Saturday, January 12, 2008

The GOD delusion

Update See Dawkins at TED:

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

These are words of Richard Dawkins - author of the "best-selling" The God Delusion. I've mentioned previously about my appreciation for Dr. Dawkins' work - notably, The Selfish Gene. The God Delusion is another classic from his pen. An extremely provocative book, The God Delusion continuously challenges believers of all kinds to justify to themselves their religious values. Why, for instance, do we accept a God that asks for human sacrifice? Why do we accept a God that tells us not to seek the truth?

Richard Dawkins was a good friend of another great author: Douglas Adams of the Hitchhiker's guide fame. Both read each others' books many times, and Richard Dawkins gave Douglas Adams' eulogy. Both were(are) atheists. For instance, do you remember this line from the Guide?

"And god disappeared in a puff of logic."

Unfortunately, in the real world, there doesn't seem to be an end to people who would go on believing in the falsehood that there was a God that created us. Some would still believe that the Earth was created in six days, some others may believe that the Earth is only 6000 years old. Well, this is a book worth reading, irrespective of whether you believe or you don't. Dawkins tends to rant a little bit every now and then, but he has kind words for India's founding fathers, believes that the creation of Pakistan is a classic example of the trouble religion has caused, and most importantly, presents a very convincing argument for why we don't need religion.

Read it.


kattricker said...

Nice blog Gops. I think science has opened our minds to discovering few facts about ourselves and the universe. But I think science has failed to answer a lot of questions and will perhaps never be able to explain some. For instance, science can explain (to an extent) how human mind works - the different parts of the brain, the neurons and how they beautifully communicate etc. But in my opinion science will never be able to explain a feeling, faith, hope etc. I think the sum of this universe and all its inhabitants is definitely more than what a scientific equation can derive. But "science may explain all this one day" is actually some sort of faith! Like how God is an imagination by man, so is science; until the next scientist disproves or discovers more about what we know as science today it remains an illusion!!...

Phew... seems like I did rant quite a bit myself!!

Gops said...

Don't you think the same was said by theologists, when Galileo tried to see the planets, or when the other scientists tried to explain life? Well, there may be things that science cannot explain - maybe Godel's incompleteness theorem applies to natural sciences - but my "faith" in science comes from seeing that the limits of scientific explanation has continuously expanded.

Regarding the brain - it has only been 50 years since people started studying the brain, even less since modern technolog. See this talk by V.Ramanujam:, for an explanation of what scientists like him are doing.

Regarding science moving forward, rejecting older theories - let's remember that the truth has never been disproven. We know that the Earth is round for nearly 500 years now, about the true nature of the solar system for around the same time, and have known that "higher" organisms evolved from lower ones, since the last 150 or so. The truth has stood the test of time. And in any case, isn't it better to admit mistakes and correct oneself than justify the untruth? Doesn't Krishna himself (if you believe he's a God and he exists) exhort people to seek the truth?

kattricker said...

When Galileo tried to see planets, science did not explain them yet. People needed to have faith in him until he unfolded (or probably died unfolding!).

Truth has never been disproven? People until Galileo wouldve thot he was trying to disprove the truth. Its all an illusion until a new theory comes out.

I think the creation of life is far far more complex than what science can explain and probably what human minds can comprehend (note that we see the universe in our mind's perspective). Dont get me wrong, we can explain small and simple concepts here and there but we probably wont be able to tell the big picture, not in one life my friend!

So I dont understand why there is so much faith bashing (especially when it can heal! ;))

Gops said...

Well, factually speaking, people did not, and didn't have to have faith in Galileo - after all, he was cruelly imprisoned by the Roman Catholic Church for having said that the Earth goes around the Sun.

"Truth" as known by people till Galileo didn't have scientific proof. That isn't the truth. Once truth backed by evidence comes out, more often than not, it remains true.

In any case, I'd go with a theory backed by evidence, that may be disproven with new evidence, which represents a continuous striving for the truth, than believe a book that says "God said: Let there be light!".

(I should say that I hold back some of the comments I made in my page about our religion because it does NOT attempt to describe and explain everything in the world. Hinduism has always been accepting(not just tolerant) of different world views in a way no other religion has.)

The creation of life is complex. But you should take a stab at reading whatever Science has explained already. It beats the theory that an intelligent "God" being that "always existed" and operates in "miraculous ways" created every organism. And as I said earlier, the same thing: "we can explain small and simple concepts but not the big picture" has been repeated ad nausem, and frankly has been proven wrong many times.

I don't subscribe to everything Dawkins says, and I do find his style put-offing. But the fact that faith can heal should not divert us from the quest of whether it has evidential backing.

kattricker said...

Note that I am not endorsing religion here. What I am saying is science seems an illusion as much. Again, science has explained quite a lot but I think thats too tiny to call it a great success, let alone be part of a scientific cult and dismiss everything else as unscientific or uneducated! (so much is detested about faith cults!). Science has failed to explain astrology for instance, but thats not to say there is no proof for astrology. There are countless things what science likes to ignore as "extra-sensory" or "paranormal".

So I would assume if a scientist wants to dismiss faith (note I dont use God here) then the least (s)he should do is atleast disprove it (albeit in a scientific way! wah!). And I suspect science might never be able to do that.

As for truth, there is no absolute truth, we see the truth from a human perspective. Life might not appear the same to this universe's every inhabitant. Dont you see whats happening here - *they* are manipulating you to believe in their scientific cult by showing some simple proofs of everyday things here and there!! Dont fall for it Gops... dont!!

Gops said...

Well, science may be an illusion - all of us maybe illusions, and if that is indeed the case, we probably wouldn't ever know it, would we? The classic "incompleteness theorem" would apply! It is not a possibility that science does NOT deny - all it says is that there is no verifiable evidence for it. On the other hand, why are believers of the illusion theory not coming forth with evidence that supports it?

Regarding astrology - note that it is astrology that has to find evidence (as opposed to proof) for its worth. Not science. Dozens and dozens of claims by astrologers have been shown to be wrong. To repeat, there is NO verifiable evidence for astrology - forget proof coming into the picture.

For even things that science classifies as "extra-sensory" or "paranormal", there are experiements being done on the brain, to see if they have physical basis.

How can one disprove something that does not require evidence? I can give all the evidence in the world to disprove "faith", when all you need to say is: "I still believe what I believe"? Sure, no one can disprove faith - but science has, disproved its various external manifestations, the Earth moving around the Sun, for instance.

"Simple proofs of everyday things" don't include the creation of life, creation of the universe or evolution. Again, Science is finding answers to them: DNA, for instance, is fundamental to understanding how life originated.

I'll ignore the part about "manipulating me into a scientific cult" :) The evidence is there - you can examine it as well as I can. You have read/felt the theist's perspective - read the other side. Any of Dawkins' works, or those of Steve Pinker, or those of Douglas Adams, Douglas Hofstadter, or Vilayanur Ramachandran: you'll realize how Science is getting closer and closer to answering the fundamental questions of the Universe.

And if it can't, Science will at least accept its failure gracefully.

Gops said...

Also, on an aside,

Thanks for all the points you raised - I haven't had much opposition (other than Balbir) on the non-God debate.

It's been fun. :)

kattricker said...

I think if you made an effort to consider it, you would see it as an illusion too (science has hypnotized you way too much Gops!). You know, I agree I shouldnt probably be blaming science; its really not science that's the issue, its the scientists. They want to explain the universe their way which is all fine in itself, but dismissing everything else - now thats a problem. Why would astrology need a scientific proof, its like teaching english in french! Astrology has worked for many - there have certainly been bad practitioners, there have been bad engineers too now you can hardly blame science because of them, can you?

I am reminded of the group of blind people who described the elephant that they felt! Can science really tell the big picture? The elephant?

Its been a lot of fun for me too Gops, thanks to you...

Gops said...

Point is, not what I feel - what evidence I can produce for what I feel, right? I can consider the world to be an illusion, just like I can consider the Sun to move around the Earth, based on my experiences. But is that true? Will it stand the test of hard evidence?

Why wouldn't astrology need scientific proof? Step back a minute and think - Why do we believe that rocks moving in orbits lakhs of kilometers away influence every tiny one of us? Why is it easy to believe that we are somehow special, that everything has been made to influence our tiny little lives, which in the scale of the universe is so insignificant?

There may be bad engineers - but engineering is founded on sound, verifiable principles. That isn't true of astrology.

Can science tell the big picture? As of today, no. Will it someday tell the big picture? Probably. Will astrology/religion/faith ever tell the big picture? A resounding NO. :)

Interesting TED talk, that at some point talks about this issue: