Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Apologetic Atheist

In one of the discussions on a Facebook group, it was asked whether "atheist apologetic" is a valid term. In response, I gave this short sentence:

Atheists don't have anything to apologize for.

The questioner asked for more details by stating the following:
//if there is no belief involved, it is called agnostic. Atheisn [sic] is belief. Opposite of belief is doubt. If you are caliming [sic] to be "certain" of non-existence of God, you have a "belief". If you are not sure, then you are "agnostic"//

My response to these claims went as follows:

Atheism is the position one takes when one does not have a belief in a god. Now, you must not forget that "not having a belief" is not a belief. It does not mean that we "strongly believe" in the non-existence of god.

For example, think about this. Here's what a unicorn looks like [roughly] in most imaginations:
An artist's impression of the pink unicorn

Now, if unicornists are people who actively believe that this mythical creature actually exists in reality. Aunicornists on the other hand would be people who do not actively believe that this creature exists.

Note that aunicornists don't have to spend their time and energy maintaining a "belief" in the non-existence of unicorns, because if that was necessary, we will all be drained of our energy in maintaining beliefs about the non-existence of an infinite number of things! In contrast, all the aunicornists do is to not hold a belief about the existence of the unicorn.

Now the other thing is "agnostic". Contrary to popular belief, an agnostic is not a fence-sitter between an atheist and a theist. A person can be an agnostic atheist, or an agnostic theist.

Gnostic-Agnostic merely means whether one has knowledge or does not have knowledge about something. In the context of theism, that 'something' defaults to the existence of god. But one can also be said as agnostic about unicorns. It merely means he does not have any knowledge about the existence of unicorns.

An agnostic unicornist would be someone who does not have any knowledge about existence of unicorns, but continues to believe in their existence. An agnostic aunicornist would be someone who does not have any knowledge about existence of unicorns, and also does not believe in their existence.

Now, we cannot realistically have a gnostic aunicornist, because if we have verifiable knowledge about the existence of unicorns, it would actually be absurd to not believe in their existence.

The other thing is the apparent confusion between possibility and probability. Many times, theists claim that [at the very least,] it's possible that a god may exist, and many atheists would actually agree to that. I myself would say that it's possible that there actually is a god.

But possibility does not mean it's highly probable. In fact, possibility has no bearing on probability. Even with how much our total sum of human knowledge has expanded, the probability of god's existence is actually remaining very very very low. This is because of the total lack of evidence in support of god's existence, save some holy books and some anecdotal evidence. (Science does not accept anecdotal evidence as valid for good justifiable reasons.)

It is due to this extremely low probability that atheists reject the idea of god. But no atheist is ever certain that there is no god. We accept that there is a possibility that besides the deafening lack of evidence, there could be a god. But, the odds of that being true is so very low that we are able to live our practical lives as though there is no god.

By the way, please do not think that just because I'm giving a long-winded explanation here, it means I'm apologetic. I'm not any more apologetic about atheism than a physics teacher would be [(about the theory of relativity)] when explaining the theory of relativity to his students. Imagine him saying "I'm sorry about the theory I'm teaching you..." LOL!

Friday, September 9, 2011

What happens beyond death

There is no need to "live beyond death" to know what happens to one beyond death. You can merely observe it from the death of others, and infer from our current knowledge of human/animal anatomy.

The personality, memory and cognitive abilities of a human being (or animal), that is the various qualities attributed to a "soul" that supposedly survives physical death, have now been understood in medical science to merely be functions of the expansive neural network in one's brain. As such, when this brain stops functioning, these qualities immediately stop functioning as well.

Science has not yet found a way to read memories stored in the brain's neural network (dead or alive) or restart the personality stored in it, and it may never find one at all. But it has already been shown with enough evidence that without a functioning brain, there would not be any functioning personality, memory or any other cognitive ability.

The conclusion of this is that, a soul cannot exist as the qualities of a soul (personality, memory, both or anything else) all depend on a functioning *biological, physical* brain. Therefore, nothing survives beyond physical death except the dead body. And once a body is dead, it starts decaying.

The religious are looking for life beyond death and finding vain hopes and empty dreams about an afterlife they like in the religions they pick. Everything people believe about afterlife are just that - beliefs - fueled by wishful thinking.

Atheists on the other hand accept the reality that there is no afterlife and stop looking for one. Instead, they concentrate on using this life for the better while it still lasts. In the end, an atheist and a theist will both be dead. Nothing beyond it, except the decaying bodies of course.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Contact (1997)

I just watched the 1997 movie called Contact. It is a science fiction movie about alien contact, but there were no visible alien forms onscreen in the movie.

The movie plot in brief is as follows (spoiler alert): An astronomer working on the SETI project manages to pick up three different alien signals from the same source. The first was a sequence of prime numbers from 2 to 101. The second was an amplified re-transmission of Hitler's welcoming address at 1936 Summer Olympics. The third was a blue-print to build an alien device called The Machine, which will supposedly transport one human passenger to the aliens. The government builds two such devices, and as one was destroyed during testing, the other was used, piloted by the astronomer. The movie ends with government disbelieving her story of contacting the aliens, calling it a self-delusion. The pod carrying her had dropped right through The Machine in a matter of seconds, effectively disproving her claim for being gone from Earth for 18 hours. Possibly the only two anomalies in the evidence against her are the electrostatic storm created by The Machine and the recording of approximately 18 hours of static in her video recording device.

What's interesting about the movie is its strong references towards the debate between religion and science. Once the alien signals were received and the news made public, the reactions of the general public (in the movie) greatly varied from various forms of support to fanatic religion-motivated opposition. The astronomer, Dr. Eleanor Arroway, is herself an atheist and during the course of the movie becomes romantically close to a Christian philosopher named Palmer Joss. During their conversations, Eleanor questions how Joss can believe in God despite having no evidence or proof for His existence. Joss could only recount his own personal experience and compare his certainty that God exists to Eleanor's certainty that she loved her deceased father, despite there being no evidence for it.

Remnants of this exchange come back to her at the end of the movie, when she was questioned by the panel on how she can believe she has had contact with aliens despite having no evidence for it. In my opinion, she should have answered the same way 95% of the human race believes there's a God, because it is hypocritical that a majority of human beings can believe in something with no verifiable evidence and think it's perfectly normal to do so, but when one human being believes something different with no verifiable evidence, she could be labelled as self-deluded, an unwitting accomplice in an elaborate hoax, or even a lunatic.

The other interesting point to note was how a candidate was selected to man the pod to be dropped in The Machine. Although Dr. Eleanor was the perfect candidate for the job, she was declined the opportunity in favor of the less suitable David Drumlin, simply because of her lack of belief in God. It was argued that a person chosen to represent the whole of mankind should also represent what 95% of the human race believes in. This, to me would be ridiculous, as an alien civilization much more technologically advanced than our own would probably have had at least thought about the God question, if not already found the answers we're seeking. The last thing they would want is a self-deluded human being bringing the so-called "message of God" to them. The language the aliens spoke to humans in, is indeed, as Eleanor puts it, the language of science, and it is precisely the same language that humans ought to reply in. (It was later revealed that Palmer Joss skewed the panel to vote against her by bringing God up, in order to keep her safe from harm, although it remains unclear if he had knowledge of the planned suicide bombing attack.)

The destruction of the first alien device by a religious fanatic by the name of Joseph is also not to be overlooked. It brings us to realize the fact of how religion has, in its own ways of indoctrinating people, hampered scientific progress for hundreds of centuries. It reminds me of a graph which shows we could have been exploring the stars by now, had our scientific progress not been stifled by the Christian Dark Ages. For centuries, religion has always been questioning and opposing scientific research and progress, labeling it as anything bad from heresy to immorality. The latest among such is stem cell research which has the potential to save billions of human lives, but is opposed on the grounds of morality, that destroying a microscopic blastocyst of a few human cells is the same as killing a human life. What they do not realize is that, stopping or delaying stem cell research will cause millions of real live walking breathing human beings to die, who could have otherwise be saved via the research.

But no matter what religion tries to do to stifle science, just like in the movie, science has always prevailed and will continue to prevail, eventually overtaking religion.

Wikipedia | IMDB | YouTube (trailer)