Posted in Agnosticism, Art, Atheism, Everyday life, Morality, Religion, Science, The Conscious Disbeliever, Uncategorized

Books That Shaped America – National Book Festival (Library of Congress)

Great Hall, Library of Congress, Washington DC
Great Hall, Library of Congress, Washington DC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Books That Shaped America – National Book Festival (Library of Congress).

A collection of books by Americans that have shaped the country. This list, as most lists of its kind will surely strike up controversy.

Did you notice that religious books a mainly absent from this list?

Happy 4th of July!!

A Fourth of July fireworks display at the Wash...
A Fourth of July fireworks display at the Washington Monument. Location: WASHINGTON, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (DC) UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (USA) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Posted in Agnosticism, Atheism, Blasphemy, Everyday life, Human Rights, Morality, Religion, The Conscious Disbeliever

United Nations Affirms the Human Right to Blaspheme | Politics | Religion Dispatches

English: United Nations postage stamp
English: United Nations postage stamp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

United Nations Affirms the Human Right to Blaspheme | Politics | Religion Dispatches.

Spanish artist Javier Krahe was found not guilty of the crime of “offending religious feelings” . Who would have thought that in our times, those kinds of laws exist in countries like the ones that are part of the European Union?

They have even adopted it into their constitution:

Section 10

1. The dignity of the person, the inviolable rights which are inherent, the free development of the personality, the respect for the law and for the rights of others are the foundation of political order and social peace.

2. Provisions relating to the fundamental rights and liberties recognized by the Constitution shall be construed in conformity with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international treaties and agreements thereon ratified by Spain.

This is the year 2012 CE, the 21st century, and yet now, some people have not come to the conclusion that ideas do not have rights. Only persons have human rights.

When we express something we are putting forth and idea, and ideas are subject to scrutiny. Upon examination, one can agree or disagree with an idea, adopt it or dismiss it, support it or fight it, all this is within our basic rights.

Many times one finds that heated debate of ideas can be very fun, even when in the end you do not agree and think that your intellectual adversary is a complete idiot (she/he surely thinks the same of you), if only this can be done in a civilized fashion.

I can understand a blasphemy law in a theocracy. How else can they maintain control? But how can it be explained in the Western world’s so-called modern democracies? You will be surprised to see how many democracies have this sort of laws. I would think that maybe we are faced with what Isabel Turrent calls “moral autism”.

This sort of law should be challenged and overturned as soon as possible.

Español: Moneda conmemorativa de 2€ sobre los ...
Español: Moneda conmemorativa de 2€ sobre los Derechos Humas. Finlandia 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

See you next time.

Posted in Agnosticism, Art, Atheism, Everyday life, Morality, Religion, The Conscious Disbeliever

Diego Rivera: a thought on atheism

I found this quote on the Humanismo Secular Facebook site. Below is the translation.

Mr. Osio asked me to erase the phrase, but I could not please him because the history of Mexico was at stake. To assert “God does not exist”, I did not shield myself behind Don Ignacio Ramirez; I am an atheist and consider religions as a form of collective neurosis. I am not an enemy of the Catholics, in the same way as I am not an enemy of the tuberculous, the near-sighted or the paralytic; one cannot be an enemy of the sick, only their good friend to try to cure them

Diego Rivera

Quote by Diego Rivera in response to violations suffered against his freedom of expression. Taken from an interview with Rene Tirado sources, the note “Diego Rivera proposes a ‘transaction’ to the Archbishop,” the newspaper Excelsior. Mexico, June 3, 1948.

The poster image of Diego Rivera painting out his famous mural

Sueno de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Cen...
Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central – Center, 1947-48 (Photo credit: saturdave)

(“Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park”)

This mural and other works can be found at the Museo Mural Diego Rivera in Mexico City.

See you next time.

Posted in Everyday life, Morality, Neuroscience, Science, The Conscious Disbeliever

The Zombie Within : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR

English: A zombie
English: A zombie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Zombie Within : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR.

 

A very interesting post about free will that I believe goes well with some of my previous thought on the theme.

I enjoyed how Alva Noë gives us another look at the concept of free will. The definition, in my humble opinion, should be revised.

 

See you next time.

 

 

Posted in Agnosticism, Atheism, Everyday life, Morality, Religion, Science, The Conscious Disbeliever

“catulis canis oculi aperi ad quindecum diem, fatuus…numquam”

“catulis canis oculi aperi ad quindecum diem, fatuus…numquam”

Newborn Puppies
Newborn Puppies (Photo credit: Alland Dharmawan)

Don’t you ever feel like you are talking to a brick wall sometimes?

When no matter how hard you try, no matter if you try to use your most logical arguments, you just can’t get people to understand. Belief is so ingrained in some people, that even in the presence of overwhelming evidence, they will not budge.

I will not go into details, but at the hospital I work at, some colleagues and I have been in some serious arguments with the Chief of Staff and other authorities over ER policy and the hospital code of conduct. We have demonstrated with a myriad of medical papers that the ER policy in question is not medically motivated, but rather a moral judgement upon patients. It is not my place to judge. My role is to give my patient the best treatment possible and when needed, recommend counseling. And on the details pertaining the code of conduct, I felt like they wanted to impose a set of rules taken from Torquemada himself. We firmly informed them that acceptance of this new rule was out of the question. So we have been dragging an epistolary fight for weeks, but I believe that reason shall prevail in this case.

Sometimes one is up against unreason and must use all possible means to control our frustration in the face of irrationality, specially when it has an effect or potential effect upon others. Even though many times it is so hard for me, I believe that we are compelled to be the better person in the presence of judgemental and intolerant people.

There is a Mexican phrase that goes well with this sentiment, and I do my best to repeat it to myself every time I face this kind of situation.

“los perros abren los ojos a los quince días, los pendejos…nunca.”

That would translate into:

“puppies open their eyes in a fortnight…fools never do.”  Well, the exact word is not fool, but it serves to that effect.

The title of this post as you can see is my attempt to translate the phrase into latin.

Sometimes it helps, sometimes I fall prey of exasperation. You win some and you lose some, but you keep trying.

See you next time.

Posted in Agnosticism, Atheism, Everyday life, Family, Morality, Religion, The Conscious Disbeliever

Family

No one has the exclusive on the model of family

I found this beautiful image on the UAAR  Facebook page. It holds a very great truth: nobody has a monopoly on the correct  model of a family.

The choice is yours and yours alone.

The UAAR is the Union degli Atei e degli Agnostici Razionalisti or Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

Posted in Agnosticism, Atheism, Everyday life, Morality, Religion, Science, The Conscious Disbeliever

Beating the dead horse…Pascal’s Wager

Look both ways before you cross, unless you have accepted the wager, if so, cross without looking.

I have read many a blog on this subject, and for the life of me, I have no idea why I insist on it. Why must I beat the dead horse?

Most blogs or journals are done as a manner of catharsis, to get things off our chests. And through this cathartic act, we hope to give the matter a bit of our personal touch. Sometimes to the liking of our readers, sometimes not.

The dead horse that I feel compelled to flog is Pascal’s Wager.

Let us see into the points he makes in the Section III of the Pensèes:

God is, or He is not”

“A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up What will you wager?”

“According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.”

” You must wager It is not optional You are embarked.”

“Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.”

“Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (…) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.”

Pascal describes a situation where both the non-existence and existence of God are impossible to prove by human reason. So we must through reason out the window and make our bet based on the possible consequences of the wager. If we bet on God, what is the prize for winning? If we bet against, what is the prize for winning? And of course we must consider the price of losing our wager.

If you bet on the existence of God and win, you get an eternity of bliss in heaven. If you bet on the existence of God and lose…well you get nothing. On the other hand if you bet on the non-existence of God and win, you gain nothing, but if you lose…you get the prize of burning in the flames of Hell forever. He does not mention Hell, but you get what he means.

And when asked ” I am not released, and am so made that I cannot believe, What, then, would you have me do?”

The response: “Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc. Even this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness.” – “But this is what I am afraid of.” -“And why?What have you to lose?”

“To end this discourse. – Now, what harm will befall you in taking this side? You will be faithful, honest, humble grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful. …you will see so great certainty of gain, so much nothingness in what you risk, that you will last recognise that you have wagered for something certain and infinite, for which you have given nothing.”

An important flaw in this wager is the fact that other deities are not considered in the equation. What if you are not a Christian? You believe in a God, but alas, the wrong one, so burn in Hell you heathen, along with us atheists.

Well, things could go another direction. What if God sees things in a different light?

Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.

Thomas Jefferson

or even better:

Suppose there is a god who is watching us and choosing which souls of the deceased to bring to heaven, and this god really does want only the morally good to populate heaven. He will probably select from only those who made a significant and responsible effort to discover the truth. . .Therefore, only such people can be sufficiently moral and trustworthy to deserve a place in heaven — unless God wishes to fill heaven with the morally lazy, irresponsible, or untrustworthy.

Richard Carrier, The End of Pascal’s Wager: Only Nontheists Go to Heaven

I have many problems with this wager. First, the value of the existence of God is arbitrarily set at an infinite value and non-belief a finite value. Second, we are asked to leave reason out of the problem solving. Third, he requests that we pretend to have faith, a false belief, presented unto my fellow-man and God as true. Fourth, he insults his God’s intelligence, assuming that our ruse will not be discovered.

This man, otherwise a brilliant mathematician, physicist and writer, had the grave defect of being a Catholic philosopher and apologist. He left reason at the door on the matter of our discussion, something we should not be willing to do. Also the fact that he would ask of us to act with total hypocrisy, a double moral, is appalling. How could one go about acting as a Christian on the outside, but being an atheist on the inside? Maybe from fear of real punishment, like the Inquisition? Belief cannot be willed by us or upon us. And if his God is omniscient, would we not be discovered in our subterfuge, and then be doubly punished?

To my lone reader: If you have read thus far, my utmost thanks for joining me on my ramblings, I will not suffer you to go much further.

I will end with Pascals own words:

“If we submit everything to reason, our religion will have no mysterious and supernatural element. If we offend the principles of reason, our religion will be absurd and ridiculous.”

Blaise Pascal

Posted in Agnosticism, Art, Atheism, Coffee, Everyday life, Humor, Morality, Music, Neuroscience, Religion, Science, The Conscious Disbeliever

What is left for non-believers

Australian author Lynne Kelly sure sums it up nicely. She only made one major oversight…she forgot to put coffee in her phrase to make it perfect.

She is author of many books, including A Skeptics Guide to the Paranormal, Spiders: Learning to Love Them, as well as Crocodile: Evolutions Greatest Survivor

Posted in Agnosticism, Art, Atheism, Everyday life, Music, Religion, The Conscious Disbeliever

A few Frank Sinatra quotes

Frank Sinatra was born and raised a Catholic, but he sure had a few good ideas about religion.

English: Crooner Photo of Frank Sinatra, Ameri...

I’m for decency — period. I’m for anything and everything that bodes love and consideration for my fellow-man. But when lip service to some mysterious deity permits bestiality on Wednesday and absolution on Sunday — cash me out.

I’m for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, benzedrine or a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.

There are things about organized religion which I resent. Christ is revered as the Prince of Peace, but more blood has been shed in His name than any other figure in history. You show me one step forward in the name of religion and I’ll show you a hundred retrogressions. Remember, they were men of God who destroyed the educational treasures at Alexandria, who perpetrated the Inquisition in Spain, who burned the witches at Salem. Over 25,000 organized religions flourish on this planet, but the followers of each think all the others are miserably misguided and probably evil as well.

Although Frank Sinatra was a singer more attuned to my father and his generation, as the years go by, I have come to appreciate him and understand why he was The Voice.

See you next time.

Posted in Agnosticism, Atheism, Everyday life, Morality, Religion, The Conscious Disbeliever

Views on The Thinking Atheist

I was listening to The Thinking Atheist Radio Padcast #58 (5-15-12) called “I’m an Atheist Teenager” yesterday and I sure enjoyed it.

Although the podcast is about teenagers, it touches on all of us. Even those, as the host of the show puts it who “creep slowly but surely to the age fifty”. I must add that I am a bit closer than he is to that mark.

Our perspective on this is different obviously than that of a teen, but the opinions of this younger generation are to be taken into consideration and not just brushed aside with the remark they are only kids. I have to commend the honesty and bravery the young persons that called in. I wish that I had been willing at that age to come out and express my beliefs in public. Instead, I was, as many, content to be a closet atheist. Happy being a non-believer in the shadows, while being part of the social scene of religion.

The part about when, through life experience  you come to realize how much you don’t know just hit the chord right on the spot.

 I don’t know much about anything

It is so true that at an early age you take things with such certainty, every thing is either black or white when you’re a teenager. Only after the ups and downs, the bumps in life do you come to understand that maybe, just maybe, things work more on a scale of grays.

I enjoyed hearing the kids talk about how they came to the realization of non-belief and how they expressed this to others.

I loved listening to the story of a 15 year-old called Steven. He was born in Russia and adopted at an early age by fundamentalist Catholics. He speaks of his journey towards atheism and how on a fancy, during class and in contradiction to the arguments against atheists that his teacher put up before the class, he stands up and declares himself an atheist (49:54-51:30).

But what appalled me was the reaction of his adoptive mother  saying “Thank God you are not my real son”.  That heartless and very Christian bitch. I am just sad that Hell does not exist, because if anybody deserves to be punished severely is that woman.

On a lighter note, I highly recommend The Thinking Atheist podcast, and the website is full of information to help you on your journey. Seth Andrews has helped many on their path to reason and non-belief. And even though he is not in a position of academia as people such as Richard Dawkins is or in the spotlight as Christopher Hitchens was; I truly believe that with his great videos, his webpage and podcast, he has made non-belief a bit more down to earth and more accesible for the masses.

My thanks and admiration for his good work.

And I did not even mention that he has a very good radio voice.

See you next time.

ps:  don’t forget to be counted, and give a click on The Atheist Census

Posted in Agnosticism, Atheism, Everyday life, Morality, Neuroscience, Religion, Science, The Conscious Disbeliever

Borrowed Morality

Code of laws of Hammurabi. Louvre museum, Middle East antiques.

Most Christians say that Atheists borrow their morality from the Bible. Without the enlightened teachings of the Bible, we would be no more than instinctive animals, killing and raping, our daily deeds.

Well, let us take a brief step back in time. The revelation to Moses at Mount Sinai took place around 1312 BCE or another possible time was 1280 BCE. It is assumed by modern biblical scholars that the written books were done during the exile from Babylon 600 BCE and it took around 200 years to complete.

It looks like the Torah has been around for a very long time. If we take the earliest possible time for the revelation to Moses, that would be 3324 years ago. So that would take us to believe that humanity before this was nothing but an uncivilized rabble.

So let us concede, for the sake of argument, that there were no moral codes before the era of the beginning of written history in Mesopotamia around 3100 BCE. What happened from this point on, until the revelation and later writing of the Torah? Did humanity live as savages for close to 18 centuries?

The Egyptians had Maat as a concept of truth, balance, order,law, morality and justice around 2375 BCE and 2345 BCE, although there are little surviving writings on the way of practice of ancient Egyptian law.

We don’t know about earlier codes, but the first legal code in recorded history is attributed to Urukagina, who reigned Lagash in Mesopotamia from 2380 BCE to 2360 BCE.

Assuredly the most famous set of laws from antiquity must be the Code of Hammurabi, enacted by the sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi about 1772 BCE. It had 282 laws dealing with a diversity of situations of daily life, including things like marriage, commerce, slavery, divorce, among others. It also has one of the most famous laws in article 196:

If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out. [ An eye for an eye ]

So it seems that long before the revelation to Moses and even more so than the written Torah, there were codes of conduct not derived from  this text.

Well, the problem is you are not using the Christian Bible and are forgetting the Golden Rule.

OK, lets take a look at the most famous of rules, the ethics of reciprocity, that has been attributed to Jesus of Nazareth: “Therefore all things whatever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them: for this is the law of the prophets.” Matthew 7:12 or “And as you would that men should do to you, do you also to the likewise.” Luke 6:31.

Well, it seems others got to that conclusion a bit before the times of Jesus of Nazareth.

Zigong asked, “Is there a single saying that one may put into practice all one’s life?”

The Master said, “That would be ‘reciprocity’: That which you do not desire, do not do to others.”

Confucius(551–478 BCE) Analects XV.24

“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”

Buddha (Siddhārtha Gautama 563 – c. 483 BCE )Udanavarga 5:18

Or maybe, just maybe, Confucius and Buddha were the so called prophets Jesus referred to in scripture?

Most inevitably, even in tribal societies well before the bronze age, there was an intuition towards this rule. It would not be a very large stretch of the mind, even the primitive one, to consider that being killed is not very good. So if I don’t want to be killed, I suppose that my neighbor does not want to be killed either. It is just plain common sense; although I have heard that common sense is the least common of the senses. And the list would go on and on of things that we would not like done to ourselves.

Understanding morality as a set of rules, a code to determine what is good or what is bad for an individual and a group, makes it easy to see how this can come about without divine intervention. A sense of fairness , the so called “Fellow-Feeling” of Adam Smith, must have evolved as a necessity of human groups as a means to achieve more cooperation between its members. This has been imprinted on our brains.

Being fair, moral, is evolutionarily sound as it benefits the collective.

As I stated in a previous post called Freewill, the network within our material brain is hardwired through nature and nurture to respond and have the ability to acquire new information and adjust the decision process accordingly. The areas that intervene in this decision making process are mainly the posterior superior parietal lobe (pSPL) and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) in value-guided decisions.

Aside from the aforementioned cortical areas, there is another cortical area called the insula, that has been shown to have a critical role on the onset of this fairness, this egalitarian behavior.

This has been studied in an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS April 9, 2012),and I quote from this paper:

“The fact that the insula is directly involved in physiological, food, and pain-related processing supports the general notion that prosocial behavior, which is important for survival of both the individual and the group/species, is implemented on a fundamental physiological level similar to breathing, heartbeat, hunger, and pain.”

And the fact that this was grasped in the writings of Hippocrates back in 400 BCE is astounding.

Men ought to know that from nothing else but the brain come joys, delights, laughter and sports, and sorrows, griefs, despondency, and lamentations. And by this, in an especial manner, we acquire wisdom and knowledge, and see and hear, and know what are foul and what are fair, what are bad and what are good, what are sweet, and what unsavory; some we discriminate by habit, and some we perceive by their utility.

          HippocratesOn the Sacred Disease

So why look up to the  heavens looking for a set of rules, or wait for somebody to give us “divinely dictated” rules on a set of stone tablets, if we have them written down on our evolved cerebral cortex? We can and do have morality without deity. Morality comes from mankind.

Yes my morality is borrowed, but not from a religion, rather from each and every human that has walked the face o the earth and has given his little grain of sand in the ongoing hourglass of evolution and progress.

see you next time.

REFERENCES

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesopotamiahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torah

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maat

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urukagina

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/hamcode.asp

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lex_talionis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule

http://ctext.org/analects/wei-ling-gong#n1504

http://books.google.com.mx/books?id=PPSPEgXj3gcC&pg=PT95&lpg=PT95&dq=buddha’s+golden+rule&source=bl&ots=NVt7qQnv7n&sig=cgkV69SAbKSNzgRyDy4Ps7YFzCI&hl=es&sa=X&ei=QHufT7afA4jS2QW4y7m3Ag&ved=0CFwQ6AEwCDgK#v=onepage&q=buddha’s%20golden%20rule&f=false

Dawes CT, Loewen PJ, Schreiber D, et al. Neural basis of egalitarian behavior. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2012

Hippocrates (400 BCE). On the Sacred Disease. Francis Adams.

Posted in Agnosticism, Atheism, Everyday life, Religion, Science, The Conscious Disbeliever

Prayer for Asthma « Brave Fish

Prayer for Asthma « Brave Fish.

Here is the prayer from the Brave Fish site word for word:

Good Father. I open myself up to You. Heal me. Free me. Free me from my illness. Cleanse me and purify me. Open my lungs to breathe freely. Open all the air passages, the bronchioles, and let the air flow freely in my lungs. Relax the constricting muscles. Dry all secretions. Stimulate my natural antihistamines. Oh Father, recruit all of my bodily systems, the circulatory system, the nervous system, my heart, my brain, my lungs, my liver, my pancreas, my spleen, my thyroid, my stomach, my intestines, my lymphatic system, my kidneys, my muscles, my bones, my skin… all working in harmony towards healing and health. All cellular and biochemical mechanisms working together to heal me under Your guiding Hand and Spirit. Heal my soul Heavenly Father. Raise up my natural defenses. Strengthen me. Heal me. Free me. Cleanse me. Purify me. Purify me of sin and illness. Restore me. Restore me to health. Mobilize my body at every level to overcome this illness. Cleanse me deeply Lord, heal me of all psychological, emotional and spiritual wounds that manifest in problems breathing. Heal me deeply Lord. Calm me Father. Soothe me. Let the air flow and let my lungs heal and expand without interruption, without strain. Let the air flow and let me breathe freely that my voice may be raised up in praise and wonder to You and Your glory. In the name of Your beloved Son Jesus Christ, Amen.

Good medicine…

I could not stop laughing at first, but then, when I saw he was serious, I could only feel aghast.

I can understand this kind of advice from a religious layman… but from a Physician?

Posted in Agnosticism, Atheism, Religion, The Conscious Disbeliever

Report: Beliefs about God across Time and Countries

Jacaranda: one of my favorite trees.

A recently released report by Tom W. Smith (NORC/University of Chicago) called “Beliefs about God across Time and Countries”  reflects a tendancy of  lesser belief in God, although the changes are modest and vary country to country. With an overall drop in belief of 2.4 points.

 Five countries had a mixed pattern with some measures moving towards  and some away from belief (West Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Philippines, and the United States). Ten countries showed consistent decline in belief (Australia, Austria, East Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, and Poland). For 1998 to 2008 five countries (West Germany, Israel, Japan, Russia, and Slovenia) showed consistent growth in belief. Nine countries (Denmark, East Germany, Hungary, the Philippines, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States) had a mixed pattern with movement (mostly small) in opposite directions. Sixteen countries showed decreases in belief on all measures.1

 There have been three ISSP religion studies over the years and this paper analysis the 30 countries that were in at least two of the three ISSP rounds and appear in the 1991-­‐2008 merged ISSP Religion file created by GESIS.2-4

Of note, the younger segment of this study population (<28 years of age) have lower belief than a decade ago in 77% of the countries studied, having a decrease in belief of 2.5 points.

Also of interest, the fact that there is an increase in belief in the older groups, perhaps in anticipation of mortality. Could it be that they are accepting Pascal’s Wager? Well that will be a matter for a future post I believe.

In short, the study demonstrates a modest shift towards less belief worldwide, with a mixed pattern across different countries. The trend of secularization most notable in ex-socialist states, Northwestern European countries, and in general in the Industrialized nations with some exceptions.

See you next time.

REFERENCES

1) Beliefs About God Across Time and Countries. Tom W. Smith. NORC at the University of Chicago 18 April 2012. Report for the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) and GESIS.

2) International Social Survey Programme 1991: Religion I (ISSP 1991)
3) International Social Survey Programme 1998: Religion II (ISSP 1998)
4) International Social Survey Programme 2008: Religion III (ISSP 2008)

Posted in Agnosticism, Atheism, Everyday life, Religion, Science, The Conscious Disbeliever

God & The New Physics

“Ever since the dawn of civilization, people have not been content to see events as unconnected and inexplicable. They have craved an understanding of the underlying order in the world. Today we still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from. Humanity’s deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest. And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.”
― Stephen HawkingA Brief History of Time


After delays due to work and just good old-fashioned procrastination, I have finished reading Paul Davies‘ book God & The New Physics.

As a person not versed in physics, a layman, this book offers insight to many interesting concepts like theory of relativity and quantum theory. It is an old book by scientific standards, having been published almost thirty years ago. Albeit, it sheds light on those concepts that are very foreign to us non-physicists. And of course the book ask many important questions about the existence of God and if such existence is even important.

This book explores the different mind sets of the believer in revelation and the scientist. The first having a feeling of absolute knowledge through this revelation and with this “absolute knowledge” an absolute arrogance  that many of us have encountered with the idea “I know, and those who do not agree with my belief are wrong”. The second, the scientist, on the other hand looks for evidence and has a willingness to abandon a theory if he finds new evidence against said theory. Davies touches on the contradictions of religion and how through the advance of science, there has been a steady decline in affiliation to traditional religious institutions.

He also explores concepts like the Second Law of Thermodynamics and how according to this law: the universe did not always exist. Of course the Big Bang is also mentioned, as well as an expanding universe and the study of infinite.

He makes a very interesting point on how we cannot rely on ordinary experience as a guide:

Failure of the human imagination to grasp certain crucial features of reality is a warning that we cannot expect to base great religious truths (such as nature of the creation) on simple-minded ideas of space, time and matter, gleaned from daily experience

Further on he argues against the cosmological argument  that the  universe must have a cause and that this cause is the universe itself.

What caused God? “God does not need a cause”. He is a necessary being, whose cause is found within himself” Why can’t the universe exist without an external cause? Does it require any greater suspension of disbelief to suppose that the universe causes itself than to suppose that God causes himself?

We read explanations of space-time and how it started with the big bang. Cause and effect being temporal concepts, were meaningless before the big bang. The big bang was the singularity that started space-time and according to Hawking’s “principle of ignorance” is the ultimate unknowable.

Quantum theory, Zen, unpredictability, uncertainty principle of Heissenberg, time and Schrödinger’s cat are also discussed as well as multiple universes.

In chapter ten there is a very entertaining discussion on freewill and determinism, as well as the long standing debate on whether God can or cannot be omnipotent and benevolent at the same time. “Is God free to prevent evil? If he is omnipotent, yes. Why then does he fail to do so?”

A chapter dedicated to the structure of matter, introduces us to the sub-atomic realm and the quantum effects at this minute scale.He describes how the smaller the system we study, the broader the principles discovered.

We continue reading of such things as a “horizon in space”, beyond which no observer in the universe can see. Talk of miracles and how if such events that violate the laws of nature could be definitively verified they would indeed provide evidence both for God’s existence and his concern for the world.

He goes on to explain how, thanks to Quantum gravity we can in fact get something from nothing. The universe is the supreme free lunch if you will. Davies proceeds to give a recount of what the end of the universe might be and a view into the conception of nature in the eyes of the physicist.

With the knowledge of how the physicists sees nature, one can conclude, as Davies does, that physics cannot tackle questions about purpose or morality.

In the end, this is a work that gives those of us not immersed in physics the opportunity to get some understanding on the  concepts of modern physics and shed some light on the concept of God and universe. It bring to light the great differences between religion and science:

…dogmatic rigidity means that every new discovery and every novel idea is likely to pose  a threat to religion, whereas new facts and ideas are the very life-blood of science. So it is that scientific discoveries have, over the years, set science and religion into conflict.

I enjoyed reading this book very much and will certainly take a look at other works by Paul Davies.

See you next time.