When I told you I was an atheist your first reaction was: ‘You can’t be!’ Then you went on to assure me that you, personally, could never be an atheist.
This is the sound a mind makes when it is slamming shut.
As a physician you are without a doubt educated and intelligent. Yet you would have never gotten past pre-med if your first reaction to germ theory was: ‘It isn’t true and I will never believe in it no matter what evidence you can present on the subject!’
If there is a difference between the two, germ theory and existence or non-existence of god, I would argue that it is a matter of degree rather than kind. Belief or disbelief in god because of the ramifications associated with the decision is more important (even though belief in germ theory has done more good in the world) than belief in the germ theory and, therefore, is a subject needing the most study and information about before a decision is made. Since these are subjects that can be studied with nothing more than a library card giving you access to the current literature and the history of the development of thought over time, they both are constrained by the same requirements for the presentation of evidence, the application of reason, and the limiting effects of probability that would apply to any field of study.
A word about the limiting effects of probability might be in order at this point. My first exposure to the various classical 19th Century and earlier ‘proofs’ of God’s existence...there really hasn’t been anything new of substance added to these arguments in the last century...was in a religious school my parents insisted I attend first before going on to a secular university, a kind of inoculation against truth. As a part of the curriculum, in spite of my major and at my own expense, I was required to take one religious class a semester. One of the required religious classes was Proofs of God’s Existence. This class introduced me to 19th Century arguments without bothering with the counterarguments that were presented at the time and since showing conclusively them to be lacking in internal consistency with spurious conclusions...in a word, false.
Think of it as introducing the Four Humors: Blood, Phlegm, Choler (Yellow Bile) and Melancholy (Black Bile) as the source of all physical and mental illness in an undergraduate pre-med class as if there had been no advancement in medicine beyond that point.
After studying these 19 Century proofs of God’s existence, without the counterarguments, I saw through the basic problem. Even if taken as true, which I was unprepared to argue one way or another due to my inoculation and indoctrination, they can only lead to a 50/50, either/or conclusion:
Either God exists and everything is explained by his existence
Or God does not exist and everything is explained without reference to him.
This statement is the basis of Stephen Jay Gould’s NOMA, the uneasy truce that existed for a time between science and religion called Non-Overlapping Magisterial Authority, which contends Science and Religion are both true but each addresses a different area of ‘Magisterial Authority’. Science tells us about the physical world and religion about the spiritual world. NOMA is falling apart because Christianity is insisting it is both true by Faith and supported by Reason as well. The so-called Militant Atheism (meaning atheists who won’t sit down and shut up) Dawkins, Harris, Hitchins and others is a too-little, too-late reaction on the part of rational men to a direct attack on reason itself by theists. Carl Sagan, one of the most respected scientists of the 20th Century, would likewise be vilified and attack in our time for his suggestion that it is better to live in an Enlightened World than what he referred to as a: Demon Haunted World.
The limiting effects of probability necessitate this attack. The Theist claim is not just that God exists, nor is the Atheist claim simply that God does not exist. There is that logically necessary added corollary insisting ‘everything is explained by his existence’ to Theism and that ‘everything is explained without reference to his existence’ to Atheism.
People are fond of saying in reference to and defense of religion, that some things are intangible. Intangible’s root meaning is ‘incapable of being perceived by touch,’ which is true of gods and unicorns alike and is a statement with which I would have no trouble agreeing. Obviously, you meant more and the dictionary goes on to give the word’s usage as a noun: ‘Any incorporeal asset or benefit, as a trademark, franchise or good will.’ I’ve got no problem using this word as a descriptive of god (and it does exclude those unicorns from the conversation). I would be more than happy to talk of god as an incorporeal asset or benefit. My only objection would be the use of the word ‘intangible’ to refer to an actual, existing being of which the user is not obligated to and is even condemned outright for countenancing any rational proof for the non-existence of.’ We already have a word for that. It’s called faith.
Getting back to probability and how it is the cause of the Christian assault on reason in the 20th and early 21st Centuries. Thinking of belief in God as an on/off switch inside our brains that is not constrained by questions of logic, reason, education, but is, rather, thought of in terms of belief in a proposition the results of which will be an eternal existence in Paradise (and a better life in this world, if you take Pascal up on his wager) and the denial of which will result in an eternal existence of torture...torture that is not just an act of the being you are being asked to believe is the epitome of love, but since this being is also Omniscient and Omnipotent by definition, is the ultimate pain to which a human being could possibly ever be put. If the question is asked in those terms it is literally a ‘no-brainer.’ It is not the question itself, but the intellectual honesty and the moral ethics of a person who puts the question in this manner that needs to be questioned. I would say they know little of either.
But there is no longer a 50/50 probability when it comes to god; there is no on/off switch. Never has been one with reason and the scientific method, they are both open ended, they are a dimmer switch with darkness on one end and an ever-increasing light on the other. This gets back to the ‘everything is explained by’ or ‘without reference to’ god’s existence. The more that can be explained without reference to the existence of god, the less valid belief in the existence of god becomes.
Soren Kierkegaard’s Leap of Faith holds that faith is only applicable once all other logical and reasonable explanations have been exhausted. This was a tenable position in the 19th Century coming at the end of the classical philosopher/scientist period...that is to say, when the cognitions of one man were put forward and responded to by others without regard to any real world data or evidence in support of the propositions being discussed. There seemed to be so much out there we would never know the reason for that a person could easily come to the edge of man’s learning and jump off into the darkness hoping there is a supernatural being there to catch him. Of course, even in Kierkegaard’s time this wasn’t true, as Darwin and others were rapidly proving. As it stands now, there is no need of a Leap of Faith. It has become more like stepping over a crack so as not to break your mother’s back. There is no need for a God to catch you because there is solid footing on both sides of the crack of the as yet unexplained. The God of the Gaps is becoming thinner and thinner with each new discovery by Enlightened scientists…and is there any other kind?
We have watched, over the last 300 years, a constant flow of ideas that were once explained by reference to god being explained more accurately and completely without the need of a ‘god did it’ conversation stopper. As a physician, your own profession would simply not exist without the Enlightenment and the move away from god to secular science. The life expectancy at the beginning of this period and that had held stable the entire time religion aka ‘god’ was in charge remained a fairly constant 30 to 35 years depending on which class of society you belonged. Ever since the unthroning of god, that rate has increased with every new contribution of the secular mind to this issue...and every new contribution was fought against by the minions of god who would prefer people to suffer and die rather than give up their positions of power and influence.
If you stack up all of the miracles claimed in Christian and Hebrew scripture and subtract the number of murders committed at the hand and commandment of their God you come up with far more people killed than saved.
This line of reasoning leads to the answer of "Why is their Evil in the world?"
Because of God and religion.
God is the source of all Evil in the world. Religion began as and continues to be a means of convincing God to do his Evil to others and not to you or your family, clan, tribe, city, empire, nation or country.
But even if you generously attribute to God all of the healing done in scripture and claimed in his name down through the course of the history of man one simple fact remains:
The Enlightenment has saved and healed more people than God.
At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th Century, Christianity was being attacked from without and within. Darwin explained the existence of human beings without referring to the god hypothesis. German theologians introduced textual criticism of scripture laying the foundation for the modern historical understanding of the ancient texts. The attempt by the pope to show how academic research in to the origins and meaning of the texts proves them inerrant and the Catholic Church’s version of history failed miserably when the very scholars he sent to study the problem were convinced by the research and had to be ex-communicated and went on to create Modernism.
The reaction of the church in this country was a direct assault on the people who were humble enough to admit there were others who knew more than they did on the translation of ancient texts and the science of evolution, educated enough to learn and understand these subjects by reading experts in the respective fields, honest enough to accept the truth when they saw it and brave enough to stand against the one true enemy of mankind, not Satan, but ignorance.
The leadership of the church in this country decided to teach and defend ignorance rather than give up their money, power and prestige. They have succeeded.
This is the status of Christian indoctrination (not education) in this country. This is why the rest of the world...where the influence of the national religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam is looked upon, quite accurately, as an impediment to peace and even the survival of the human race...recognizes no distinction between the three. They worship the same God; their only quibble being which man was his spokesperson. This is a God who promises them and urges them towards world conquest.
Judaism sees its Messianic Future as one in which they and their religion are the sole criteria for and source of all religion and spirituality in the world. This of course, can only be accomplished by their conquest and retention of the lands promised by their God in ancient texts...texts whose authorship, audience, purpose and date of can only be understood by academics who have devoted their entire life to studying in an objective (read ‘secular’ in Christian agitprop) manner. The People of the Book (as Islam puts it quite nicely) have gone from Judaism in which the books were a framework for commentary, to Christians who claim they are the actual words of God and (thusly) inerrant and beyond the reach of objective study, and finally, down to Islam and the ultimate desecration of the written word: the act of killing people for burning the paper upon which it is written.
Islam’s vision of jihad speaks for itself. They see, and quite correctly I may add, that it is only through the conquest of the whole world that their religion can be imposed on all people. This is their goal; this is the reasoning behind their methods. In their defense, it was the foolishly romantic and biblically inspired stupidity of sending the Jews to Palestine following World War II that started the whole mess.
Then we have the Christians of this country who believe they are destined to rule a Thousand Year Kingdom on this earth along with Jesus out of the ashes of Jerusalem once they have given Jew and Islam alike the option of conversion or death. And, yes, I don’t care if your religion doesn’t include such nonsense. Just as the moderate Islamic clerics who do not speak publicly against the suicide bombers are giving their tacit approval and are just as guilty as the bombers themselves, so the moderate Christian churches...and politicians of all sorts...who fail to call this Thousand Year Kingdom what it is are guilty of crimes against the same crimes against humanity. A decree that it is God’s will for constant warfare in the Middle East up to and including nuclear confrontation and decry any effort to make peace as the work of Satan and His Antichrist is Evil. Keeping your mouth shut about it lest you be counted an atheist or because you know it will be political suicide is treachery and cowardice. The truth is anybody who believes that God has a plan for the Middle East is not fit to hold public office.
You asked me why I didn’t kill myself since I was an atheist. I've heard this question before. Sometimes it’s ‘why don’t you just rape and kill anyone you want’ or ‘drink yourself to oblivion.’ Obviously, these are not questions; rather they are attacks. More importantly, they are attacks that tell me about the person asking the question. This is what they would do if they did not believe in god.
If the only reason you are alive...or not a drunk or a rapist or a murderer...is because of God and his promises of reward and threats of punishment, then you need to give serious consideration to other ways of thinking on the subject.
My experience has shown me that morality is a separate subject from religion altogether. Morality is a function of society, what is right or wrong is determined by the history and real world experiences of the culture in which you live.
Monotheistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam are a function of the state. Judaism as first a client kingdom following the return from Babylon of the priestly and upper castes, then later as the official religion of the state beginning with the Maccobean War against Darius the Madman circa 200 BCE till the destruction of the temple in the first Jewish Revolt. Christianity began with Constantine’s legalization of the religion in order to win the Battle of Milan Bridge and leading to the ultimate combination of state and religion Catholicism plunging the world into a Dark Age that only Islam brought us out of and re-engaged us with the Greek philosophers banned and burnt by the church. Islam has made no secret of its relationship with the state, of course. Perhaps it is easier to see in our enemy that which we are blinded to in ourselves, but the treatment of women under Islamic law is direct proof of the difference between morality and religion. By any possible standard that could be called ‘moral’ Islamic treatment of women is institutionalized barbarity.
But that’s not the war we’re fighting. We are, instead, fighting over which state should have control over Jerusalem and, by extension; the world and our religions are dutifully lined up endorsing our politics. Take Israel, a thriving theocracy that would be the envy of any Islamic nation if the religions were reversed. The refusal to allow people of dissenting religious opinion full citizenship in the country in which they live should preclude Israel from being included in the roster of democracies we call the Free World. And yet, while condemning Islamic theocracies because of their religion, we make an exception for Israel for precisely the same reason: their religion. The Holocaust? How has the establishment of the state of Israel kept this genocide from being repeated? I contend that only a Second Holocaust can usher in any of the three kingdoms envisioned by Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
The Holocaust murder 11 million people. Most Christians and Jews are taught and believe that only 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis.
Who speaks for the Forgotten Five Million?
Shall I talk about the United States? Dare I talk about the United States would be a better way of phrasing the question. Being openly atheist in this country is political suicide. On the surface it would appear there are no atheist politicians in the US, though I suspect all politicians are atheists at heart. You cannot be elected to a position in any form of the government, be it local, state or federal, higher than that of a city counsel member if you are an ‘out of the closet’ atheist. To put it simply: in today’s political climate the majority of the Founding Fathers would not be considered fit for public office.
The same holds true in the work place. In spite of all the emphasis on equal employment, atheists are left unprotected and are subjected to prejudicial hiring and advancement practices that would be decried as illegal if the same were done because of your race. Personal relationships? Can you or anyone in this country say with a straight face that admitting your atheism to even your closest loved ones would not irreparably harm your relationships? Even impersonal relationships are minefields for the atheist. Talking to strangers and casual acquaintances, especially as I do with the intent of convincing the other person of the correctness of my position in the hopes they, too, will become atheists, is physically dangerous in many parts of this country and, without a doubt, in this state. This isn’t morality; this is herd mentality.
Why don’t I kill myself?
There’s a line the dystopian movie The Road about the future of man after the destruction of life on this planet that sums it up nicely. When Viggo Mortenson asks Robert Duval the same question, with the world dying around them:
“Why don’t you just kill yourself?”
“I don’t think it is right, in times like these, to ask for luxuries.”