Friday, March 19, 2010
Guest Blogger: Zach Parker
Former roommate and worldclass playboy billionaire Zach Parker has posted something very interesting on his blog. Head over there and join in the discussion. Its a conversation about faith, God, science, and above all, logic. Go weigh in!
Also, some housekeeping: In the interest of thwarting the ever-present threat of spammers, I've enabled comment moderation. This will keep us spam-free, as well as give me the chance to make sure the conversation stays civil here. I encourage debate and disagreement, but personal attacks and knee-jerk emotional reactions should be reeled in. A blog is a forum for sharing opinions, not hate, and I've seen too many other blogs comments sections turn into private flame-wars between two people that aren't even relevant to the post.
Without further ado:
Since the beginning of sentient man’s existence, people have wondered where they, as well as the universe, came from. For the majority of people, the answer has been simple: God (or a god, or gods) put it there. We really had no other way to explain the world. As time passed, and mankind developed science, the body of collective historical knowledge accessible to us grew. As more and more of the processes we witness were explained in technical terms, instead of as “miracles,” many began to believe that there was ultimately no reason to believe in a God; all natural phenomena could be dissected and explained. To these atheists, people who believed in any kind of supernatural or higher power were generally ignorant and easily manipulated. Religions existed for the purpose of uniting and controlling the masses. Moreover, religions weren’t just the quaint stupidities of the weak and simpleminded. They made enemies of peoples who didn’t worship the same God, leading to wars and acts of terrorism. An appeal to an authority higher and more important than any one person inspired people who were willing to kill and die to please their bloodthirsty God. Blind faith in an “invisible friend” would especially be dangerous when held by political leaders, who would therefore not govern rationally, but rather impose their beliefs on their subjects.
A fortunate or unfortunate fact, depending on one’s outlook, is that we cannot prove the existence of God. To do so would require the use of an alternate, “control” universe, in which we know for a fact that there is a God. By comparing our results, we could either lend credibility to, or disprove our hypothesis. We must remember, however, that “the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff,” meaning that not proving one hypothesis does not in itself prove its antithesis. The fact that my colleague cannot prove it is raining outside does not mean that I have proven that it is sunny. Likewise, the fact that atheism cannot be proven does not prove that there is a God.
However, the opposite of this statement is also true, because we do not have a control universe in which we know there is no God. In this case, atheism become the plaintiff case, the positive assertion of the nonexistence of God, wherein lies the burden of proof. If neither case can be experimentally proven, then the default state, or rather, the only conclusion at which we can arrive relying solely on fact we absolutely know, is that of agnosticism, the assertion that we cannot know whether or not there is a God. Aside from that, all we can do is rely on evidences for the existence or nonexistence of God, and arrive at our conclusion, just as a judge must weigh evidence for and against a given case in order arrive at a verdict. For the deistically inclined, these evidences can include personal, spiritual experiences. However, this verdict relies to some degree on faith – believing in something you can’t prove – regardless of how strong as the case for or against may be. This is a notion that the religious are used to and comfortable with, but that atheists will definitely have difficulty with. In order to satisfy ourselves with a conclusion of theism, the belief in the existence of God, or atheism, the belief in the nonexistence in God, we must rely on some amount of faith, contingent on the various empirical evidences we might have. Various arguments postulated over the centuries, from the teleological argument for the existence of an intelligent designer, to the problem of evil and its implications against the idea of an all-powerful and all-benevolent God, are merely evidences to support the feasibility of a conclusion. That conclusion, however, is ultimately sustained by faith.
The other arguments made against religions are subject to examination as well. Religion, especially national or otherwise organized, can lead to manipulation of the masses, discrimination against those “heathens” who do not share the faith, and even wars and terrorism. Leaders will govern by religious opinion, rather than by rational principle. These may be true, but looking closely, we can see that these implications could be true of an atheist society as well. The Reign of Terror under Robespierre and the Soviet Union under Stalin are two prime examples of atheist societies where discrimination, persecution, and terrorism occurred in the name of an enlightened, Godless, new order. Modern atheism, with its militant (or shall we say “evangelical”) approach can be every bit as bigoted and discriminatory as some manifestations of Christianity have been.
Furthermore, these arguments are true of any factor that divides people by party lines. Perhaps as notoriously divisive as religion throughout human history is the issue of race. Countless wars have been fought in the name of asserting one race’s dominion over another. We have no further to look back than the Rwanda crisis of the early 1990’s to see a society divided by race tearing itself apart. Yet abolishing race is certainly not the answer to solving this type of crisis. Religion, like race, is not the factor that turns brother against brother. People of diverse races and religions can coexist peacefully. A manipulative demagogue, looking for a bogeyman with which to scare the masses into unified submission, will never be at a loss for such divisive factors to separate factions, whether they be religion, race, socioeconomic class, political leaning, etc.
Vilifying religion and campaigning to eliminate it will not end religious strife. Majorities have always historically persecuted minorities. They are different and therefore threatening. And, as demonstrated above, neither conclusion can be unequivocally proven. Belief is in the eye of the beholder. Closed-mindedness is the condition wherein a person is unwilling to entertain the idea that contrary views might be right, not just “those who don’t agree with me are wrong because I have SCIENCE!” The important thing is to be secure enough in one’s own belief as to not feel threatened by the beliefs of others. That is the true way to peaceful coexistence. At least, that is what I believe.