Friday, July 27, 2012

Humans - competition or co-operation? (Why are we always fighting?)

Pre-clarification: In this article, a 'common enemy' does not always mean a corrupt individual or human organization. The term is used in a broader sense that includes, but is not limited to, ideas that one doesn't agree with, impending natural disasters, after-effects of recent natural disasters, and (if possible) even an invasion by aliens.

There seems to be something strange about human beings in general - they always put aside their differences and band together to fight a common enemy. But take that common enemy away, and they will pick the differences back up and fight among themselves.

And in this "fight among themselves", a new "common enemy" is created based on one difference or a set of related differences - and those on one side of this particular difference would put aside all of their other differences and band together to fight the other side of the particular difference.

If you assume that in each fight one side always loses within a reasonable amount of fighting time, and a compromise will never be reached, eventually human beings would fight their way into destroying themselves. Why? Because each one of us is different from the rest - even in ever-so-slightly ways.

Thankfully, we are also wired for co-operation when our survival is at stake. That's kind of the problem too: we only co-operate with other humans, putting aside our differences, if our survival - or something of such value - is at stake. Simply put, the inability to survive becomes the "common enemy" in this case, causing humans to band together and fight for their survival.

The problem with large stable populations of humans is that their survival is no longer perceived to be at stake, and so they have not much need to co-operate other than what's just enough to smooth over the everyday life. This gives them no common enemy to band together - and that makes them susceptible to picking up differences among themselves and starting a competitive argument. Once such argument reaches popularity, sides are formed and a new "common enemy" is created for each side opposing the other.

The most elegant solution, or perhaps the only one, to this problem - in my opinion - would be to educate human beings and make ourselves understand that the survival of our species is always at stake no matter how much stability we may perceive. Our survival is threatened by ourselves, and hence we should maintain co-operation at the highest levels to fight the real common enemy - our tendency to compete over differences.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Present evidence, and faith becomes unnecessary.

A question many atheists often get asked by religious is, "What would it take for you to become a believer?" where believer usually means believer in a god or a religion.

But there is a fundamental problem with this question.

Before I get to the problem, I wish to make it clear that what the religious mean by belief in this context is nothing other than faith - which is to believe in a given statement even if there is nothing in reality that supports the truth of that statement. In other words, faith is belief in a proposition not backed by evidence, and when the religious talk about belief they often mean faith.

That should point to the problem here. Intellectual atheists, or more accurately, skeptics demand evidence for claims you make about reality. If you make a claim, a skeptic would ask you to present evidence for this claim. A skeptic would verify the authenticity of the evidence, and also verify whether the evidence does indeed support your claim instead of doing nothing, or worse, refuting it.

That's where the problem lies. To ask a skeptic what it would take for him or her to become a believer, would be to ask him to put aside his skepticism and make an exception for whatever it is that the religious is calling him to believe in. But the dilemma is, it takes evidence for the skeptic to accept the claim you make - which in this instance would be to believe in god, or more specifically to believe that god is real. The claim you make here is that your version of god is real, that this god exists in reality.

(For simplicity, I will not touch on "belief in a religion", but this can just as easily be extrapolated for that as well as beliefs in a myriad of things usually demanded of skeptics.)

A skeptic would naturally require evidence supporting your claim as he would any other claim. Assume a hypothetical scenario where you as a believer are able to provide evidence supporting your claim. Contrary to what you think, this would not make the skeptic a believer.

Instead, it would demonstrate that faith itself is not necessary.

If you are able to present evidence to support your claim that god is real, you yourself need not be a believer - because evidence speaks for itself. The skeptic will continue to remain a skeptic, but he will simply accept your claim that is now backed with evidence. You on the other hand, will no longer need to be believer, and by seeking evidence you have entered the road to skepticism.