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

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Do we all disbelieve in some gods? A countryside story…

Copy of Should Religious Parents leave their kids alone- (2)

I live in a small village in the British countryside. Not much happens. Anything vaguely interesting would be the talk of the town. So I want to give you an example. Imagine that I’m walking down the street, and one of my local friends comes up to me and says that he saw this horse earlier that day, just a few roads away, running wildly up and down, frightening children and pensioners alike. I become concerned, but hey, I’ve got a life to live. I walk on.

An hour later I decide to end my walk by getting some lunch in the village. I run into another group of friends, (I’m a popular guy in my imagination it seems), who tell me they’ve heard there were two or three horses running around the village earlier, wild and free. I shrug, but keep my ears attentive for the sound of hooves just in case.

I finally get to the sandwich shop towards which I’ve been slowly meandering, and settle down to a tuna panini. The cheese and fish medley melts deliciously into my hungry mouth. I eat contentedly for a while and settle down to reading this popular new book my university lecturer recommended. A couple of hours later, just as I’m leaving,  I hear a group to the left of me saying that apparently there was a whole herd of horses surging through the village earlier. My forehead wrinkles. One guy said there was one horse. Then I met a group which said there were a few horses, and now I’m hearing that there was a whole herd of horses?

What should I do with this information? The reports clearly conflict and it’s difficult to tell which one is correct. I could try and investigate further, assuming that there’s some essence of truth, which has maybe become distorted through people mishearing or exaggerating the number of horses as the hours went on.

But after reading that great atheism book at lunch, I decide that there was no horse, everyone in my village is crazy, and that I really need to move out of this town.

Makes sense right?

 

This analogy was adapted from Hadhrat Mirza Basheer-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, 2nd Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Community. Header image originally from Carlo Scherer.

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

Who Designed the Designer? Atheists’ Arguments Refuted.

Professor Richard Dawkins in his book, “The God Delusion” provides one serious argument as to why God probably doesn’t exist. This argument is examined, dismantled, and demonstrated as deeply flawed.

 

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

Should Religious Parents Leave Their Kids Alone?

Image from the GlobalPartnership for Education: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gpforeducation/8370330617/in/photolist-dKE8F8-pbTac6-dKKAQb-61Ss8F-2Wvetu-61Sqb6-oiymuH-61WA4b-pxobgB-7ysSqb-aMqTii-b4Ac92-61WBKd-qKvnbN-61WB25-4Ep6TT-4cDJpU-4ZgTr1-5RFbWQ-5Rhp3D-61Sp76-61T9Mr-7FHDGn-4ZgTnL-83VeBN-61Sq4X-61Sr2M-61SqR6-61WCZN-61WBbh-61Spb4-61SqFM-61WBjd-61SppV-61Sqdx-61WBG5-61WCWb-61WAYS-61WCYN-61WDjA-61Ssj4-61WBqJ-61WBod-61Ssqp-61Sqn6-9stUdD-dScLFR-dKKAQS-dKKAxu-rWBLh2

Religion is a hot topic these days, with Daesh prompting right-wing commentators and New Atheist activists to renew their criticism of religion in general, and Islam in particular. I spied last week a tweet (below) from one such critic Maryam Namazie, which mentioned religion being ‘imposed’ on children. It reminded me of New Atheism’s golden-boy turned embarrassing-uncle Richard Dawkins, who has repeatedly argued that it’s immoral to raise your children as religious and teach them your beliefs, saying earlier this year: “...there really is an important difference between including your children in harmless traditions, and forcing on them un-evidenced opinions about the nature of life or the cosmos.” The argument is that to raise a child as religious is indoctrination, which colours their future unfairly. Instead, we shouldn’t raise them in any religion, and let them wait until they reach intellectual maturity before they choose their own faith or non-faith worldview.

This is a common line amongst New Atheists, and one that to many seems reasonable at first glance. Its logic, however, is deeply flawed. Here are four reasons why religious people have absolutely every right to raise their children according to their own religious convictions:

1 . We all raise our children according to our beliefs- atheists included. When we examine Dawkins’ above statement, the hypocrisy of the stance is immediately apparent. It hinges on the idea that religious people hold“… un-evidenced opinions about the nature of life or the cosmos.” Hold on, that sounds rather like an opinion itself doesn’t it? I don’t think my beliefs are un-evidenced. After all, who does? We can’t all be right, but we all reserve the right to believe that we are! Who’s to say that I don’t deem atheism as an un-evidenced stance that is harmful to the moral and spiritual welfare of my children? If so, how could I, in right conscience, allow my children not to be given the opportunity to spiritually develop in their youth? What Dawkins’ argument boils down to is: your belief is different to mine, and I’m obviously right, so how dare you spread your ignorant beliefs to your children! The whole position flies in the face of the very freedom of conscience it purports to protect.

2. My religion teaches me not to force belief upon my children anyway: There is a huge difference between raising your children in a religion, and forcing that religion on them. The Qur’an (usually the prime target of these criticisms) teaches clearly that “there is no compulsion in religion,” (2:257) and, “whoever follows guidance, follows it for the benefit of his own soul; and whoever goes astray, goes astray only to its detriment. And you are not a guardian over them,” (39:42). In line with this, I plan to raise my children as Muslim, and to teach them why I believe my religious convictions are true. But if, as they reach intellectual maturity they’re not convinced, then so be it- I won’t force them to profess belief, not least because forced belief is hollow. I stand with people of all faiths and none in condemning those who seek to force their religion upon others. As Damir Rafi successfully argued in HuffPost last week, punishment for apostasy is un-Islamic concept, rife though it is in some parts of the Muslim world.

3. Being raised outside religion means you’re not given an informed choice: the premise upon which this idea is built is that it’s fairer for a child to be raised irreligiously, leaving the door open to them to choose a religion in adulthood if desired. This however means that people will end up atheists- and for all the wrong reasons. Religion may have a very rational basis, but many of its fruits are not purely intellectual- they are also experiential. If you grow up without having experienced spiritual satisfaction, answered prayers, and a relationship with God, then how can you possibly make an informed choice about religion’s truth? You can only make an informed choice about religion once you’ve lived in it. If then you decide its promised fruits were non-existent then you’re free to leave- but a rejection of religion without ever endeavouring to truly experience its benefits is meaningless.

4. If a religious upbringing meant permanent indoctrination, there would be no atheists: Perhaps the greatest proof that the whole idea is totally unnecessary is that most of the leading proponents of new atheism were born and raised in religious environments, before leaving religion behind. And we all know that religiosity is on the decline, and atheism on the rise. That simply wouldn’t be possible if raising a child as religious bore some kind of indelible religious streak in them. So what’s all the fuss about?

There you have it. Like so many of New Atheism’s demands, this one too produces more heat than light.

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

Does Dark Matter Disprove God?

Does Dark Matter Disprove God-

Does the existence of space disprove the existence of God? (No seriously). It’s taken from Victor J. Stenger’s “God: The Failed Hypothesis.” Here’s what he says in that book, followed by our thoughts:

“It is commonly thought that the universe is an intricately complex place. However, taking an overview we can see that this is a selection effect resulting from the fact that we and our planet are relatively complex. Most of the matter and energy of the universe exhibits little structure and shows no sign of design. We noted above that 96 percent of the mass of the universe appears to be composed of dark matter and dark energy whose exact natures are unknown but that are definitely not composed of familiar atomic matter. As far as we can tell, these components have little structure. The very low energy photons in the cosmic microwave background radiation are a billion times more plentiful than the atoms in galaxies. These particles are spread uniformly throughout the universe to one part in a hundred thousand. They move around almost completely randomly, as if they were a gas in thermal equilibrium having maximum entropy and at a temperature only three degrees above absolute zero on the Kelvin scale. The little structure that is seen is understood as the remnant of random fluctuations that took place in the early universe and helped trigger galaxy formation. Again, absence of design is evident.” (God: The Failed Hypothesis; Victor Stenger; p. 162)

The above extract presents a twist on a common atheistic argument- that whilst the universe is highly complex, it only has the illusion of design- an illusion we are fooled by, being the product of such complexity. We suffer unknowingly from selection bias- that is, we are amazed by the complexity of the universe, without realising that if the universe was not as it was, there would be no one around to be amazed by it. This however, is a deceptively pointless statement- being able to observe something highly improbable does not make it any less improbable, and the improbable complexity of the universe is the focus of the above argument.

Theists say that the universe is highly ordered and highly complex. Being so, it necessitates a Designer to have fashioned it so. Here, renowned particle physicist Victor Stenger argues that the universe, overall, cannot be said to be designed because overall it does not have much of that wondrous complexity theists rave about. Rather, it only has small pockets of complexity, which over-credulous theists mistake for design.

To support this, he says that on a quantitative scale, 96% of our universe is composed of dark matter and dark energy, which according to our current knowledge, has ‘little structure.’ He then writes that background radiation photons move around in a manner that is ‘almost’ completely random. Whether he wants them to whizz around spelling ‘God’ is not known, but after describing their apparently unremarkable states, he concludes that design is absent, because the majority of the universe seems to have little structure, and little complexity.

However, as attested to by his habit of constantly qualifying statements with doubt, (‘seems,’ ‘almost,’ ’as far as we can tell’), his assertion that the majority of the universe has little structure is based on very limited knowledge, making his whole argument rather dubious right from the get go. Besides, it would be interesting to know exactly what level of complexity and structure he would deem complex enough to imply design. It seems to be an arbitrary line that he is drawing for what constitutes a lack of complexity and design, and what doesn’t. When, as is inevitable, we find out more about dark matter, and let’s say it turns out it is quite complex, he could just turn to another area of science that we don’t know much about, and say ‘look- that doesn’t seem so complex! Therefore the universe as a whole is not complex, and therefore there is no design!’ But this is clearly quite perverse logic. It’s akin to walking into a dark room and declaring it empty, just because there’s no light to see inside it.​​

Even if we were to foolishly accept that dark matter and dark energy are ‘uncomplex,’ it is freely admitted that, alongside with dark energy, it forms a huge percentage of the universe. We also now it plays an absolutely crucial role in the expansion of our universe, in the formation of galaxies, among many other functions.  So it’s quite obvious dark matter and dark energy play an integral role in the overall structure of the observable universe. And this, tip-of-the-iceberg, observable universe, is quite clearly complex. This fact is not disputed by any sane mind, not even Stenger’s. Thus to isolate the basis of a complex system and argue it is not complex, and therefore the system as a whole is not complex, is sheer folly. It’s like saying that a beautiful palace has no beauty because it’s made up out of simple stone, or that the human body is not complex because the majority of it is water- and water’s just H20! When trying to study a vastly complex system, one cannot isolate elements and extrapolate meaning, superimposing that restricted meaning on a much grander scheme. Rather, one must study the composite whole, and then derive understanding. This principle can be applied across sciences and disciplines- for how many a criticism has been levelled against Islam on the basis of a few out of context words? With regards to Qur’anic interpretation, the Qur’an itself tells us that those who can interpret correctly are those who are firmly grounded in knowledge, who do not isolate verses, but examine all that has been said on a given matter, collectively. “They say, ‘We believe in it; the whole is from our Lord.’” [3:8] Perhaps it would not be inappropriate to apply this principle to the study of nature too.

Returning to the subject at hand, it’s baffling as to why the author seems to separate himself out from the study of the universe. He is most definitely an inhabitant of the universe, and, being human, a highly complex being. They say that the human brain alone is a vast cosmos in and of itself. Thus he must admit that the universe is complex, because it can form the unbelievable complexity found in him, and every other human on this planet. To try and find meaning in terms of scale or %-mass is a rather childish viewpoint- why should physical scale confer meaning? The peak of a mountain is sought after most, despite being its smallest point. Even if they are just flecks in the galactic tapestry, the fact that this universe has produced sentient beings that can reflect over the meaning of their own existence, must bear greatest testimony to the universe’s undeniable order and complexity.

The only question that remains is whether this wondrous complexity is by the will of a Conscious Creator, or merely the offspring of nothingness and chance? This we leave for the reader to decide- let your own personal cosmos chew on that for a while.

Credit: Header image taken from European Space Observatory.

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

Who created God? Who Made God? Where Did God Come From? ‘The God Delusion’ Refuted

“Who created God?” is a question that has long plagued agnostic and atheist thinkers. If the Universe’s complexity requires a designer, then what about God, Who surely must be as complex (if not more) than the Universe? Does God need Designing? Why does the Universe need a God? Couldn’t it have come from nothing?

“Who Created God? – Richard Dawkins Refuted” demonstrates that God doesn’t need a Designer, unlike the Universe, and explains why.

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 on www.endofatheism.com.

The Question of Suffering

Answering that age-old question: If God is Merciful, why is there so much suffering in the world?

An excerpt from the book “Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth”, by Mirza Tahir Ahmad.

http://www.alislam.org/library/books/revelation/part_2_section_6.html

Revelation Rationality