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Friday, January 9, 2009

Arguments for Atheism?

FROM V.V. RAMAN, EMERITUS PROFESSOR OF PHYSICS AND HUMANITIES AT THE ROCHESTER INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: Since time immemorial, visionaries, poets, and philosophers have spoken with conviction about entities beyond the natural world that play a role in the functioning of the universe and human affairs. The most sophisticated and meaningful expression of that belief is God: an overseeing supernatural being who embodies the loftiest and noblest of qualities and potencies conceivable. So, in every major religion of the world, there is a God of one kind or form or another. God, most often, is a cosmic personage deserving of every reverence and respect. Over the ages, the idea of God has played a powerful role in all cultural frameworks, breathing value, meaning, and peace in millions of human hearts, as also a sense of security and solace in times of fear or sorrow. Even so-called atheistic and nontheistic religions refer to insubstantial invisible beings of a supernatural kind.
Yet, in every culture and at all times, there have also been thinkers who have rejected the notion of God in no uncertain terms, regarding God as no more than a human fantasy, a creation beautiful perhaps but totally imaginary, with no more ground in reality than the face of a mouse on the moon or a character in a Shakespearean play.
To convince atheists, theologians have erected arguments after arguments. So have come about various proofs for the existence of God, some even mathematical. Such proofs have done little to convert unbelievers, and are not likely to do so.
There are at least three reasons for this. First, every vision of God is deeply anchored to a religion and is therefore related to a historical and cultural framework. Absolute truths about the world have to transcend local creeds and comforts. Secondly, God is invariably linked to the presence and propensities of human beings here below. Science has shown beyond a reasonable doubt that human beings are but one of myriad creatures and that earthlings have no more importance in the vast expanse than dolphins in the deep blue sea. Finally, and most importantly, God is not so much an entity hiding somewhere like an Easter egg, to be uncovered by an eager searcher, but rather a deeply felt experience that humans are capable of. God, like music, is to be experienced, and no analysis of musical notes can prove or disprove the joy and ecstasy that comes from listening. Like the colors of the rainbow, God is a resonance in the conscious soul to an aspect of the world that instruments and theorems, syllogisms and scrutiny, can never unravel.
So, in debates on the existence of God, the atheist will always win, for belief in God is not subject to logical categories, just as no amount of reasoning can dissuade a lover away from the beloved. But in adherence to practices and beliefs regarding God and the hereafter, religionists will always be in the majority, irrespective of what conclusions Aristotelian logic and Euclidean proofs may lead us to.
There need be no debate between theists and atheists, at least at the philosophical and practical levels, as long as we grant every individual the right to regard unperceived aspects of the world in ways that one finds most satisfying and meaningful. Indeed, if we also share with one another the positive elements of different worldviews with no claims of absolute truth, we can only enrich ourselves.

V.V. Raman appears with Michael Tooley, Daniel Dennett, Richard Swinburne, Nancey Murphy, and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong in "Arguments for Atheism?" the 18th episode in the Closer to Truth: Cosmos, Consciousness, God TV series, hosted and created by Robert Lawrence Kuhn. The series airs Thursdays on the PBS HD network and many other PBS stations. Every Friday, participants will share their views on the previous day's episode.

4 comments:

The Master Guns said...

Though I agree with your post the sentence "Science has shown beyond a reasonable doubt that human beings are but one of myriad creatures and that earthlings have no more importance in the vast expanse than dolphins in the deep blue sea." is so very wrong as to make me grit my teeth. Science has shown me many things but it has shown me nothing that calls my or man’s importance into question. Such problems of meaning and ultimate worth are beyond the scope of science or materialism. Again I agree with your overall premise.

Andrew Prior said...

My "heartfelt" response to the Gospel is that I am a part of the earth. In that sense, I am not more important than the dolphins. My selfish response is that I am more important than dolphins and other animals, and plants. I live off them. What science has done for me is call my importance into question: my living affects earth and its life. However I sort out relative importance, I cannot ignore that my presence here does affect things. My importance is not paramount; just as I must agape/love other people, I have some duty to the planet. Science shows very clearly the consequences if I do not.

Tom Rees said...

People can feel a sense of wonder when they contemplate the world around them. Using 'god' as a label for that experience is unhelpful because it confuses the reality that most people do not mean that when they refer to god. As a recent study has shown, when people pray to god they pray to a personal sentient being - like talking to a close confidant.

Ted Krasnicki said...

This article is nonsensical. (1) The syllogism is possible only because there is order in the world. The source of this order is whom people have traditionally called "God". (2) Since earliest times traditional Christians have known that faith and reason do not contradict each other, so on the contrary, our understanding and discussion of God is subject to logic. (3) Experience of God is what has traditionally has been called "mysticism". But you do not have to be a mystic to believe in God. (4) Sharing "positive elements of different worldviews with no claims of absolute truth" is to make all truth relative, that there is no truth that applies to everything, but only to the one claiming it such as what the author is claiming. Kiss goodbye to science with that one. On the contrary, (5)religions are not all equal, as some are closer to the absolute truths than others, like everything else in this world it comes in degrees of perfection. (6)"Religion" itself is an ambiguous term that today has no precise meaning. What the author calls "worldview" I would call "religion". Yes, modern materialistic science is a religion in that sense.