Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why I am not an Atheist

This post will deal with my views on the ongoing debate about God and my other views related to the subject of religion. My views are product of the type of person I am and therefore it is very likely some of you may object to the way I am dealing with such an important “subject”, but can’t help it that’s who I am. I find this continuing debate interesting but rather fruitless, and in a way can’t help but ask both sides: If they couldn’t convince each other for the last 2000 years what chances do they stand now. I know it’s not logical but it would have been amusing to ask.

I believe in God precisely because I don’t “know” whether he exists or not, it is belief in the unseen. Now it might be that if I were born in a family of Christians or atheists or Hindus I would have been bought up with a different belief of God. Well it is true but there is very little we can do about it other than saying that one’s upbringing does have an influence on ones future beliefs. The pertinent question might be why do I “continue” to believe in God even after I seem to have been taken by atheistic logics, as my previous post showed. Fact of the matter is, unfortunately from what I have seen atheists are usually far more intelligent than theists and hence their logical success is quite understandable.

I think faith and reason are diagrammatically opposite to each other. Faith means precisely lack or absence of reason per se. There are two analogies that I think might elucidate the point. When we talk about two buildings and ask which one is taller we do so by measuring with a standard meter tape. Hence the heights of buildings becomes comparable because there is a accepted measure of distance “meter” which is independent of the two buildings. If Faith and reason are two opposing concept then there needs to be a third concept independent of the two with which you can measure one’s superiority over the other. Dawkins uses the argument that much of the bloodshed in human history was because of religion; here he is using the concept of utility as a kind of yardstick to judge between faith and reason. But do we accept that yardstick; why not look at happiness or cohesiveness or xyz as the third yardstick. I think this entire debate is like comparing the height of two buildings in absence of any “meter”.

At present era of scientific progress it is an anathema to suggest that one “believes” or has faith in something. In front of people like Dawkins or other militant atheists you are likely to be verbally lynched and ridiculed. But if one looks deeper I think everything is not as certain as they might make you believe. Russell in his book “problems of philosophy” discusses an interesting issue about science, the problem of induction. The essential idea is we believe that whatever we know, laws theories etc will continue to hold e.g. Gravity will not disappear tomorrow or Planck constant will not change suddenly or for that matter universe will not just disappear like some stories of Douglas Adams. Hence there is this inherent faith in perpetuity of status quo, even in science.

If we look at Kuhn’s work we see that Scientists are also pattern recognizer albeit a much better trained one. They have a paradigm, a way of thinking and with that looking glass they view the nature. Hence as Von Hayek once remarked “all observation are theory laden”. Therefore scientific theories are consistent interpretation of the constellation of fact that surrounds us. While consistency might be a necessary condition for a true theory it is definitely not sufficient, there might be multiple consistent theories. I remember a line from the movie Men in Black “Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.” Thus one should not overestimate ones important and that goes for scientists as well. My point here is that Science is not synonymous for truth and the fact of the matter is there may be nothing called objective truth but that’s a quirky belief of mine. . Absence of evidence is not an evidence for absence.

One can look at reason and faith as X and Y coordinates of Cartesian geometry with Disbelief and irrationality being the negative X and Y axis. Every system or theories are based on axioms and in a way start with some form of belief, some less self evident than other, and then deductively move forward. We always make tacit assumptions even in science and daily life. For instance when an astronomer say that three of the planets will line up on this and this date, we believe what he says, we don’t rush to our room and try to check his calculation. By this way of thinking being a believer and being irrational are two different things. And there is no way one can check the superiority of one axis over the other.

The other way of looking at faith and reason might be something like wave particle duality in physics, at some deeper level there might be a concept that combines the two but in our level they are two distinct concepts. And it is our way of thinking or looking at things that makes the difference between what is faith and what is reason. All scientist, the bearer of reason, start with the belief that there theory will hold and then move forward and test it. And unlike baconian notion of science, a theory is not thrown away immediately when facts don’t match up. Experiments are repeated, new augmentations are done and every effort is undertaken by the scientists to save their theories. For instance the search for ether, the phlogiston theory etc. My assault on science is in no way to show that it is subjective or irrational but I want to convey that it has its own culture, social aspects and a human dimension which defines what Science is. I think we have a notion of science which is beyond human that somehow it is objective and foundation of truth. I wanted to show that there is every reason to believe that science is just like any other creation of human, a projection of our gifts as well as our limitations.

There is no reason to believe reason can explain everything. Hence there is no reason for you or anyone to debate the existence of god. It is a debate that cannot be lost or won as both sides uses different values and therefore one cannot fight across two paradigms, you need a common set of values. I believe and I am working on it, although one cannot prove existence of God but one can prove that one cannot prove existence of God. The idea goes as follows; first we define what proof is or rather a schema of how scientific theories are tested. Then we develop what are the necessary conditions for proving a theory and then we show in case of GOD those don’t exist ergo it cannot be proven.

On a side note, recently in a Friday prayer the imam was talking about the major sin in Islam and he said( I knew this from before), Shirk or Associating someone else with Allah, sharing as an equal partner, is the worse and severest sin, the only sin which is unpardonable. What interested me was the fact that means agnostic and atheist are actually committing less of a crime. Surely if not believing in god was such a huge crime it would have been mentioned directly in Koran in order to ensure there was no misconception. That was kinda interesting, may be I am wrong in my interpretation but rather amusing.


  1. Third post ta porlam. Best so far.

    Blogspot theke Facebook e auto-import kora jaai. FB settings e giye auto-import set-up kore dekhte paren.

    Keep this up. You are getting better and better. Erokom dense good content bohudin pori na.

  2. By the way, apnar Men in Black er comment ta churi kore amar FB status banai dilam!

  3. Obviously you have an open mind and tend to be an orginal thinker. I agree that Science is also based on faith of some kind(Scientists call it leap of faith when making a breakthrough discovery). But somehow that last paragraph about the Imam was out of sync. The imams simply repeat Dogma(and with it hate of all non-mulims, sometimes direct,sometime more subtle - being a Muslim I know) and have no interest in the kind of intellectual and meta physical side of Religion which your Intellectual mind wants to explore (even though you were born in a Muslim Family and most Muslim families dicourage that).

  4. To Anonymous : The last paragraph was not so much related to imam but more so to the traditional concept or interpretation of shirk. The interesting point being that even if it were true, somehow atheism does not seem to fall under that definition.