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You read it right – preamble. I started writing a blog on my disbelief and it turned into a decent outline for a book. Thus I’ve split this into a few segues. Some of these will be about why I lack any belief in a god at all and others will be why Christianity is a societal menace. Yes, I do rail on about Christianity largely to the exclusion of other religions, but then we don’t have presidential or prime ministerial candidates tripping over each other to demonstrate their nauseating piety for Allah to a gullible audience that not only allows this nonsense but applauds it. I don’t believe in Jehovah any more than I believe in Allah or Yahweh, or (presumably) any of you believe in Zeus or Ba’al. Had I been brought up in an Islamic country I would be writing about Islam and not Christianity. I’m just going with the devil I know. But don’t worry, other religions get honorable mentions.

If God does not exist then where does our notion of God come from?

I used to belong to a Lutheran student group when I was studying at the university I graduated from. I don’t think I ever believed, but I really did enjoy the sense of belonging and kinship that I found there. I have since found out that this is not uncommon. Atheists getting together socially just doesn’t happen much and I think this is a shame. Some go to places of worship to fill this need since they can’t fill it anywhere else. This represents one of the positive sides of religion, but as I will describe later, this feature also has its dark side.

It is interesting that when I came up with the title for this I implicitly recognized the lack of necessity to state what it is I don’t believe. I don’t believe in any god, or gods. I don’t mean this in the sense that I don’t know whether there are deities out there. I mean this in the sense that there is absolutely no reason to believe deities exist and therefore I reject even their possibility of existence. I have to act on the best available evidence and since any god that would interact with the universe would leave traces, including one which did nothing more than create it. Despite our best efforts, no trace has ever been found. Nor is there any indication that we ever will. This is more than enough for me. To believe ‘just in case’, as Pascal would have you do, is in light of this is simply to cower in fear of the unknown. I’m made of stronger stuff than that.

Yet belief persists in our society. There seems to be a pathological need to believe. This in itself cannot be taken as an argument for the existence of a god, though many do see it as such. The reason is that a belief in an idea has no bearing on the truth of an idea. Nor does the popularity of religion lend any credence to the many variants of its ‘truths’. This begs the question of ‘why’ religion exists.

So then why does it exist? Humans, like their relatives in the primate branch of the evolutionary tree, have evolved to be curious. Like pretty much every other behavioral feature, curiosity is the end result of a long series of evolutionary accidents which shaped our nature. Ours is the most highly developed consciousness on the planet and it is only fitting that we take curiosity to an extreme. We want the answers to questions which our curious nature did not evolve to solve. Experimentation on a simplistic level lead to an ability to predict outcomes, a valuable ability in our ancestors’ struggle to survive. Wanting to answer questions such as ‘how did we get here?’ or ‘why are we here?’, what I will call ‘the Burning Questions’, are a natural by-product of this characteristic. Religion, in my view, is nothing more than an accident of behavioral evolution – rationalization of the fruits of our premature curiosity satisfaction taken to an extreme.

But we have also developed a need for instant gratification. We aren’t satisfied with not being able to answer these questions. And this is where religion has its roots. It offered a way to answer the questions which are still front-and-center in our psyche. Today, religions have evolved (and are continuing to evolve) into more sophisticated forms, as evidenced by the regimented structures of the world’s most popular religions. In other words, gods were born out of our ignorance and nothing has changed. Even Newton, arguably the greatest scientific mind that we can name, demonstrated this ignorance. As Neil deGrasse Tyson has pointed out, Newton is in complete command of the Laws of Motion in his great opus, the Principia, God appears nowhere. That is, until he could not solve the many-body problem of the motion of the planets. Try as he might, he could not find an analytical solution which would accurately describe the solar system. Well, if he, the Great Newton, could not figure it out, no one could and it had to be because of the Great Designer! Putting his arrogance aside, to Newton God was all about Newton. His belief was based not on evidence at all, but on a rationalization of his own ignorance which he was too arrogant to acknowledge, even to himself. And yet NASA gets along just fine by calculating the trajectories of probes to other planets solving the equations numerically with an unimaginable precision. Imagine playing darts and hitting a dartboard placed on the moon!

Speaking of Newton, believers often like to bring up the names of famous scientists that believed in God. Many of these names happen to have lived before alternative naturalistic explanations to the Burning Questions were available. Even the great Scottish philosopher David Hume, represented by Philo in his Discourses on Natural Theology, succumbed to the lack of alternatives to God.

But we have absolutely no way of knowing what the theological positions of these great minds would be if such alternatives were available to answer the Burning Questions. Such an Argument from Authority simply carries no weight at all. This is particularly true in Newton’s case, since he was quite heretical in his beliefs (and likely would have met with a grisly end had he ever gone public with them) and was quite the alchemist (again done in secret to avoid the side-effects of the gallows). Many more modern names, like those of Albert Einstein and Paul Davies lend no credence to God’s existence, either. With Einstein, his position on what God is is unclear, but he was unequivocal about his disbelief in a personal god:

‘It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.’ 

His ideas on the faith of his heritage are less than favorable, calling them ‘childish’ and said of the bible:

‘The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.’ 

Physicist and author Paul Davies is pantheist in his belief and his version of God has nothing in common with the Abrahamic versions, a point which is dishonestly overlooked by many apologists. (More on Davies later).

One of the most famous quotes ever uttered by a scientist is often cited in association with God: ‘God does not play dice.’ This is of course Albert Einstein’s famous quote to Neils Bohr in protestation to Quantum Mechanics. It’s actually a misquote, the original being

‘I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice.’ 

Einstein’s objections were often accompanied by thought experiments which he felt Quantum Mechanics predicted impossible results. One such experiment was the so-called EPR experiment (named for its ‘inventors’: Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen). It wasn’t till after Einstein’s death that it was possible to perform the experiment and produce the ‘impossible’ results that Quantum Mechanics predicted. The EPR experiment was the starting point for a whole area of Physics research – quantum entanglement. God doesn’t just play dice; God has the ultimate gambling addiction! Again, Einstein’s concept of God seems to spring from his own prejudice and not from any hard data. There is simply no reason to believe that God is anything other than a substitute for our ignorance, even those of Newton and Einstein.

When viewed through the lens of skepticism, both God and Religion fall apart. In turn, I will be looking at specific aspects of the concept of God – philosophical arguments of its existence, the necessity of religion for morality, religion benefits society – and why they are all demonstrably wrong.

Next segue: Philosophical arguments for God

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3 Comments

  1. If God does not exist then where does our notion of God come from?

    We know best what does not exist. But the notion of god comes from marketing. Religion is a method to program humans. The method is as old as the oldest mythologies. Probably existed before the written word.

    I don’t think I ever believed, but I really did enjoy the sense of belonging and kinship that I found there.

    The same belonging and kinship can be found in fans of sports clubs. We don’t need to experience the cosmogonic baggage of religion to feel connected. What makes us feel good is marketing. We can only perceive abstract things visualized by a symbol. You can apply your rational skepticism to prove that a sports club does not exist and you would be right. In this sense it is better to enjoy then to question.

    I don’t believe in any god, or gods. . . . I mean this in the sense that there is absolutely no reason to believe deities exist and therefore I reject even their possibility of existence.

    Deities may not exist but they fulfill a purpose in daily life. The way humans are designed they cannot perceive without a model. Deities is a particular set of models for humans to identify with. (This is the reason why you felt belonged in your Lutheran community.) Different religious components such as rituals, ceremonies, cosmogony and rules and laws that regulate how to live are all different parts that are added to the core faith later. The cosmogonic part of Christianity was developed in Alexanderia I believe in the 3rd or 5th century. The philosophical component, as in Aristotelianism, was developed by Peripatetic philosophers. Yet, marketers of religions conflate all of these into one branded package.

    I have to act on the best available evidence and since any god that would interact with the universe would leave traces, including one which did nothing more than create it.

    I don’t understand this sentence. For a believer everything observed is evidence of creation by a god.

    Yet belief persists in our society. There seems to be a pathological need to believe.

    Belief is not pathological. It is natural. Nothing will happen without trust. When you make a contract with someone else you must believe that he will hold his side of the deal. Society works on trust and belief.

    The reason is that a belief in an idea has no bearing on the truth of an idea.

    I think this is debatable. You believe that ideas have an absolute truth/untruth value that we can know. I disagree. On the contrary, believing in god makes god to exist. Think about money. There is nothing called money. Money is not the paper you exchange. It’s not the electronic signals that you transfer in Paypal. It’s nothing. It exists solely as a standard which has various appearances. It exists because every human being agrees contractually that money is the universal unit of exchange. This way, any item, tangible or intangible, compatible or incompatible can be translated into money and exchanged easily. God is something like that, it exists because people believe in it.

    If you wish to seek further evidence for the existence or non-existence of god, science or rational reasoning cannot help you. The type of evidence will not be scientific evidence because god by definition is an absolute entity. Science is not revelatory and cannot reveal god.

    Nor does the popularity of religion lend any credence to the many variants of its ‘truths’. This begs the question of ‘why’ religion exists.

    Religion exists for marketing reasons. Religion is the easiest way to program humans. Human character is such that no individual would ever do something that another human orders him to do. But if that human individual is indoctrinated in believing in the existence of superhuman deities and fears them then the programmers will tell human individual what to do through gods and he will do it.

    Like pretty much every other behavioral feature, curiosity is the end result of a long series of evolutionary accidents which shaped our nature.

    Yes, curiosity may have created god. Also, curiosity is a defining property of humans but the education system controlled by the programmers of humans make sure that human curiosity is eradicated and humans are turned into consumer drones unquestioningly obeying the programmers’ orders.

    Ours is the most highly developed consciousness on the planet and it is only fitting that we take curiosity to an extreme.

    Taking curiosity to the extreme leads to fox/hedgehog paradox. To me curiosity must be focused. Intelligence is to know how much you can ignore, not how much you know.

    Wanting to answer questions such as ‘how did we get here?’ or ‘why are we here?’, what I will call ‘the Burning Questions’, are a natural by-product of this characteristic.

    This seems to me an acquired characteristic of humans, not an innate characteristic. Because to ask these questions you need a theoretical language system, like the written word, and then you need to have the leisure to ask and ponder those questions. Raising of these questions coincided in history with the rising of a leisure class in antique Greece. If, as has been the case for the majority of humanity, the entirety of your day is taken up by work to feed your family then “how did we get here?” “Why are we here?” are irrelevant academic questions. There is only one burning question for 85 per cent of humanity, Where is the next meal coming from?

    Religion, in my view, is nothing more than an accident of behavioral evolution – rationalization of the fruits of our premature curiosity satisfaction taken to an extreme.

    I believe this alludes to personal and humane religion or a religion of a small group or a clan. It may describe the state of religion before the book religions incorporated themselves into giant marketing organisms that feed on humanity. The individual shaman of the clan became the incorporated shamans (physicists?) as clans incorporated into huge city states.

    And this is where religion has its roots. It offered a way to answer the questions which are still front-and-center in our psyche.

    Yes, I agree. Religion offers ready-made answers to cosmogonic questions. We no longer sew our own clothes. Or make our own transportation vehicle. Or buy raw material to bake bread daily. Religion is like that, a ready-made answer to academic burning questions. Consumers buy their life-long answers from a global purveyor of burning answers nicely packaged as a recipe for happy living and don’t ever worry about cosmogonic questions again. I think that’s a good solution. Why do you object to it? And considering that human lifetime is limited we must by necessity suspend our rationalism and take the word of the professional marketers at least in some major areas. You may apply scientific skepticism to religion but as far as I can see not to law. You take law as given. You take political system as given. You take big pharma as given. You take physics as given. As individuals we just don’t have the time to question every marketing pun and trope and polemical monopoly. And the Unhuman Organism makes sure that humans remain divided. I am sure you realize that one of the fundamental objectives of religion is to keep humans divided so that they cannot combine forces and figure out the burning questions in a rational way.

    Today, religions have evolved (and are continuing to evolve) into more sophisticated forms, as evidenced by the regimented structures of the world’s most popular religions.

    The reason for this is that religious brands are hierarchical and bureaucratic organisms. They must grow in order to continue to exist. And after they reach their critical size they divide into two like organisms and a new similar organism is created.

    In other words, gods were born out of our ignorance and nothing has changed.

    I think the god of brand religions is a sophisticated marketing construct. It is a good marketing vehicle. Consider the highly effective Catholic iconography developed by the best painters of Europe starting from the earliest times. That’s sophisticated marketing that cost a bundle to the Church. But the Church knows marketing. It is about marketing. Their god was not born out of ignorance but it was created by sophisticated marketers, like Paul, whose global book tour established the Bible as the Book. This is where Newtonism comes in. Newtonism is the modern state-sponsored religion that replaced Christianity as the state-sponsored religion.

    Even Newton, arguably the greatest scientific mind that we can name, demonstrated this ignorance.

    How do you argue that Newton was the greatest scientific mind that ever existed? The evidence suggests just the opposite. Newton is a deity and I invite you to apply your scientific skepticism to this deity as well and see if you continue to believe the propaganda that deified Newton as the Moses of Mechanics. You can start by reading Halley’s Ode to Newton that starts the Principia to see the deification process in action.

    in his great opus, the Principia, God appears nowhere . . .

    As you mention below this statement is not true. Newton’s zeroeth law says that God created a Newtonian world. God is in the foundation of the Principia.

    That is, until he could not solve the many-body problem of the motion of the planets. Try as he might, he could not find an analytical solution which would accurately describe the solar system.

    Another myth. Newton worked with proportions not with equations. A concept of analytical solution makes no sense in the context of Principia.

    And also Newton only computed about half a dozen astronomical quantities and he never tried to “describe the solar system” accurately. He projected his few calculations to the entire universe by fiat and by polemics by calling his force universal. Physicists still believe Newtonian creation by fiat. I also like to mention that Principia is a brand and it makes no sense to criticize it. It’s futile.

    Well, if he, the Great Newton . . .

    Newton was the greatest marketing genius ever lived, that’s true, he was a shrewd politician, true, and it is also true that he was the greatest anti-science ever lived.

    . . . could not figure it out, no one could and it had to be because of the Great Designer! Putting his arrogance aside, to Newton God was all about Newton.

    I agree. As Huygens pointed out Newton intended Newton’s force to be Newton’s soul that permeated the universe.

    So you too realize that Newton was a propagandist, a self-promoter and a sophisticated marketer who established his own brand of the system of the world as the standard nature.

    NASA gets along just fine by calculating the trajectories of probes to other planets solving the equations numerically with an unimaginable precision.

    I agree totally. NASA is not using Newtonian dynamics to compute orbits which obviates Newtonism but they still project in their websites that Newton’s laws rule.

    Many more modern names, like those of Albert Einstein and Paul Davies lend no credence to God’s existence

    But these are the opinions of these writers. The fact that Einstein knew how to manipulate mathematical symbols does not give him the authority to pontificate about the existence of god. On this subject his opinion is as good as yours or mine or anybody elses.

    Einstein’s concept of God seems to spring from his own prejudice and not from any hard data.

    If you define god as the ultimate designer there will never be scientific evidence or hard data for or against. If we confine ourselves to science we must accept that we cannot know absolutes and ultimates.

    When viewed through the lens of skepticism, both God and Religion fall apart.

    Brand religions and their gods fulfill very well what they are suppose to achieve. They are living organisms.

    In turn, I will be looking at specific aspects of the concept of God – philosophical arguments of its existence, the necessity of religion for morality, religion benefits society – and why they are all demonstrably wrong.

    Well, thanks I’ll read that next.

    Note: I also tried to draw a map of this comment here. It turns out that God and Religion are linked by marketing. I thought that was interesting.

    • shamelesslyatheist
    • Posted November 4, 2008 at 1:07 pm
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    Thanks for a very insightful comments. I completely agree that Religion is all about marketing. Jim Bakker would even agree. I wish I had the exact quote, but it was he that said that Religion has a product that can’t be beat.

    I don’t agree on all points (where would the fun be if I did?), however. For instance, I do not believe in absolute truth any more than you (you’ve pegged me wrong there). David Hume destroyed that concept centuries ago. I don’t ask what is true, but how much confidence can I place in what I think I know based on the accumulation of empirical evidence in support.

    I do know what you mean about a belief being made real because we believe it to be real. The very belief in a deity actually creating said deity and it is we (well, those that buy into it anyway) that make god(s) real, that I can buy. But belief in a deity that created the universe, however, now maps onto what we call reality. Just believing in such a deity can not cause it to come into existence because the universe preceded us and such a god can be falsified.

    A weird consequence is that we would then have created ourselves through self-causation – if we created the deity which created the universe, we have, by extension, created ourselves. While self-causation is indeed possible, it makes my brain hurt thinking about it and I’m not sure it can be invoked here. I know what you meant. The lie of a god creating the universe would also be bought into and thus establishing this explanation of cause as fact, but I’m an empiricist and work hard at discarding such presuppositions. In such a case, we would truly be gods ourselves. While we can make such a god real if we believe hard enough, it is brittle and shatters the moment we gain understanding of the origins of the cosmos. Indeed, we are seeing the beginnings of that now I think.

  2. . . . Religion has a product that can’t be beat.

    That’s comfort religion for consumers. There is also the cosmogonical and philosophical aspect of religion that we apparently are discussing here. Jim Bakker is not questioning religion. He is packaging the Bible as entertainment suitable for the media of the times. But, I don’t think marketing necessarily is limited to consumerism. Fundamental process of nature is marketing. And I don’t see anything wrong with religion as entertainment. Jim Bakker and alike are marketing a popular product. There is no right or wrong about it.

    I don’t ask what is true, but how much confidence can I place in what I think I know based on the accumulation of empirical evidence in support.

    This type of reasoning from observations does not work with god, or in general, with absolutes. Assume that in the future humans became extinct and computers took over. Wishing to find out their roots computers could definitely deduce from evidence humans left on earth that humans were their creators. All that computers have to do is to google and they’ll know. But no matter how much evidence they can find they can never know god, in the sense that you are using, the absolute creator ex nihilo. In addition, what a silly anthropocentric assumption that the creator of humans must also be the creator of totality. It doesn’t follow. Humans may have been the work of intermediary creatures, just like computers are created by humans. The program of humanity should be to identify this intermediary creator(s) instead of searching for or believing in God.

    I do know what you mean about a belief being made real because we believe it to be real.

    I may mean something stronger. What exists are appearances. Not necessarily appearances of other things. Existence is contractual and resulting effects appear as real appearances to contractees.

    The very belief in a deity actually creating said deity and . . . that make god(s) real, that I can buy.

    If I am understanding correctly, maybe I am not, you are imagining deities in the mythological sense as anthropomorphic creatures. You say that gods are real. I think that nothing is created except the contract (or belief or love) and the contract is the cause of the observations that we interpret as caused by an invisible agent. So, god does not need to exist to cause wars on earth. Otherwise, I don’t mean that a causal (real) agent is created by faith. Feel free to help clarify what I mean.

    But belief in a deity that created the universe, however, now maps onto what we call reality.

    So if the universe we are observing — not totality — is something like wars that I mentioned above, then the universe would be a manifestation of some contract between two parties in a different scale. So, what skews our perception of the world and forbids us to realize that things may happen without a material cause is Newtonism which is based on the dogma of atomic materialism. Newtonism is encoded in our language so we cannot imagine that something that does not exist in Newtonian material sense could manifest itself as a measurable effect. I suspect that you are using the word “reality” to mean the Newtonian material reality.

    Just believing in such a deity can not cause it to come into existence because the universe preceded us and such a god can be falsified.

    Again, I don’t think in terms of Newtonian existence which is encoded in our minds as “physical” existence. If we deny Newtonian materialism physical/spiritual dilemma disappears. I don’t think in terms of universe as totality either. We don’t know what totality is or if some total creator created it.

    A weird consequence is that we would then have created ourselves through self-causation – if we created the deity which created the universe, we have, by extension, created ourselves.

    As far as I can understand, the cosmos-universe-totality pun that affects physics is also present here. Physicists design a cosmos and name it totality. Theologians, the professional cousins of physicists, create a god and name it the total god. It seems that the process is similar. But, humans exist in probably infinite dimensions or scales. Human body is not physical in the Newtonian sense, it is porous and it is a complex system of hosts and hosted. The way a city is a living entity with apparently disconnected elements and components but nevertheless functioning miraculously as a whole, human body is the same in a different scale. Legal born organisms such as corporations are also the same. The effects of a contract on scale A will look like a creation ex nihilo as seen from scale B.

    The lie of a god creating the universe would also be bought into and thus establishing this explanation of cause as fact, but I’m an empiricist and work hard at discarding such presuppositions.

    God creating the universe is a cosmogonic mythology very similar to the modern cosmogonic mythology of the Big Bang. The Big Bang is a bigger lie because it claims to support itself with observational evidence. So, personally, I don’t see anything wrong, if someone wants to buy a standard religious package and goes along with it. This solves many conceptual problems and frees a lot of energy he can devote to daily living. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you buy a packaged explanation or try to design one on your own. All such ultimate explanations will remain cosmogonic mythology. As I said, I am just against the lies physicists about how they prove Big Bang as the creation of totality from observations of radiation in our neighborhood.

    In such a case, we would truly be gods ourselves.

    Physicists believe they are gods when they claim to see the origin of totality. What they are seeing may indeed be the origin of the cosmos, in the true sense of the word cosmos, an orderly system designed by cosmologists. This cosmos is just as complicated as cosmologists can understand it with their current tools of investigations. It is then defined by way of universe-cosmos pun to be the totality. It is a powerful pun and physicists are masters of projecting local to total with their sophisticated polemics and ancient authority.


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