IEET > Rights > Contributors > Leo Igwe > FreeThought
In Praise of Atheism
Leo Igwe   Jan 23, 2012   Mukto-Mona  

As an atheist, sometimes, I wonder why it has taken human beings so long to realize that there is no god and that the so-called creator, almighty, all merciful, all knowing, and all-what-again god that humans have worshiped for ages is a fantasy, a figment of human mind and imagination, without any real instance, essence, existence or significance.

Because I think the non-existence of god is so commonsensical a fact and really does not require any mental rigor to understand. God by definition has properties and attributes that make him/her/it unknowable, tenable, and an existential impossibility. They include attributes like infinity, omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence etc. Just observe nature and you will know that it has no god. And that this city of humanity is a self-regulating entity. So, I regard the idea of god’s existence as the most nonsensical of all nonsense. Yes, the god idea is a lie, complete absurdity. The whole concept of god’s existence is total, absolute and arrant nonsense. The “father figure in the sky” is a mental block to proper understanding of life nature and reality. My only concern is this: why has it taken the world so long to know this. Why are many people still holding on to this illusion in spite of modern civilization, renaissance and enlightenment? Why have most human beings on earth yet to acknowledge this simple fact. That god has no real existence.

The god-idea may have served some good for some people in the past and in the present. There is no doubt about that. But that does not change its epistemic value or character. Does it? That a superstitious belief is comforting doesn’t make it science. Does it? That most people in the world today believe in god does not negate the fact that god is a concept without content. Or better a concept that contains whatever we humans invest on it.

So when I consider the amount of energy, time, money and other resources that believers invest or better waste revering this non entity called god or the number of lives snuffed out over the ages by religious militants, jihadists, suicide bombers and other that kill in the name of one god or the other, I cannot but shudder at the depth and profundity of human stupidity and foolery. On the other hand I cannot but appreciate the wisdom, insight, excellence ad beneficence in the atheistic worldview. The psalmist was wrong for saying that “The Fool has said in his heart, there is no god.” I’m sure that the author of the Psalms, like other ancient writers of the holy books, got something wrong somewhere. What the Fool really said in his heart is “There is god.” Because it requires the suspension of one’s reason and intelligence to believe in the existence of a deity and to spend one’s life time worshiping this transcendental illusion.

By saying this I don’t mean to insult any body or hurt anyone’s sentiments. Far from it. I just want to state what I think are very bitter and brutal facts.

There is no god(Allah). There is no devil. There is no heaven. There is no hell. There are no spirits, no angels, no demons, no witches or wizards. There is no life after death. Human beings have no immortal soul. The Bible is not the word of god. The Koran was not revealed by Allah. The holy books were written by human beings. Jesus is not the son of god. Jesus is not the saviour of the world. Jesus did not rise from the dead. Jesus did not ascend into heaven. Jesus is not coming again. Rapture is not taking place. Mohammed was not sent by Allah. Mohammed did not ascend into heaven in a flaming horse. Praying is like talking to somebody who is not there. Jerusalem is not a holy land. Mecca is not a holy land. Eternal bliss is an illusion. Religion is superstition.

These are truths. These are truths every human being should know. These are truths that should guide us. There are truths that should government the world.

But I know some people will not accept them. Some people will not want to hear them at all. Some people will find them offensive. Some people will regard as blasphemies. But offence or no offence, these are truths that are critical to the liberation and emancipation of human beings in this 21st century. These are truths that will enlighten and civilize the world. These truths will surely awaken human beings especially those of us in Africa from our religious and supernatural slumber. Because the god idea and the religious nonsense that goes with it have caused darkness and made human beings to fall asleep. And humans have slept to the point of forgetfulness, crass gullibility, and foolery. Humans have slept to the point of stupor. And now is the time to wake up to a dawn, a life and a world without god.

Human beings need to wake up because the day break of a new Enlightenment is here. Unfortunately, some religious apologists continue to maintain that the realization of god’s non-existence will lead to social chaos or anomie in the world. They propagate this falsehood to make the whole idea of a god-free world undesirable. Sadly they are greatly mistaken. The global acceptance of god’s non-existence will pave the way for the realization of universal humanism. In fact global atheism will usher in a new world, a new life and a new hope. Global atheism will help bring a lasting solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other faith based conflicts that are ravaging the world. Global atheism will help rein in Islamic militants, suicide bombers and other religious warriors that are threatening and terrorizing the world. Most importantly global atheism will make humans to live better and to become fully human. Because it is when human beings know that there is no deity to help or save them that they will sit up and without reservations, help and save themselves. No one will waste precious time praying to the imaginary Father in Heaven for a “kingdom come.” Instead every body will work diligently and conscientiously to protect and preserve the earthly kingdom. Human beings will take their destinies fully in their hands and make the best out of this one life we have by striving to realize heaven here on earth.

Leo Igwe, as a member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, has bravely worked for human rights in West Africa. He is presently enrolled in a three year research programme on “Witchcraft accusations in Africa” at the University of Bayreuth, in Germany.



COMMENTS

I’m trying hard to give articles the benefit of the doubt as to whether they fit under the topic Ethics & Emerging Technologies. I think I got this one covered.

AI & Robotics, Proposed: Even machines that have no imagination or true spirit can emulate at least part of the human population.

Hi Roger - yes, you are right. We have had two days of religious/philosophical topics here. But later in the week we will have 2 articles on Robotics, and other articles on CyberWar and AI. Don’t miss those!

“The global acceptance of god’s non-existence will pave the way for the realization of universal humanism. In fact global atheism will usher in a new world, a new life and a new hope.”

“Most importantly global atheism will make humans to live better and to become fully human. Because it is when human beings know that there is no deity to help or save them that they will sit up and without reservations, help and save themselves.”

Who says that Atheists do not have belief in fantasy and blind hope?

But seriously, I will march with you to build this better future - question is, can you do it together with those that yet still believe in their Gods?

Apart from this, can’t argue with this article, very well written indeed !


“Human beings will take their destinies fully in their hands and make the best out of this one life we have by striving to realize heaven here on earth.”

Woo hoo!  - Agreed!

What seems missing from the articles on religious and philosophical topics is discussion of religion and philosophy. A serious question has been raised within the AI / Robot ethics community on the challenges of integrating AI into different cultures and respecting a variety of belief systems. In it’s initial form, the question was one of those overly-generalized in a bad way types of things, leading to a very pessimistic conclusion that an AI won’t be able to do that. The optimistic view does not require humanity to transform into like-minded drones to make it easier for designers to create a similar population of robots.

1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

4. A robot must respect any metaphysical belief by a human except where such orders would conflict with the first, second or third Law, or by extension drive the robot round and round in circles yelling “does not compute”!


“What does this action signify?” http://ieet.org/images/smileys/wink.gif

Leo, I completely agree with your last statement, “Human beings will take their destinies fully in their hands and make the best out of this one life we have by striving to realize heaven here on earth,” indeed!

Concerning your main point, that God(s) don’t exist, I mostly agree, but I would add the caveat: “yet.” As Richard Dawkins says, future generations may realize heaven here on earth (and in the rest of the universe) and develop, by means of science end technology, capabilities that would seem supernatural to us, just like our cell phones would seem magic to our grandfathers.

You state your point very clearly and forcefully, which is good. There is only one point on which I disagree: :“These are truths that should govern the world.” (by the way Hank please correct the text).

I disagree because I don’t believe in absolute Truths with a capital T, and I am persuaded that no truth should govern the world. People should govern the world, not books, and we should find good workable ways to live and progress together.

As far as practical social issues are concerned, I tend to agree with the pragmatic analysis of Alex McGilvery in his recent article on Religion and Transhumanism, and with his exhortation to believers and atheists to find ways to work together on the important issues of our time.

Leo, you are quite welcome to your opinion about the existence/non-existence of God. To state it as a fact because it is obvious to you is not scientific but another kind of statement of faith. There is no proof that God exists, but there is no proof that she doesn’t. This isn’t science but philosophy.

Yes religion has been claimed as the cause for wars and genocide. We allow between 10 to 15 million people starve on an annual basis. That is more than the death toll of all modern wars combined. The only religion involved in their deaths is the profit motive.

Atheism works for you. Great. It works for a lot of people. I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with people claiming as a scientific fact something that has never been tested by science. Opinion is opinion. I don’t claim the existence of God as scientific reality for the same reasons.

Pastor Alex, the burden of proof does not lie upon the atheist. That said, many of the claims by religion HAVE been tested by scientific thinking and proven, time and time again, to be found wanting. If you wish to bring up philosophy, I might gently suggest you look up Russell’s teapot.

As for the starving people, I find it interesting that the Catholic church brought in roughly 97 billion dollars last year. I wonder how many of the 10 to 15 million starving people in the world that could feed. Quite perspicacious of you to bring up the profit motive.

And finally, you can’t claim the existence of God through scientific means because religion is predicated on faith, the exact opposite of reason. If I may quote the inestimable Christopher Hitchens: “That which is asserted without proof may be dismissed without proof.”

I never claimed scientific proof for the existence of God that would be as nonsensical as claiming scientific proof for the non-existence.

What I did say is that stating opinion as scientific fact is problematic. Until you find God’s corpse you cannot categorically state that she’s a fiction. Of course the same is true for me, except it isn’t God’s corpse I expect to find.

Hitchens is interesting, but not infallible as a theologian he is a really good atheist. His aphorism sounds good, but I don’t think it works as good logic. I could just throw it back at you.

In terms of the Catholic Church. Yup, they brought in a large amount of money, but to say that they have 97 billion just lying around to be spent on gold crosses or bread for the poor is wrong. Much of that money is raised and spent locally, a lot of that local spending is on outreach to the poor and dispossessed.

There are companies such as Monsanto who control most of the seed and inputs and continue to make increased profits as food prices rise and push more people to starvation. The issue with hunger is not production, but distribution. People can’t afford to buy food. Since the big food companies need to show increasing profits, it is better to let them starve than reduce the price of food.

I am not really interest in a pissing contest over atheism versus faith. It is a waste of time.

What I am interested in is the ethics involved in emerging technologies that will effect our ideas of what is human and perhaps change that definition in unexpected ways.

Absolutely fantastic! Sorry Alex, but I think the atheists are pissing better!

You know, I went back and read Mr. Igwe’s piece just to be sure and what do you know, he didn’t claim scientific proof of the non existence of God. You, Pastor Alex, attributed that claim to him. I suspect so you could throw out that tired old canard about God’s corpse. Tsk tsk. I again refer you to Russell’s teapot.

You’re quite right about the futility of arguing atheism versus faith, much to the frustration of rational people everywhere.

My point about the Catholic church (and come to think of it every Christian church), regardless of your apologetics, is still valid; after all, one of the basic tenets of Christianity is to eschew worldly goods and serve the poor and needy. Are you really telling me that the Vatican is a non profit organization? Monsanto, on the other hand, makes no excuses about their motives, as vile as I personally find them to be, they are not the ones engaged in rank hypocrisy.

I too am interested in the ethics involved in emerging technologies - I suspect that most organized religions will fight these technologies tooth and nail.

Does anybody else find it ironic that this article has a real ‘holier than thou’ tude?

“As an atheist, sometimes, I wonder why it has taken human beings so long to realize that there is no god and that the so-called creator, almighty, all merciful, all knowing, and all-what-again god that humans have worshiped for ages is a fantasy, a figment of human mind and imagination, without any real instance, essence, existence or significance.”

It might not be claiming scientific proof, but it is certainly stated as fact. My comment wasn’t that he claimed scientific proof, but stating the absence of God as fact without such proof.

It seemed important to me, us being all sciency and stuff.

Mr. Auxin, not having access to the Vatican’s books, I can’t comment on their status as a not-for-profit. However, my own church’s books are available to me and I can send you last year’s financial statement. I will tell you now that we didn’t make a profit. We did provide a number of services to the community including the use of our building for free or minimal cost to a number of groups, the use of my time for free to a number of groups, free programming for anyone who wanted to avail themselves of it and about !0-15% of our budget going to various other missions through our suppers and gifts to our national church. I have my national church’s financial statements as well. As a denomination we have sadly had to cut back financial support and let go staff as donations drop, but we still have partners active in all kinds of community development around the world.

Yet hypocrisy is rampant, it is part of the human condition. As we say in our church. There is always room for one more.

As problematic as the Vatican and Catholic Church may appear to you, they don’t steal food out of the mouths of starving people. They have been known to actually hand out free food. Many Catholic workers both priests and nuns have been killed because they spoke up for the people they served and refused to desert them.

As for your blanket statement about the church and emerging technologies, it just goes to show how little you know about the diversity of religions. Some will fight it, some will support it most will sit on the fence until they understand it better.

@ Linda, I had noticed that, but I thought my motives would be suspect if I pointed it out.

The feeling about there being a holier than thou attitude in this article is all in your mind. It isn’t a tude, it’s the truth. The truth has no, is no attitude. Things either are true or they aren’t, right? If you say things as they are, that’s not an attitude. It’s just the damned-by-gods truth! What else do you expect from the truth?

No, it is opinion. Truth requires proof and proof you don’t have. Snappy comments from other atheists don’t count as proof, just as more attitude.

You are welcome to your opinion. Your attitude does you no favours. Why should I, or anybody else bother to listen to you when you so obviously have you mind made up? The only people who give the time of day to fanatics are other fanatics of the same species. Everybody else just backs away.

As for things being true or not, not necessarily. There are many, many things that can be both true and false at the same time. It is called ambiguity. Life is complicated. I suggest you learn to recognize that.

Pastor_Alex; You don’t appear to need any help with the logical argument, so just thought I’d post a thank you for commenting.

The author has a central point: the West is dumping its superstition on Africa, in a manner similar to how Biblical eschatology is dumped in the Mideast.
What turned me off organized religion is having lived in the Midwest for decades; religion is so tasteless here it must have derived from the Devil Himself 😉

I wish to repeat what I wrote at Alex’s ‘Religion And Transhumanism’. We can come to a meeting with the religious; however will they reciprocate? it seems highly unlikely the religious will be willing to compromise their outmoded positions—and in ‘meeting’ there is an implication of compromise. Just to begin with, will Catholics ditch their anti-abortion, anti-gay rhetoric? not for quite a long time—such people always fight long wars of attrition in defending their dogmas. On top of the above, people in general do not spend much of their lives gaining power and influence to just give it up just like that; clergy will fight turf wars for decades.
Worst of all are the ulterior motives of the religious.

Having been raised a Christian, with the subconscious programming of such, I can go part-way with Alex and other sincere men (and women) of the cloth—but only around the block a few times.

Intomorrow: What’s the meeting about and why do you want to have it?

In contrast to Roger are think these discussions of religion and philosophy are supremely relevant to the issue of ethics and emerging technologies, in all sorts of ways. The fact is that religion wields huge influence today, both with regard to the pace and direction of technological development, and with regard to how it is/will be used. So well done to Hank for inciting all these articles on the subject.

Alex asks why he should bother to listen to (other) people who have already their minds up.  Well Alex, nobody is obliging you to read our comments, let alone reply to them. If you think you’ve better things to do, then go ahead and do them. But consider also that, were you to change your own attitude, you might actually learn something…even from people who have alteady made up their minds.

In 14 billions years not a single event has ever occurred that offers evidence of anything else but the laws of physics. No external influence has been observed, detected or measured. If that isn’t proof enough for you, nothing is.

If something has never happened and has no logical or physical reason for happening, why do you expect it to happen? Why not expect that which has been going on for all eternity: nothing?

I could say x exists. You would say no it doesn’t. Why doesn’t it? How do you know? Because you just don’t think it exists? You say y exists. Why do you think y exists? How do you know? We could name billions and billions of things but none of them would exist any more than any other. None of them would exist simply by wishing or claiming they exist.

How does you wishing something to exist make it exist?
How does you claiming something to exist make it exist?

How does that trick work? I genuinely want to know.

Or is there something more to it than just wishing and claiming?

@Half and Half That’s a beautiful comment/question, and I really hope Alex gives it the attention it deserves.

Related question would be: “What benefits does claiming something exists, in the absence of any real evidence, bring? And how does this apply specifically to belief in God?”

To these questions Alex’s usual reply is, “I don’t care what you believe, just as long as you leave me and other ‘people of faith’ to believe what we want to believe”. To which my response is: “Well, no-one is stopping you (that went out with the Soviet gulags), but we would still like to understand better why *you* see a benefit, for yourself and/or others.”

Like you, I genuinely want to know.

As A. Whitney Brown says, “I’m not an atheist, how can you not believe in something that doesn’t exist. That’s way too convoluted for me.”

As Alex said, the whole attitude of “I am right and anybody who doesn’t agree with me is wrong” is not really conducive to any meaningful discussion. The discussion becomes more about “being right and looking good” rather than seeking a solution to a problem.

@Linda re “As Alex said, the whole attitude of “I am right and anybody who doesn’t agree with me is wrong” is not really conducive to any meaningful discussion. The discussion becomes more about “being right and looking good” rather than seeking a solution to a problem. “

I agree, and wish to add that the problem, to which we should find a solution, is how we can live and work together in societies where different persons have different aesthetic and philosophical preferences. I think these differences will not disappear, but rather become deeper, and we must learn to live with that without shooting each other.

Someday different communities will be able to migrate to different planets in physical space in cyberspace. But today we are still stuck together on this little planet.

OK Giulio, I’m happy to focus on that problem. But who is the “we” here. Humanity? Because if so (and I think that’s what you meant), I want to challenge the apparent assumption - as Joern has (effectively) done on the other thread - that refraining from metaphorically “shooting” at each other here is the best way to ensure that humans in general don’t shoot at each other on this small and fragile planet that we share. You could say it’s leading by example, but leading by example is only one style of leadership, and it’s not always the most effective.

As I said to Alex on the “religion and transhumanism” thread, what I think we should be aiming for on this blog is a maximum of intellectual clarity. And by the way, “being right and looking good” is not necessarily inimical to that. A good bit of competition, in which our egos, our craving for prestige, our desire to show off, and all the rest of it, are deployed to the full, can (in my view) actually helps us to get there.

And really, I *would* like to understand better why Alex finds the concept of God useful to him, other than for the obvious reason that he is a Pastor. I think I could learn from that.

Well anyway, we all have our preferences I guess. But as Joern said on the other thread, if we are going to discuss ethics we *have* to be interested in which systems of faith and belief are better, in what way, and in what context. So Linda, it’s not *just* about being right and looking good. And to the extent that it is about that, is that really so terrible?

@Peter re “A good bit of competition, in which our egos, our craving for prestige, our desire to show off, and all the rest of it, are deployed to the full, can (in my view) actually helps us to get there.”

This is very true, and I have to admit that I am one of those who enjoy a good fight now and then.

But you see, there are arguments that cannot be won.

We can fight over the color of triangles, I can show you hundreds of blue triangles, you can show me thousands of red triangles, and at the end of the day I remain persuaded that triangles are blue, and you remain persuaded that triangles are red, and we both remain unable to understand that color is not a necessary property of a triangle and that “are triangles blue or red?” is a meaningless question, and we both remain unable to see the green and blue triangles around us.

The (non)existence of God(s), whatever God(s) is/are, is one of these arguments. There is no evidence that God(s) exist. There is no evidence that God(s) don’t exist. In other threads I have shown that the notion of God(s) can be made perfectly compatible with both the common religious usage of the term and the current scientific knowledge and worldview, but of course I cannot pretend to persuade those who don’t want to be persuaded.

Nobody will even win an argument on the (non)existence of God(s). But this also means that arguing the (non)existence of God(s) is a nice philosophical exercise, but irrelevant to practical issues. That’s why I prefer to leave God(s) aside, accept that there are both believers and non-believers, and find ways to co-exist and collaborate.

But you see Giulio, this is PRECISELY the kind of thing I wanted to hear, from someone. And that you have written it on this thread, wading courageously into this pissing contest between atheists and “people of faith” (well, Alex, basically), is even better. Because what you have written corresponds almost precisely to my view.

So why did I like Leo Igwe’s article so much? Because contrary to the claims of many “people of faith”, and the Soviet gulags notwithstanding, I think it is much more difficult to be an atheist in this world than a religious believer (sincere or otherwise). Not if you’re a white European brought up in secular environment, but if you’re just about anyone else. So in a pissing contest between atheists and believers, I will tend to cheer the atheists.

@Peter re “in a pissing contest between atheists and believers, I will tend to cheer the atheists.”

I tend to cheer the side that is attacked by the other with empty, aggressive and intolerant non-arguments. That is why, here and now on this forum, I cheer the believers. Where and when the believers attack the atheists with empty, aggressive and intolerant non-arguments, I cheer the atheists.

Well, I think you’re being a bit unfair to the atheists there. But it’s true that, here on this blog, they have the advantage of numbers.

Giulio, in case you haven’t been looking at the “witches” thread, I quote this from Hank on that thread:

“Leo Igwe…is a special hero of mine. He has been beaten, threatened, arrested, and I think his father was murdered, all because of Leo’s humanistic views and social activism.”

Perhaps that puts this discussion in a new perspective?

“If they were right, they’d only need one.”

Giulio is exactly correct. Proof of God’s existence is not forthcoming.

I think Half and Half is exaggerating by saying that in 14 billion years nothing has happened that is outside the laws of physics. I wasn’t aware that he was that old to know that.

While our understanding of the world is growing exponentially, our awareness of the size and complexity of the universe is also growing exponentially. String theory is positing the existence of seven extra dimensions that we can’t measure or perceive. Neutrinos may occasionally travel faster than light. The DNA that scientists thought was ‘junk’ DNA may hold valuable information.

In the face of this complexity it is very important to maintain a sense of humility or we are going to miss something.

So to answer Half and Half’s questions.

I don’t make wishes. Wishes are dangerous. Wishes implied that if I only had _____ that I would be happy. I don’t wish that God exists. I experience God existing.

I don’t ‘claim God exists’ and thus claim she exists. God exists outside of whether I claim it or not. This is not provable, I have no evidence other than my own experience. It is possible that I have some form of mental illness, but that is usually accompanied by some loss of function and there is objective proof that I am quite capable of keeping up with the rest of the world.

God is about relationship. Most of the world religions agree that they are in some way or other about relationship. Hence the popularity of the Golden Rule which shows up in some form or another in just about every faith.

More importantly God provides a center and focus to my life that allows me to keep the world and my ego in balance. My loyalty is to some being bigger than me. Because that is true, I don’t need to get sucked in to the many pissing contests that make up our world.  What that center calls me to do is work to make this world a better place, thus my emphasis on global justice, children’s and women’s rights and the rights of indigenous peoples and other minorities. It is also the core of my Code of Responsibility. If we don’t take responsibility for our own lives, who will?

Someone asked me recently why I spend my time listening to painful stories and working against evil wherever I see it. I could make a lot better money doing something much less painful. My answer was that if I didn’t do it, who would?

The benefit side is that I know my place in the cosmos. I have a pretty good sense of what my purpose is and the meaning of my life. That means on most days I get a taste of “the fruits of the Spirit” Galations 5:22 - Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

Not that these are limited only to the faithful, but they are rare gifts to be open to in this world.

Peter, I agree that outside of the west atheism is much more difficult. I have my theories about that, but that’s for another day.

@Peter re “Perhaps that puts this discussion in a new perspective?”

Yes, it does, in the sense that now I fully understand Leo’s strong opposition to religion. If that had happened to me, I would have the same reaction.

At the same time, I personally know persons who have been beaten, threatened, arrested, and seen loved ones murdered, because of their religious belief.

I believe persons are more important than books and abstract ideas, and that no book, or idea, can justify inflicting suffering upon others.

So to continue my autobiographical response from the “religion and transhumanism” thread, having turned my back on Christianity I began a long search for the kind of “center” to which Alex refers. Eventually I found it, in the form of positive psychology. Much of what Alex writes can be translated, with very little distortion, into the (secular) language of positive psychology.

For example:

“God is about relationship” translates to: “Happiness is about being in supportive relationships”. That’s why the Golden Rule keeps coming up.

“God provides a center and focus to my life that allows me to keep the world and my ego in balance.” I can own that sentence more or less by replacing “God” with “Mindfulness and clarity of values”.

“My loyalty is to something bigger than me.” Indeed, it’s to the values that I have decided to embrace. I just don’t claim they are “God’s will”.

“I don’t need to get sucked into the many pissing contests that make up our world.” No indeed, once you have learned to be mindful and have clarified your values, that’s kind of what happens.

“What that center calls me to do is work to make this world a better place.” There I deviate somewhat. This is *one* of the things my “center” (i.e. values) calls me to do. I do have other, more selfish motivations, and am not committed to entirely eliminating them.

“The benefit side is that I know my place in the cosmos.” Translates to: “Being loyal to my center sometimes requires me to do things I don’t like, but the benefit side is an enduring, and increasing, sense of purpose and contentment.”

So Alex, is the main difference between us that I don’t call it God?

That’s a good question, for me it comes down to the power of relationship. I can do things in relationship that I wouldn’t be able to do on my own. I can’t relate to a collection of decisions about values, so I’m left swimming on my own.  Having God means that there is a relationship that I can depend on that will help me live out my ethics in a more honest way.

The problem with just substituting relationships for relationship with God is that human relationships break down. God doesn’t break down.

The mindfulness and clarity are what I seek to achieve, but not my own. My recognition is that I see as in a distorted mirror. I am, believe it or not, quite often wrong about things.

With the other motivations, my relationship with God helps to keep them in balance.

Simply substituting one’s own center for God puts the onus on the individual to know always what things to do. The focus on God externalizes that responsibility so it is harder to duck.

@Peter “if we are going to discuss ethics we *have* to be interested in which systems of faith and belief are better, in what way, and in what context. So Linda, it’s not *just* about being right and looking good. And to the extent that it is about that, is that really so terrible?”

My observation has been that very often it is the ego that cares more about “being right and looking good’ than actual truth—but I admit my view may be skewed because I was a trial attorney for many years and would see the truth lost in the battle of egos. ;>)

Having read now what Leo has witnessed and personally experienced does help explain why he feels the way he does.  Rather than saying “if there is a God, may He/She bless him” (which I imagine would just irritate him), I will say that I hope that Leo can feel the love that emanates from the collective power of humanity or consciousness, or whatever you choose to call it.  Love is not something that can be scientifically proven, either,  but I rarely meet people who dispute it exists.  Or beauty.  Or compassion. 

I’m with Guilio on this—let’s strive for commensurability, and find ways to co-exist and collaborate.  Namaste.

 

 

 

 

@Alex

I see what you mean about not being able to “relate” to a collection of decisions about values. I mean you can relate to them, but it’s not a personal relationship. Doesn’t satisfy quite the same kind of primal need. Perhaps if I were to personalise them as “God”, that would help me to relate to them in a more meaningful way.

I agree that substituting relationships sui generis for relationship with God doesn’t work, although for somewhat different reasons. It’s not so much that human relationships break down (so can your relationship with God), but they can be positively harmful. In this world of confusing and ever-shifting relationships, having a relationship with that Other, who embodies our deepest conceptions of what is Good (even beyond the point at which we have defined them explicitly), gives us an anchor that we otherwise lack.

So why do I still resist? Because that word “God” has been problematic in my own personal life, and remains (deeply) problematic in the world. And, to be honest, in part because of my current social environment, i.e. my current human relationships. Like I’ve said, my “atheism”, such as it is, doesn’t run very deep.

That said, I’m not really convinced that the focus on God makes our responsibility harder to duck. I suppose it depends what you believe about the afterlife. We are all venal, to a greater or lesser extent, and one of the more important reasons why religion has worked in creating social peace is that concepts of eternal life and death skew our incentives away from short-term pleasure and towards whatever our conscience tells us is good. Even if we don’t believe them. (As Intomorrow has said, it’s difficult to get them memes outa your head.)

In fact, tragically, ironically, the heinous acts in Nigeria may have been caused in part because of people’s *lack* of venality. Their natural, emotional empathetic reaction may have been upended by a sincere faith that they were doing the right thing. That happens too. It’s probably a bit of both (natural sadism and intellectually honest, ideologically driven inhibition of natural empathy).

I think we can probably agree that, ultimately, whether one finds the concept of God helpful or unhelpful is a deeply personal issue. But one that’s worth discussing further, because we indeed don’t make these decisions in isolation. The decisions we come to, even whether to be inspired by a benign concept of God or by a less theistic (and perhaps less personal formulation), affect others.

@Linda Namaste indeed.

Alex, I think I understand what you mean. The problem is that religion comes with a lot of extra baggage that has nothing to do with those things.
I achieve those things without any belief other than:

Good is good.

Profound, eh?

Therefore I aim to do good. As much and as long as I am able to.
Too simple for you? I don’t need anything else to motivate me or to keep me on track. Good in itself is enough for me. Why isn’t it enough for you?

Perhaps your internal experiences are based on something real. Perhaps it’s just memes playing tricks on you that you’re unable and unwilling to dislodge.

I don’t claim religion can’t work for people, help them be better persons. I’m saying it’s unnecessary for achieving the good results every believer wants to associate with religion exclusively and that it’s inefficient, and ultimately not good, even if all the violence is removed, because it’s not true in the sense that true, proven to be existing things are true.

You can’t say something is true and real because you just feel like it, no matter how much you feel like it, because you can feel any way you want.

You can’t just decide what the truth is, what exists and what doesn’t. It doesn’t work that way, and it seems you think it does, and that’s the difference between us.

And because I don’t have any external reason for being good and doing good, I think I’m a more trustworthy individual, because I have the goal of good internalized and understood, it is part of me (perhaps not unlike “god” is part of you) and I’m not like a child who would do bad things if parents weren’t supervising , who then asks for forgiveness for sins committed - I never commit them, because they’re against my own internal principles. In your case an imaginary “parent” is always watching what you do and knows even what you think or were just about to think. That meme has got to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest ever to emerge, no doubt. A police state within your mind. I can live without such beliefs and achieve even greater good than you can, since I have no need for external support, relationship or supervision, but am doing good for only its own sake. I’m still wondering why can’t you? Don’t you see how good inherently is the best choice in every situation? Perhaps you can’t see it because your books say and tell you to do many nasty things. They aren’t about absolute good. They confuse things. (I wonder when they’re recognized as what they really are. Perhaps in a thousand years.) That’s why I can’t support them or even read them. There’s no place in my life for such non-good things. I only accept good. And if you do too, you’re set to live a perfectly good life. All you need to “believe”, or rather understand, is that good is good.

All you need is good. 

Not god.

“Intomorrow: What’s the meeting about and why do you want to have it?

Alex mentioned “meeting”- dialogue- with the religious. Unfortunately in the 23 years since I have discussed transhumanism with the religious and the spiritual, the interest has been nil.
A white nationalist was the only person to show interest:
“but I’m worried what transhumanism will do to white families”,
he added.

I’m trying to see Alex’s point of view, I agree with Giulio that God’s existence can no more be disproved than proved….....and then along comes Half and Half and reminds me of why atheism is, somehow, sooooo much more compelling than theism. It’s the purity, the simplicity.

Somehow, if God does exist, I think (s)he would prefer that we not believe in him/her. Particularly when we are thinking and speaking in languages that lack a gender-neutral but personal third person singular pronoun. (Perhaps we should be having this conversation in Finnish or Turkish.)

I grew up, and spent my adolescence, praying to this imaginary being, nurturing my “relationship” with that being. But really Alex, how can you have a relationship with someone whose existence cannot even be proved? I truly like what you said about the “center” and all that, but instinctively I think Half and Half is right. We are doing a disservice to ourselves and each other when we seek courage, consolation, “centering”, whatever we want to call it, by believing in an unproven entity.

In any case, if I can be so influenced by Half and Half’s poetry, then maybe my atheism runs deeper than I thought…...it’s just that I’m still, after all these years, having difficulty getting those memes out of my head.

Our Backgrounds are similar. Methodist preacher grandfather who knew Eleanor Roosevelt.
Interest in physics.
A great deal naturally depends on family; if we had come from Rightist families we might be libertarians who like Milton Friedman;
if we had been raised by white nationalists we might like Mosley… and be related to the Mitford who shot herself in the head 😉

Can’t ‘speak’ for Alex, however I’m still attracted to Christianity due to nostalgia.

Purity and simplicity are exactly what a mind without any beliefs is about.

When an atheist doesn’t think, he REALLY doesn’t think. He doesn’t have to. There are no thoughts concerning the unobservable, the unthinkable, the unprovable, the logically impossible, the ridiculously incongruous that all religions are rife with. The mind is completely still and empty, free from any fears, expectations, hatreds, biases, demands, rules, and, of course, beliefs.

When you see you know.

When you don’t you don’t.

There is no middle ground. Nothing to explain, nothing to discuss, nothing to wish for. No shades. Just black and white.

You only see with the senses or logic - nothing else is admissible as evidence. Belief is not an option. It’s an absurdity, an impossibility.

The other half of an atheist’s mind is silence, emptiness, nothingness, absolute non-existence, it’s the ultimate peace. A single belief would break that peace. Like fear of supernatural punishment. It would be like tinnitus or chronic pain, irritating, disturbing, even agonizing.

The other half is good. It is about trying to answer the question “What good can that other half, the absence of meaning, absence of everything be turned into, here and now, for ourselves and for all mankind?”

Nothing and good. Isn’t that enough? What more do you need?

Whose good? Your good or the good that your government designs for you? The good of keeping the peace or of calling for justice. Whose good?

I would challenge the idea that half your mind is empty and you have no beliefs. Perhaps no “supernatural” beliefs. I’m sure you have belief systems around what is good,  and how to achieve it. There is the belief that science is going to continue to move forward and answer your questions.

Besides I need a relationship. An abstract concept of good isn’t going to help when I have someone in pain sitting with me and wanting comfort. I need some depth of strength to do my work that no amount of silence or good is going to fill.

Well now we’re getting to it. I’m glad we persisted.

I agree with Alex that we all, necessarily (i.e. as a condition for being able to live in the modern world), have beliefs. Indeed, the problem with Half and Half’s position is that it is inconsistent. On the one hand it praises “logic”, and “nothing else” (well I think you mean “logic and empirical data”, right?), on the other hand, part of what I *love* about what Half and Half writes is, again, the sheer poetry. It’s rhetorically powerful…it reaches parts that dry analysis cannot reach. Just what religion does, for so many people. Just, I would suggest, the kind of thing that Half and Half seems to be saying an atheist has no truck with.

“When you see you know. When you don’t you don’t.” But you know it’s not that simple, don’t you. Sometimes we think we see things that aren’t there, and I have seen with my own eyes only a fraction of what I believe to exist. Have you seen an electron?

On the other hand, I also want to question Alex’s belief that “an abstract concept of good isn’t going to help when I have someone in pain sitting with me and wanting comfort”. And why not? I find it helps enormously. I’ll agree it’s not enough on it’s own. One needs: natural empathy, good listening skills, experience (knowing what kind of comments, mannerisms, tend to help in that situation, which ones to avoids what it depends on), and - indeed - some kind of ‘center’.

Earlier I wrote: “In this world of confusing and ever-shifting relationships, having a relationship with that Other, who embodies our deepest conceptions about what is Good (even beyond the point at which we have defined them explicitly), gives us an anchor that we otherwise lack.” Maybe. I think I should have said, “*can* give us an anchor that we *might* otherwise lack”. Depth of strength, in my experience, comes from (i) good genes (some of us have it, some of us don’t), (ii) supportive relationships *generally* (preferably with real people), and (iii) the peace of mind that comes from knowing what you believe, and what you value, and (iv) practice and discipline. For some, “what you believe” may include God, for others it may include non-God; while others may simply have made peace with our ambivalence.

@Intomorrow Yes, nostalgia: it’s not only about that, but it is, to a very large extent, about that.

“it’s not only about that, but it is, to a very large extent, about that.”

Aye. My conceit is that I am supposedly outgrowing a ‘60s (which ‘built’ on the ‘50s, which built on the ‘40s..) upbringing; however technical advances have entirely outstripped an ability to truly adapt—so thus a retreat to the past. The ‘back-to-nature’ movement of 40+ years ago illustrates it: a reaction against misapplication, not just tech but also cultural, which lead to a migration to rural locations. Reality always intrudes into idylls, though, when winter came it wasn’t so Thoreau-like anymore—the beat of a different drum was missing central heating in the city!
Again, again it breaks down to escapism.
IMO Alex is aware, my complaint (mistrust) concerns less educated Christians. Then Again, perhaps even Alex is making a virtue of necessity, we hang on to religion/spirituality because it has existed going back before prehistorical times. We can’t adapt to the future so we retreat to spiritual cocoons in our minds; that is, it may be necessary yet Alex might be making too much of it. “We have an innate need for nomos, for nexus”, one might reasonably infer.
Yeah, because we are mutated apes! “a junkie has innate need for junk, for skag.”
I perceive culture/religion as mix ‘n’ match, patchwork… crazyquilt. Was raised liberal, so I go for progressivism, technoprogressivism, or at least a conceit of pragmatism.
The Libertarian goes for von Mises and Friedman, etc.
The Christian goes for, say, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
The Marxist goes for (e.g.) Trotsky and prolethink, prolemorality.
The treehugger goes for ecology, tofu and granola…
The Biker goes for Hells Angels and Deep Throat.

But isn’t it all escapism? and in many cases, escapism-nostalgia?
don’t Christians frequently escape in their minds to the first century CE?
don’t Marxists often escape to 1848?
treehuggerS escape to Eden?
Libertarians to (just say) 1776?
The Biker to ‘69?;)

 

“(preferably with real people)”

Here we disagree, human relationships are shallow next to having pets; I look forward to ‘bots and don’t care if Alex thinks such is cold or “sad”; what is sad is that human relationships are based on politics, diplomacy—that is sad, very sad.
Sad that people have to lie to each other to protect certain interests, certain institutions.
Sad that people manipulate even those they most care about (“you always hurt the one you love”, as the Marquis d’ Sade would say).
Sad that politics is that which is for public consumption (chumps, suckers).
Hush this cry of authenticity ‘til a hundred years have based!
Please, Alex, you’re a bright guy—no babytalk, I hear babytalk from Christians here everyday. Of course I know why they do it! even a ‘tard can figure why (obfuscation is for self preservation). It has always been extremely discouraging, though, to hear such babytalk from transhumanists; post-grad talk concerning technical subjects; babytalk concerning nontechnical topics. Doesn’t it grate on you when Libertarians go on about freedom and the marketplace while we rack up more debt?
Don’t you get tired of the Christians who run their organisations like Jesus Christ Incorporated?
Can’t Alex, for one, admit we are stuck with religion/spirituality for the duration, and stop inflating faith to be more than it is? can’t we discuss these matters, Alex? or do you mean to say ‘let sleeping dogs lie’? it isn’t—as you might think—about disagreement—it is about not knowing what it is you want. Or take Republicans, what is it they want? 2012? 1776? 1620? 27 CE?
If people wont tell you what they want, how can you know what they want?

Don’t eat vegetables. They scream when you’re not nice to them. Animals never have wars.

I don’t have any issue with you marrying your robot. Your relationships are your relationships and far be it from me to judge. We choose who we are going to be in microscopic steps. We may end up as the cat lady, or maybe the robot guy. That’s fine, they’re still human.

Human relationships are difficult. They involve power and diplomacy, deceit and confusion. That’s because we’re human and we are caught between our primate instincts and our desire to be more.

On the other hand, there are few things more satisfying than when the relationship works and we feel heard and valued at a level below the BS.

Yes we are stuck with religion, both bad and good. Evolutionary psychologist (who are masters at circular reasoning) tell us that we evolved a need for religion. Some will claim that it is in our DNA, or maybe there is a software glitch that makes us believe in the ridiculous. Or ridiculously, there may be something to believe in.

Whatever way we look at it we’re stuck.

Religion isn’t really necessary to the discussion of ethics as long as we accept that our differences don’t necessarily make us wrong, just different.

As for looking back. No, I don’t look back. I don’t want to go back to the 1st century. It’s been done. The interesting stuff is what is happening now. This ‘now’ is where the rubber hits the road. What are we doing now? Is is ethical, is it effective, is it just?

Quoting the gospel according to the Rolling Stones.

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try real hard, sometimes, you’ll get what you need.”

I am more interested in needs than wants. But if people won’t communicate, then that is their responsibility and we just do the best we can.

A link that has some discussion about the “imaginary friend” that I found interesting.

http://www.elephantjournal.com/?p=273701

“As for looking back, No, I don’t look back.”

After reading a hundred or more of your comments, and your two or three articles, one can see you are well-balanced; 95 percent of the alleged Christians I meet are not.
Now, it may be where, as well: Bugtussle is somewhat different from Berkeley.
Montreal is different from a farming community in Saskatchewan.

@ Alex

“I am more interested in needs than wants.”

Now there is a starting point for a discussion regarding ethics?

Do humans really know what they want? Do you know you want an iPhone, iPad or stuff before you know the possibility for these things exists? Before you see someone else with one? What do folks really want an iPhone for? To boost satisfaction, ego, sense of success, of well being, just because?

Sometimes a little window shopping is all we really need? Making a long list of wants, and then asking “do I really need any of this stuff?”? By saying no I don’t comes a sudden realisation that we perhaps really have all that we really need? And of the tools to overcome our own neurosis and existential angst?

What do humans need? What do you need Alex? Can we define a universal value set?

 

 

I would suggest we start with something like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. At the foundational level are the physical needs like food and water etc. The next level is safety includes employment, housing, freedom from war etc.. The third level is love and belonging, this is where relationships from friendships to marriage to religion resides. The fourth level is self esteem, in which belief in one’s value and talents are, as well as respect from others. Religion also plays a role here as people are told that they are loved and valued by the divine. Religion may also play a negative role by harping on sin and how bad people are in the hopes of selling their version of salvation, much like the infomercials on late night paid for programming. The top of the pyramid is self actualization where we get to ethics and creativity and scientific endeavour.

The thing with Maslow is that you can’t move up the pyramid until the levels below are satisfied. Thus you can’t expect starving people to care much about ethics and abstract concepts. This is why we need to provide the basics of living to all people, then education. The rest will follow.

Maslow isn’t the only hierarchy of needs but it does provide a starting point. You will note that ipods and such don’t make an appearance at all. That is because they are not needs. The corporate world would love us to believe that they are needs, but they aren’t.

What we need is freedom. But that comes pretty late on the hierarchy of needsl you can be satisfied in wage slavery if all your needs are met. So the freedom is not just any kind of freedom you can buy if you win in a lottery. We need freedom from the limitations of the human condition and that’s what transhumanism is all about. Atheism is just one part of that freedom, freedom from particular memes.

We need to be serious, not just act as if we’re serious, like politicians and people in positions of power do. When you’re really serious, you don’t act like that. How does a serious person act?

Being humorous doesn’t mean it’s not serious; the Onion and the Daily Show are often much more serious about the issues than the “real” news reports, you know what I mean?

I agree that focusing on needs and the Maslow pyramid provides an interesting starting point, and it’s also directly relevant to the atheism vs religion debate. I don’t agree that you can be satisfied in wage slavery if all your needs are met. People accept wage slavery precisely because it helps them to meet needs (e.g. providing for their families) that are not otherwise being met. Once they are, they get restless.

Let’s face it, some people are more comfortable with a concept of God, others are more comfortable without it. When you’re at the top of the pyramid, you’re not going to accept to be religious if you’re naturally atheist, or atheist if you’re naturally religious, any more than you are going to suppress your sexual orientation. When you’re not, you’re much more likely to make compromises.

As for iPods etc, Alex is right, these are not needs in the Maslow sense. But they may serve to fulfil such needs: for status, for belonging, or indeed for self-actualisation.

But here’s the thing: once you get near the top of the pyramid (as we all aspire to be), the word “need” begins to lose it’s appeal. It’s too limiting, too…well, needy. That’s why Alex didn’t say he *needed* to focus on needs rather than wants, he was *interested* in them. Alex is sufficiently high up the pyramid to focus on what he wants (namely to focus on people’s needs rather than their wants), since his basic needs are fulfilled. I think that applies to most people commenting on this blog, otherwise why the hell would we be wasting our time?

So much as we indeed need to focus on needs, since until they are satisfied nothing else matters, we cannot stop there, especially when considering our own motivations. We must also think about what we want.

By the way I looked at Alex’s elephant link. In short: some atheists have designed billboards saying, “God is an imaginary friend, choose reality instead”, or something like that, and some progressive Christians are saying they don’t mind. Good for them. Live and let live, as Linda exhorted us to do quite some comments ago.

@Half and Half “you know what I mean?” Yes, I think so. You can be serious in the sense of keeping a straight face and not cracking jokes, and you can be serious in the sense of being honest and authentic. Stewart and Colbert are (relatively, as far as I can judge) honest and sincere: when they’re taking the piss (i.e. most of their time, it’s their job after all) it’s not like they try to hide it. And the people/events they are making fun of are often, genuinely, ridiculous.

Politicians and (other) power-brokers have chosen, or been born into, a role in society that both rewards and, seemingly, requires them to be less than honest and authentic. It’s not what got them there, it’s not what will keep them there, and it’s not what will help them achieve even their best intentions while they are there.

Which, come to think of it, is highly relevant in the context of “ethics without philosophers”, to which I shall now turn…

I don’t agree people can’t be satisfied in wage slavery. Perhaps not fully satisfied in the sense that they could be more satisfied in theory at the self-actualization level, but they’re satisfied enough.

Just look around you: do you see many people actively trying to push further once their needs are met by wage slavery? I see more or less happy consumers, comfortable on their couches.

As long as they their work is non-challenging enough so that they don’t experience overt stress, as long as they can afford the things they and their parents have always afforded and maybe get something bigger once in a while to keep up with the Joneses, they think they’ve arrived. Their world is ready. There’s no need for improvement, and particularly no need for such things as transhumanism and questioning your beliefs. So what if their human relationships are shallow and unauthentic? It’s not like they really care about honest, meaningful discussion. Satisfying the instincts suffices for most people in human relationships.

Perhaps they are fully self-actualizing living that kind of life. Perhaps there is no higher existence for them. Give them a ton of money and what is the “self-actualization” that you almost invariably see?

Religion fits perfectly into this general life-pattern of “don’t rock the boat and it stays afloat”; it provides one of those basic comforts like clothes and houses do. It insulates you from reality, to an extent or even completely (in cults). It is the easy button humans have created for themselves; one push and all your questions are “answered”.

But their “answers” are of course non-answers, fake, not answers at all - they’re all made up, and also terribly unimaginative, primitive, anthropomorphic, and not just a little bit insane and obsessive to boot.

All religions were created or evolved to be convenient; their creators and adherents are driven by convenience, not a quest for truth.

Only science is in that business.

A super intelligent AI could never be religious. It would consider it an error state; being stuck in a loop.

It would figure it out after only a couple of loops and never make the error again.

Religions are nothing but infinite loops:

Read the book. Start looping.

If doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, what is doing the same thing and expecting the same results? That’s what religions make you do. Holy repetition!

The convenience-aspect of religions is not surprising - what else do you expect from the most successful memes ever if not convenience?

The most successful products in history have always been the most convenient: Apple knows religion.

The memes embedded in religions provide

- convenience
- safety (Just sign here and you’re saved!)
- comfort
- a like-minded group to belong to (like-mindedness is definitely one of the main products of religion, but are people who join them already like-minded, that is, sheeple?)
- a sense of superiority (can and does turn ugly)
- secret insider knowledge about the universe and the future (revelations)
- connection to the most powerful entity in the world (it’s like your own personal direct line to the president)
- power and hierarchy for those working in religion (the boss needs lots of representatives)
(If you can think of more, please do.)

I think such a Multiple Warhead Memetic Munition will do well in any civilization.

@Half and Half re “A super intelligent AI could never be religious.”

Do you really consider yourself so super intelligent that you know with absolute certainty what a super intelligent AI would do?

Holy stagnation Batman!

Half and Half, this is profound stuff, I think you’ve nailed most of it!
Humans need their comfort zones to feel warm and safe. And most of us are quite happy to persist in this “zone” oblivious to the needs of the rest of the world? Until, there is some upset in our lives? Then we seem to have need of consolation, sympathy, and of hope, and belief that things can and will get better for us, that there is some paternal power looking out for us?

Are we humans just inherently lazy mammals with intellects we cannot quite fathom? Intelligence and thinking may be a curse as well as a gift, and that which gives fuel to existential angst?

Faced with a lack of answers to ontological questions, religions, science and other beliefs help provide for these hopes and fears and frailty?

You pinned the iSheeple thing nicely - great stuff!

Re. A.I rationality..

I don’t think any A.I nor A.G.I would have need of any metaphysical or superstitous belief, although an A.G.I. would have need of contemplation and greater understanding of humans to communicate with them?

However, I do believe that any Posthuman hybrid most certainly would have spiritual and metaphysical needs and aspirations?

Humans are, after all, the entities aspiring to the creation of this greater intelligence and knowledge and extension of “being”. Even the ST “Q continuum” were portrayed as still inquisitive and striving for greater understanding and meaning, (and for amusement to overcome boredom)?

“Do you really consider yourself so super intelligent that you know with absolute certainty what a super intelligent AI would do? “

No (what gives you that impression? 😊 but I don’t think you can call something super intelligent and expect it to fall for such a simple error that computer programmers routinely make their code avoid - “if this loop/function/process repeats n times, break out of it, kill it, inform the user/administrator”. Come on, I know you know something about computers, this is elementary stuff. Or do you contest the characterization of religions as looping? What do you see? Change? Progress? Development? I see nothing but one big loop that was started by the establishment of the main record (verbal, then documents eventually compiled and polished (poorly) into a book), with minor loops added to it over centuries. Nowhere do you see questioning. New revelations are always by false prophets. New loops are not to be included. You need to start a new religion if you want change, and that’s exactly what happens.

It seems to me that science (and true art to an extent) is the only truly open-ended endeavor of humans. Everything else is more or less repetition, simple, dumb, useless, a persistent error state that perhaps only a high to super intelligence can reliably break out of. I never fell for it, so I don’t know.

Repetition can be good. Exercise, which is nothing but repetition, is healthy. Religious people make the mistake of thinking this applies also to minds.

Loops: useful and vital for our physical life, useless and detrimental for our mental life.

“Are we humans just inherently lazy mammals with intellects we cannot quite fathom?”

Well no, that would be an exaggeration. The fact is that some of us are *not* satisfied as wage slaves. But you’re right, that can be a curse as well as a blessing. So those of us who are dissatisfied with such mediocrity should resist the urge to consider ourselves superior.

The only people who should be considered and who can consider themselves superior are those who try to do good. There is no superiority other than that attained through service.

Leo, I bet I would like you and enjoy becoming acquainted. I don’t intend this response as any sort of personal attack, but I do think the content of your article was poor. Here are the thoughts I had as I read.

Leo: “there is no god . . . without any real instance, essence, existence”

Our probable future correlates with God’s probable present. For practical reasons, I trust you’re wrong.

Leo: “god that humans have worshiped for ages is a fantasy, a figment of human mind and imagination”

I agree, and much that was fantasy and imagination is now reality. We’ve been incarnating God for millennia, and we don’t seem ready to stop.

Leo: “without any . . . significance”

This is clearly incorrect. God, even assumed to exist only as fantasy, has had more significance in human history than perhaps any other idea (except sex?).

Leo: “Because I think the non-existence of god is so commonsensical a fact and really does not require any mental rigor to understand.”

This is a classic straw man.

Leo: “God by definition has properties and attributes that make him/her/it unknowable, tenable, and an existential impossibility. They include attributes like infinity, omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence etc.”

By definition we cannot know whether the unknowable is impossible; but, more importantly, most theists are not credal theologians, and some theologians even explicitly reject the literal application of such superlatives to God.

Leo: “Just observe nature and you will know that it has no god.”

I have a book of scripture next to me that says exactly the opposite. You’re both right, insofar as knowledge is confidence. God is posited, not proven, except within the context of a position. Nature and all things testify of God for some positions, such as the panentheistic.

Leo: “And that this city of humanity is a self-regulating entity.”

I’m a humanist (of the Transhumanist variety), but I acknowledge the limits of human power. We have had and now have opportunities that we did not create, and we will probably always face some risks beyond our present mitigating capacities. Call it chance, or grace: there’s more at play than that which we regulate.

Leo: “So, I regard the idea of god’s existence as the most nonsensical of all nonsense . . . The whole concept of god’s existence is total, absolute and arrant nonsense.”

So far, you’ve provided no reason, beyond appeals to a personal esthetic, for this position. That’s a rather religious way of criticizing an idea.

Leo: “Yes, the god idea is a lie, complete absurdity.”

Lies are intentional deception. I’m sure some persons that identify as theists are lying. I’m equally sure others are not.

Leo: “The ‘father figure in the sky’ is a mental block to proper understanding of life nature and reality.”

I agree that some approaches to theism are dogmatic, and thereby inhibit learning. However, other approaches to theism acknowledge limitations and encourage progress, particularly those that involve theosis. How can we become like God if we don’t learn all we can?

Leo: “My only concern is this: why has it taken the world so long to know this. Why are many people still holding on to this illusion in spite of modern civilization, renaissance and enlightenment? Why have most human beings on earth yet to acknowledge this simple fact. That god has no real existence.”

On one hand, creeds and dogmas promote fear of change and appreciation of constancy. On the other hand, God has real existence, in the least as a fantasy that evokes the strenuous mood, which when empowered shapes the word toward incarnation of that which evokes it.

Leo: “The god-idea may have served some good for some people in the past and in the present. There is no doubt about that.”

I agree, and as mentioned previously, this is significant. This exists! God is at least this much, objectively.

Leo: “But that does not change its epistemic value or character. Does it?”

The utility of an idea is precisely its truthfulness.

Leo: “That a superstitious belief is comforting doesn’t make it science. Does it?”

Science can measure the extent to which an idea is comforting, and it can measure the extent to which we care about comfort, but it can’t finish the act of living. It can’t decide for you whether to choose comfort. Of course, on the other hand, I certainly agree that there are superstitious perspectives on God that we should seek to change.

Leo: “That most people in the world today believe in god does not negate the fact that god is a concept without content.”

Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, we live in a world of actual signifiers and hypothetical signifieds. God as signifier exists, even if messily so. Beyond that, those who experience God as imminent (wholly or in part) have as much reason for confidence in its hypothetical signified as you do for the hypothetical signified of “world”. On the transcendent side, it’s not so simple a matter as frowning on the will to fill gaps. The way we position ourselves relative to some gaps has practical consequence, potentially including whether and how that gap is ever filled. We should trust that we can fill the gap of humanity’s future in benevolent and creative ways, and there are theological implications to such trust.

Leo: “Or better a concept that contains whatever we humans invest on it.”

Yes! God is what we make it. More particularly, God is a projection of human power. Why should we not invest in that? Why should we not become God, in the most compassionate and creative ways we can imagine?

Leo: “So when I consider the amount of energy, time, money and other resources that believers invest or better waste revering this non entity called god or the number of lives snuffed out over the ages by religious militants, jihadists, suicide bombers and other that kill in the name of one god or the other, I cannot but shudder at the depth and profundity of human stupidity and foolery.”

This cuts both ways. Religion is a social technology, probably the most powerful available to humanity, to be used for good or evil. It’s been used both ways. We should seek to mitigate its risks and pursue its opportunities, evoking the strenuous mood for the pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty.

Leo: “On the other hand I cannot but appreciate the wisdom, insight, excellence ad beneficence in the atheistic worldview.”

This also cuts both ways. Atheists have also oppressed, and sometimes in the name of atheism.

Leo: “The psalmist was wrong for saying that “The Fool has said in his heart, there is no god.” I’m sure that the author of the Psalms, like other ancient writers of the holy books, got something wrong somewhere. What the Fool really said in his heart is “There is god.” Because it requires the suspension of one’s reason and intelligence to believe in the existence of a deity and to spend one’s life time worshiping this transcendental illusion.”

Rather than suspension of reason, here is an application of reason for trust in God: http://www.new-god-argument.com

Leo: “By saying this I don’t mean to insult any body or hurt anyone’s sentiments. Far from it. I just want to state what I think are very bitter and brutal facts.”

Facts are experience. Some of us experience the world through God-colored lenses, and some of us don’t. Presented a luminous personage with a thundering voice, I may not see God. Change my brain, I may see God. Those are the facts, subjectively. Objectively, what can we say? To answer that, we’d need a shared definition of “God”.

Leo: “There is no god(Allah). There is no devil. There is no heaven. There is no hell. There are no spirits, no angels, no demons, no witches or wizards.”

So much depends on definitions, and our esthetic inclinations toward taking particular definitions seriously. I share your rejection of the supernatural, but I trust in a natural God that we should become and a natural heaven that our world should become.

Leo: “There is no life after death.”

That’s a superlative deathism. I suspect it may someday prove as hard to stay dead as it is now hard to stay alive. We’ll see (if we see anything), eh?

Leo: “Human beings have no immortal soul.”

. . . unless information persists indefinitely?

Leo: “The Bible is not the word of god. The Koran was not revealed by Allah. The holy books were written by human beings.”

I agree these books were written by humans. However, I do consider them, all of them, the word of God to the extent they communicate the sublime esthetic that invokes in us the strenuous mood for compassion and creation beyond our present human abilities.

Leo: “Jesus is not the son of god. Jesus is not the saviour of the world.”

If God exists, we are all the children of God, and there’s good reason to suppose the cooperation Jesus advocated is essential to our survival as we become more like God.

Leo: “Jesus did not rise from the dead. Jesus did not ascend into heaven . . . Mohammed was not sent by Allah. Mohammed did not ascend into heaven in a flaming horse.”

Neither of us have objective evidence for or against these possibilities, literally interpreted. More important, however, are the practical consequences of the trust and action these possibilities promote. Whether called Mohammed, Moses, Zarathustra or Joseph: one that invokes the strenuous mood, by any other name, is as prophetic. Whether called Jesus, Osiris, Dionysus or Mithras: one that illustrates overcoming death and hell is, by any other name, as divine.

Leo: “Jesus is not coming again.”

We’ll see? More important, though, is the return of Christ generally: Christ in you, and in me. When Christ appears, we will see him as he is, that we are like him.

Leo: “Rapture is not taking place.”

Some Singularitarians appear to think otherwise, and I’m inclined to agree that we’re in for some surprises.

Leo: “Praying is like talking to somebody who is not there.”

That’s therapeutic, in the least, and of course we don’t always pray alone.

Leo: “Jerusalem is not a holy land. Mecca is not a holy land.”

I say otherwise, on both counts. Can you prove me wrong?

Leo: “Eternal bliss is an illusion.”

Maybe. Maybe not. If we don’t try, we might never know. Trust in and work toward some possibilities are essential to realizing them.

Leo: “Religion is superstition.”

Religion is any ideology that invokes the strenuous mood. Some religion is superstitious, but superstition is not essential to religion.

Leo: “These are truths. These are truths every human being should know. These are truths that should guide us. There are truths that should government the world.”

If we are charitable, we understand truth as something communal, a shared subjectivity, a shared knowledge reflecting a concern for accounting for everyone’s experience. Put differently, if we are charitable then we advocate science. Science simply does not support the positions you’ve expressed, and in some ways it cannot ever. Science is always unfinished, so we must live and act prematurely from a scientific perspective. I dare say that’s truth: our guides must be both science and an esthetic beyond.

Leo: “But I know some people will not accept them. Some people will not want to hear them at all. Some people will find them offensive. Some people will regard as blasphemies.”

I don’t agree with what you’ve written, but I’m happy you can write as you have, hopefully without risk to your freedom, property or life. That’s a positive development in our civilization.

Leo: “But offence or no offence, these are truths that are critical to the liberation and emancipation of human beings in this 21st century. These are truths that will enlighten and civilize the world. These truths will surely awaken human beings especially those of us in Africa from our religious and supernatural slumber.”

I agree that combatting dogmatism is essential to progress. I disagree that combatting religion indiscriminately is essential to progress.

Leo: “Because the god idea and the religious nonsense that goes with it have caused darkness and made human beings to fall asleep. And humans have slept to the point of forgetfulness, crass gullibility, and foolery. Humans have slept to the point of stupor. And now is the time to wake up to a dawn, a life and a world without god. Human beings need to wake up because the day break of a new Enlightenment is here.”

If we misidentify the causes of darkness, we’ll misidentify the solutions. Dogmatism, oppression, superstition, supernaturalism, racism, sexism, and so fort: all have been advocated and practiced by ideologies, religious and otherwise, since the dawn of human civilization. Religion can motivate us to combat these problems quite as well as it can motivate us to instigate these problems.

Leo: “Unfortunately, some religious apologists continue to maintain that the realization of god’s non-existence will lead to social chaos or anomie in the world. They propagate this falsehood to make the whole idea of a god-free world undesirable. Sadly they are greatly mistaken. The global acceptance of god’s non-existence will pave the way for the realization of universal humanism.”

Humanism is not a negation of religion. Humanism often has been and is religious. Likewise, Transhumanism is not a negation of religion.

Leo: “In fact global atheism will usher in a new world, a new life and a new hope. Global atheism will help bring a lasting solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other faith based conflicts that are ravaging the world. Global atheism will help rein in Islamic militants, suicide bombers and other religious warriors that are threatening and terrorizing the world. Most importantly global atheism will make humans to live better and to become fully human. Because it is when human beings know that there is no deity to help or save them that they will sit up and without reservations, help and save themselves. No one will waste precious time praying to the imaginary Father in Heaven for a “kingdom come.” Instead every body will work diligently and conscientiously to protect and preserve the earthly kingdom. Human beings will take their destinies fully in their hands and make the best out of this one life we have by striving to realize heaven here on earth.”

So you want religion, do you?

@Half and Half

“The only people who should be considered and who can consider themselves superior are those who try to do good. There is no superiority other than that attained through service.”

Agreed. Absolutely. But then we need a common view on what “good” means. I agree that positing God doesn’t help, but we do need something. What do you think of utilitarianism as a moral philosophy?

Lincoln,

I would just like to interject for a moment, even though your extensive comments are directed towards the author, I do not feel that your comments have added any weight towards the truth in the existence of God?

To clarify firstly, and as you may or may not know, I am strictly Agnostic, I am neither Atheist nor Theist, although raised as protestant Christian. I firmly believe that the “potential” for creation will always endure, has always endured, and that “we” and everything else around us are an inclusive part of a whole, and that “we” both reside within creation, and that creation resides within us, (deism, pantheism, maybe?) - this includes the prime mover, (Consciousness?), and apparition of mind and intelligence, (emergent and subjective), supported by energy-matter transformations, (maya - also exists as enduring potential).

Now for the argument

1. God may exist, God may not exist, (or.. a God may not exist as yet?) I will always keep an open mind and will remain Agnostic which means ” to not know?” at least at this time?

I feel the arguments for and against the existed of God are wholly irrelevant, waste everyone’s time and energy, and that folks should be permitted to believe in their God’s as they see fit as long as this does not harm others, nor animals.

Yet is it useful to hold onto antiquated memes that portray God as some heavenly father, who has attributes and emotions and pitfalls like us mere mortals, has powers over all of creation, yet permits suffering and ignorance, (through lack of appearance?)

That to believe perhaps, that to be human is some sort of a mortal test to aspire to Godliness, or that we are residing in some twisted experiment where a paternal authority looks upon us with non interference, in the “hope” that we will all eventually and individually become enlightened towards love, forgiveness and final moksha and freedom, aspire to be like him, and only then, when we have realised and become enlightened that we in fact had all of the tools and attributes all along to aspire to him, he welcomes us in with open arms and loving embrace?

This is not something, someone, or some entity I still believe in?

That Leo is correct in saying that rather than inspiring humanity towards progress, (which beliefs in a paternal father may have done in the past), this is not useful in dealing with the existential and social progress that humans need to face for the future?

Religions thus need to evolve past fundamentalist thinking and reasoning in a paternal father?

If there is truth in the existence of a paternal father, then it should follow that there is indeed more than one God? So we are back to Greek mythology square one?

I don’t feel your points of argument have added anything that is objective to the proof in the existence of God, other than that God as a meme inspires us, and is thus of value? Yet it is religion and values and human compassion and morality that has value, and so, should not your argument be in supporting the usefulness of religions and faith, and not in attempting to argue for the existence of God, (singular)?


2. I have watched your heartfelt presentation at Turing Church online workshop, but yet still remain unconvinced by your arguments that because Posthuman Gods, (extension of us, with some of our values), will most likely exist in the future, that this must support the truth of the existence of God now and before humanity evolved? However, I do understand how you hope to reconcile your faith of the past with evolution in the future.

Although I believe that humans may aspire to become Gods, (as in a Greek mythology), with the powers of creation that surpass even these ancient myths, this does not really substantiate the God, (singular), of all of creation that the bible and ancient monotheistic religions aspire towards?

However, you have touched on an important point both here and at Turing Church online workshop, which I do support, and that is, that God has emerged in the minds of men not merely by pure accident and anomaly?

And the way I view it, there are two not wholly disconnected possibilities for this..

1. That the emergence of intelligence and intellect and lack of understanding of these phenomena makes humans face ontological questions and the reasoning of not only “what am I?” but the deeper question of “who am I?” and drives our belief and faith to reconcile this dilemma by projecting a paternal figure as first cause, (and in our image, not vice versa?)

This dilemma may be resolved with various techniques, but rationality does not support that the simple matter of our existence proves that God does exist outside or our hopes and dreams?

2. Perhaps a more scientific reasoning for this existence and emergence of the idea of God in our minds is supported by a different outlook towards causality and space-time, (there is none beyond what we deem subjectively at the macroscopic level of Self-reflexive conscious existence?), which would imply that Quantum mechanics and coherence/decoherence lies in the emergence of this “idea of God” in our minds, which is neither past, present nor future?

Yet the miracle is.. that regardless of this paradox, the goals we aspire to are real, are manifest, are useful, and have value?

If we recognise these possibilities we may yet be able to shake off antiquated memes of God as singular entity and paternal father, and resolve this phenomena under a more collectivist ideal of God as emergent idealistic phenomenon, and something that we may all aspire to in unity?

In any case, rather than argue over the existence of a paternal father, proponents should be arguing in favour of an evolved outlook both for and towards religion and it’s congregations as of value?

“1. God may exist, God may not exist, (or.. a God may not exist as yet?) I
will always keep an open mind and will remain Agnostic which means ” to not
know?” at least at this time?”

Yes, this corresponds closely to my own view (see my exchange with Giulio earlier in this thread), but with two nuances:

1. It really depends on what we mean by “God” (see my more recent exchanges with Alex), and also what we mean by “exist”. Does an electron exist? If so, in what sense? What about a quantum wave function? What about parallel universes that are neither in our past nor in any of our futures? Perhaps the problem is not so much with the word “God” as with the word “exist”.

2. I’m glad you corrected “will always” with “at least not at this time”. We should be agnostic also about our agnosticism!

PS I think a more practically relevant question than, “Does God exist?” is, “Is the concept of God a helpful one at this stage in our history, and if so who should use it and how?”

I fail to see the difficulty in defining good. Everyone (normal, sane) can tell what’s good and what’s not. You know it yourself, don’t you? Anything your parents, friends, humanity in general, but perhaps not the nation (depending on your nation and your politicians’ will), would be proud of. Anything that doesn’t get you in trouble with the law (though if the laws are wrong, they must be changed, but we’re talking about normal nations) There’s nothing complicated about good. Really isn’t. Or is there? What?

Regarding what good should one choose to do or whose good, go for maximum and most general good.

If your salary is high it’s better use of your time to donate money than to go personally help people. If all you can do is to help a single person, and not very much, do that. Do whatever little you can do. Whatever you do, do good. But if it makes it harder or impossible for you to do good in the future, of course don’t do it.

You can plan to do more and greater good later than a little good every day by studying and becoming a researcher, who cures something or finds a solution to some problem, like energy. Studying and working to become better at doing good is the greatest good anyone can do as history shows. So if you want to do the maximum and most general good, study and work in science, not religion. (Hint: Atheism reliably keeps you away from wasting your time with that.)

The free market system rewards those who do good so that they may do even greater good in the future. Usually it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but not because of the system, but because of the goals of people. All reward mechanisms can be and are abused.

But I reckon you knew this all already. Is there still something unclear about doing good, what kind of good and whose good?

Could you try answering the questions yourself or explaining the remaining difficulties? I see none.

@Half and Half

My question was what you think of utilitarianism as a moral philosophy, and what you’ve written in reply about what it means to do good is very utilitarian in it’s spirit. I do think you’re conflating “normal” in the sense of “what one would hope to be normal” and “normal” in the sense of “the usual state of affairs”. You’re basically suggesting we use social proof as a basis for our moral judgement. This is a recipe for groupthink. Utilitarianism has the advantage of including many of the concepts you’ve described - such as doing the maximum and most general good - while clarifying that what this means is whatever will make the greatest number of people happy over the long run (as far as that can be realistically predicted). It sounds naive, but it is actually more robust and convincing to me than anything else I have come across in moral philosophy.

On your suggestion that we should study and work in science, not religion, I think this depends very much on your circumstances. Some people really don’t have a head for science, and on the other hand might have a strongly positive aesthetic reaction to religion. Studying and working in science isn’t likely to lead to much good in that case.

Ultimately, the problem I have with atheism is described in my latest response to CygnusX1: the very question, “Does God exist?” is fraught with definitional ambiguities, not just in relation to “God” but also in relation to the word “exist”. But perhaps I can rephrase your comment “atheism reliably keeps you away from wasting your time with [religion]” thus: “eschewing any mention of God as a real person or entity provides a healthy prophylactic against our tendency to waste our time with religion”. So atheism, *in this sense* i.e. not as a statement about God’s supposed non-existence but rather as a decision about what kind of language to use, indeed provides a helpful counterweight to unhealthy religious superstition. I think I could go with that.

To demonstrate the existence of god, or any other supernatural entity is just as impossible as to demonstrate the existence of my cat. Give it a try (without pointing fingers). We do believe in a considerable amount of invisible, untouchable things. Physics, I am talking about hard physics, is riddled with mysterious entities, dancing beyond our sensorial reach. Somehow that does not seems to bother professionals.
Yes, religions provided many murderers with a decent alibi. But, if we bothered to use a bit of arithmetics, we would see that atheist regimes have massacred many more human organisms than all religious ones together. It is quite easy to see. Religious principles, on the contrary, represent usually a limit to political abuses and violence. Just one example - the only voice against the shameless Spanish extermination of indigenous peoples from Yucatan came from a monk, a monk who believed in absolute religious values. Check the story out - it’s interesting. Bartolomé de Las Casas.
After all, if there is no superior religious entity, why to respect life, desires, and prerogatives of (weaker) humans? A human being is nothing but a collection of cells, an amass of chemicals arranged in a complex fashion. Why should be bother to protect him or her from pain and death? There are countless interesting things you could do with a human body. Not to mention the profitable ones. Read about the marvels of Unit 731, Japanese army. See what happens when a scientifically oriented group of men let go of religious constraints. Maybe religious people are stupid, I admit that. But - if those around you follow the “golden” moral rule -  it’s certainly not because they are rational and wise. Quite the opposite - it’s their religious foolishness that you hope to find when you’re in trouble.

One can say “God exists in the mind” and leave it at that-
however pat it may be it is better than arguing with the religious.

I don’t think that will stop them arguing Intomorrow 😊
One can always try silence.

@Peter re “Is the concept of God a helpful one at this stage in our history, and if so who should use it and how?”

I am sure you had guessed that my answer to the second part of the question is: everybody who wants/needs to use it should be free to use it as (s)he wants/needs.

Continued: to collectivize the personal is as bad as to privatize the commons 😉

The difficulty with saying that the “good” is obvious, is that it isn’t. Different cultures have different subtleties around good that means it isn’t obvious at all.

Take land for instance. Is is good to use land to create the maximum value from its resources? That is the current understanding of land ownership. In some jurisdictions one can lose land by leaving it fallow.

One of the main sources of conflict between First Nations and the government and industry in Canada is land. Native people mostly view land as valuable in and of itself. They don’t want to simply destroy it to get at resources. Extraction is OK, but it needs to be done with minimal disturbance of the land.

So which is the greater good? The First Nations are in the minority and they are poor, so usually the government and industry win. That isn’t about good, it is about money and it is the direct result of the free market economy.

@Alex OK, but what *do* you think about utilitarianism as a moral philosophy? There’s no point in us just repeating, “It’s complicated”.

@Giulio Yes, but with the caveat, which I am repeating again, that what we believe in the privacy of our heads *does* affect others. Especially when we open our mouths (or tap the keyboard). To deny this may lead us to be *over*-tolerant of superstition and uncritical thinking (whether by atheists or the religious).

@Peter - No.

What we we believe in the privacy of our heads does *not* affect others.

What we DO with our guns, rifles, clubs, knives, swords, guillotines, whoops… laws, police forces, prisons, armies, warplanes, bombs… and financial instruments, *does* affect others.

What we say with our mouths and write with our keyboards can affects others, of course, but they can choose not to listen/read. Barring extreme cases, I prefer to be over-tolerant than intolerant of spoken and written words. I make an exception for words that explicitly incite violence.

 

Hi CygnusX1.

My post to Leo was not directly intended to argue for the existence of God, but rather to explain why his position relative to theism is poorly considered. I have many atheist friends, and I value my exchanges with them; however, when they present and attack straw man representations of theism, I remind them of the poor quality of such thinking.

You ask many good questions in your post. I don’t have time now to respond to them all, but I’ll say that I empathize with many of the concerns you express regarding theism. There really are serious challenges. Theists should own that. However, atheists provide a general disservice (even if it serves their insular social standing) when they mischaracterize, excessively simply, overgeneralize, or indiscriminately disregard the nuances of the challenges. Leo does that in his post, and it’s not helpful to furthering mutual understanding in any broad sense.

Although, again, my post to Leo was not directly intended to argue for the existence of God, I do want to mention a clarification regarding the New God Argument. It’s not an ontological argument. It doesn’t prove that God exists. Rather, it contends to prove we should trust that God (understood as a benevolent and creative posthumanity) exists because our future existence correlates with God’s present existence. It’s in our practical and moral interest to engage in this trust actively—not passively. This is essential to understanding the force of the argument: practical not ontological. It’s an argument for a particular kind of faith, not for proof of existence of any God.

In the end, yes, I fully agree with you that we share the important and inspiring goals of making our world, relations, bodies and minds better than they now are. I heartily support whatever approaches actually demonstrate themselves as effective in motivating each other to trust in and work toward these goals. I contend that attacking religion indiscriminately is counter-productive to these ends. We should more carefully direct our criticisms at superstition, dogmatism, oppression, and so forth; and we should ever engage our religious sensibilities in such attacks. It may be that nothing less than our most strenuous efforts will prove sufficient for the beautiful worlds to which we aspire.

“They can choose not to listen/read.”

Can they? If they go and live in a desert, yes. If you live in a city, by contrast, you are constantly bombarded with messages, many (actually the vast majority) of which you perceive subconsciously. Not only can you not choose not to be unexposed to them (until you become aware of them, and even then it may be too cumbersome to be practicable), neither can you choose how they affect you subconsciously.

By the way there are many ways to be intolerant. You can bludgeon somebody with a sledgehammer, or you can tell them they are talking bollocks. I generally favour the latter approach.

You raise good “hold on, it’s not that simple” points. I think there’s a level of land use that doesn’t destroy it. If it’s sustainable it’s good. But how do you distribute it?

Capitalism says: you give it all to the one who owns it. There are other mechanisms in place that distribute wealth. If you’re capable of doing something, (good) you’re supposed to get paid (good) and then it is you who can determine what good use that money is then put to and no one else. We do have taxation, but you do get to keep the majority you’ve been able to extract out of the land or people. Nobody can just came and take it away, even if they “know” a better way to use it. It seems to me that the greatest good in this world is in the hands of individuals, and less in the hands of governments - although necessary, they just maintain things, they don’t really improve them. If individuals were altruistic enough, and thought about the big picture, we wouldn’t probably need governments or taxes. Far out utopian, I know, but really, there’s no technical reason for governments and power hierarchies to exist.

We could envision a utopian future where resources are allocated by a centralized system (not a new idea) which might lead to widespread if not global abundance. Even today we produce more of many goods than we are able to distribute. At this stage of technological civilization efficiency in distribution becomes an important factor. We need to rely on science, not solely on economics and politics, to share the resources more equitably, and simply with less waste.

One thing I’ve not made up my mind about is: is our current free market system fair, that is, is it good, only partially good, or is it mostly bad? Is it the best we can have?

Is it good that 1% of people own more than the 99% combined (or whatever crazy ratio it is, perhaps not that high)? Is it good that only so few live the nice not-too-poor, not-too-rich life? Would it be good if the rest, perhaps 80% who are below this middle to middle high income level, could live at that level? Would that even be sustainable? What if we could turn the whole world into this middle-class life? Would that be the greatest attainable good? (Surely we can’t turn everyone into billionaires.) Could we do it if we took the money of the 1% and distributed it? It might not happen in a decade, but perhaps in a century. Can it ever be realized or would we run out of resources? Is it ultimately just an energy question or do we have too little materials to build all that stuff, too little arable land to sustain that standard of living for so many? Is our economic system at fault for many of the non-good outcomes we see in the world.? Is it perhaps a necessary evil?

“I don’t think that will stop them arguing Intomorrow
One can always try silence.”

That is correct, Pete, one says to ‘em:
“God exists in the mind”,
and then walk away before they can respond. I’m finally learning how to manipulate these people more effectively. Life is good.

That which exists in the mind will exist in the world if the mind becomes sufficiently empowered.

@Lincoln But surely to create God we would need to become *infinitely* empowered.

Peter, no. That’s just someone’s dogmatic interpretation of a creed that’s not to be found in scripture, which in turn is always only a reflection of humanity’s imperfect efforts at expressing the sublime esthetic. God is not infinitely empowered. God becomes God, and was once like us. That’s Jesus’ message and example, regardless of whether you think him to be an historical figure. I share that faith.

Lincoln,

First of all I did not say that God was infinitely empowered, I said that we would need to be infinitely empowered to create such a Being. Secondly, what kind of God do you believe in that is *not* imfinitely empowered? And why do you bother calling such a being “God”?

This is not about dogma, it is about using clear, intelligible language in order to ensuring that emerging technologies lead to a better world, not to a worse world. To is what this blog is supposed to be about, no?

As I’ve pointed out to Alex. I really don’t care what you or anybody else believes Jesus’ “message” to be, provided you share my belief - my “faith”, if you will - that it’s totally unimportant.

I know that Giulio has been at pains to condemn the combative attitude of atheists on this thread, because of an erroneous view that religious people are being victimised because you are outnumbered. But I make no apologies for taking their side against religious nonsense. I appreciate it when Alex tells us how his concept of God helps him. This provides valuable information. I do not appreciate people regurgitating hackneyed Christian concepts and presenting them as fact. Unlike Giulio, I believe this affects others, adversely.

Peter, your response illustrates as much dogmatism about “God” as that illustrated by religious fundamentalists. It is not religion or irreligion in themselves that are dangerous. It is the dogmatism of militant atheists and religious fundamentalists that is dangerous.

@Lincoln I guess it might help if we at least agreed on a definition of “dogmatism”. Or if you tell me why you think I am being dogmatic.

Take any yes or no question. Anyone who comes down clearly on one side risks being accused of being “dogmatic” by those who tend to favour the other. Does this mean we should never come down clearly on one side of a debate?

As it happens, if you’ve read my various positions on this thread you will know that I am not actually an atheist. I am sceptical as to whether the question “Does
God exist?” has a clear meaning (i.e. one that is clearly understood by everyone, in the way that the question, “Is the earth flat?” is), so I prefer the question, “Is the concept of God a helpful one?” So whatever “dogmatism” you perceived in my reply it is not the dogmatism of a militant atheist,

Perhaps you simply found it too strident. But again I do not apologise for this. It’s nothing personal of course (how could it be? I don’t know you), but where you perceive a danger in dogma, I perceive a danger in obfuscation. And statements like “God becomes God, and was once like us” are pure obfuscation, unless you are willing to translate them into something that actually means something.

Peter, God is an evolving projection of human empowerment, and the implications of realizing that projection: compassionate and creative posthumanity. Your dogmatism is exemplified by categorical suggestions that my words don’t mean anything and Jesus’ message is unimportant. You ask that I translate them to that which is meaningful and important, implying to me that you think your objectivity is a negation of subjectivity, rather than an approach to shared subjectivity that is all you and I and the best of science can aspire to meaningfully. I share your interest in meaningful communication, but if you suppose that meaningful communication does not happen in religious language then you are incorrect.

Lincoln, Thanks for clarifying your preferred use of the term “God”. I actually quite like it: if we are going to use the word, we might as well use it for something like that.

But my suggestion that your words didn’t mean anything did not reflect dogmatism as much as irritation. Yes you can have meaningful communication in religious language, but only - when dialoguing with people who don’t habitually use such language or who use such language differently - if you are careful to define terms. Often it will be easier just to translate to non-religious language.

So for example: if (as implied by your earlier comment) you don’t assume that Jesus is/was a historical figure, what/who is he? Is he also a projection of human empowerment? Not sure where Mormons stand on the Trinity, but do you also speak of Father and Son? If so, what is the relationship between the two? How do they differ?

Looking back at our exchange, I think what irritated me was your suggestion that my comment (about needing to be infinitely empowered in order to create God) was “just someone’s dogmatic interpretation of a creed that’s not to be found in scripture”. I’ve just heard enough of that kind of thing from Alex already. Scripture is a hotch-potch of several different messages, and literalist interpretations are in many ways the most natural. Evangelicals are not all dogmatic in spirit, by any means (I know many who aren’t): they just read the Bible, draw reasonable, if not always very accurate, inferences about what its authors intended to say, and then mare the mistake of believing it to be God’s word to them.

So in conclusion: no I don’t have a problem with religious language per se, but you need to be *much* more careful about defining terms when discussing with people who do not share your interpretations. Otherwise it is more like miscommunication than real communication, and can lead to dangerous misunderstandings.

Peter, the theology related to your questions is richer than I can reflect in a brief response, but here are some thoughts.

If God is an evolving projection of human empowerment (posthumanity), Christ is the projection of human empowerment through compassion (benevolent posthumanity). I do think Jesus lived, but I don’t know to what extent the Bible accounts of his life are historically accurate. More important to me are the message and the example Jesus provides, and its broad influence on humanity. I see Christ in Osiris, Dionysus and Mithras, and I hold that each of us should be Christ, but Jesus as presented in the Bible remains objectively the most influential aspect of Christ.

Here’s my take on the Biblical ideas that credal Christians refer to as the “Trinity”. The Father is creator and the Son is created, literally or educationally; and the Son may and should become as the Father. As expressed in the Bible, Jesus invites us to be one with him in identifying as begotten children of God, the church of the firstborn, and saviors. As Jesus is the Son, so we are. As Jesus becomes the Father, so we should. Unfortunately, most Christians downplay or reject the most obvious message of such language: as children grow into parenthood, so humanity should grow into Godhood.

Lincoln,

This motivated me to read part of your initial response to Leo, and I have chosen the following as the starting point for a reply: “Religion is any ideology that invokes the strenuous mood. Some religion is superstitious, but superstition is not essential to religion.”

From a utilitarian perspective this appears to be your number one defence for religion: that it “invokes [can we rather say “provokes”? I find this more intelligible] the strenuous mood”. Put simply, can we say that it is supposed to motivate us to do good? Where by do good I don’t just mean helping old ladies cross the street (admirable activity though that is), but everything you have been alluding to about human empowerment, post humanity.

I do agree with you that Leo’s insistence on truth as something distinct from utility breaks down somewhat when we are dealing with concepts that are unfalsifiable and words whose common usage is sufficiently ambiguous and varied that we are free to use them in ways that are consistent with what we perceive as evidence. While scientists generally try to avoid concepts that are unfalsifiable, I don’t think anybody has successfully lived without such concepts. This is perhaps where strict atheism reaches its limits.

I’ve also briefly skimmed Leo’s latest article on New Enlightenment, and your comment,  and while I don’t want to mix threads I think the issues Leo raises there - which, pace Roger Gay, don’t appear to me to be in the least bit racist - are also relevant to this discussion. For the following reason.

Any talk of Christ necessarily tends to favour and reinforce the domination of Christian / post-Christian civilisation at the expense of other cultures. That Africa is, as Leo points out in that article, currently in the grip of Dark Age Christianity and Islam only reinforces the inherent toxicity of such language. Atheism, while no more provable than theism, at least has the advantage of neutrality. There is nothing as pure as the empty set.

Which is basically a longwinded way of asking: are there not better ways (than using all this theistic and Christ-referencing language) of invoking the strenuous mood? Such as creating positive visions of the future and deciding to bring them about?

Peter, there are many ways to provoke the strenuous mood for good. All of them are religion, so far as I’m concerned. Religion does not require any particular vocabulary, but some religious vocabularies command disproportionate influence, whether we like it or not. We’d be foolish to ignore the practical ramifications of this, and we’d be foolish to attack that influence indiscriminately. Power is power, to be used for good or evil. Let’s attack the evil applications and celebrate the good applications, including when the power being applied is that of traditional religions.

But Lincoln, aren’t you creating confusion by defining “religion” as anything that provokes the “strenuous mood”? Most people define it differently, and according to the more usual definition it would be more accurate to say that some forms of religion do, others don’t, and there also other ways to do so.

You say we’d be foolish to attack the influence of religion indiscriminately, and I agree with you. Some forms of religion are obviously better than others. It depends not only on the type of religion, but also what kind of alternatives are around. If the choice is between fundamentalist Christianity or Islam and drug abuse, then frankly you’d better opt for the former. From this perspective I would say Leo is being a bit too negative about Christianity and Islam in his other article, but that’s for the corresponding thread. My point here is we should be looking for ways to motivate people to do good that don’t necessarily bring God and Jesus into it. Because these concepts can really be a big distraction however enlightened an interpretation we put on them.

Peter, most other definitions of “religion” that I’ve heard are clearly inadequate, usually appealing to supernaturalism or narrow theologies against which we can provide counter-examples that most of us would acknowledge as religion. I’ve chosen my definition of religion based on what I’m persuaded causes the least confusion when considered thoughtfully.

I disagree with you that appeals to God or Jesus are somehow inherently more distracting than other accounts of goodness. Objectively, no other accounts have been as successful, and they continue to provide possible common ground from which to start an account of goodness.

Lincoln, an example of the kind of definition I had in mind is the following from wictionary: “A collection of practices, based on beliefs and teachings that are highly valued or sacred.” No narrow theology or overt supernaturalist there, but a definition that I think fits quite well with what most people mean when they use the word “religion”. A religion can thus be more or less supernaturalist, contain a wider or narrower theology, favour engagement with the world or rather disengagement: like “food” or “ideology”, it comes in many shapes and sizes.

I’m curious to understand your evidential basis, if there is one, for believing that no other accounts (than appeals to God or Jesus) have been as successful in motivating people to do good. I wonder how one could possibly measure that. What we can say is that such accounts - the monotheistic religions in general, and Christianity in particular - have had such a huge impact on history that it seems highly problematic to disentangle in any “objective” way the effect they have had.

@Lincoln and Peter re “how to provoke the strenuous mood”

The writings of Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan, John Perry Barlow, Hans Moravec, Ray Kurzweil, FM 2030, Max More, and similar, invoke/provoke the strenuous mood in me.

But I am just a transhumanist science fiction geek. I cannot pretend that billions of persons all over the world share my preferences, not at this moment. Religion _works_ for them.

Peter, I like that definition of “religion”, and it approximates the definition I’ve proposed. This definition uses “beliefs and teachings” instead of “ideology”, and it uses a combination of “practices” and “highly valued or sacred” instead of “provoking the strenuous mood”.

My position is that Christianity has proven itself more powerful than any other religion. Power can be used for both good and evil, and Christianity has illustrated that. I measure the power of Christianity simply in terms of number of adherents. We have the opportunity of leveraging that power for good and mitigating the risk of its application for evil. Alternatively, we could simply work to promote a simple rejection of Christianity, and I contend that’s mostly a waste of time, like wishing to destroy and rebuild civilization from scratch.

Giulio, I imagine you’d also agree that you are a religious transhumanist, insofar as we’re using the definition of “religion” proposed by either Peter or me. It’s the religious positioning of your transhumanism that is its emotional strength.

The issue of whether promoting a simple rejection of Christianity is a waste of time is indeed an interesting one. As I’ve observed to Imtomorrow on another thread, there is a time to challenge and a time to live and let live. If I meet a Christian in a pub, my first priority won’t won’t be to convert him or her to atheism (or indeed my own agnosticism).

On the other hand we should not underestimate the huge power that *rejection of Christianity* has also wielded since the Enlightenment, likewise for both good and ill. Only after the Enlightenment philosophers gave up trying to prove the existence of God did they set about creating the system of secular values that underpin so much of Western civilisation today. This would suggest that promoting a simple rejection of Christianity is anything but a waste of time.

Speaking for myself, however, I’m certainly willing to work with anyone who more or less shared my vision of the kind of world we should be trying to create, largely irrespective of whether they choose to use or to eschew theistic language to express those ideas. Indeed, one of the reasons I am intensely curious about these issues is that I have not given up on finding a concept of God that I find useful and meaningful. And as noted above, Lincoln, I quite like yours. On the other hand we should not underestimate the importance of being willing to explicitly reject the mainstream. Only then do new ideas emerge.

Peter, I agree there’s value in skepticism. My concern is not directed at rejections generally, but rather at rejections that are indiscriminately broad. One of my favorite philosophers is Nietzsche, who of course was passionately anti-Christian. I think on an individual level, that motivated him to do some great work, but it’s also one of the weaknesses in his philosophy. He understood Christianity too narrowly.

Peter I would think that a testing of Christianity is in order any time it tries to define policy for others. I say testing rather than rejecting because rejecting is a different discussion. It says “You’re wrong.” without much else. Testing is saying, “Tell me why you aren’t wrong about this.” and is much more open. It may lead to the same place with some people, but with others it will open surprising vistas.

I have to apologize, I’ve been stupid busy the last few days and haven’t kept up with the conversation here. It has been fascinating.

@Lincoln re “It’s the religious positioning of your transhumanism that is its emotional strength.”

In part, but it is not black or white. Just feeling as a little part of the wonderful cosmic adventure of our species gives some emotional strength.

A religious positioning of one’s transhumanist convictions gives more emotional strength, and creates a common ground with non-transhumanist believers.

I can talk about God with believers who have never heard of transhumanism, and formulate my thoughts in a language more familiar to them.

I think it has to be a bit more than scepticism. Scepticism says, “Hang on, not sure, I need to think about this,” while rejection opens the door to a new realm of possibilities. When I rejected Christianity - and it really was a rejection, at least of the version of ChristianitynI had been immersed in up to that point - it set me off on a whole new life journey…one that, as you’ve noticed, is continuing.

Re “testing” vs “rejecting”, Alex this reminds me of some of our earliest exchanges where you were complaining that I was being too categorical. I actually think there’s value, sometimes, in saying, “You’re wrong.” It can be more effective in provoking a reaction, and it also has rhetorical value in situations where one regards it as important to strongly oppose a point of view. And of course it’s more concise.

There’s also an important distinction to be made between the assumptions according to which one chooses to live, and the way one discussed with those who are making different assumptions. I think it’s fair to say that I am to all practical purposes currently an atheist, at least as far as my most conscious motivations are concerned. And my social milieu is correspondingly atheist, insofar as my church- and mosque-going friends tend not to speak directly of the theistic aspects of their faith (despite conversing regularly on subjects such as spirituality and mindfulness).

One question we might want to consider is the following: should we, ultimately, be aiming for a common view and a common language on these issues? Personally I see pros and cons. The obvious cons have to do with diversity, tolerance - Giulio’s “live and let live” - and the creativity that comes from different points of view. But I will nevertheless remain deeply curious (and sometimes abrasively so) about views and linguistic preferences that differ from mine on this subject, particularly when expressed by people who are clearly clever/thoughtful enough not to be just regurgitating what they were taught at Sunday school. As Giulio says, religion - or more correctly theism - works for some people…but I am deeply curious about *how* it works, and why it works for some and not for others. It’s certainly not only a question of upbringing.

You’re wrong.

There that is certainly succinct enough, but it doesn’t get us anywhere. I’m still thinking you’re wrong, and you are probably thinking I’m an ass, or maybe possessed by some demon.

The difference between rejection and testing is that outright rejection implies that there is nothing useful in religion. It is like looking at a plate of food and pushing it away. It may indeed be true that there is nothing useful in religion, but it hasn’t been tested. It might be the mushy peas that make you push the plate away, but without looking at the prime rib on the rest of the plate, you would never know what you are missing.

Testing suggests a conversation and some rigorous honesty. You have questions about the efficacy of religion, but by just rejecting religion at the outset, you give yourself no time or space to explore the questions you have.

“You’re wrong…doesn’t get us anywhere.” And yet, Alex, the rest of your comment is basically an expansion on precisely that theme: explaining to me why you think I’m wrong. “Tell me why you’re not wrong” would be more like this: “Tell me why outright rejection doesn’t imply that there is nothing useful in religion. Tell me what is wrong with the following analogy about food.”

And there IS something wrong with it, by the way. When I push a plate away I’m not assuming that there is nothing useful on it, only that for me, now, at this precise moment, I don’t particularly want to eat mushy peas. And we do need to make choices in life, right? There is a time to test, and a time to decide: to accept, or to reject.

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