the dancing suns. That’s your retina’s depolarisation continuing due to strong stimulus. Now imagine staring at the actual sun, an event you are NOT supposed to do mixed in with religious fervour and a distinct desire to witness a miracle.
TADAA! Dancing Suns or something that looks like it!
Incidentally? Don’t do it. I am pretty sure a fair few people got blinded by that incident. Like the “Emperor’s New Clothes” should have a sequel called “The Boy who got tortured because he couldn’t keeps his mouth shut around a clearly insane man with absolute power”, the Dancing Sun miracle should have one called “The day people stared at the sun and went blind”.
Try it with a light,
10. Are your political leanings toward the Left? If so explain why in detail (i.e., “Yes, because….)
Centre Left. Because I am British and frankly your choices in the USA consist of “Right Wingers” versus “Ultra Right Wingers”. Obama is “Centre Right Wing”. Our Conservative party is probably the equivalent to the Democrats of the USA.
For purely selfish reasons. In every society where unchecked capitalism has occurred, eventually poor people get sick of it and start lining up rich bastards and killing them.
Okay a more sensible answer. There is nothing wrong with the acquisition of wealth. But not at the cost of the poorest and the weakest. We owe each other in society a safety net for when things go wrong. The poorest deserve the same opportunity of medical care, education and chances to earn a decent wage as the richest. It is for this reason that I am a believer in some ideas of socialism as the reigns to control capitalism. I like money, having none at the moment made me learn the value of it. I want money later in life and I want things. But I don’t want things while people are poor and at their cost. I would rather give my fair share to society and make sure that those people have a chance that I got too. That is why I am economically left wingish.
Socially though? Well it’s simple. The right wing are bloody mad. The American Right Wing live in a fantasy world and what they wish is detrimental to society as a whole. If they had their way they would insert Jesus into children in science class in a nation where science education is already sub par. If they had their way and they have, women would seek abortions from coathangers and have less access to basic obstetric care than my patients. If they had their way we would be discriminating against anyone who didn’t follow a judeo-christian axis of faith. If they had their way we would not be treating the GLBT as we aspire to. And through this all is discrimination which allows the rich to get richer and the poor to stay poor and stupid.
Watching poor Americans vote Republican because their Church tells them to is like watching Cows voting for McDonalds.
You may say “But Avi! How can you value human life but still be in favour of abortion”. Because quality of life is important too. You are alive in a cellular sense but not in a sentient sense. At that stage of life you are human by DNA but not by humanity. It is no different from turning off a life support machine and you may think that merely breathing is important but brain function is what determines life. The rest is just “life support”.
11. At what age did you become an Atheist? What is your current age?
Aged 16 when I decided I didn’t really believe in Hinduism. I am now 27. 11 years of no gods.
And there you have it folks.