Why Religion Succeeds where Humanism Fails

Why religions succeeds where humanism fails

By Umar Nasser

The original post can be read HERE. Photo credit: Joel Duggan. 

Attempting to critically assess Humanism’s moral teachings is a bit like studying subatomic particles in quantum physics: the closer you look, the less you seem to know. Out of the many moral philosophies on offer, which should we follow? Consequentialism or virtue ethics? Hume or Kant? Is utilitarianism good, bad, or somewhere in between? And who’s setting these rules anyway?

So much for scientific specificity. In the absence of any clear doctrines to critique, one can only go by generalities. Indeed, generalities are the only thing that Humanism can really offer – the more specific we get, the quicker we descend into dissent and disagreements amongst its own ranks. A top-level framework is what is needed, and Humanism’s is essentially to increase well-being and reduce suffering. It’s a position defended explicitly by popular atheist writer Sam Harris, and typifies the Humanist approach. And let’s be honest – it sounds pretty good. Surely every religious person would agree on increasing well-being, and reducing suffering? And if atheists and theists can agree on it, then where’s the need for religion? Can’t we just follow it anyway? Well, let’s find out.

The first and most obvious problem we come across with a principle like this is the issue of utilitarianism. If increasing well-being becomes a numbers game, then surely the heaviest set wins? As such, if I could torture one person and elicit information that could save a hundred, does that make torture OK? Apparently. Similarly, what of situations where an individual feels their well-being increase, without obvious harm being done? Does that make such an action moral? For instance, if someone was inclined towards a consensual incestual relationship, would that be OK? So we are told.

These are common examples, but one is spoiled for choice. Under Humanism’s vague directions, we are left precisely where we began – lost. Take an accountant of the Rothschild’s, the richest family on Earth. Imagine he is one day tempted to steal some money from his luxury-loving employers. Just £1000. He has the skills to easily get away with it. He will certainly benefit from the extra money, and he knows for sure that his billionaire employers will never miss it. He looks at religious morality that tells him such theft is unlawful, and that he will be held responsible. But our accountant is much too enlightened for this religion nonsense. To Humanism he goes! And what does he find? Maximise well-being, minimise suffering. Well he thinks, no-one will suffer, and his well-being will increase. And so it would seem that theft is not only not immoral, but positively a good thing!

Then let’s turn to a rather more sordid affair – literally. A married woman and her tempting lover. She finds herself in a dissatisfied marriage, but feels that it could all pick up if she lets herself indulge just once with her new-found friend. She waits until her husband is out of the country so he can’t find out, but then, her conscience prickles. This is adultery. That can’t be right, can it? As she pauses for thought, Humanism, wonderful Humanism, comes to her aid. She remembers that delightful Stephen Fry video which said we should do what makes us happy. Maximise well-being and reduce suffering…

Well, needless to say, she decides to go and maximise her well-being.

The examples are endless. Imagine the criminal, asked if he committed a crime for which there are no other suspects. Lie with no consequence, or tell the truth with punishment? Or the drug addict who’s considering another high, a unique sensory experience that you can’t get anywhere else. Which version of well-being should he follow, and what compelling reason does Humanism give him to follow one path over the other? The reality is that without a justified model of what well-being is, we’re shooting in the dark. We end up with 7 billion different versions of well-being, everyone’s conception clashing with the other’s, and none being any more right than the next one.

And what then of suffering? Is reducing suffering always good, and increasing suffering always bad? Well, what of the mother who deprives her child of his/her wish, out of knowledge of what is best for it? Is that an immoral act? Clearly not – the child may suffer, but the Mother has an endpoint in mind to which she wants to nurture it. So how could the Mother allow her child to go down a path that she knows is harmful with respect to its ultimate end? Thus suffering is sometimes beneficial.

Indeed, not only is sometimes suffering necessary to be saved from the bad, it can be a prerequisite of achieving the good. Can we develop steadfastness without trials? Can we nurture patience without pestilence? Can we summon courage without obstacles? Ask any toiling student, or sweating body-builder, or weary charity worker – suffering is not only something to be avoided, but often something to be sought after. As such, we do not always suffer when we are suffering.

It should be clear by now, that empty words of well-being and suffering are meaningless without defining a set goal towards which they are directed. Without this, we may well end up doing harm to someone whilst thinking that we are helping them, or imagine that we are saving them from harm when only holding back from them good. Without such a reference point, the villains of the world will seek to justify the suffering they inflict by the well-being they envisage, and Humanism is unable to coherently justify what makes such a vision wrong. Humanism, by failing to offer a set model of what we should be shooting for, allows our morality to become a slave to transient passions and social pressures. We lose sight of our target, before realising we never had one to begin with.

Religion on the other hand gives us a model of well-being, as articulated poignantly in the Qur’an:

Surely, I have not created men high and low, but that they may worship Me.” (Holy Qur’an, 51:57-8)

The Arabic word used here for ‘worship’ means far more than what we are accustomed to from the familiar school assemblies and occasional Church visit. It means to serve, to assimilate the qualities of a Master, to follow in a beloved’s footsteps. Thus, the meaning of this verse is as the Second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Communitywrote over 50 years ago:

“[One’s purpose] is to subject oneself to a rigorous spiritual discipline, working with all one’s inherent powers and capacities to their fullest scope, in perfect harmony with and in obedience to God’s design, so as to receive the Divine impress and thus be able to manifest in oneself God’s attributes. This is, as stated in the present verse, the great and noble aim and object of man’s creation and this is exactly what worship of God means. The external and internal endowments of human nature give us clearly to understand that of God-given faculties the highest is the one which awakens in man the urge to search after God and incites in him the noble desire to completely submit himself to His will.”

As is clear, the purpose for which we are created is to become Godly, and thus attain the love of our Creator. As imitation truly is the highest form of flattery, we then seek to become a benefit for others in society by mimicking in our own spheres divine beneficence. But that beneficence takes a form, a shape which is in line with the guidance from the Being Who created us. As He knows all our potentials and inner natures, His guidance is the only one qualified to truly tell us what well-being is and how to achieve it. Only He can tell us what suffering we should endure for a higher purpose, and what suffering must be avoided at all costs.

This is the key difference between religious and atheistic morality. Humanism has no basis for calling one thing right and another thing wrong – such concepts are mere illusions according to its prerequisite beliefs. Moreover, it is fundamentally incapable of furnishing us with any useful guidance on how we should live our lives as it has no purpose towards which it can aim. Each person is a law unto themselves, justified in working towards their own idea of well-being and disregarding anyone else’s, whatever the cost may be.

On the other hand, religion calls towards a Divine Creator who has created us with a set purpose in mind. Achieving that aim is what will give us true satisfaction, for we have been constituted as such. We are given models in the Prophets of how to emulate divine qualities and thus win divine love. This is the well-being that religion tells us we were born to seek. It reminds us that within us lurk souls which act as a barometer telling us how well or poorly we are doing this: an in-built navigation system whose call we all hear. The moral and social teachings of God in religious scripture are designed with all our capacities and temperaments in mind, and are thus effective in creating a society which gives everyone the best opportunity to realise their divine purpose – should they so please. Otherwise they are free to ignore their purpose and enjoy the provisions provided to the spiritual and the worldly alike, though by doing so they deprive themselves of the true inner satisfaction which we have all been created to enjoy.

Without such a destination and route laid out by a Creator, we’re completely rudderless, with no lighthouse on the horizon towards which we can sail. Thick waves roll over us, and we are left in darkness no matter the direction in which we turn.

Find out about some of the moral teachings of Islam as explained by the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam over at trueislam.com


 

Follow Umar Nasser on twitter @UmarN91

7 Biology Myths No Electrical Engineer Would Ever Tolerate

A stimulating and unarguably rational post by Perry Marshall. See the original HERE (and don’t miss the great comments underneath it!)

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As an Electrical Engineer, I am appalled at the intellectual slop that passes for science in biology.

Engineers would lose their jobs in droves if they tolerated the mushy thinking and lack of rigor that is routine in the life sciences. Before I elaborate on this, some background.

15 years ago I couldn’t have imagined I would become interested in DNA, biology, evolution or any such thing. Biology in high school was b-o-r-i-n-g. Chemistry in college was a hard slog.

I got my degree in Electrical Engineering. Specialized in communications and control systems. Graduated and developed analog circuits. Worked as an acoustical engineer. Designed the speakers in the 1994 Ford Probe, the 1995 Acura Vigor, the 1995 Jeep Cherokee and the 1996 Honda Civic.

Left acoustics & pursued digital communications. Sold embedded networking hardware, software and IC’s in the automation and robotics industry. Fought digital networking standards battles in manufacturing.

Wrote an Ethernet book, published by the world’s #1 technical society for process control engineers. And now here I am discussing DNA, evolution, and telling you about scientific discoveries so new, you can’t buy books about them in the bookstore.

I’m loving it. As an outsider to the “biology industry” I bring a very particular perspective: That of an engineer who’s performed digital network design (very exact), analog circuit design (a quasi-art form), and acoustics (extremely complex and messy).

All industries become incestuous as they age. They resist change. All professions are run by good ol’ boys clubs.

In every industry, innovations almost never come from the inside. Novel approaches usually come from outsiders. External innovations are opposed by the old guard because they threaten the status quo. Bill Gates was a complete outsider to the computer business. Larry and Sergey, founders of Google, were complete foreigners to the search engine game.

(Early on, they tried to sell their search technology to Yahoo for $1 million but Yahoo turned them down.)

Fred Smith, founder of Federal Express, was a complete virgin in the shipping industry. Ray Kroc of McDonalds wasn’t a restaurant veteran; he was a milkshake machine salesman.

All these people had an outsiders’ point of view that enabled them to see what insiders were blind to. Like these men, I am a total outsider in biology.

Yet despite the fact that I wouldn’t pass a test on retroviruses or organic chemistry, as an EE I see certain things with crystal clarity that biologists are blind to.

One reason is, in Electrical Engineering, theory matches reality better than it does in almost any other engineering discipline. Examples: In metallurgy, when you predict the failure load of a steel beam, you’re lucky if your guess is within 10%. In chemical engineering, a 5-10% error factor is considered good for many reactions.

Civil engineers over-design bridges by 50% to 100% just to be safe. But a model of an electrical circuit or computer chip is often accurate to within 1% and sometimes 0.01%.

Because you can’t see electricity and shouldn’t touch it, EE is abstract and very mathematical. It’s also rigorous. I can’t tell you how many times in my engineering classes, the professor would be explaining something like, say, the behavior of a semiconductor, and he would derive the calculus equation from scratch.

Of the appliances in your house, which ones work exactly the way they’re supposed to? Your car doesn’t. Your dishwasher doesn’t. Your refrigerator needs new parts every few years. The mechanical stuff is prone to problems.

But your TV does exactly what it’s supposed to, for years. So does your iPod and your Microwave oven and your clock radio and your cell phone. You can thank an EE for that. For this reason, EE’s have very high expectations of theoretical models… because the model has to be built and it has to work.

Engineers don’t have much tolerance for B.S.

Today: 7 Urban Legends Biologists Believe…. but an Engineer Would Never Tolerate:

1. “Random mutations are usually neutral or harmful but occasionally they confer a benefit to an organism. Natural Selection filters out the harmful mutations, causing species to evolve.”

This is the central dogma of neo-Darwinism and is allegedly accepted by “virtually all scientists.” You will find it in literally 1,000 textbooks and 10,000 websites. To the average biologist and to the average man on the street, it sounds perfectly plausible. And I fully understand why people believe this.

But I’m an EE. I know that the information in DNA is a signal. By definition, random mutations are noise. Telling a communications engineer that adding noise to a signal sometimes create new, useful data structures is like telling a nurse you can occasionally cure a common cold by swallowing rat poison. This is absurd!

You’ll be hard pressed to find any communications engineer who, upon examining this claim, would agree with it.

Have you ever had a data glitch on your computer that improved your files? Ever? There is not a one single principle or practice in engineering that would ever suggest that this is actually true.

All the Natural Selection in the world is powerless without a beneficialmutation. And you’ll never get a major benefit from accidental copying errors. The mutations that drive evolution are systematic and directed, not accidental.

2. “97% of your DNA is junk – an accumulation of evolutionary leftovers from random mutations over millions of years.”

The only reason anyone believes lie #2 is that they believe lie #1. Here’s how any rational person can quickly figure out that #2 is B.S.: Human DNA holds 750 megabytes of data, the same as a Compact Disc.

If 97% of your DNA is junk, that means the 3% that isn’t junk is 22 megabytes. In other words, they’re implying that the entire plan for a human body only takes up 22 megabytes of storage space. Heck, the “Windows” folder on my PC – the directory that contains most of the Operating System – is 27gigabytes.

Does anyone actually think Microsoft Windows Vista is more sophisticated than the human body? Bill Gates sure doesn’t. The fact that a plan for an entire human body can even be contained on one CD is nothing short of a miracle of data compression.

Actual fact: DNA is not 3% efficient. It’s more like 1,000% efficient. The same gene can be used in completely different ways by a dozen different processes. The result is a level of data density that software engineers only dream of.

Engineers see profound elegance where biologists see junk. Which perspective is more in keeping with the aims of science?

3. “You only need 3 things for evolution to occur: heredity, variation and selection.”

Tufts university philosopher and prominent atheist Daniel Dennett famously said this. He would never say this if he had an engineering degree. If this were true, computer viruses (which have heredity, variation and selection) would mutate all by themselves and develop resistance to anti-virus software. They don’t.

If this were true, the pirated copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of Windows XP or The Eagles’ “Hotel California” that you can buy on the street corner for $2 in China would occasionally be superior to the original. It never is.

If this were true, Bill Gates wouldn’t have to employ 10,000 programmers in Redmond Washington. He would just buy truckloads of computers, add random errors to a billion copies of Windows and filter them through natural selection.

Nobody writes software that way. Nobody.

Have you ever wondered why?

Most biologists think evolution just happens automatically. They say all you need is time and a lot of raw materials and it will just happen. So why don’t computer programs ever evolve by themselves? They don’t and they never will – not unless they’re programmed to do so.

Evolution is not a given; in the real world it’s always a design feature. Software programmers will tell you that self-adaptive code is profoundly difficult to write.

Never happens by accident. This pronouncement by Daniel Dennett is Exhibit “A” of pseudoscience.

4. “Biology is nothing more than sophisticated physics and chemistry.”That’s like saying the Internet is nothing more than sophisticated copper wire and silicon chips.

I’m an e-commerce consultant. I practically live on the Internet. I have conversations with people about the Internet all the time. Nobody I talk to ever describes the Internet that way. Do you?

You talk about things like email and Google and Facebook. You tell your friend about the Youtube video where the guy goes to every country in the world and does his little dance jig. And the latest gaffe by Donald Trump.

All those things are information. 90% of Electrical Engineering is concerned with controlling and processing information. Only a small part of EE is concerned with things like motors and generators and watts and horsepower.

Even power equipment is controlled by information. All the interesting things you do with electricity involve signals or digital codes. Temperature measurement or text messages or a radio transmission.

The software is more interesting than the hardware. So it is with DNA. Chemicals are just the hardware.

Until the biology profession accepts that the real power in biology is in the information – the software and not the chemicals – it will continue to slam into brick walls and put forth evolutionary theories that make wrong predictions.

These assumptions continue to get nowhere in Origin of Life research. Information never improves by accident. Information evolves only through highly structured processes.

(By the way, Systems Biology bypasses old-school reductionism and is making great strides.)

5. “Genetic Algorithms Prove Darwinian Evolution.”

A Genetic Algorithm (GA) is a computer program that modifies code and then evaluates the code against some pre-programmed goal, keeping the winners and discarding the losers. GA’s refine software programs through an evolution-like process.

GA’s are not a be-all-end-all by any means, and they have limited application. But they are useful.

Some years ago Richard Dawkins wrote a software program that took the following garbage text:

WDLTMNLT DTJBKWIRZREZLMQCO P

After only 43 iterations, by deleting characters it didn’t want, the program reached its pre-programmed goal: METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL

Traditional Darwinian evolution by definition has no goals, just blind natural selection. Dawkins’ program has a definite goal and is programmed to reach it.

This program has nothing to do with formal Darwinian evolution. It’s intelligent evolution.

Every single Genetic Algorithm I’ve ever seen, no matter how simple or complicated, only works if it has pre-programmed goals.

Which requires both a program and objectives. I’ve never seen a GA that actually mirrored Darwinian Evolution. They always sneak in some element of design. Which only adds to the reasons why the Neo-Darwinian theory of purposeless random events is wrong.

Real world evolution is pre-programmed and has goals of some sort pre-loaded. I’ve never seen an exception. This is no different than computer programs that evolve.

6. “The human eye is a pathetic design. It’s got a big blind spot and the ‘wires’ are installed backwards.”

There are many, many variations on this argument. It’s just another version of “Junk DNA.”

When I was a manufacturing production manager, I had to produce an indicator lamp assembly for a piece of equipment. The design had a light bulb and 2 identical resistors, which I thought were stupid. I suggested that we replace the 2 resistors with one resistor of twice the value. This would save money and space.

I told the customer the design was obviously lousy. The engineer got angry and almost took his business elsewhere. Then my boss spent 30 minutes lecturing me. He reminded me that my job was to put the customers’ product into production, not insult him with my warped critique of his design skills.

What I didn’t know was that 600 volts would arc across one resistor, but not across two. A second, “redundant” resistor was an elegant way to solve that problem and it only cost 2 cents.

I learned the hard way that when you criticize a design, you may have a very incomplete picture of the many constraints the designer has to work within.

Designs always have delicate tradeoffs. Some have amazing performance but are extremely difficult to manufacture. Sometimes a minor change in material would make a huge improvement but the material is unavailable. Sometimes you have to make a compromise between 15 competing priorities.

Sometimes people have no appreciation for how difficult that maze is to navigate. I am not saying that there are no sub-optimal designs in biology – I’m sure there are lots of sub-optimal designs. Furthermore I do believe that life followed an evolutionary process and many designs are “best guesses” engineered by the organism’s ancestors.

But human beings must be very careful to not proudly assert that we could ‘obviously do better.’ We don’t know that. We do not understand what’s involved in designing an eye because we’ve never built one.

My friend, if you lose your eye, there’s not a single arrogant scientist in the world who can build you a new one. Especially not the scientists who try to tell you why the design of the eye is “pathetic.”

If I were selecting an eye surgeon, I’d look for one who has deep respect for the eye, not disdain for it. How about you? Every engineer knows that you never truly know how something works until you can build it. Merely taking it apart is not enough. Until we can DESIGN eyes for ourselves, we must be very cautious about what we say. The scientist must ALWAYS be humble in the face of nature and you should be wary of anyone who is not.

7. “There is no such thing as purpose in nature. There is only the appearance of purpose.” “Teleology” is a scientific term which is defined as ‘purpose in nature.’ Atheism denies teleology in the universe. For this reason some biologists have forbidden their students to use purposeful language. In 1974 Ernst Mayr illustrated it like this:

1. “The Wood Thrush migrates in the fall in order to escape the inclemency of the weather and the food shortages of the northern climates.”

2. “The Wood Thrush migrates in the fall and thereby escapes the inclemency of the weather and the food shortages of the northern climates.”

Statement #1 is purposeful, statement #2 is not. Mayr does fancy footwork in order to avoid reference to design in biology. (It also converts all of his writing to colorless passive sentences. Any good writer will tell you passive language is a sign of mushy thinking.)

The famous biologist JBS Haldane joked, “Teleology is like a mistress to a biologist: he cannot live without her but he’s unwilling to be seen with her in public.”

Everything in biology is purposeful. Which is precisely why biology is fundamentally different than chemistry.

Chemicals have no purpose. Organisms do. You cannot formulate a coherent description of life if you deny purpose.

For proof of this, look no further than the genetic code. Every codon in DNA maps to an amino acid that it is SUPPOSED TO make – but an error is possible.

It is not possible to even talk about any code at all without acknowledging purpose. Purpose is implicit in every strand of DNA in every organism in the world.

In his book “Perceptual Control Theory,” William Powers explains that the study of any goal-directed (control feedback) system is fundamentally different than the study of rocks or chemicals or magnetic fields or anything purely physical. The failure to acknowledge this has wreaked all kinds of havoc in science for 150 years.

Even something as simple as a thermostat cannot be understood if you see it as only an assembly of molecules.

A thermostat is programmed to hold your room at a certain temperature. The thermostat’s purpose can only be understood from a top-down point of view. It has a goal.

In Electrical Engineering, the top-down nature of information is described by something we call the OSI “7 Layer Model.”

Simplified explanation: The 7 Layer model says that in your computer, there’s an Ethernet cable that connects you to the Internet. The copper wire and the voltage on that wire is Layer 1 – the “physical layer.”

Layer 2 is is the 1’s and 0’s that voltage represents. Layers 3, 4, 5 and 6 are the operating system and layer 7 is your spreadsheet or email program or web browser, the “application layer.”

When you send me an email, information is encoded from the top down and sent through your Ethernet cable. When I receive your email, information is decoded from the bottom up starting with the signal on the cable, and I read your email on my screen.

ALL information is organized this way – in a top-down hierarchy. The wire has its purpose. The 1’s and 0’s have their purpose. The operating system has a purpose, my email program has a purpose and your message has a purpose.

You cannot deny purpose in computers or biology without immediately contradicting yourself 2 minutes later. Even a person who denies purpose is purposefully denying it.

Everything I just told you, I absolutely know to be true as a result of my education and experience as an engineer.

Darwinism as we know it CANNOT stand under the weight of 21st century DNA research. It’s impossible. Because I’ve read the literature. Amazon is absolutely littered with books written from every imaginable point of view, both religious and non-religious, pointing to the creaking, groaning edifice of Neo-Darwinism.

It is inevitable that it will fall. And it’s not going to be long. It will be replaced by an algorithmic model of Evolution.

BOLD HYPOTHESIS: When Biologists accept what Electrical Engineers know about information, a whole bunch of problems in biology will be solved:

1. The random mutation theory will be discarded. It will be replaced with Transposition, Natural Genetic Engineering, Horizontal Gene Transfer and Genome Doubling. Suddenly evolution will make sense because it is understood as an engineered process not random accident.

2. We’ll discover that what was originally thought to be junk DNA is actually the heart of the most sophisticated database format ever devised.

3a. Evolution will not be taken for granted but deeply appreciated as an utterly ingenious mechanism, pre-programmed into living things. As software engineers replicate the evolutionary algorithm in computer programs, we’ll achieve huge breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence.

3b: Evolution is orchestrated at a very high level within the organism. It is controlled by a mechanism that is currently poorly understood. This mechanism is beautifully efficient, elegant, fractal, and follows a very exact mathematical protocol. Bioinformatics will become the most rigorous discipline in engineering. The ‘code’ of this protocol will be cracked because of the Human Genome Project and the public availability of DNA sequences. This discovery will lay the foundation of an entire new branch of Computer Science in the 21st century.

4. The “Physics and Chemistry” paradigm of biology will be replaced with a “Bioinformatics” paradigm. Evolution and the origin of life theories will make much more successful predictions.

5. Neo-Darwinism will be discarded because biologists will recognize that biological evolution is just like Genetic Algorithms: It employs pre-programmed goals and educated guesses, not random chance.

6. Rather than assuming designs in biology are “pathetic” or “stupid” we’ll discover deeper reasons for why organisms are the way they are. And greater insights into the subtlety of living things.

7. Everything in biology makes sense once you understand that every single one of the 5 million trillion trillion cells on earth is purposeful and intentional and the original cells were designed to evolve and adapt.

Finally I would like to suggest that there is nothing in the world that can teach us more about digital communications and software programming than DNA.

DNA is an absolute gold mine, a treasure trove of insights of data storage, error correction, software architecture, robust design and fractal data compression.

Every Electrical Engineer and Computer Science major should study it intensively. And there is much we engineers can learn from the biologists – because even the simplest living thing is more elegant than the greatest man-made supercomputer.

As Engineers and Biologists begin to talk to each other, the 21st century will be amazing indeed.

Perry Marshall

P.S.: Innovations almost always come from outsiders. This means that those who read widely and embrace multiple disciplines – pockets of humanity that don’t normally talk to each other – can enjoy long and prosperous careers as innovators. The watchword of 21st century biology will be “Interdisciplinary” – the great mysteries will be solved by people who bring the expertise of other fields to bear on the biggest questions in science.

My challenge to you: Make a deliberate decision to step outside of your normal and familiar environment and innovate. The world will reward you for it.

Atheism’s Moral Compass: Finding Magnetic North

Humanism 2.4

Photo credit: Calsidyrose
With the recent controversy over whether Humanism should be taught in UK RE classes, this belief system is getting more attention than it’s ever done. We thought we’d help out the British Humanist Association with their policy of promoting critical thought around Humanism by publishing a series of posts examining whether Humanism makes, well… any sense at all. Last time we had a look at how Humanism doesn’t give any basis for thinking life is sacred, and this time we examine what atheistic morality really looks like… 

 

By Umar Nasser (original post HERE)

We often hear from atheists and humanists that we don’t need moral guidance from on high because we all have an intrinsic sense of what’s right and wrong. Why complicate things with outdated texts that don’t keep up with modern life? What humanists are less forthcoming about however, is what right and wrong actually mean in an atheistic outlook.

So let’s think about it. What does it mean to say something is right or wrong? Well, the obvious question is: right and wrong in relation to what? These concepts don’t exist by themselves, rather they exist as two poles of the moral compass. But in what directions do these poles point? Where is magnetic north, the landmark to which our compass indicates, from which the south is repulsed? For an atheist, believing that there exists nothing greater than our accidental selves, we are lost on a barren moral landscape, one which stretches out endlessly in every direction, each coordinate equivalent to the last. If one lost traveller’s compass points him in one direction, then there he will go. But if another befuddled journeyer finds himself at criss-crosses with the first, which of them will be able to say that their north is the true north? After all, aren’t all compasses made equal?

Perhaps the first traveller bids goodbye to the other, and trudges on to find a conglomeration of navigators at one point. They tell him that many people’s compasses have found themselves here, so this must be magnetic north. A persuasive argument the traveller thinks, and finds a place of rest nearby. As he surveys the landscape however, he notices that a part of the collective, who were so sure but moments ago that they had found magnetic north, drift off into another direction, citing the authority of their compasses as they do so. Soon others begin to follow, and the crowd splits, conglomerating over time into vastly different areas, each insisting each time that their north is the true north.

A crinkle furrows the traveller’s brow. He flicks open his compass thoughtfully. If different people’s compasses are leading them in different directions then there are only two options: either, the compasses of some are broken, whilst those of others are not; or there is in reality no true magnetic north. It would be impossible for him to tell apart these two possibilities, for the results of both would look the same. His heart was telling him that North must exist, for why else would he find the urge to follow the bidding of his compass so irresistibly strong? The careless south-going travellers must simply have broken their compasses. But equally, if the latter proposition, that there never is nor ever was a real magnetic north was true, then perhaps the whole affair was an illusion from the very beginning. Perhaps the direction of the needle is unfixed, seamlessly shifting with the passage of time, hoodwinking every new generation of moral voyagers.

Such is the dilemma of an atheist. Without any divine character to whose nature our moral compasses point, one immediately stumbles into questions of what is right and what is wrong. Are moral values like fads in fashion, in one season and out the other? If so, then they contain no moral content of any worth. In the scathing words of Socrates: A system of morality that is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception that has nothing sound in it and nothing true.

But if humanist morality is not entirely relative, and there are some things that we can safely say are right, and others which are wrong, then we can simply ask on what basis are such moral pronouncements so surely made? Whose authority is considered the authority on these issues? A deafening silence is sure to follow.

Some humanists will tacitly accept that there is no such thing as true right and wrong, but will seek to convince us that different moral paths can be equally viable, as long as they are followed for reasons other than religious scripture. Like a good boutique, humanism offers a wide range of different ethical systems for the discerning atheist to choose from, but only if one chooses it and doesn’t follow it unthinkingly. In doing so, humanism confuses the journey for the destination, telling us that the plush interior of the humanist limousine more than makes up for its punctured wheels, fuel-less engine, and decapitated driver. It is embarrassingly obvious that if divergent moral paths are equally valid, then they are equally meaningless.

All this points to an even deeper, even more uncomfortable truth about atheistic morality. If right and wrong are unfixed, spinning like a top carelessly flicked by chance and circumstance, then it follows that the very concept of morality is an illusion. This makes sense, given the precepts of atheism. After all, in a godless, accidental world, our moral urges can only be ascribed to unconscious forces embedding advantageous social constructs in our neural circuitry, the tenets of which are persuasive but ultimately artificial. As such, there is no such thing as right and wrong, good and evil. There is no underlying order, purpose, or moral imperative. Things simply are the way they are, and to disobey your moral urges is cause only for social recrimination. A nauseating philosophy indeed, but it is the only one that atheism can truly support.

As such, the endeavour of humanism becomes plainly self-defeating. In promoting atheism it weakens its own basis for prescribing morality, and by prescribing morality it highlights atheism’s inability to explain the universal sense of conscience found in man.

And that is perhaps the most perplexing point. If atheism’s precepts are true, then why do we have such a strong voice screaming inside us that morality is not an illusion, that some things truly are virtuous, and others truly wicked? If our conscience is correct, then there must be something that certain acts are right and wrong in relation to. A committed atheist, however, finds themselves in the unenviable position of being unable to say that there is an ultimate morality to which our moral sensibilities are attuned, and unwilling to say that there isn’t.

A harder rock, and a rockier hard-place, can scarcely be imagined.


You can follow Umar Nasser on twitter here

How not to make a right haggis of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy

Photo credit: Chris Waits https://www.flickr.com/photos/chriswaits/4874035507   Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

Every society, collectivity or group of people will count some excellent individuals, many nice ones, a few not-so-nice ones, and a handful of bad ones. This applies across the board, and theists are no exception. Most, whether theists or atheists, will agree that it would not be reasonable or fair to judge a people on the strength of their corrupt individuals.

However, when the bad apples associated in one way or another with a group of believers in God behave in condemnable ways, anti-theists are quick to blame the religion they claim to adhere to for their shameful behaviour.

The believers – let’s say they are Christian – will usually respond with something like : “True Christians would never do what those individuals did!”…only to have the anti-theists scream: “Aha! The No True Scotsman fallacy!” At this point, it appears the discussion has entered a deadlock.

So what is the No True Scotsman fallacy? The phrase was introduced by Antony Flew, who gave the following example:

A Scotsman sees a newspaper article on a series of crimes having taken place in Brighton; in response, his comment is:”No Scotsman would do such a thing!” upon which he is confronted with evidence of another Scotsman committing even worse crimes. His response is:”No true Scotsman would do such a thing!” Thus, the criminal is denied membership in the Scottish people, his crime cited as evidence of his not being a Scotsman.

This, of course, is a fallacy, as there is no premise in the definition of “Scotsman” which makes such crimes impossible or even improbable. In fact, to be a Scotsman, you have to be a male native or inhabitant of Scotland, or a man of Scottish descent, and that is all. You don’t even need to know how to play the bagpipes, wear a kilt, or make haggis.

But when it comes to religion and the No True Scotsman fallacy, anti-theists make a right haggis of it all.

This is because, although the NTS fallacy is true as it stands, it is widely used in the wrong context. The basic premise of the fallacy is overlooked: the fact that the notion of what makes a Scotsman is entirely arbitrary, and not something defined by universally accepted written rules or law. Let’s examine it again, using a different example:

Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.” (Says who? Where has it been written that Scotsmen are not supposed to do this?)

Person B: “But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge.”

Person A: “Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

It can be observed that both the first and third statements are entirely arbitrary, and have no written rules or laws as points of reference.

When the No True Scotsman reasoning is introduced into areas where rules are defined by written law, it will no longer apply. In this case “true” in the third statement will refer to a person following written law.

Example:

Person A: “No Muslim worships anything apart from Allah.”

Person B: “But I saw three Muslims worshipping at a dead saint’s grave last week.”

Person A: “Ah yes, but no true Muslim worships anything apart from Allah.” (as it is defined in Islamic scripture; Qur’an, 17:23 : “Your Lord has decreed: Do not worship any but Him; and be good to your parents; and should both or any one of them attain old age with you, do not say to them even “fie” neither chide them, but speak to them with respect.“*)

Anyone whose actions are not based on this teaching cannot be a true Muslim. (Qur’an, 5:44 “Those who do not judge by what Allah has revealed are indeed unbelievers.“**)

Thus, the No True Scotsman fallacy can only apply where definitions or rules are made up arbitrarily by individuals, and not in situations where they are specified in written law.

 

 


 

*Will appear as 17:24 in translations counting the Basmalah “In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Ever-Merciful” as verse 1.
**Or 5:45; see above.

Do humans have moral obligations? The contradictions of the atheist’s worldview

“Humans are nowhere near as special as we like to think”, writes Melissa Hogenboom on BBC Earth’s “The Big Questions”.

Philosopher Daniel Dennett tells us consciousness is an illusion.

And that’s not the only illusion, apparently. “Free will is an illusion, so what?” scoffs Raj Ragunathan Ph.D.

And why not, after all? Theoretical Physicist, Lawrence Krauss says “I like to say, the universe doesn’t care about our common sense.  We have to force our ideas to conform to the evidence of reality rather than the other way around.  And if reality seems strange, that’s okay.”

In a nutshell, we’re not special, we aren’t really deciding what we want to do, and whatever we do, the universe doesn’t care.

Most living creatures certainly don’t seem to care. So why, as human beings, should WE care?

Consider the following picture:

Tiger trapped

Had the caption shown a man in the clutches of the tiger, and had it read: “This magnificent poacher dies in agony, trapped without hope. A tiger becomes fatter eating body parts”, few would have condemned the tiger. So why do we condemn the poacher – if we aren’t any more special than a tiger and the universe doesn’t care what we do?

Now take a look at this:

Cecil the Lion.JPG

Cecil the Lion 2.JPG

The death of Cecil the Lion caused international outrage and drew widespread condemnation. Had Cecil eaten the hunter alive, not only would the lion not have been criticized, the hunter himself would have been blamed for putting himself in harm’s way.

So, if human beings aren’t as special as many of us think, why do we reserve special treatment for other humans and not for animals?

One more example:

Animals for target practice.JPG

As a cat lover myself, I find this particularly upsetting. But if the universe doesn’t care about our actions, why is using animals for target practice any more reprehensible than what mother cats do themselves: bringing home injured birds and rodents for their kittens to practise their killing skills on?

Why should atheists care about what humans do to these animals? According to their own logic, it shouldn’t matter.

Raj Ragunathan Ph.D. makes a feeble attempt to counter this with “whether or not you act of out of free will in denying yourself the unhealthy-but-tasty cake, you will still have to face the health consequences of eating unhealthy meals. Likewise, whether or not you acted out of free will in committing a crime, you will still have to face the consequences of your misdeeds. So, from a purely consequentialist perspective, it makes sense to sometimes curb your temptations.

But why is making oneself or other people ill, bad? Why is trying to be healthy good?

Likewise, why should punishing a criminal be good, and not doing so, bad?

In a universe where humans have no special moral obligations, if we have to face the consequences, so what? Why should life be any better than death? It shouldn’t matter either way.

Yet, it DOES matter. Whether we are believers or atheists, we prefer life over death, and well-being over suffering. Moreover, there is a universal sense of duty in humans towards other creatures on their planet. Clearly, in our sense of moral responsibility, we are not like animals or plants – and our condemnation of any human behaviour deviating from the norm shows we all know it.

Islam teaches that human beings do indeed have a moral duty towards other creatures, and that because we, unlike animals, have free will, we shall be answerable to God for causing undue suffering to His creatures.

…Eat and drink but exceed not the limits; surely, (God) does not love those who exceed the bounds.” (the Qur’an, 7:32)

The Prophet of Islam cursed those who used animals for target practice, and warned that humans should only kill what they need for food. He said a person who brought water up from a well for a dog dying of thirst had all their sins forgiven. He also said that a person who starved a caged cat to death was bound for hell. He forbade the killing of predators for their skins. He even forbade taking baby birds out of their nest, saying that it would cause distress to their mother. And he cautioned his followers against setting fire to termite mounds.

This teaching is in accordance with human nature, that nature which separates us from all other creatures; the same human nature that compels us to denounce the crimes of the tiger’s poacher, Cecil’s hunter, and those cruel people taking animals to the target range.

 

Do children naturally believe in God?

Photo credit: http://www.thisfabtrek.com/journey/europe/latvia/20100605-riga/daniel-david-hats-looking-bug-4.jpg

A thought-provoking piece by Eric Hatfield

Published on his blog http://www.is-there-a-god.info/ under the title “Is it natural for children to believe in God or do they have to be taught it?” Read the original piece here: http://www.is-there-a-god.info/blog/clues/is-it-natural-for-children-to-believe-in-god-or-do-they-have-to-be-taught-it/
Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

This comment was made on a blog I was visiting recently: “None of us are born with any smattering of whether or not there is a god, or for that matter, even what a god is (or is not) – we have to be taught that”

I was interested, for I knew of some scientific research that suggested the opposite. I asked the author of the comment whether they had any scientific evidence for the statement, but none was forthcoming. Instead, I was asked what evidence I had seen.

A blog comment isn’t the place for an extended review of evidence, so I decided to post it here. This post repeats some of what I wrote a year ago in Do children naturally believe in God?, but adds additional information I have found since then.

Science and opinion

In the following discussion, as always, I distinguished between the science (which I outline first) and opinion (mine and others’) based on the science. The science is by qualified professionals at recognised universities (I have found a number of different studies), and should be accepted by anyone who recognises the value of scientific study. Each person is entitled to their own opinion based on the scientific findings.

Scientific studies on the cognitive science of religion

Kelemen & Rottman (Boston University)

Deborah Keleman studies cognitive development in children and Josh Rottman is a PhD student working with her. In a chapter in Science and the World’s Religions they write (p206, 7):

…. religion primarily stems from within the person rather than from external, socially organised sources …. evolved components of the human mind tend to lead people towards religiosity early in life.

They discuss theories on the development of religious concepts in young children. They conclude that religion “cannot be understood as resulting primarily from education or passive acquisition from parents or society”. For them the question is whether children come into the world as “born believers” (a view held by others in the field but not by them) or that children develop religious views as they try to understand the world around them (the view they accept).

They say the research suggests that various factors inherent in children’s thinking lead to religious conclusions: understanding other minds, agency detection, beliefs about creation and purpose, and belief in mind-body dualism.

Paul Bloom (Yale University)

Paul Bloom runs the Mind and Development Lab at Yale University. He says that humans have a tendency to believe in God:

…. the universal themes of religion are not learned. They emerge as accidental by-products of our mental systems. They are part of human nature.”

Like Kelemen & Rottman, Bloom sees several evolutionary causes that lead to religious belief in young children: distinguishing bodies and souls (“we are natural-born dualists”) and “we’ve evolved to be creationists”. He nominates Scott Atran, Pascal Boyer, Justin Barrett, and Deborah Kelemen as other cognitive scientists who share these conclusions.

Bloom is convinced that all humans, even his own children, will inevitably see design and divinity in the world: “Creationism—and belief in God is bred in the bone.”

Bloom says of course much of the content of religious belief is learned but “the universal themes of religion are not learned. They emerge as accidental by-products of our mental systems. They are part of human nature.”

Bruce Hood (Bristol University)

Bruce Hood is professor of developmental psychology at Bristol University whose work suggeststhat magical and supernatural beliefs are hardwired into our brains from birth.

Our research shows children have a natural, intuitive way of reasoning that leads them to all kinds of supernatural beliefs about how the world works

Like Bloom and Keleman, Hood believes this propensity to religious belief is a result of how our brains evolved: our brains have a mind design that leads us naturally to infer structures and patterns in the world, and to make sense of it by generating intuitive theories.

Hood believes it is futile to try to get people to abandon their beliefs because these come from such a “fundamental level”.

Olivera Petrovich (Oxford University)

Olivera Petrovich is a psychologist studying religion and human development at Oxford University. Her studies have led her to conclude that basic religious belief, primarily “the concept of God as creator” is hard-wired into the human psyche.

It isn’t religion that has to be learned, she says, but atheism. “Atheism is definitely an acquired position”.

The Cognition, Religion and Theology Project (Oxford University)

This study, led by Dr Justin Barrett from the Centre for Anthropology and Mind at Oxford University, drew on research by an international body of 57 researchers from a range of disciplines, including anthropology, psychology, philosophy, and theology. They conducted over 40 separate studies in 20 different countries that represented both traditionally religious and atheist societies.

According to the Oxford university website, “the project was not setting out to prove the existence of god or otherwise, but sought to find out whether concepts such as gods and an afterlife appear to be entirely taught or basic expressions of human nature.”

Barrett says “young people have a predisposition to believe in a supreme being because they assume that everything in the world was created with a purpose”. He concludes “cultural inputs help fill in the details but children’s minds are not a level playing field. They are tilted in the direction of belief.”

The conclusions Barrett cites come from the studies that made up the project, including:

  • Studies by Emily Reed Burdett and Justin Barrett, from the University of Oxford, suggest that “in early childhood we have a natural tendency to attribute super properties to other humans and gods, including super knowledge, super perception, and immortality.”
  • Experiments involving adults, conducted by Jing Zhu from Tsinghua University (China), and Natalie Emmons and Jesse Bering from The Queen’s University, Belfast, suggest that people across many different cultures instinctively believe that some part of their mind, soul or spirit lives on after death.
  • Children expect that someone, not something, is behind natural order. Margaret Evansfound that children younger than 10 favoured creationist accounts of the origins of animals over evolutionary accounts even when their parents and teachers endorsed evolution.
  • Based on inputs from a range of researchers in UK and US it seems that the idea that some part of us — our mind, soul, or spirit — does not need a physical body and can persist after death may be largely intuitive and that we have to be talked out of beliefs in the afterlife rather than talked into them.

Summary of the science

It seems there is a broad consensus among cognitive scientists that the basics of religious belief – God as a creator, an afterlife and mind-body dualism – are innate. Some believe they are hard-wired at birth because of our evolutionary origins while others believe that early experience of life and the external world leads children to the religious predisposition.

But it is clear that, at the present at least, those who say religious belief wouldn’t occur without teaching are not basing their views on the best science, though of course much of the specific content of belief is taught. It appears in fact that it is unbelief that must be taught if it is to be acquired.

Draw your own conclusions

That is the science, on which there is broad agreement. And all seem to agree that these findings say little about whether God actually exists and the natural beliefs are in fact true. But the scientists have their opinions.

As a christian, Justin Barrett believes the innate disposition towards religious belief is part of God’s plan – perhaps what philosophers and theologians call a sensus divinitatis. On the other hand, atheists Paul Bloom and Bruce Hood believe the propensity to believe is a result of evolution and has nothing to do with any God.

We are each free to interpret the information as we choose. What appears not to be open to anyone who believes in science is to say that religion only exists because it is taught.

Religious indoctrination?

It has been claimed that teaching children religion is indoctrination that amounts to child abuse. These studies show that children don’t have to be taught to be religious, but will tend to be religious naturally.

Other studies (summarised at Faith and Wellbeing) show that giving content to children’s religious impulses improves their life in many ways. As Justin Barrett says, based on“considerable research on the relationship between religious commitment and psychological and physical well-being”, that religious beliefs “tend to better physical and mental health” and that believers are “psychologically healthier and better equipped to cope with emotional and health problems than non-believers”.

Doubtless the arguments will go on, but these studies suggest that atheists who continue to promote this view care more for polemics than for science.

THE IMPORTANCE OF DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN THE LAWS OF NATURE AND RELIGIOUS LAW

 

An argument advanced by atheists is that the law of nature cannot be the creation of a Highly Conscious or Wise Being, because it sometimes acts blindly and with great cruelty. They say that all of it seems to be running under an inherent system of cause and effect. For example, accidents which result in innocent people being killed or injured, the spread of epidemics and diseases, or the downfall of a person after a long successful career, etc., prove that there is no God, otherwise such blind and cruel destruction would never take place.

The above objection is raised because people think that the whole world is functioning under the same laws. The truth is that God has ordained two laws for the running of the world. One of these being the law of nature, which is responsible for the working of the universe and follows the system of cause and effect and the properties of different objects, whose effects we observe all around us. The second law is religious law, which pertains to the moral and spiritual condition of man and is brought to the world by Prophets and Messengers of  God. The consequences of this law, in the form of reward and punishment, shall be experienced in the next world. Those who raise the above objection, erroneously mix up these two laws.

What is the law of nature? The law of nature is that everything, every action, each simple or compound object in this world has a specific natural characteristic which manifests itself as a result of natural causes. For example, arsenic has the characteristic that it kills living things. Whenever a sufficient amount of it is introduced into the body of a living organism, it produces its natural effect, unless some other law of nature comes into play and negates it. Likewise, it is but natural that if the roof of a house becomes weak to a certain degree, it collapses. If someone is standing under that roof, he will be killed or injured, unless some other law comes into operation and supersedes it. It is also in keeping with the law of nature, that if someone goes into deep water without knowing how to swim, he will drown, unless some other law of nature intervenes to counteract this law. It is under such laws of nature that the great wheels of the world are perpetually set in motion. These laws know no friends or foes. Anything which comes within their sphere of action will be affected one way or the other.

As opposed to this what is religious law? Religious law is a code of life claimed by different  religions as having been sent by God for people to follow, so that they can improve their morals, get closer to God and receive the blessings and rewards which are reserved for the righteous. This law leaves everyone free as to whether they wish to follow it or not. Under this law, the reward or punishment of the deeds performed in this world is reserved for the hereafter.

Religious law urges people to pray to God in a prescribed way in order to gain His nearness and pleasure, but it does not force them to do so. If someone chooses to go against this law, there is nothing to stop him. Apart from some minor effects that appear in this very world, the real and final consequence is deferred till the hereafter. The sages have said that this world is the place of deeds, and the next world is the place for reward and punishment. In this sense, the law of nature differs from religious law, for under the law of nature this world is both the place of deeds and the place of reward and punishment. These two laws never interfere with each other—save in exceptional circumstances. Anyone who violates the law of nature is usually not spared punishment on the grounds that he did not violate religious law. Consider, for example, two people sitting under a ramshackle roof which is about to collapse. One of them happens to be pious while the other is wicked. In normal circumstances, were the roof to collapse, both would die. If the law of nature has some provision for saving them, they would both be saved. Similarly, if some pious and God-fearing person, who does not know how to swim, jumps into water, his piety will not save him from drowning. His piety belongs to  religious law, but now he is under the law of nature, which does not normally yield religious law. The general rule is that any good deed done under religious law contributes towards the reward of religious law, but has no bearing on the laws of nature, and vice-versa.

Atheists sometimes base their arguments on certain incidents: for instance, that a pious person went to the river and got drowned, while an evil person, who was bathing in the same river at the same time, did not drown and returned home safely. They also tell us of some chaste and dutiful girl who died on the second day of her marriage, while another girl of bad character got married on the same day and lived happily ever after. From many other such instances these atheists try to prove that there is no God.

But when we carefully consider the above objections, we find them weak and baseless, because even though the person who drowned or died was obedient to religious law, he or she somehow violated the law of nature and was duly punished. Nature takes its own course and is the same for everyone. The laws of this world are not cruel and we are not living in a blind world. It would be blind if no laws of nature had been broken yet someone was punished by nature; or if the laws of nature were broken, but the punishment came from religious law.

I wonder how people who boast of wisdom and intelligence can raise such objections. The abovementioned instances do not break any religious laws. The two laws, as I have explained, do not usually interfere with each other; and this is exactly what justice demands. Unfortunately, when something transpires under the law of nature, people look for its cause in religious law. When they fail to find it, they declare the world a blind game of chance. Explanation for an act of nature must be sought in the laws of nature. The effects of religious law should be referred to religious law. It is not a blind world. But it is Man who is blind because when someone drowns or is burnt to death for going against the laws of nature, Man alleges that he or she was unjustly treated as he or she did not violate any religious law. It is Man who is unjust in conferring the rights of the law of nature on religious law, and vice-versa, and then putting the blame on God.

Remember, nature and religious law are like two separate States. Like all civilised and sovereign States, they do not interfere in the affairs of one another. In everyday life, the law of nature and religious law act independently of one another, and are bound to their respective spheres. The only exception is when God, by special decree, chooses to save people from the effects of the laws of nature, despite the odds being stacked against them, often in answer to their prayers. However, the general rule is that the laws of nature will run their course whether a person obeys religious law or not.

This particular argument of atheists against God therefore stems from their failure to distinguish between the two laws.

Adapted from “Our God”, by Mirza Bashir Ahmad.

Featured image: Credit: http://lionsclubs.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/hurricane-irene-damage.jpg

Can Any Theory of How Life Began “Disprove God”?

Plankton

Photo credit: Yannemann https://www.flickr.com/photos/yannemann/4924077647  Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

A few days ago, the Independent was ablaze with the following headline:

“New theory could prove how life began and disprove God”

To add to the fireworks, the article went on to say that “a writer on the website of Richard Dawkins’ foundation says that the theory has put God “on the ropes” and has “terrified” Christians…” and that someone on the website wrote that “the theory could make things “a whole lot worse for creationists”.”

It is always amusing to see how, in their desperation to “disprove” God, certain people confuse PROCESS with AGENT. Whatever the process was through which life was created from dead matter and made to evolve, knowing its finer details will not rule out the assertion that the process was guided by a super-intelligent agent, any more than knowing how an apple is digested will rule out the eater. Nor will it explain how the universe, in which the apple exists, appeared in the first place.

This may remind some readers of the joke in which God was approached by a scientist who said, “Listen God, we’ve decided we don’t need you anymore. These days we can clone people, transplant organs and do all sorts of things that used to be considered miraculous.” God replied, “Don’t need me, huh? How about we put your theory to the test. Why don’t we have a competition to see who can make a human being?” The scientist agrees, so God declares they should do it like He did in the good old days. “Fine!” says the scientist as he bends down to scoop up a handful of dirt.“Whoa!” says God, “Not so fast! You get your own dirt.”

The new theory, proposed by a researcher at MIT, is that “when a group of atoms is exposed for a long time to a source of energy, it will restructure itself to dissipate more energy. The emergence of life might not be the luck of atoms arranging themselves in the right way, it says, but an inevitable event if the conditions are correct.” The researcher is reported to have said: “You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant.”

It is quite shameful for a researcher, who one would expect to be a dignified member of the scientific community who is always circumspect when it comes to drawing conclusions and making them public, to talk of atoms “arranging themselves” and the first life forms in the same breath, as if these two things were just a step or two away from each other. The layman will come away with the idea that the first life forms must have been rather basic, primitive things, not much more than rearranged atoms.

More discerning readers will of course know that for cells to function, they require the presence of a whole series of molecular machines to run like clockwork from Day One. Whatever the processes were that led the simple rearrangement of atoms to a fully functional, self-replicating, conscious cell, they were certainly more complex than simply shining light on atoms and ending up with a plant.

The key delusion here is shining a light “for long enough”. In other words, we are being asked to believe that TIME creates life. This is extremely dishonest, when mathematicians have demonstrated time and again that the amount of time available since the universe began is simply not suffient for life to appear by unguided processes. To circumvent this unavoidable mathematical reality, the fantastical idea of a “multiverse” has been conjured up; something which has absolutely no evidence to back it up with, and which only exists on paper because there are scientists who are obsessed with the idea of disproving God by any means instead of humbly following the mathematical and scientific evidence wherever it leads.

For a glimpse into what goes on inside a human cell, watch THIS

And for plant cells, THIS

As for the smug declaration that this new theory will make things “a whole lot worse for creationists”, six-24-hour-day creationists and 6000-year-old earth protagonists are already in a whole heap of scientific trouble, so it is difficult to imagine how this new theory will make things any worse for them. The fact that they ascribe unscientific actions to God in no way changes what really happened. All they do is give an opportunity to the noisier anti-theists to further ridicule the idea of God. In fact, such creationists and anti-theists both have equally ridiculous conceptions of God. And of science. The ones say that plants appeared all of a sudden, the others affirm that if you keep shining light on a clump of atoms, you’ll inevitably get a plant. They truly deserve each other!

The Qur’an, like the Bible, speaks of creation in six days. However, there is a big difference between the two accounts. Unlike the Book of Genesis, which limits each day to 24 hours by specifying that there was an evening and a morning,  the Qur’an leaves the expression as simply “six days”, and explains that in God’s parlance, a “day” means a period of time of any length; some “days” are equal to 1000 years, others to 50000, others still to far longer periods as we will now show.

In one verse, the Qur’an declares:

Allah it is Who created the heavens and the earth, and that which is between them, in six periods; then He settled on the Throne. You have no helper or intercessor beside Him. Will you not then reflect?

In another verse, it proclaims:

Say: “Do you really disbelieve in Him Who created the earth in two days? And do you set up equals to Him?’ That is the Lord of the worlds.”

Thus, the creation of the whole universe is said to have occurred in six “days”, of which our planet took two “days” to be created. Or in other words a ratio of 2:6 or 1:3.

When we turn to what science has discovered so far, we find that the approximate age of planet earth is 4.56 billion years and that of the universe is 13.77 billion years. If 13.77 billion years is divided into six periods of equal length, planet earth will take up two of them. Again, a ratio of 1:3.

That an illiterate 6th-Century inhabitant of the Arabian desert could make such a declaration has implications that are for our readers to reflect upon. He said that it was God Who had told him to say this:

“Do you really disbelieve in Him Who created the earth in two days? And do you set up equals to Him?’ That is the Lord of the worlds.”

No matter how much knowledge of the creative process can be acquired by Man, it will never explain away the Agent behind it all. Au contraire.

 

Is Life Sacred in an Atheist World?

With the recent controversy over whether Humanism should be taught in UK RE classes, this belief system is getting more attention than it’s ever done. We thought we’d help out the British Humanist Association with their policy of promoting critical thought around Humanism by publishing a series of posts examining whether Humanism makes, well… any sense at all. Enjoy!

Humanism assumes universally accepted precepts such as the inherent sanctity of human life. It tells us that human life is something worth fostering and promoting, and that it is morally despicable to actively try and harm it. I agree. I cannot help but note, however, that humanism offers absolutely no intellectual basis for these laudable ideals. In fact, as it is a moral philosophy based on God’s non-existence, it seems to offer quite the opposite.

In a world without God, the universe is at best an accidental one, the origin of which is entirely unexplained, but certainly not the result of a Higher Power. Similarly, human life is not at all intended. Rather, it is simply the happy byproduct of Darwinian evolution – the dubious idea that a fortuitous, unexplained, fully-functioning cell appeared one day, consequently underwent countless copying errors in its DNA, and after being ravaged by similarly undirected environmental changes, produced you, me, and that barking dog that keeps you up at night.

If this outlook is true in all its serendipitous details, then in what way is human life sacred? It is simply the accidental product of an accidental universe, a fluke that will disappear entirely in the blink of a cosmic eye. At best, one can say that human life is rare, remarkable only in a probabilistic sense. But that does nothing to obscure the obvious fact that in an atheistic perspective, human life has no intrinsic worth. It was an accident. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts. A good philosophy for a night out perhaps, but the sombre hangover is sure to kick in soon. If human life is an accident, then why should we value it? If a callous, uncaring oppressor seeks to trample on the rights of others for his own selfish ends, then by what argument will we silence him? ‘Be good!’, we cry.‘Why?’, he retorts. ‘The law of the jungle is what brought us into this world- why not continue it?’ In this bleak atheistic outlook, the idea that life is valuable can be chalked up to a psychological survival instinct drilled into us by the selfish dictates of natural selection. If someone ignores its compulsions, can we really argue against such cruel principles coherently? After all, an unspoken truth is being acted upon: none of this really matters anyway.

A theistic outlook however, radically alters this. We are not an accident. The universe did not bring itself into being through sheer force of non-existent will; rather, it was created by an eternal Higher Power for a very specific purpose. That purpose was to produce conscious beings capable of high moral and spiritual endeavour – beings that could know their Creator, develop a relationship with Him, emulate His Mercy, and thus work to produce peace amongst creation.

Human life therefore is absolutely valuable- it has a purpose, and belongs in reality to its Creator. To take a life away is to rob that life of its potential to fulfil the purpose of its existence, and experience the spiritual bliss that comes with it. To take a life away it is to take a life that was never ours to take.

Of course, believers and non-believers alike know that life is sacred. It is a principle which screams inside our very core. The difference is, alas, that the atheist’s heart finds no support from his or her head.

Note: That there is a cosmic plan for Man is obvious. Take a pygmy child from the Congo, or a Tuareg child from the Sahara, or the child of a Samoyed nomad from northern arctic Russia; bring them up in an upper-class household in England. Send them to Cambridge. One becomes a brain surgeon, the second a great musician, the third an astrophysicist. Why did these children have that hidden potential within them? Had time travel been possible, we may just as well have made a caveman’s child pass through the same process, with the same result. What use could such potential have for the survival of children born in tribes who had always been nomads or hunter-gatherers? Why should such children have the hidden potential to read, write, and comprehend the sciences and the arts? Clearly, this potential was placed in them long in advance, despite bringing no evolutionary advantage for millenia, so that one day it could blossom. Blind selection cannot create such amazing potential in any creature. The human race is special, and has had a noble purpose willed for it long before the purpose could reveal itself.

 

The first part of this article has been reproduced from the End of Atheism website. End of Atheism is a direct response to the New Atheist movement that began with Sam Harris’ book ‘End of Faith.’ You can find more material here:  www.endofatheism.com

Are Islamophobes Right – Does Islam Motivate Muslims to Carry out Acts of Terror?

Today’s world is home to horrific attacks of violence, extremism and terror of all kinds. Many people directly blame religion, in particular Islam, for much of the violence carried out in its name. But as a Muslim, I have something to tell you: There is no link between Islam and terrorism.

Don’t get me wrong – there is obviously a strong link between certain Muslims and terrorism, but Islam is a teaching, and therefore has to be judged on what it actually says. So what does the Holy Qur’an say?

Chapter 2 states that you can never force people in matters of religion. Chapter 5 likens the murder of one innocent life to the murder of the whole of mankind. Chapter 60 tells Muslims that they must live in peace with people of other faiths and backgrounds, in ‘kindness and equity. Chapter 109 says that people are free to follow whatever religious beliefs they want.

These verses, and many more, were carried into action by the Prophet Muhammad of Islam. He lived in peace and harmony with people of many different faiths. He hated fighting, and the early Muslims only ever fought in self-defence. As Historian Reverend De Lacy O’Leary wrote:

“The legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races, is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.” Islam at the Crossroads

Islam is not to blame. A tiny, tiny fraction of the 1.6bn Muslims may well be. But why blame Islam for extremism, when extremism and terrorism exist in every ideology? Do we blame the Gospels for the IRA? Do we blame Buddhism for Buddhist extremists in Burma? Do we blame atheism for organisations like the League of Militant Atheism that murdered religious people in Soviet Russia? And what about eco-terrorism, or terrorism done by extreme right-wing, left-wing, or separatist groups?

The reality is that even in very recent history, a huge part of global terrorism is not motivated by religious ideologies, but by political and social causes. What this tells us is that extremism isn’t the exclusive domain of any ideology – be it religious or secular. There have always been, and perhaps always will be, people who are willing to trample on the rights of others so as to satisfy their own desires. To justify their horrific actions, they have to appeal to the highest authority in their society. In more religious settings, it will be God who is appealed to. In less religious settings, it will be noble ideals like freedom, democracy and justice. But whatever virtuous ideal is used to justify the murder of innocent lives, we can always discern political, financial, racial, or territorial ambitions at their heart.

So don’t fall for it. Religion doesn’t create terrorism. People create terrorism. In fact, the true teachings of religion are the solution, not the problem. If those who murder in the name of religions ever truly studied their own teachings, they would drop their guns. And if those who promote terrorism indirectly through their own injustices cared about the disorder they would create, then the world would be a very a different place indeed.

“Verily Allah requires you to abide by justice, benevolence, and unconditional grace; and He forbids indecency, manifest evil, and transgression. He admonishes you that you may take heed.” 16:90

The present article has been reproduced from the End of Atheism website. End of Atheism is a direct response to the New Atheist movement that began with Sam Harris’ book ‘End of Faith.’ You can find more material here:  www.endofatheism.com