Comment by Allan, 07 Aug, 2016
Hi John. Following on from your observations about buddhist mythology, you may want to check out Stephen Batchelor's writings on secular buddhism, such as his book 'Confession of a Buddhist Atheist' in which he explains why he renounced his beliefs as a buddhist monk to become a secular buddhist. He goes on to strip away what he sees as the extraneous material added to buddhist teachings subsequent to the buddha's death - basically this means all the supernatural (religious) material that you refer to in your article, such as rebirth, other realms of existence and so on - in order to sift out what he believes are the essence of the buddha's actual teachings, aimed at helping people cope with the realities of their daily lives, and not to gain karma for any mythical future existence. (Hence the term 'secular buddhist')
He does of course acknowledge that no written records were kept of the buddha's teachings and that anything that exists today was written down several centuries after his death, based on oral records. However cross referencing of teachings from the various strands of buddhism, which separated before the oral traditions were recorded in a language called Pali, has identified commonalities which suggest a reasonable level of validity and also which he contends has enabled him to separate records of the buddha's actual teachings, from the metaphysical stuff added later.
It's a good read.
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 08 Aug, 2016
Thanks for the recommendation Allan. One of our group has Batchelor's book, so I'll try and add it to my reading list. So many books, so little time.
The problem I have when people strip away the supernatural and/or offensive material that they believe harms their religion, or that simply isn't needed, is that what they're left with can no longer be called the same religion, or a religion at all. Like, I have a huge problem with people that call themselves 'Christian atheists'. It makes no sense at all. You could perhaps be a Jesus atheist, meaning you followed the ethics taught by Jesus, an ordinary Jewish man, and completely dismissed all the supernatural crap. But by continuing to call themselves Christian, meaning they believe in Jesus the Christ, meaning Jesus the Messiah, the Biblically prophesied saviour of the Jews, then they clearly haven't ditched all the supernatural crap. If someone is going to consider and perhaps accept some of the ethics taught by a man called Buddha (aka Siddhartha Gautama) or Jesus (aka Jesus of Nazareth), then I have no problem with that. But I do have a problem when they elevate that man to a god status, even a secular 'god' status. I'm not that familiar with Buddhism, but apparently Buddha never railed against the caste system, just as Jesus never railed against slavery. And I do know that Jesus proposed much that today is seen as totally immoral.
My point is that most everyone can come up with some good advice now and again, even Hitler tried to get rid of smoking, but we are foolish to then assume that everything they suggest must then be the source of a new moral code. By all means take the good advice, but don't elevate those that gave it to the status of gods. I've yet to hear of some real person that the public has put on a pedestal, from Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton to Mother Teresa, that didn't make major mistakes and offer advice that we'd be foolish to take.
I'm all for being eclectic in my ethics, accepting advice from numerous sources, and rejecting even more from those same sources. Why base your moral code on one man and one religion, whether it's Buddhism or Christianity or whatever, or even a stripped down version of some religion, when you can pick and mix the best advice from the entire world of knowledge? Why confine yourself to the revelations of one person who lived in ancient and ignorant times, and ignore all that has been discovered since? People are quick to upgrade their cars, computers and smartphones, so why are they so reluctant to upgrade their ethics, preferring to stick with something that came out several thousand years ago?
Comment by Anonymous-1, 25 Aug, 2016
Your search for "evidence" has blinded you to the bigger picture of the complexity of this debate. Hopefully this diagram will help you (or maybe confuse you more) — "God is safe (for now)"
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 26 Aug, 2016
Sorry, but the diagram and the text that followed didn't help at all. Your suggestion that our 'search for "evidence" has blinded' us only confuses us. My dictionary defines evidence as 'A thing or things helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment; Something indicative; an outward sign'. If we ignore evidence then all we're left with is religious faith, the ability to still believe in something even when, not only is there no evidence to support it, there is actually evidence and/or reasons that contradicts your belief. And if we cease our search for evidence and rely on faith instead, then the floodgates open to silly belief in all manner of beings, realms and forces which all conflict with each other, eg God, Allah, Zeus, Thor, leprechauns, fairies, ghosts, succubus, Bigfoot, gremlins, Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, jinn etc. Of course if we were allowed to use real world evidence we might dismiss many, if not all, of these beings as fictional, but you argue that our reliance on evidence only blinds us to the truth.
Of course I agree, we can't prove categorically that god doesn't exist, so the title for the diagram, 'God is safe (for now)', does give the religious a little wriggle room. But it is a very flimsy argument, since young children could use it to argue that 'Santa is safe (for now)', and safe too are leprechauns and gremlins, since we can't prove they don't exist either. Any god argument that gives equal support to Santa Claus is next to worthless.
In the text following the diagram the author writes:
'btw i follow buddha's teachings and he advises his followers not to focus on unanswerable questions such as if God exists or not.'
OK, clearly they don't follow Buddha's teachings because here they are disregarding his instructions by focusing on whether God exists, and further on they say that 'i'm not really interested in reaching nirvana'. Like all religious believers, be they Christian, Muslim or Buddhist, they are simply cherry picking elements of their religion that suit their worldview and ditching the rest. Truly following a religion requires you to believe it all, not just the bits you like. Furthermore, Buddha's advice to ignore 'unanswerable questions such as if God exists' would only be relevant if Buddha had been shown to be someone that only uttered truthful statements. Clearly, based on many errors in the Buddhist description of the world, the Buddha said many things that we can now ignore. I'm sure if asked, the Buddha would have advised his followers not to focus on impossible things like trying to travel to the Moon, or seeing inside a living body, both things that we have achieved, so just because a man living in primitive times couldn't see a solution to the god problem, doesn't mean we still can't.
They also write:
'in any case i refuse to either affirm or reject God because i personally have not gone beyond Death to confirm it for myself'
I'm always amazed how many people think that when they die they'll discover the truth about God. Clearly the best evidence we have, gathered and improved over thousands of years, shows that when you die you simply cease to exist. You'll no more be aware of the time after your death than you were aware of the time before your birth. So on your death you'll have no mind capable of suddenly thinking, 'Oh shit, there's nothing here but black nothing. The bloody atheists were right after all!' You'll never know that you were wrong. On the astronomically rare chance that there is some god and your 'soul' survives your death, the odds are you still won't feel like celebrating, since if it's the Jewish, Christian or Muslim god, then you'll almost certainly be in Hell being tortured, and lamenting that the atheists weren't right. If it's the Buddhists or Hindus that were right, then on your death you'll likely have been immediately reborn as a human, a cockroach or some other animal, and in every case you'll be completely unaware that you've lived before and that some god has put you back on the treadmill. At times I feel a little peeved that on their death god believers will never get to realise that they were wrong and had wasted their lives, but on the bright side I'm pleased that they're not being tortured for all eternity.
They also inform us that 'reality comes in three flavours':
- physical reality = the natural world the can be studied scientifically and proven via empirical evidence.
- perceived reality = how we humans interpret our world often without any empirical evidence (science) but rationalist justify via reason.
- ultimate reality = what lays beyond Death where science cannot take us (as yet) and therefore impossible to provide empirical evidence.
We disagree. There is only one reality. My dictionary defines reality as '1) The quality or state of being actual or true; 2) The totality of all things possessing actuality, existence, or essence'. Reality is what they define as 'physical reality'. Their 'perceived reality' isn't reality, it's just a belief, and may or may not reflect actual reality. For example, those that perceive the world as flat or only 6,000 years old have worldviews that don't reflect actual reality. Sophisticated folk call these worldviews delusions, not 'perceived realities'. As for their reality flavour number 3 — 'ultimate reality = what lays beyond Death' — this makes no sense, since reality (what they call 'physical reality') already encompasses all that exists. There can't logically be anything beyond reality. Maybe they're confusing talk of the natural world with the supernatural world? If God was real and lived in the supernatural world with occasional visits to annoy us here in the natural world, the natural world and the supernatural world would still be part of a single reality, even if no one could detect the supernatural world.
I also have a problem with their Venn diagram where they place PHYSICAL REALITY within the DEATH circle. They appear to be implying that it has been proven that we survive our DEATH, that death reaches beyond PHYSICAL REALITY, ie into an afterlife, that there is more than just PHYSICAL REALITY. Again, this is accepting as true the very thing that they are trying to demonstrate. I would argue that DEATH should be drawn inside the PHYSICAL REALITY circle instead. Their circle argues that all things in PHYSICAL REALITY experience DEATH, when clearly this in not the case, eg rocks and cars which are part of PHYSICAL REALITY don't experience DEATH. Death is a part of physical reality, not the other way around. If there is something beyond death, say in a supernatural realm, it's not death. Maybe they could call it LIFE 2.0, or since they're a Buddhist that believes in reincarnation, maybe LIFE 7 or LIFE 42 or whatever turn they're on. But it's not death, as death means termination, the end, whereas they're arguing for a continuation of life.
Furthermore, saying that ultimate reality is what lies beyond death is to say that this 'ultimate reality' can only be experienced by dead people, and that it somehow doesn't exist while you're alive. But I'm alive, obviously, and there are a lot of dead people that must be out there somewhere, so this 'ultimate reality' must exist somewhere at this very moment, meaning it's not something that lies beyond death, since I'm not dead. If it exists then it's not impossible for science to find evidence for it. To argue that we haven't seen this 'ultimate reality' because 'science cannot take us (as yet)', is the same excuse that people use to explain why science hasn't detected ghosts or the Loch Ness Monster. But all this talk of an 'ultimate reality' beyond our normal reality just sounds like fanciful stories, for which there is no supporting evidence. This can be demonstrated by making up other versions of 'ultimate reality'. For example, ultimate reality is what lies beyond the rainbow, or it's what lies beyond deep sleep, or beyond the observable edge of the known universe, or perhaps it's what lay before our birth? All they've really done is rename 'Heaven' as the 'ultimate reality' and then confidently claim that this world that we go to when we die actually exists, and yet their argument provides no reason to believe any of this.
I notice that in the text and diagram they talk of the "the atheist delusion":
'for those that are searching for "proof" so as to understand "belief" then they are totally deluding themselves. also those who have a lack-of-belief (i.e. the definition of atheism) because of a lack-of-proof in the existence of God then they are also deluding themselves; and that is "the atheist delusion" perpetuated by the anti-theist (or whatever word they want to call themselves) when they make the bold assertion that there is no God.'
Firstly, the criticism of atheists seems a little strange since they clearly are one themselves. They've said that they 'refuse to either affirm or reject God', which means they lack a belief in god, so by their own definition he or she is an atheist. Anyone who can't say, 'I believe in God', clearly lacks a belief in God, ergo an atheist. But they also say that anyone who has this lack of belief is suffering a delusion, and that they have no justifiable right or reason to be 'jumping to conclusions derived from claims of KNOWLEDGE via scientific EVIDENCE of an ULTIMATE REALITY that has NO GOD'. But this confuses me. They're not saying atheists are reaching unjustifiable conclusions by simply guessing or falling back on primitive, superstitious religious faith, they're acknowledging that they're relying on 'KNOWLEDGE via scientific EVIDENCE'. Scientific knowledge supported by robust evidence is what has made modern society, so what evidence do they have that utilising scientific knowledge leads us astray and away from the truth? If atheists are not justified in reaching conclusions about gods after considering scientific knowledge, then what can we use to better understand reality? This almost seems like the argument that if god believers can't use science to support their faith, then atheists shouldn't be allowed to use it either, since science gives atheists an unfair advantage over theists.
'ATHEIST DELUSION or BEYOND A LACK-OF-BELIEF: ... jumping to conclusions derived from claims of KNOWLEDGE via scientific EVIDENCE of an ULTIMATE REALITY that has NO GOD'
Of course they've talked of 'a lack-of-proof in the existence of God' and of atheists 'searching for "proof"', and they've raised the argument that atheists 'make the bold assertion that there is no God'. They appear to say that atheism is unjustified because we can't 'prove' God doesn't exist and so we shouldn't say that we 'know' he doesn't exist. But is this stance at all reasonable? Haven't we got ample evidence to confidently claim that God doesn't exist, even though we can't categorically prove it? Let's repeat the above claim about the 'atheist delusion', but replace God with another contentious being, Santa Claus:
'those who have a lack-of-belief because of a lack-of-proof in the existence of Santa Claus are deluding themselves; and that is "the Santa delusion" when they make the bold assertion that there is no Santa.'
It's the same argument, but now it all seems rather silly and childish. After all, what adult doesn't make the bold assertion that there is no Santa, even though we can't prove it? Are we really deluding ourselves, or is there quite clearly an overwhelming amount of evidence for us to conclude that the likelihood of Santa existing is so remote that we can stop hedging our bets and just say we know he isn't real? Don't like Santa? Then replace the argument with leprechauns or the Greek god Zeus. No matter what supernatural being you use, every sane adult still comes away boldly asserting that they don't exist ... except when you use their favourite god. Then the logic of the argument suddenly eludes them. Christians confidently make the bold assertion that there is no Muslim god, Muslims make the bold assertion that there are no Hindu gods, Jews make the bold assertion that there are no ancient Greek gods, but when an atheist makes the bold assertion that there are no gods at all, every religious believer criticises him, arguing that there is no justification to make such bold assertions about god. Even though they make such positive and negative assertions every day. They say that atheists shouldn't say that we 'know' God doesn't exist, and yet they, with much more pomp and ceremony, repeatedly and confidently say that they 'know' God does exist. No one corrects the pope when he says that God exists, no one points out that he shouldn't assert what he can't prove, so why do the religious get so pedantic when an atheist expresses her view in similar terms? Why can believers make confident claims without proof, ie God loves me, and even so-called agnostics make confident claims without proof, ie we can't know whether God exists, and yet they both try and deny the same frankness of opinion to atheists? Isn't that a little hypocritical?
In the diagram that supposedly resolves the God/No God debate, they show the circle with the label NO GOD outside the central diagram, and well away from what they see as ULTIMATE REALITY, and since everything that exists must be found in their ULTIMATE REALITY, they're implying that it's impossible for the truth claim NO GOD to exist in their ULTIMATE REALITY, meaning there must be a god in our ULTIMATE REALITY whether we can detect him or not. They further reinforce this idea that GOD and their ULTIMATE REALITY both exist by showing them both inside the Yin/Yang symbol, which they explain means they are interconnected and interdependent to each other. They turn the Venn diagram at the top of their image into a flow chart which must inescapably lead to what they call ULTIMATE REALITY. Even if you follow the path from FAITH to DEATH to GOD, you've still connected GOD with ULTIMATE REALITY. And if God exists he must exist within ULTIMATE REALITY, or what we'd just call reality. But in the diagram, even if you go from TRUTH to DEATH to NO GOD, and if the reality is that no god actually exists, then our ULTIMATE REALITY means NO GOD, but they've already, and without any justification, tied ULTIMATE REALITY to GOD in their Yin/Yang symbol, apparently arguing that God exists even in a reality in which he doesn't. They've jumped the gun, they've assumed that GOD must exist in our ULTIMATE REALITY and so have drawn their diagram to show that when we find our ULTIMATE REALITY, we'll also find God there waiting for us.
In their diagram we are only given two choices, 1) an UNKNOWABLE ULTIMATE REALITY, or 2) GOD reached by a LEAP OF FAITH. And it doesn't really matter which one we choose, since they say they're interconnected and interdependent to each other anyway. So it's only one choice really, an unknowable reality where God exists. But quite clearly there are more options. It could be a knowable reality where no gods exist, or an unknowable reality where no gods exist (even though we won't know that we're right to be atheists), or perhaps a knowable reality where gods do exist. If we are to believe the diagram, its conclusion forces us to accept an unknowable reality where GOD exists. Their diagram should lead to two equal options: GOD or NO GOD, but instead all roads lead to GOD. Sure, they do offer a faint NO GOD option off to the side, outside the main diagram, but they note that anyone that has gone down this back road is suffering from the ATHEIST DELUSION. The implication is, back up and keep looking until you find the FAITH signpost. It's the one that leads to an arrow that they've described as the 'SPIRITUAL PATH or HOPE: ... either great leaps of FAITH or long strides of REASON mixed with short bunny hops of FAITH'. It's surprising that they dismiss and belittle the use of scientific evidence as merely 'jumping to conclusions', and recommend 'short bunny hops of FAITH' instead. They say that they love science and philosophy, and yet turn their back on them both and opt for the spiritual path that hasn't delivered one iota to our knowledge base, while contributing an infinite maze of paths that lead nowhere.
In the flow chart they show that BELIEFS and FAITH lead to the respectable notion of GOD, whereas TRUTH and PROOF lead only to UNKNOWABLE ULTIMATE REALITY. But they neglect to highlight that BELIEFS and FAITH lead also to the likes of fairies, trolls, unicorns, gremlins, ghosts, succubus, Bigfoot, leprechauns, Santa Claus, jinn, the Tooth Fairy, gods such as Apollo, Allah, Zeus, Thor, Shiva, Ra, Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, belief in a flat Earth and one that is 6,000 years old, and belief that praying to various gods can cure cancer. BELIEFS and FAITH don't just lead to GOD, and the diagram (below on the left) should look more like the one on the right, which reveals that blind faith has led mankind to a lot of nonsense over the centuries. An honest look at where faith has led us soon makes it obvious that GOD is likely just as imaginary as all the other fanciful notions in that space.
I also don't like the fact that in the EVIDENCE box they've drawn hands making what appears to be a rabbit, as if to suggest that what we think of as EVIDENCE is merely an illusion, that science is being fooled by some divine magician. Again, if they'd been more forthright and had shown that rather than TRUTH and PROOF leading only to an UNKNOWABLE ULTIMATE REALITY, they had shown that TRUTH and PROOF has given us the advanced society we live in, with the likes of antibiotics, effective surgery, computers, warm houses, air travel, skyscrapers, rovers on Mars, TV, and well-supported theories on evolution, plate tectonics and the big bang. If we honestly look at where TRUTH and PROOF has taken us compared to the blind alleys that BELIEFS and FAITH has led us down, then it becomes far more difficult to have any confidence in the side of the debate that argues that following unfounded beliefs is more reasonable than accepting well-founded truths.
In the text they write that,
'atheism, just like religion, is a dead-end to philosophical inquiry. the religious scream "there is a God" and the atheist/anti-theist screams back "there is no God", but I ask you seriously: which one will help you cope better with the fact that you will die? only the deluded laugh at Death. be honest with yourself.'
First, atheism is not a philosophical inquiry. Atheism is merely a lack of belief in gods, beyond that it has nothing to say. Philosophy looks at atheism, atheism does not look at philosophy. When informed atheists argue for atheism they look to science, philosophy, history, religion etc to show that atheism is a rational stance. When atheists wonder about morals we consider ethics, there is no Big Book of Atheist Morals. Beyond our shared disbelief in gods, atheists can be as different as chalk and cheese, and some may struggle with the fact that they'll die, others may not. But there is a huge difference between accepting death and knowing the truth about death. Someone, atheist or believer, may get severely depressed knowing that they'll die, and they may cope better if I can convince them that when they die they'll actually keep living in another reality. Even though this is a complete lie on my part, it means they're now no longer depressed and are now coping better with life. We lie to children about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, and these lies improve their behaviour around Xmas and over the loss of teeth. Our depressed person and these children may be coping better with certain thoughts, but only because we've lied to them. A little like North Korea, our media and government could lie to us and hide from us the problems of the world — wars, murders, natural disasters etc — and we could all live in blissful ignorance. No doubt some, perhaps most if religion is a guide, would be content living in a fictional world, where we are told things that make us happy and allow us to cope better. But I'd rather be told the truth, and understand what's really going on in the world, even if that meant I'm told that one day my life will end, utterly. To me the truth is far more valuable than a comforting lie. I also think it's a little arrogant on the part of some that they feel that they should hide the truth from some people to help them cope better, believing that they can handle the truth about death, but weaker minded folk can't, and must be told comforting stories about an afterlife. I find it quite ironic that they appear to suggest that lies about the afterlife might help people cope better with death, and then they finish by saying, 'be honest with yourself'.
They say that,
'mostly i'm interested in proving to some hardheaded anti-theist (or whatever they want to call themselves) that their affirmation of no God is also just a belief.'
I really don't think that many informed atheists would waste time arguing that atheism isn't a belief. We all know that there is no categorical proof that gods don't exist, and we accept that, unlike most god believers, we could be proved wrong tomorrow. But we doubt it. What we would argue about is what justification we have for promoting atheism. What evidence is there for gods as opposed to the evidence against them? We would argue that there is clearly no evidence for gods and no need for gods to explain what we see as reality. We would table the millions of gods that have be argued to exist throughout history and how almost everyone now accepts that almost all of them were imaginary. Of the handful that remain, all still invisible, they all appear as imaginary as the millions that have already be dismissed. It's not that we can prove 100% that gods don't exist, anymore than we can prove that gravity is real or that I'm actually a human typing these words, it's just that the best evidence we have confidently argues that gravity is real, as am I, and that gods — and Santa and the Tooth Fairy — don't actually exist.
In his book 'The God Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life', Jesse Bering argued that, 'We are the first generation, in the history of our species, to be confronted directly by the full scientific weight of an argument that renders a personal God both unnecessary and highly unlikely. The many loopholes of a more humble agnosticism have suddenly become unreasonable places to continue burying our heads.'
And we agree, which is why we wrote our article, 'The Science versus Spirituality Debate'. We don't deny that there is a debate, but we're surprised that there is still a need for one in this modern age. Looking to gods in the 21st century is as childish as hoping to find true love by getting a love portion off the local witch.
Comment by Rishabh, 13 Sep, 2016
Hello John. (Please forgive me for my English as it isn't my first language. I am a student from India currently doing Masters in Industrial design from Indian Institute of Technology after Engineering.)
I was going through your site while reading on science vs spirituality and I found it very interesting. I would like to share my views.
Some of the things you mentioned about modern religious people apply to me. E.g I do not believe in any religion but still I believe there is some superpower that has created the universe and also I call myself highly spiritual. However, at the same time I love science including biology, physics (classical and modern), astronomy, neuroscience, psychology etc. because it gives us clear answers of the world we live in.
The problem however arises when I have experiences that I can not find scientific answers to. Sometimes, my dreams come true and it's not that I know of which dream is gonna come true. It's very random and non-consistent as sometimes I would be in a physical state where everything is exactly as I saw in this dream some time back. It's just a nano-second, an instant where a flashback comes to mind that I had already seen this in my dream. Now, it's not just a product of my mind and experiences because many times I perfectly remember when I saw this dream. This is called precognition as I searched for it on internet. These days even scientists are experimenting with it (http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/11/28/precognition-science-shows-how-our-body-reacts-to-events-up-to-10-seconds-before-they-happen/). So, this is one of the reasons that makes me believe in superpowers as it makes me feel everything is pre-destined.
Also, what is science? The study of nature/universe and it's phenomenon and with evidence! Isn't it? The purpose of science is ultimately to solve the mystery of how everything came into existence. Now, let us imagine in coming years we found how everything came into existence and we will have an answer that due to "this" everything was formed but does that solve the mystery? The next mystery will be of studying the "this". It is an infinite process that will go on forever. You find a reason for something and then you move on to finding the reason of that reason. Every answer creates a new question. So, how will we know of the ultimate truth? So, this is one of the reasons that makes me believe in spirituality because with spirituality you don't question physical things, you just experience beyond physical and I have had it and believe me brother, it is magical.
I turned spiritual (it is a journey not an instant reach) within last 5 years of my life. I turned from being highly scientific and materialist to a more humble and loving person. That doesn't mean I have lost interest in science but for ultimate truth and better way of living I seek spirituality. I can not say I have met god in person but I have felt it's presence through some experiences. I wish something and in coming days or months it will come true. The beauty of nature, the singing of birds, love, moral values, the particles, light, stars, isn't it all supernatural? Even if it is scientific then who created science? Maybe science is like an algorithm on which the universe run but it doesn't necessarily mean someone couldn't have created this algorithm. Again, something might have created the creator as well and it is an endless journey of truth.
In the end I would conclude that I don't have any physical proof (I have had some experiences which I can't present as physical evidence) of some power which I call GOD but neither does science have the ultimate answer yet. Even if it gets, who knows if that answer will create another question as I mentioned earlier.
So, sometimes I stall my curiosity about physical things, become thoughtless, reach a higher state of mind, be in the moment and flow like a river. This is only what I call spirituality and some call it meditation.
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 13 Sep, 2016
Thanks for your comments Rishabh. It seems I was predestined to be too busy to respond immediately, but rest assured I intend to reply in the near future, assuming that's what it's planned I will do.
Update: 20 Sep, 2016
Hi again Rishabh. It seems I was destined to reply, so here it is.
You say that, 'Sometimes, my dreams come true and it's not that I know of which dream is gonna come true. It's very random and non-consistent'. I'm sorry, but when you dream of an event and it later appears to come true, that is nothing more than a coincidence. It happens to everyone, but to some more than others, because while we have many dreams each night, unless we wake in the middle of one, we don't remember most of our dreams, and the bits we do remember are usually very fragmented, and then quickly forgotten.
Most of our dreams usually have some connection with our life, what has happened and what might reasonably happen in the future, and this is merged with completely fanciful and clearly impossible elements. If you're worried about your very sick uncle and you dream of his death and then a month later he dies, there's nothing prophetic about that dream. You had merely dreamt about something that you, and everyone else in your family, knew was very likely going to happen anyway. Let's say we each have between 5,000 and 10,000 dreams per year, and once a year, or even once a month, a dream appears to come true. That's only one dream, or maybe 12 dreams, that have come true out of maybe 10,000 dreams that you had. When you have that many dreams and your mind generates so many different stories about the future, of course one or two by mere coincidence are likely to roughly match what actually does happen. But it is just a fluke. You have to reject thousands of dreams to find one that sort of matches, and even from the one that you choose, you will have rejected many elements that clearly were impossible. For example, when your uncle died he wasn't actually on the space station surrounded by gorillas as your dream portrayed. You hold on to the bit about him dying and ignore the fanciful bits, but if your dream was a true indication of what would happen in the future, then your uncle should have died on the space station! But you ignore the bits that are plainly silly and just focus on your uncle dying, but that was the one thing that you knew before you even had the dream was very likely going to happen. All you did was dream about what you feared the future would bring, your uncle's death.
It's the same as when you dream of meeting an old friend or of getting a promotion at work or having a car accident, then it actually happens. These are all things that are very likely to happen, whether we dream about them or not. I have dreamt of meeting friends and occasionally it has happened, but I've also dreamt of having sex with beautiful movies stars numerous times and of meeting friendly aliens from outer space, but neither of these things have ever happened. Why not? If our dreams truly reveal the future then I should be meeting aliens and not just friends. Why is it that the only few dreams that appear to come true involve ordinary events that would likely have happened anyway? In fact it would be more unusual if those events didn't happen.
A while back I read the book 'Dreaming: An Introduction to the Science of Sleep', by J. Allan Hobson. One section asked: 'Can dreams foretell the future?', and this was answer: 'Dreams have been regarded as prophetic communications which, when properly decoded, would enable us to foretell the future. There is absolutely no scientific evidence for this theory and considerable scientific evidence against it'.
Georges Charpak and Henri Broch in their book 'Debunked! ~ ESP, Telekinesis and other Pseudoscience' (2004) looked at something similar to your spooky dreams. They looked at the claim of people who say they've suddenly thought of someone and then almost immediately discover, by a phone call or on the TV news perhaps, that they've recently died. They asked, 'What is the probability that, having thought about a person, we will somehow learn in the next five minutes, purely by coincidence and without any paranormal influence, that the person has died?' They based their calculation on the USA and revealed that about 23,782 people in the US will have this "spooky" experience every year. That's around 65 people a day!! That means that for every day of the year, 65 people in the US might exclaim, 'Wow, I had this strange experience last night. I thought of my cousin and then I got a phone call telling me they had just died. How weird is that? I must have psychic powers'. But they don't have special powers. It's just a fluke. A coincidence. Just like your dreams.
You say that you 'love science ... because it gives us clear answers of the world we live in'. I agree. However you then say that a 'problem however arises when I have experiences that I can not find scientific answers to'. But this has always been the case and always will be the case, no matter how much we learn about the universe. There are many mysteries that science can't yet answer, but that doesn't mean we should assume that science will never find the answer and that the answer must therefore lie in some spiritual or supernatural world. Centuries ago most natural events and experiences, everything from lightning to mental illness, had no scientific explanations and people attributed them to the supernatural, to gods. But now we know that there's nothing weird happening with gods, it's all natural and can be explained by science. Time after time after time, every event that people believed must be caused by some god turned out to have a natural explanation. And it's the same with spooky dreams, if you have thousands and thousands of them then one or two will, by mere chance alone, appear to mesh with reality. We don't need gods to create one or two coincidences. We should learn from history. There have been thousands and thousands of supernatural claims for observed events over the years and every single one turned out to have natural, scientific explanations. None have ever gone the other way. Not one single event that we assumed was natural has ever turned out to be supernatural after all. Not one. And as more and more mysteries are explained by science, what is the likelihood that dreaming, unlike everything else we experience, does actually have a supernatural explanation?
You say that seeing the future in your dreams 'is one of the reasons that makes me believe in superpowers as it makes me feel everything is pre-destined'. First I'd say that even if our future was predestined, that's an entirely different matter to being able to view that future in advance. Just because some god has already planned your future step by step, there's no obvious reason why he would want you to know that, or for you to glimpse what your future will be like. Indeed, he might reasonably conclude that if you knew that your free will was an illusion, that you were just a mindless zombie jumping through his hoops, then you might become quite depressed. You'd likely think, well what's the point of studying to be an astronaut if god has perhaps already decided I'm going to be an alcoholic? No matter what you do, good or bad, you'll know it wasn't really you, since you were always destined to act that way. Likewise if you glimpsed your future and you didn't like it, but you knew it was going to happen no matter what you did, then once again you'd likely become severely depressed. Or would you? If god has planned your future, then perhaps he would have already decreed that you wouldn't get depressed, but then why would god go to all that bother? Why wouldn't god set up your future in such a way to make sure that you never glimpsed your future, or realised that you had no free will? After all, he's writing the script of your life isn't he?
Even though our future is certainly real, I can't see any reason why we should be able to glimpse it through dreams (or psychics or chicken entrails or whatever). I know that I'm predestined to die, so that real event exists in my future for me to potentially view, but I can't see why any god would want me to view my death, or if there is no god, how the natural universe would allow me to do so. And again, there is no good evidence any god, or the universe, is giving anyone flashes of our future.
I pretty much agree with your view that science on finding one answer usually generates many more. And your talk of what they call an infinite regress is best summed up by that childhood question, If God had to make me, then who made God? That question is one of the main reasons why I don't think religion answers the big question about the origin of the universe, since instead of providing an answer we can understand, they just present us with a much bigger mystery. No matter how complicated the scientific 'theory of everything' might be to a non-scientist, at least it is an answer that will deliver real results. But simply saying that universe was created by a mysterious god who is so complex and mysterious that it is literally impossible to understand him, then we haven't learnt anything useful. Even worse, because of the infinite regress problem, we know by god's complex nature that he must have been created by an even more complex and more mysterious god, and on and on.
However a natural universe doesn't necessarily fall prey to the infinite regress problem. A scientific 'theory of everything' (or something else) will hopefully hint at what caused our observable universe to arise, possibly from a quantum fluctuation or maybe it budded off from another already existing universe etc. But whatever it was that our universe arose from, let's say an infinite expanse of empty 10-dimensional space, for example, perhaps this 'previous' universe was so simple as to be almost nothing, and it didn't need a cause to exist, or a creator to create it. Quantum mechanics tells us that things can and do happen at the quantum level without a cause. Perhaps we can stop with this 'previous' universe, it's so simple and so basic that we can't imagine anything that could be simpler from which it arose. Maybe we have to accept that the 'previous' universe is just a brute fact, we must accept that it has always existed. But note how this 'previous' universe is simpler than our one. We say that something simple, the Big Bang, eventually evolved into something complex, but this initially arose from something very simple, the 'previous' universe, whereas in the god idea each step back we take, god gets more complicated and therefore more unlikely at each step. Our chain of gods can never end because each one gets more complex, and each calls out for an explanation, but our chain of natural universes could end because each previous one gets simpler. Which is more complicated, empty space or a super intelligent god with the power to create universes with just a word? If one or the other has to have existed forever, surely empty space is the likely candidate. I could maybe live with the claim that the 'previous' universe has always existed because it was so simple, and it therefore doesn't need an explanation, but I could never accept that a magical god doesn't need an explanation.
Of course maybe we'll never know what there was before the Big Bang, maybe our universe is forever cut off from what came before, but everything we've learnt about this universe suggests that it likely does have a perfectly natural explanation (whether we discover it or not). Everything we once thought needed a god to work has been proven to be natural after all, and there is no reason whatsoever for us to suddenly think that the Big Band should be any different.
You write that, 'Every answer creates a new question. So, how will we know of the ultimate truth? So, this is one of the reasons that makes me believe in spirituality because with spirituality you don't question physical things...'
You're right that maybe science will discover evidence of a previous universe, and will then be compelled to explain that universe, which reveals yet another, but look at the positive side. If we just explain the origin of this universe, that will be one amazing answer that we don't presently possess. And if we press on and manage to describe the universe previous to our one, that will be even more amazing answers. Each step we go back and manage to solve will provide a wealth of knowledge, even though we may accept that there are still more steps that we may never solve. But how will we ever know if we don't try? Even if we run up against a wall on explaining the origin of just our universe, think of what we will have discovered just to reach that wall?
Imagine if in the distant past man had looked at a solid rock and argued that we can never know what it's made and that's that. Most did of course, but some used tools to break open the rocks and discover that they were made of fine grains. Then some wondered what the grains were made of, and others complained that if they find something even smaller, then they'll just wonder what those smaller objects are made of. It will never end, they say, so it makes good sense to stop now, just give up while you're ahead. But of course scientists ignored the naysayers and pressed on, discovering that the grains were made of molecules, that the molecules were made of atoms, which in turn contained protons which contained quarks, And there might be something more elementary still, but how will we know if we don't at least look?
Now imagine if we had stopped with the rock, realising that each new discovery would just create new questions, where would humanity be today? Probably still living in caves, and thinking, It's stupid to invent clothes because then someone would just have to invent buttons. What's next ... zips, Velco? Where will this madness end? This is all time that's better spent hunting and gathering. We were born naked and we should stay naked, all the better to be closer to the spiritual energies of mother earth.
Thankfully not everyone opposed progress. But even if we do come to a point where we can go no further, if we accept that the origin of the Big Bang is forever sealed off from science, just consider what we have learnt in the journey getting to that point. Our modern society owes everything to humans refusing to give up just because they were afraid that the questions might go on forever, or that we might reach a barrier we can't pass.
And I'm afraid that you choosing to 'believe in spirituality because with spirituality you don't question physical things...', suggests to me that you are giving up. You've chosen spirituality because it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't force you to question your surroundings, it doesn't give you any answers to worry over, and it allows you to extinguish your 'curiosity about physical things' and 'become thoughtless'. So clearly you can learn nothing from spirituality, since by being thoughtless it is impossible be thinking about anything, whether physical, emotional or spiritual. It may be relaxing for your mind and body, but it's akin to being unconscious or in a coma.
You say that you haven't 'lost interest in science but for ultimate truth and better way of living I seek spirituality'. That doesn't make sense. How could you be learning the 'ultimate truth' about life, the universe and everything when you've argued that spirituality doesn't concern itself with physical things, and your mind is in a state of thoughtlessness anyway? Even if the 'ultimate truth' was revealed to you, your mind being in a thoughtless state would be in no condition to register it, and weren't you drawn to spirituality so that you wouldn't be bothered with these sorts of questions?
I would agree with you that spirituality certainly encourages believers not to 'question physical things', and in that regard spirituality has a perfect record of not revealing any facts about reality, but I don't understand for a moment how refusing to ask probing questions and becoming thoughtless can reveal the ultimate truth. It's a stance that seems to be fleeing from the truth.
You say that, 'I can not say I have met god in person but I have felt it's presence through some experiences. I wish something and in coming days or months it will come true'.
Again this doesn't make sense to me. How do you know you've felt the presence of god when you have no idea what this god is? You would have no idea what its particular presence felt like. How do know you're not feeling a hormone imbalance or zero-point-energy? It's also impossible to switch your brain off, to become thoughtless, and if it was possible, you would be in no condition to experience anything. It makes no sense for someone to think, 'I have attained a state of thoughtlessness', because they had to use a thought to consider what state they were in. Also your belief that, 'I wish something and in coming days or months it will come true', contradicts your earlier belief that our future is predestined. You're now suggesting that the future isn't fixed, and that it will reflect whatever you might suddenly wish for now. If our future is predestined as you earlier claimed, wishing for something shouldn't have any affect on what happens.
You ask, 'The beauty of nature, the singing of birds, love, moral values, the particles, light, stars, isn't it all supernatural?' No, all those things are part of our natural universe, obeying natural laws, none of them are supernatural, which means beyond what is natural. The things that are supernatural are things like gods, gremlins, the Tooth Fairy, evil trolls and Santa Claus, the things that we've never seen and that are the stuff of myth and fantasy.
You admit that you 'don't have any physical proof ... of some power which I call GOD but neither does science have the ultimate answer yet'. But likewise people could argue that because science doesn't yet have the ultimate answer, then perhaps fairies or leprechauns or demons are the answer. Certainly people can make those claims, but they're not justified in making them, meaning that they have no good evidence or rationale to support them, whereas science does. Every scientific discovery bar none has made god less likely, none has detected the slightest hint of a supernatural miracle, and not one piece of research is giving the slightest hint that science is on the wrong track, and is about to reverse course, with scientists deserting their laboratories and heading instead into churches and meditation retreats. To me it seems utterly ridiculous for someone to claim that since science hasn't yet explained the Big Bang, then it's just as likely that little forest fairies are the ones that really created everything. As stupid as that sounds, swapping little forest fairies for GOD doesn't make the argument any stronger.
It seems that no matter how much science discovers about the universe, as long as there is still an outstanding question then spiritual and religious folk will say that science has failed to deliver. Let's remember that it was science, contradicting religion every step of the way, that discovered that the world wasn't flat, that we weren't at the centre of god's creation, that our solar system was part of a galaxy, that our galaxy was one of billions, that the universe was expanding, and that the universe had a beginning billions of years ago. Even though it has revealed all these amazing facts about the universe, because it hasn't yet answered the latest question, some people suggest that science is incapable of answering the big questions. Completely ignoring it's impressive track record they suggest we again look to spirituality and religion, even though both have existed for far longer than science and have not revealed one fact about the universe.
I agree that science may not find all the answers, and that each new discovery may only lead to more questions, but scientists and inquisitive people don't find that frustrating, they find it exciting. It means new challenges. And imagine how much we will learn with each discovery, and how much humanity will benefit. Also imagine where society would be now if those early cavemen (and women) had just sat around meditating, extinguishing their curiosity about the world, and reached a higher state of mind that didn't contain a single thought. They would have been eaten by the first passing saber-tooth tiger.
You say that you love science because of the clear answers it provides, so I can't understand why you're now retreating into spirituality which you acknowledge doesn't even ask questions.
Comment by Rishabh, 21 Sep, 2016
Hi John, I am really thankful to you for you wrote such a comprehensive reply to my comments. It might have taken some time to write though!
You have covered quite everything a scientific person can. I really enjoyed reading it.
Now, regarding dreams I am not highly satisfied with what you wrote. I never had dreams come true that are related to some sort of fear or death. I just have some random moments in real life which I saw in dreams. It can not be just a coincidence because the moments which become true are exactly as same as I saw in dream, even the slightest detail matches. This happens to a lot of people.
Second, spirituality might reduce curiosity in physical things for time being but it is an amazing experience to know ourselves. Scientifically speaking , it expands our consciousness and we get to know ourselves more, who I am and what the body is and I have felt that change. I now think although it is totally a different thing and must not hinder science. Maybe, that's why only even after being spiritual I still love science. Also, I feel spirituality and science may converge at some point. Spirituality is all about consciousness which science is also studying about.
Anyways, I have finally concluded I don't know if there is god or not but definitely there are laws like Karma which the nature follows, if I do bad to somebody something bad will happen with me and vice versa. This may even have some scientific explanation as well. I still believe nature watches over us if not god. It is from these experiences only some good religious people wrote about moral values. I have not acquired moral values from any holybooks or teachings but from nature itself after having some experiences etc.
I think there is no harm in believing in god if it makes me happy, wise, unites a community and as long as it doesn't hinder science and free thinking.
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 22 Sep, 2016
Hi Rishabh. Regarding your prophetic dreams, my mention of a dream involving death was merely an example of how millions of people have such dreams of things that are always happening, and by coincidence a few will match up with real life. You say, 'I just have some random moments in real life which I saw in dreams', and that's my point exactly, you're just remembering plain, ordinary things that are very likely to feature in your dreams. I'm sure you never dream of elements of my real life, you only dream of your life because your life is the only one you know. The more you dream of your life, the more likely a dream will by chance resemble a time in your life. And I doubt if you can remember all the slightest details in your dreams, since thousands of people have been tested in dream research over the decades and no one has been able to do that. You say it happens to a lot of people, but again dream researchers have not found the slightest evidence that people can accurately remember their dreams, let alone that they predict the future. You are simply taking thousands of dreams and rejecting them all except one that seems to match your life: Wow, I dreamt I would go to the library on Monday, and here I am going to the library on Monday, on the same bus that I saw in my dream!! That can't be a fluke.
You say that spirituality 'is an amazing experience to know ourselves. Scientifically speaking, it expands our consciousness and we get to know ourselves more'. In our article we argued that spirituality does nothing of the sort. It has not contributed in the slightest to our knowledge. We also pointed out that if spirituality revealed knowledge of what it means to be human and how we should behave towards others, then everyone that was spiritual or religious would have reached the same conclusions, when in reality we are offered thousands of different views. Meaning it's all just guesswork. Only scientists converge on the same answer, spiritual and religious believers are continually diverging. Also you've said that being spiritual is about becoming thoughtless, and in that state of mind you're clearly not going learn more about yourself, or about anything. To argue that by being thoughtless you can learn more about life than I can by actually thinking, would suggest that my toaster knows more about consciousness and existence than I do.
As for your view that 'definitely there are laws like Karma which the nature follows ... I still believe nature watches over us if not god', we pointed out in our article why that belief makes no sense, and so you're quite mistaken that karma 'may even have some scientific explanation'. We do to some extent acquire moral values from having experiences in nature, by seeing how our behaviour affects others, but it's quite foolish to think that nature itself is teaching us, rewarding us, punishing us. Rather than taking responsibility for our own actions, when we give our behaviour over to some imaginary force, be it nature or a god, then we become slaves to a dangerous fantasy. For most of history humans have let gods or nature tell us how we should behave towards others, and we have committed untold atrocities, it's high time we started thinking for ourselves.
You finish by saying that, 'I think there is no harm in believing in god if it makes me happy, wise, unites a community and as long as it doesn't hinder science and free thinking'.
Perhaps you're right, there may be no real harm in you believing in god if it makes you happy. But you will be living a fantasy, a lie, so are you being harmed intellectually by not understanding and experiencing the real world? If someone allowed a child to grow into an adult still believing in Santa Claus and fairies, I suspect that others would want to prosecute that person for effectively keeping them thinking as a child, and denying them the truth. And the problem with one person believing in some god is that their belief always, to varying degrees, affects other people, and so other people can be harmed by something that makes you happy. For example, some Christians refuse a woman that has been raped to have an abortion, others refuse Africans that are threatened by AIDS to use condoms. Muslims kill other Muslims that give up their religion. Jews, Christians and Muslims all terrify young children with stories of what god will do to them if they prefer scientific explanations over religious ones. Believing in god made all these people happy, but what their belief makes them do to others is certainly doing real harm.
When you say there is no harm in belief in god if it 'unites a community', do you mean like how ISIS or Islamic State has united the Muslim fundamentalist community? Or perhaps how the Catholic Christian community has united in defence of their priests accused of raping little boys? Or perhaps in India how it unites a community against people of a lower caste? Undoubtedly there are a few examples of god belief uniting a community and doing good, but I'd happily give away those few good examples if we could also get rid of all the many, many examples involving death, suffering, persecution, hatred etc. We don't need dangerous fantasies to unite communities, let's unite under the truth and our common humanity. Belief in god has historically done nothing but create divided communities that have fought with each other.
As for your suggestion that belief in god makes us wise, well, that's just so, so wrong. As we argued, no religion or form of spiritually has contributed in the slightest to what we presently know about life, the universe and everything. All god belief has done is to hold back progress. History has clearly shown that every advance in knowledge was marked by a retreat in some god belief. Every attempt that god believers made to explain some aspect of our world has turned out to be laughably wrong. I really can't understand how you can think that by learning nothing and becoming thoughtless you can become wise.
And to say that belief in god is fine 'as long as it doesn't hinder science and free thinking', is to admit that god belief has nothing to do with science, ie knowledge of the world, or independent thinking. You've essentially admitted that god belief becomes a hindrance when it tries to help out science. You've acknowledged that we shouldn't expect answers from any silly belief in god, that believers should treat it as a comforting pet if they must, but can't let it get in the way of the work that will deliver real answers.
So thanks again for your comments, but we're afraid you haven't shaken our view that spirituality has nothing to offer science, except perhaps as a pleasant diversion for those that find science and the world it describes as too complex and too impersonal.
Comment by Jesse, 04 Oct, 2016
Hi John. I am nearly 40 years old and spent most of my life wondering as to the meaning of our existence and our purpose in life.
Every time I feel sadness creep into my life, I started reading into esoteric, pseudo magic subjects.
Religion is not my thing as I believe it's entirely man made does not really make sense to me.
Personally, I think most people try to make some sort of effort to make some sense of their life.
How do you find happiness in life?
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 06 Oct, 2016
Hi Jesse. What a question: 'How do you find happiness in life?'
For a start, I think happiness in life and purpose in life are quite separate things. Personally I believe there is no meaning to our existence or purpose to our life, since meaning implies we're here for a reason and purpose implies that a creator or intelligent designer has created each of us for a specific purpose, neither of which I think is true. Think of the objects that humans make for a specific purpose, like a car or toaster, or fellow humans that are told what their purpose is by another human, such as a master telling a slave what their purpose in life is (to blindly serve), or a boss telling an employee their purpose, eg your purpose is to clean public bathrooms or to assist a surgeon in the operating theatre. The toaster and the cleaner both have a clear purpose given to them by someone with power over them. So when our cleaner gets home and wonders what their purpose in their greater life is, all I can see is someone looking to find the person or thing that has power over their entire life. And when they find them they'll put similar questions to them as they do their boss at the cleaning company, 'What do you want me to do next, Boss?' These people apparently feel that they can't manage their own lives, can't decide for themselves what they want to do in life, but must be instructed every step of the way.
I'd hate to think that I'd been made for a purpose, and that I was expected to do someone's bidding. Imagine if that were true, and some god had made you to be a homeless person, or a serial killer, or that he made you simply to be one of a hundred victims killed in an earthquake. How many people would then honestly say, 'Well, I'm going to be killed horribly in an earthquake in two years time, but at least I know what my purpose is now, I'm so happy'. Seriously, if we all had some purpose that we were expected to fulfil, if only we could figure out what it was, I guarantee that most everyone would hate the purpose they had been created for, and would suddenly see themselves as nothing but slaves, dispensable pawns sacrificed on the whim of some creator. Think of some act or job that you'd really hate to do, and then imagine discovering that that was your purpose in life. Why do people naively assume that their purpose in life must naturally be something better than what they're doing now?
People seem to think that their life would be so much happier if only they could learn what their purpose on Earth was. Do they really think they'd be happier if they were told their purpose was to be a thief or drug addict? Everyone seems to think that their hidden purpose is to be a billionaire or a pop star and that they're missing out on what they truly deserve, but even if someone told them in a dream that their purpose was to be a billionaire, do you really think it would make one bit of difference to their life? Are they only working as a cleaner because no one mysterious will tell them what their real purpose is? And again, if they truly learnt that their purpose was to be a homeless person, are we to believe that would make them happy? Of course not. What if they learnt that their purpose in life was to go through life obsessing over what their purpose was, which is exactly what their life is now, would that make them content? I think this worldwide search for meaning and purpose from some higher source is nothing but an excuse for people not being willing to take control of their own lives, and then blaming their failures on not understanding what their master wants them to do.
I also think reading 'esoteric, pseudo magic subjects' to gain some insight into meaning and purpose is a waste of time since those subjects are just religion by another name,
I'm not saying there can't be meaning and purpose in your life, there definitely can and should be, but that meaning and purpose comes from within, not from some invisible god. Life is what you make it. Everyone gets to decide for themselves what gives their life meaning and purpose, and this will be different for everyone. For some their life's purpose is to be the best parent they can be, for some it is to find a cure for disease, others want to travel the world, or write a great book or cure hunger in Africa. Most of us find meaning in simply living the best life we can, being kind to others and trying to make the world a better place. Our purpose is make friends, learn new things, set and achieve goals, have new experiences and embrace pleasure rather suffering, Meaning in life is whatever you want it to be, and any life purpose or goal you want to set for yourself is yours to make, not for someone to dump on you, like it or not.
I agree that everyone tries to make some sense of their life, but to properly do that I feel they must look at their life, not try and make sense of why some mysterious being created them and for what purpose. It's generally only people that are unhappy with their life that start to question it. Sometimes an unhappy life is caused by poor choices by the person themselves, for example entering into bad relationships or choosing the wrong career, and often by circumstances beyond their control, eg illness, unemployment, living in a war zone. You never hear of happy people lying awake at night obsessing over the meaning of life, they simply get on with enjoying their life. They never ask whether it's truly their purpose to be happy, or rich and famous. It's only the unhappy that sit around going, 'Clearly I wasn't meant to be poor or unknown, and consequently unhappy, so I wonder what it is I'm supposed to be doing?'
I don't think there is any correct answer to how one might find happiness. What makes one person happy may do just the opposite to another. For some people it's collecting salt and pepper shakers that make them happy and give them a purpose, others are happy simply spending time with their grandkids, some come away happy after trekking naked through nature, still others couldn't be happier than when they're supporting their local sports team. There are some extremely rich people who aren't happy and some poor people who are, just as there are some people with disabilities that are happier with their life than some people in perfect health. I think people need to seek things in life that make them happy, and of course that don't harm others, things that they enjoy doing and give them pleasure, that give their life meaning and purpose, and ideally, enrich the lives of others as well. I think too that this is made easier if people follow their own desires and goals rather than obediently doing what their family, friends or community expects of them. Ignore how others would like to structure your life. Your family may say your purpose in life is to take over the family business, your friends may say you must go to university and your community may implore you to remain a good Christian or Muslim, but living a false life to please others won't make you happy. I also think living life with no fear of death is a real positive; all death should do is to motivate you to live life to the full, since it's the only one you'll get.
People should learn to appreciate the good things in life, and they can be simple things, often free things. Money and fame can't buy true friendship or make a sunset any more beautiful. Contrary to what many people believe, an expensive iPhone doesn't make for happier phone calls and a mansion won't attract better friends. Of course we are all subject to outside influences beyond our control, and so we shouldn't set clearly unrealistic goals and refuse to be happy until we achieve them. Be honest, most of us are not going to be rich and famous, win a Nobel Prize, look like a supermodel, or even go through life without experiencing periods of suffering and sadness. But thankfully the reality is that happiness is available to us all regardless of our circumstances in life. It's a myth that only people better than you or with better things can be happy.
For me, simple things like a good pizza or a good book or good sex are enough to make me happy, and all these things give my life plenty of meaning. If some god has another purpose for me, I don't want to know about it.
Comment by Anonymous-1, 07 Oct, 2016
Thanks for your review of that diagram. I have saved your comment in my browser's favorites. I notice that one argument method you use against that diagram is the reductio ad absurdum. However do you believe that is fair when the creator of that diagram states clearly that the diagram has limitations? Refer to the box in the diagram that states "read me first". Furthermore the diagram does not state one should abandon one's search for evidence (that is just your mind filling in the blanks so as to create a story) but only points to the fact that evidence has a limitation, i.e., death.
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 07 Oct, 2016
Yes, we do think it is fair to point out the absurd elements of the argument set out in that 'God is Safe' diagram. We're quite aware that the diagram, meaning the argument, was described as having limitations, and we pointed out that with those limitations it fails as an argument for belief in a god. We can only assume that the best argument and evidence was provided, and that's all we can consider, not some potential argument that might be offered 20 years hence. We also note that the diagram is up to 'Version 17C', so surely its creator would have fixed its limitations by now, or realised that it's flawed.
We never said that the diagram states that 'one should abandon one's search for evidence', we said that 'Your suggestion that our 'search for "evidence" has blinded' us only confuses us'. Your clear implication is that we should be looking for something other than "evidence". And you only confuse us more by now saying that it's a 'fact that evidence has a limitation, i.e., death'. We think you're find that scientific evidence has no limitation and will easily survive the death of each and all of us. The evidence for evolution didn't disappear when Charles Darwin died.
Comment by Anonymous-1, 23 Oct, 2016
I thought you would like to know that the artist had extensively updated his comments and made some revisions to his diagram God is safe (for now). http://lbamagic.deviantart.com/art/God-is-safe-for-now-505829425
BTW I believe you are incorrect about there being only one reality. If there was no such thing as a perceived reality then we will not need psychology, psychiatry, philosophy, or many of other of the humanities. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanities
Without a perceived reality diplomats would not exist as all governments would govern the same way. The judicial system would be much easier as laws would be black & white in accordance with only one reality. And artist would always paint their images in the same art style of realism. If fact if there is only one reality then photography should of made artists extinct.
Note the artist did mention Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. I believe you will gain an understanding of what is meant by a perceived reality from that book.
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 24 Oct, 2016
As we've already tried to explain, there is only one reality. You're confusing reality with the likes of opinion, guess, worldview, delusion, morals. We need psychology and psychiatry because some people struggle to recognise reality, and we need to try and convince them that even though they perceive the world to be flat or they perceive that their neighbour is possessed by demons, the reality is quite different.
The truth is that we need diplomats because they all accept a single reality, they all accept that other countries exist. If your 'perceived realities' had validity, then diplomats could simply insist that in their 'perceived reality' other countries were not real and thus diplomats weren't needed. The same with the judicial system, there is only one reality, either someone has been murdered or they haven't. What you seem to be confusing reality with is the amount of evidence available to convict someone of that murder or the number of years they should be sentenced to if found guilty. But what punishment someone deserves for committing a murder has nothing to do with the reality of the universe. No matter how different people may react to a murder, the reality is that a murder has been committed. Your artist example is also badly flawed. One artist may see an ordinary green tree and choose to paint it as being purple with assault rifles growing out of its branches rather than leaves, but the reality is that the tree is still green and not purple and has leaves, not assault rifles. Again you confuse the ability of an artist to distort reality as if that distortion has some validity.
As for that book by Daniel Kahneman, in it he writes, 'Jumping to conclusions is a safer sport in the world of our imagination than it is in reality'. He actually speaks of a single reality, and what you see as some 'perceived reality' might be what he calls 'the world of our imagination'.
Comment by Timo, 29 Jan, 2017
Hi John. Very interesting discussion: "The Science versus Spirituality Debate". And no, they are certainly not silly beliefs. The thoughts below are more about science vs. consciousness.
Consciousness: A simple experiment
I want to start off with a simple experiment. Below is code written in C/C++:
int a = 2;
This code is compiled into machine code and depending on the underlying architecture the assembler can look something like this (on an AVR micro-processor):
int b = 3;
int c = a * b;
Now, let us change the code:
int hours = 2;
So, what changed? The assembler has certainly not changed and exactly the same code will be executed. The only thing that was added was meaning. Just by changing the variable names, the program has a completely new meaning. This new meaning does not really "live" in the physical world. The transistors inside the processor will switch in the same way as before. If we had a probe small enough, we could actually observe the transistors switching and we could confirm that the RAM contains the correct sequence of binary numbers. In the end this simple program could calculate the wage for a waiter/waitress. The person will get a handful of coins and dollar bills in his hand. We can measure the value of it, but only by consensus. If humans would suddenly vanish from this earth, what would the value of these coins and pieces of paper be? Well, it would just be pieces of metal and paper starting on their own journey of decay (oxidation, etc.).
int wagePerHour = 3;
int wage = hours*wagePerHour;
With humans came consciousness. We are able to form abstract concepts. We are so used to this, that the above example just seems silly. Even this whole discussion on science versus spirituality is riddled with concepts not directly measurable in the physical world. It can be argued that consciousness is just a side-effect of brain chemistry. However, just like the micro-processor executing some machine code, our brain is just a machine. Transistors switching and neurons firing alone cannot really grasp or explain consciousness.
Science as the one and only reality
What we describe as a science is in essence a formal description of the physical processes around us. For this we use another abstract tool: mathematics. I doubt whether nature performs a calculation, using Newton's law of motion, each time a car is accelerated. The physical laws described by mathematics are most likely a symptom/side-effect of more fundamental and simpler rules. The funny thing is, the deeper we dig, the more abstract the mathematics becomes. String theory is a good example. This mathematical model is so abstract that physicists started to doubt its usefulness. Many models in physics are also approximations. For example, the paraxial wave equations for describing laser beam propagation are just an approximation of the more general Maxwell's equations. Maxwell's equations are again an approximation of electro-magnetics on a macro scale. It provides a different view on the subject as compared to quantum physics and the particle-description of light. So, even what we call science today is not as precise as people would like to believe. In the end they are just models. Even more than that, there are different models describing different aspects of the same thing. Such as the previous example, light as photons versus electromagnetic waves.
What is my point?
Well, there is more to our existence than just the physical reality. To say that science is the only true reality is taking it maybe a bit too far. As mentioned above, even this scientific reality is multifaceted and can only be truly understood and described via abstract mathematics. I believe, our consciousness augments the physical reality by adding abstract concepts. Sometimes it feels, that we as scientists completely dismiss our conscious reality. This includes the waitress working 2 hours and getting $3 per hour — an abstract concept not present in the physical world without us humans. Does it make it less real, well, ask the waitress.
One can see this duality a lot with mental health practitioners. On the one end of the spectrum are the psychiatrists and at the other end the psycho-analysts. Somewhere in between are the cognitive behavioural therapists. The most psychiatrists purely focus on brain chemistry and try to alter brain function to change a person's perception. This is somewhat like changing a processor so that faulty code executes correctly, instead of changing the code. This is the scientific way! It is true, some mental health issues are definitely physiological, but there is a broad spectrum of issues (like personality disorders, etc.) which are not. Unfortunately, most of our behaviour can be compared with software. Those illusive bits of code written in some kind of programming language, a language using abstract concepts like my stupid example above. In a way it makes sense, that we function like this. Our behaviour is way too complex to be hard-coded. It is more flexible and efficient to learn it, given that our brain has enough capacity. This is who we are. Often, science tends to dismiss this fact as just a symptom. Human behaviour is over-simplified. However, we tend to see and describe the world by the training we received. I knew an engineering professor, who explained all human behaviour using feedback system theory. It was not a bad model, but it was extremely limited. Just like science has different viewpoints and models for light, we should have different models for describing our world around us. It is not that the one is better than the other. They just describe different aspects of the same thing. There is certainly a very strong abstract component to our understanding of the world, let's call it our consciousness. I just cannot understand why science is "scared" of this. Science in itself is already abstract.
And so, we come back to spirituality and religion. I am not a religious person. Maybe I am wrong, but discussions about religion and science tends to push science more towards the far end and shutting itself off from important aspects. These aspects, like consciousness, are labelled as meta-physics. And then, science seems like a religion on its own — dogmatic and rigid.
Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 30 Jan, 2017
Hi Timo. You make some interesting points, much of which we agree with, for example, that physical money only has the value we humans give it through the concepts that we create in our minds.
However we have a problem when you say that, 'there is more to our existence than just the physical reality. To say that science is the only true reality is taking it maybe a bit too far'. You go on to express the view that 'consciousness augments the physical reality by adding abstract concepts', and that you feel that sometimes 'scientists completely dismiss our conscious reality'.
We don't believe our article makes the argument of 'Science as the one and only reality', as one of your headings implies. We actually agree with your view that 'science is in essence a formal description of the physical processes around us'. We certainly don't see science as "reality" itself, but merely as an effective way of understanding the world, of understanding reality. We see science as a very successful method for discerning patterns, gathering evidence and slowly revealing an underlying reality, and the purpose of our article was to compare the scientific method with the spiritual (or religious) method, to see which has more success at accurately describing reality.
Your view that 'there is more to our existence than just the physical reality', and that 'consciousness augments the physical reality', is not something we accept. We are naturalists, we believe that physical reality is all there is, that there is no evidence that anything exists beyond our material or physical reality. Of course consciousness and abstract concepts are not physical in the sense that you can't touch them, but both are created by the mind which itself arises from the physical brain. Destroy the brain and consciousness goes away too, it doesn't remain as part of some non-physical reality. So consciousness exists in our physical reality, and only our physical reality. It's an emergent phenomenon that arises from the complex interaction between billions of neurons which aren't themselves conscious. Just because consciousness isn't physical doesn't mean that it must originate from some transcendent reality, and we believe that consciousness will eventually be explained solely by reference to physical elements.
Abstract concepts, such as money or mathematics, are needed to create an advanced society, but you don't need them to be conscious, since dinosaurs were presumably conscious, and my cat certainly is. We don't feel that the existence of conscious humans affects fundamental reality anymore than the existence of conscious dinosaurs did. The dinosaurs' physical gray matter created their consciousness, and this would have impacted on how they viewed their world, and while they may not have invented money, their physical world gave them all they needed to survive.
You say that 'just like science has different viewpoints and models for light, we should have different models for describing our world around us. It is not that the one is better than the other. They just describe different aspects of the same thing'. We agree that different scientific models are used in different areas to describe the same reality, but none of these different models produce evidence that conflicts with the other models, none show that they are dealing with completely different and incompatible underlying realities. One model may talk of molecules and not mention that molecules are made up of atoms, and the model of atoms will ignore the fact that atoms are made up of quarks and electrons. Each scientific model uses a level of detail that achieves good results for the purpose it's being used. Newton's equations concerning gravity are good enough to land a probe on Mars, but Einstein's improved gravity equations are needed to make GPS satellites accurate. The important thing to note is that they all work and can be seen to work. Our argument was that when people say that there are 'different models for describing our world around us', models other than scientific models, such as spiritual models or religious models, we say that there is no evidence whatsoever that those models have ever produced anything that lines up with the reality we observe. Spiritual and religious descriptions of reality have been shown to be wrong time after time for hundreds of years. Science isn't "scared" of competition, and isn't afraid of looking at reality in new ways, just consider how relativity and quantum mechanics has changed our view of reality. What major changes has religion made to account for their untold failures in describing the world?
The differing views religion and science hold of reality are certainly far apart, and the gulf between them is getting greater everyday, but moving by away from religion doesn't mean that science is 'shutting itself off from important aspects', such as understanding consciousness, something you say is 'labelled as meta-physics'. Nor does the gulf between religion and science mean that it's becoming 'like a religion on its own — dogmatic and rigid'. The only research that is making any headway into the likes of consciousness is scientific research, whereas religion, pushing a dogma that's millennia old, still insists that it's the work of invisible gods. Scientific theories are continually being updated and improved, with mistakes thrown in the trash, while every religious text being followed today is still on Version 1.0.
A book I read recently by Earl Conee and Theodore Sider, 'Riddles of Existence: A Guided Tour of Metaphysics', said that 'metaphysics addresses fundamental questions about the nature of reality'. And when it comes to the fundamental nature of reality, do we need to repeat that it was scientists that recently found evidence for the Higgs boson, and scientists that are wondering whether strings might be more fundamental than quarks or that there might be more than three spatial dimensions? It was scientists that discovered how big and how old our universe really is. When it comes to addressing fundamental questions about the nature of reality, only science has produced answers that actually gel with what we observe.
Of course we should note that while science may eventually explain how consciousness arises from physical reality, it won't go any way to explaining how we conscious beings can decide right from wrong, how to lead a good life or how to give our life purpose. They are matters of ethics and philosophy, but like science they are also based on the use of reason and evidence, rather than blindly and obediently believing the commandments of an invisible god or a simple feeling you get when you clear your mind of all thought by meditating.
Even if in the future things like human consciousness or what happened before the big bang remain a mystery, we've seen no evidence that turning to spirituality or religion will deliver the answers. They've both consistently failed in the past with the relatively simple stuff, so it's inconceivable that they'll suddenly get the unbelievably complex stuff. As much as spiritual and religious beliefs may have delivered comfort to people, they have never delivered answers that match reality. Like it or not, it seems we must rely on science.
It's easy for people to talk of some other way of knowing, some other way of discovering truths about reality that's distinct from science, but never are we told how this other way might work, of how it differs from the scientific method, and never are we given examples of its past successes so that we might have some confidence in its predictive and descriptive power. Science may not answer all the big questions, but what is left as mysteries by science will likely remain mysteries, since, wishful thinking aside, we know of no other way that's superior to the scientific method.
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