Saturday, December 30, 2006

About Atheism...

I may be coming out of the closet with this one, but here goes. Check out this recent article by Sam Harris, entitled "10 Myths and 10 Truths About Atheism".

I have to share one quote because it's come up in recent discussions with some of my religious friends, who are apt to say, "But look at all the good religion has done."

Sam Harris writes:

"Those who emphasize the good effects of religion never seem to realize that such effects fail to demonstrate the truth of any religious doctrine. This is why we have terms such as "wishful thinking" and "self-deception." There is a profound distinction between a consoling delusion and the truth.

In any case, the good effects of religion can surely be disputed. In most cases, it seems that religion gives people bad reasons to behave well, when good reasons are actually available. Ask yourself, which is more moral, helping the poor out of concern for their suffering, or doing so because you think the creator of the universe wants you to do it, will reward you for doing it or will punish you for not doing it?"

I had a discussion recently with my brother about whether religion is really a force for good in society and whether one's intentions can excuse their behavior. I cited Mother Teresa and how she is lauded as some great and wonderful figure. But is that the case? Were her acts motivated by genuine love and kindness for those who suffer or were they guided by her devotion to and/or fear of some unprovable deity in the sky? I don't want this to be a discussion of Mother Teresa's motives, for no one can know for certain what her motivations were. My point is the question of whether belief in a God is necessary for people to do good.

Religion is such a sacred cow for most people. It seems we can discuss anything else, but when religion comes up, particularly the question of whether God exists, there is a tendency to hide behind the "I respect everyone's beliefs" philosophy. Well, you can tell this is a pretty interesting subject for me these days. I'd love to hear your thoughts, on here or in person.

tall penguin


Joshua said...

Sam Harris is one sexy skeptic dude! You ever listen to Point of Inquiry? So cool...

tall penguin said...

You think Sam Harris is sexy. Have you seen Richard Dawkins? I'd have his babies any day!

tall penguin

Fenley said...

Hi there,
Here's our email from earlier today:

Hey its Fen,
>> Very introspective stuff. I commend you for putting this out there.
>> I've
>> read a bit of Sam Harris and admire Dawkins a great deal but atheism
>> negates some core ideas that make it an inferior line of thinking to
>> agnosticsm.
>> 1. Firstly it asumes that everything that needs to be known about the
>> universe is in our current understanding or it wouldnt unequivocally
>> turn down the idea of God. Anyone who knows how far science has come
>> in the past 400 years should consider that we actually know NOTHING.
>> Science is a descriptive discipline. We're limited by our
>> abilities to
>> describe...lets see where we are after 2000 years of science...we
>> might be very surprised to see the face of the god we so vehemently
>> deny :-)
>> 2. The notion of the judeo - Christian god (and most gods as we
>> define
>> them) is arguably / obviously a quaint construct by man to make sense
>> of this world and the presence of "divine" power within it but that
>> still doesn't eliminate the notion that we came from "soomething" or
>> someone from somewhere
>> 3. Defining God is about defining the relationship between matter and
>> concisousness. Were we to put an ant on my cracked open skull and
>> have
>> it mill about on my brain it would perceive that it was walking on a
>> sticky grey surface that was moist and had wrinkles. What it wouldn't
>> know is that inside that grey matter was all my dreams, aspirations,
>> memories, emotions etc. (this is obviously a very smart ant...but it
>> would be floored to know that he too had a brain). We cant define
>> what
>> god isnt until we can define what consciousness is. Aetheists
>> would do
>> themselves more justice in seeking this answer rather than railing on
>> about what God isnt...although that's a partially useful exercise to
>> wake people up out of their religion induced sleep
>> 4. Aetheism is often subscribed to by intelligent, educated, white
>> people...nothing wrong with that at all except for one thing. If
>> aetheism as Dawkins sees it is to supplant religion as humanities
>> core
>> belief then it has to find a way to inspire the masses and ultimately
>> we're not all Dr.
>> Spock and religion has been able to inspire love and fear in us in
>> ways that aetheism lacks. There's a pomposity that most aetheists
>> display that's a real turn off to most people.
>> 5. One of the stats aetheists throw around as a way to discredit
>> religion is that millions have died in the name of this or that
>> religion.
>> Unfortunately
>> the names of aetheists such as Marx and Mao have comparable blemishes
>> and the blood of millions attached to them. Not a major point but
>> this
>> is to show that humans, regardless of belief (except for most
>> Buddhism
>> ironically)
>> have evil in their hearts. The question is whether the source of that
>> evil is a construct such as the devil or of a more human nature.
>> Just my thoughts on Harris etc give me a shout if you ever want to
>> chat or feel free to email.
>> Cheers,
>> F

tall penguin said...

Thank you Fenley for sharing your thoughts with me.

I find this all very interesting. I find it easier these days to say what I don't believe than what I do believe. I'm becoming more and more comfortable with not holding beliefs at all but choosing to make decisions as I need to. I am most willing to accept that what I think is true today could be proved completely false tomorrow. I think this is where religion goes wrong, refusing to make change based on new information.

Is a god necessary "to inspire the masses"? Can we find meaning in life without the idea of a god/creator? Is it possible to enjoy life for the sake of life and create meaning as we see fit?

I can see that perhaps religion has served a purpose in the evolution of the species. I just think that purpose is coming to an end and is no longer in humanity's long-term best interests for survival. Perhaps it is true that we need some kind of in between stage to soften the blow for people. Perhaps that is why new age philosophy is gaining adherents. It still has the idea of god or some kind of all-encompassing energy without all of the guilt, shame, fear and hatred of organized religion. I've been there and done that too. At this point in my life, it all feels like mind control. Same product, different package.

tall penguin