Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Atheist Position, Part 2: Ethical Science

About 14 billion years ago, existence as we know it emerged from a reality beyond our comprehension.

About 9 billion years later, our planet formed through accretion from the solar nebula, and life began to emerge from inorganic matter.

That life changed, evolved, and the natural forces of the universe formed it into what we have today.

Consciousness emerged and we realized we didn't understand anything going on. So humanity invented gods.

Eventually, some decided that there is only one god, and they killed anyone who disagreed.

2,000 years ago, a teacher from this religion created a new one, which remains influential to this day.

1,400 years ago, another teacher created a religion out of the original monotheism, and it also remains influential.

When man created the gods, they fought conceptual (and some very, very real) wars until some said there was only one god. We are still fighting wars over which god is the correct one, intellectual and military wars. Is it Allah? Yahweh? Jesus? Is God Tri-Une? Is there only one undivided god? Are there actually many gods and El/Yahweh/Allah/Jesus is just one of them that happens to be claiming their religious writings are the correct ones?

Could humanity have invented religion out of tribal fear, and subsequently created all of the gods?

This doesn't even begin to delve into the way religious adherents fight amongst themselves, splintering into many other groups, all with their own god or gods. Among those that believe in Jesus, some say that god is ultimately sovereign and has destined all of history according to his good pleasure. Some say that god, though ultimately sovereign, chooses to allow real choice in the matter of who we serve and what we do, though ultimately he will torture us for eternity (or allow us to torture ourselves) if we do not love him. Still others do not believe god is totally sovereign, and is limited in power, though he is still the greatest possible being, or the god. This is only three of dozens of extremely nuanced views within the wide stream of Christian thought about one particular aspect of its' theology: God's sovereignty.

If there is one ultimately uniting force to all of these religious movements, it is that of power. Love god or go to hell and burn for eternity, serve my god or die, believe how I do or be ostracized, we are against you. To argue against such things is to be dangerous indeed, but danger is inescapable because no one will ever placate all religious groups. By nature, they are tribal.

When one speaks of Christianity, for instance, the discussion is not about one thing, but about thousands to millions. Every church, every sect or denomination, even every person represents a tribal religion, influential only through conformity and the power of people.

This is not theory, it is historical fact about the emergence of religion. Religion exists because we don't understand everything about reality, so dogma sits in the gaps of our knowledge and tells us this god exists that can't be disproven, and is a sort of primal cause for all that we don't fully understand. Ra, the god of the Sun, is a popular and well understood example. Because no one understood that the sun is a massive ball of plasma powered by fusion and giving off solar radiation to keep us alive, it was a supernatural force. Now we understand it all too well, but other things evade our knowledge, such as the nature of reality as multiple universes, dark matter's complete influence, miraculous occurrences within the human body, and any other unexplained or supernatural phenomenon you can think of.

If you think about it, supernatural refers only to that which we do not have complete knowledge of. Otherwise, it is purely natural. The sun is natural, even though it was presumed to be supernatural for millennia.

You see, you can and should argue scientific conclusions. Please disprove anything I've said about the nature of reality, or even about religion if you want. It does not change that tribal religion's primary driving force is dogmatic, and it is not the only way to think.

Where the religious mind is dogmatic, the scientific mind is questioning. While historically religion has demanded drastic action that must be justified, science has been asserting things about the nature of reality, such as the fact that the Earth revolves around our star.

Some say that religion picks up where science leaves off, that science can only go so far until religion has to take over, otherwise we will lack morality and kill each other. Even if we ignore the bloody and violent history of religion, especially those claiming to be the nature of peace, this argument still ignores the incompatibility of the two's approaches to reality

Tribal religion is spawned from dogma, which must be defended. This is war.

Science is spawned from questions, which lead to answers. This is knowledge.

You do not attack someone that disagrees with your scientific theory, you run tests. If you are disproven you have learned something, you aren't imprisoned or killed or ostracized. Your ego may be bruised, but in general, you do not stab someone that disagrees with your theory, you think better and you come up with a better theory.

If that does not have moral implications, I don't know what does.

Our universe is on the order of 13.77 billion years old, and it is possible that there is a god that is the primal cause of this existence. However, this possibility only exists because we do not understand something. Lack of understanding does not constitute assertions about god, it constitutes questions. You can claim things, or you can ask questions.

The current god has become the primal cause and the personal god. More and more we keep finding out, through questioning, that things seem to all have natural explanations. More and more, our god is not the one that takes care of us, he's a creator and an inner voice. He must be let into our minds and souls and we must lose all of our self esteem and only esteem god because he simply cannot exist anywhere else but the beginning of our universe and the gaps in our knowledge.

When a person's conscience is given to them by god, anything can be justified. One need not ask questions or read history or participate in discussion when they simply need to read a holy book and allow their inner voice (holy spirit, conscience, intuitive perception of reality, whatever) to tell them what is right. Faith communities can work in this context only so far as groupthink goes, and anyone not part of that groupthink is ostracized by the offended group.

When a person's conscience is a product of their thinking, their doubts, their questions, and their continued research into the nature of reality, they are learning from others all the time, approaching others for more reasoning, more perspective, and they rejoice when they've been wrong, because they've learned something new.

No person is truly a scientific creature, and no person is truly a tribal creature. Rachel Evans, a popular Evangelical voice ( if you wanna check it out), possesses a keenly scientific way of thinking, but she claims Evangelical Christianity regardless of this. This creates a unique dissonance that I find very enjoyable to read, not to mention her incredible compassion and attention to morality.

Likewise, one need only look so far as the popular atheist voice to find that they are far from bereft of tribalistic thinking. The Christians are the enemy for the atheist in America, and a lot of them are very angry about it. Though I find the moral outrage good, and though I am also angry, it is dangerous to bring one's dogmatic thinking with them when leaving religion, lest one become angry at everyone and everything instead of coming to productive and natural conclusions through thought and dialog.

Regardless, there is a correct way to think, and that way is scientific, not tribal. This way is correct because the consequences of scientific thinking are life and knowledge, and the consequences of tribal thinking are death and war. The well-being of life must be furthered by our approach to life, because we are the most highly evolved beings on this planet.

Besides these consequences making scientific thinking the moral choice, true knowledge is, in and of itself, an end that we should all move toward for its' own sake.

God is dead, but we continue to create him wherever there are gaps, wherever there is dogma, and whenever we feel psychological pressure that requires relief. We create our god, and our god continually recreates us in his image.

The human mind is far from being fully understood, as are some very key things about existence itself. We can continue to create god in those gaps, ignore what understanding there is and assert god in spite of evidence, or we can continue to ask questions and find god, if he does truly exist.

I assert that the correct position is to ask questions, lose one's need to be right and control others, one's tribal nature, and begin to think scientifically about our reality and its' history, and it is correct because it is by nature compassionate and reasonable and in touch with reality.

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