Screw moderation

I have very often stressed that there are no grey areas in a lot of issues. I don't mean to sound like Bush, but sometimes you have quit trying to be 'nice and neutral' and take a bloody stance. This blog-post does both. It takes a firm stance asserting that all beliefs should be tolerated - a stance that takes no stance. I don't know if I should call it naivety or ingenuous optimism or plain lack of critical analysis. But it's a good thing she expressed it, at least now she'll know who agrees with her and who doesn't (and why). Given that I spent some time to post a reply, I might as well quote a part of my comment there.*
{{Today being an atheist is a fad. People don't realise that it is an extreme point of view and they are no different from religious fanatics.}} - This is a platitude that bears little logical reasoning. You have two factions, one that is totally dogmatic, inherently prejudiced and intolerant based on a certainty that cannot be proven unless you stoop down to a delusional world. And on the other hand you have the most universally accepted epistemological realm in this world (science). Given that evolutionary science has grown so much that the religious ‘fundies’ can no longer play the "it's just a theory" record, one can no longer believe the Gods of Christianity or Islam or Zionism or even Hinduism if they understood science. Atheists of the past, mostly, rejected the idea of God based on moral, ethical and philosophical grounds. Lately it's scientific. If development of modern science is a fad, then sure, atheism is too.

Delusion (aka faith), unlike science, does not follow an inductive method or logical reasoning that is both universal and objective (as universal as human universality and as objective as objectivity can possibly get). Whether there is anything real or not, science is the only way to understand and communicate (with least ambiguites) the idea of reality. So, as someone who's passionate about the truth, Dawkins' supposed militant approach can only be equated to anti-slavery movements of 19th century, the feminist movements of the 1960s (and the civil rights movement of the same period).
Slavery was, at least then, a lifestyle and for many, a belief system that was supposed to help the 'black man'. And I'm happy that not many people were "tolerant" to those beliefs for a long time. There are several belief systems that the need be shown zero tolerance. Religions (especially monotheistic ones) need not be treated different just because of the sheer number of followers. The likes of Ted Haggard are breeding close minded homophobes all over the world. It's an indoctrination that breeds intolerance. Why should it be tolerated?
In the presentation cited below, Sam Harris makes a similar argument. He goes on to accuse the 'moderates' for "providing a cover for the fundamentalists." The same can be said about a few theologians that I've met or listened to. They use their intellect and sophistry to manipulate the semantics of science, albeit embarrassing themselves in the process. Nevertheless, they do provide fodder to the 'god believing lot'. For them the "smart theologians" are a defense mechanism. The theologians (especially the ones who believe in a religious God), are either incorrigible liars or neurologically diseased.

* - Minor changes have been made from the original comment. Please read the comment in its original context to see the footnotes that I had provided.

Addendum: I strongly recommend you to watch the videos from this site. Or search for 'beyond belief' in youtube and watch the edited clips available there.


Priya said...

Thanks for the link to the videos. They are interesting:)

Anonymous said...

It is important to see that quote in context. Had she adopted the older definition of atheism, it would be in fact a very reasonable statement. See the section Proof of God and the answer to the question Are agnostics atheists? to see Bertrand Russell's stance. Wikipedia holds that there is no unambiguous definition of an atheist. However, it is quite clear from her post that she is attacking those who do not believe in a God, as well as those who believe there is no God (the two classes are distinct).

Suresh said...

The atheist-agnostic split makes more sense only when the discussion excludes all religious gods.
As for disproving the existence of any religious god we just need to go back to the origins. And to test the existence we need to choose a method. If the believers accept the use of ‘scientific method’ they would lose the fight right there. If they do not, then they presuppose the existence of supernatural laws (which then can be used to predicate the existence of anything. As Dawkins often quotes: The spaghetti monster or the orbiting tea pot.)

In the post, she's not attacking god believers but religious extremists (who base their convictions on unproven certainties) and equating them with people like Dawkins (who base their arguments on the most authentic etymological construct - scientific method). She not only fails to criticize those who believe in a god that created this world a few thousand years ago but castigates those who do. Given that her blog's content is mostly science related, I find the blog-post highly problematic. She is indirectly being apologetic to religious people. As Sam Harris said in a conference,"[P]eople wouldn't let me carry on with my belief if I said I can run faster than the Olympic gold medal winner and it makes me feel good. They would want to know the reason. If possible test it. Why is that rational approach blocked when it's about religion?"

Her attack is completely misplaced regardless of the context. Is she willing to vouch that the scientific method and the knowledge it has given to this world are just as good as what’s in the Bible and the Koran? That’s the only context in which the religious people and the so called militant atheists can be equated.

The definition of atheist is ambiguous only to the extent that the definition god remains ambiguous.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comment. But I am not sure you are following what I said:
One definition of an atheist is a person who is characterized by a belief that there is no creator of the Universe. An agnostic on the other hand is a person who is characterized by a lack of belief in a creator of the Universe. Both may be opposed to the conventional religious Gods. They are still different points of view. Bertrand Russell therefore argues that it is more rational to call yourself an agnostic than an atheist but recognizes they are practically the same and is fully aware of the deficiencies of this approach. See those links. However now there seems to be very little difference between the terms. (Refer Wikipedia for instance). So, No, even for a clearly defined "God" as "A Creator of the Universe", the definition of atheist is ambiguous.

Badri said...

That's a nice video! This is the first time I am hearing Sam Harris.

Suresh said...

@ Anon (thanks for engaging)

Yes, I understand what you're saying. That's why I had used the term 'religious gods'. An atheist has a clear definition in his/her refusal to believe in any religious god because all religious gods are confined to absolutely ridiculous theories and mostly limit Earth's age to a few thousand years. Hindu gods are no different in that they bend universal laws (that atheists don't agree with). And all religious gods, by nature, have a strong influence on what's going on in the Earth.

But for a God who could have actually created the universe 6 odd billion years ago, an atheist's definition can still be clear. The God who supposedly created this universe does not in anyway control our puny lives here. Again, the 'scientific method' shall be used to test this claim. And a "power" that does not control our lives but just created this universe is no different from humans who create game simulations (and for all we know this universe could well be one). Now we just need to replace the 'The Big Bang' with 'The Creator'. Several scientists who call themselves 'agnostic' are actually atheists in that they don't believe in a 'big-brother' like character watching all of us from up there. So it's just semantics.
But even that, as Dawkins has argued here, is unlikely because the random 'Big Bang' is far more plausible than the "the random existence of a God that created this universe". So in my view, at least once we get out of the philosophical realm, an atheist who denies the existence of any God, is quite justified. There may be superior creatures (that went through an evolutionary process themselves) who can affect the functioning of the universe (just like humans' effect on the Earth), but it still doesn't make them Gods.

Even philosophically, God should, if not anything, at least bestow some purpose to our existence. So, even if in future (say a few thousand years from now) we discover that this universe is just one of the many in the cosmos and this one’s origin was triggered by an “alien being playing marbles” (as shown in the movie MIB) it does not help the “purpose” seeking mind in anyway. Well, sure people might then realize that their existence has no external or supernatural purpose.

PS. I apologize for being so wordy. cheers

Priya said...

"Whether there is anything real or not, science is the only way to understand and communicate (with least ambiguites) the idea of reality." I agree with you totally here. Richard Dawkins, in the preface of his book The blind Watchmaker, states that he wrote the book "to persuade the reader, not just that the Darwinian world-view happens to be true, but that it is the only known theory that could, in principle, solve the mystery of our existence." If you have not already read the book, you should read it.

Dawkins argues that evolution is capable of explaining the origin of complexity on earth, and uses this against the existence of god. He says, "a deity capable of engineering all the organised complexity in the world, either instantaneously or by guiding evolution,... must already have been vastly complex in the first place..."

The Individualist said...

Agnosticism in itself is highly diverse with many tending towards theism and many others towards atheism.
But the distinction between an atheist and an agnostic is quite clear. If you believe that there's no God, you are an atheist. If you believe that the knowledge of God, if any, is inherently unknowable, then you are an agnostic. A noncommittal approach, if you can call it.

Anonymous said...

If you believe the knowledge of God is inherently unknowable, that is a strong assertion. How is that non-committal? It is tantamount to saying no amount of scientific inquiry can resolve that question.
Mock religions and analogies like the celestial teapot of Bertrand Russell only serve to attack a common logical fallacy that leads people to believe that an inability to disprove something can be taken as proof.

On the other hand, it is scientifically incorrect to assert that there is no celestial teapot or an invisible pink unicorn or a Creator God, or a Manipulator God, of because you would be making the same logical fallacy as the theists, when you claim that you are inability to show the existence of such an object disproves its existence. This is exactly why Bertrand Russell calls himself an agnostic and not an atheist.

I purposely included Manipulator God who apparently watches and manipulates our actions among the items we cannot disprove, because you rightly pointed out that a Creator God who has no control over our lives is useless except possibly as an academic curiosity.

While it is easy to be an atheist with respect to the conventional Gods (there is plenty of evidence against), it is impossible to rule out the Flying Spaghetti Monster or a Creator God (or any theory of God one may cook up that does not conflict with known evidence and cannot be discounted).

A weak agnostic stance is an honest "I don't know". "You can never tell" seems similar when you consider these examples, but it actually expresses a strong skepticism about whether science can disprove it. It is a comment on the nature of knowledge and what can be proven. It is not illogical though because it is a scientific fact (which is rather amusing) that even in the most careful framework of axioms there are statements that cannot be proved or disproved - the result is due to Kurt Godel.

Lest you think that all this is unnecessarily verbose, let me point out that I am trying to emphasize that an atheist stance of "There cannot be a God" or "There cannot be a celestial teapot" is just as ridiculous as a theist stance because you would be using the same fallacious arguments.

"I refuse to believe or refuse to be convinced" is actually an agnostic stance because it says "I cannot accept such an entity because there is no evidence to back it. I would be willing to accept it if you can prove it". This is the only stance I find reasonable. An "I don't care - it doesn't matter" agnostic stance is not very convincing because most hypotheses about God aren't really inconsequential.

The Individualist said...

I guess I did a bad job intertwining those contradictory sentences.
I should have better said that Agnosticism covers a range of people. From people who are non-committal to people who claim that the knowledge of God (if any) is inherently unknowable.
The reason I had stated "Agnosticism in itself is highly diverse - "
And yes, I frankly find the position of being an agnostic more reasonable than an atheist or a theist. And when I say agnostic here, I mean a person who refuses to believe in God for not having enough proof and one, who is rather open-minded to any future evidence.

Suresh said...

@ Anon

I think I made it quite clear here, "the God who supposedly created this universe does not in anyway control our puny lives here". Again, the 'scientific method' shall be used to test this claim. While the existence of the 'invisible pink unicorn' or the 'celestial tea pot' cannot be scientifically proven or disproven, their supposed effects can be - if only the believers are willing to subject their belief to testing. What cannot be tested is the supposed effects of death under different gods. There's a deadlock there. But otherwise all claims are testable.

Besides, my assertion was rather ontological. That is, it can never, yes, never, be proved that a God (assuming that the entity that created this universe or the sphagetti monster that watches us from up above, exists) can ascribe a purpose to our lives. So, an atheist stance can superesede the limitations of the scientific method and call in the assistance of ontology (or metaphysics) to dismiss the notion of a God that gives purpose to our lives.

Raj said...

Very interesting post..I agree with you fully. I really appreciate the clear insight you have shown in your reply. It was interesting to note that the blogger (Sowmya) chose to conveniently ignore most of the comments and only answer one that was not critical of her post anyway!

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