Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The stuff that dreams are made of

Getting past the god of the Bible (and, presumably, any other religious text) is not terribly difficult once we start to think about it. But for many of us who have spent a large portion of our lives under the assumption of a deity it can be pretty tough to let go of the concept of god. Some people might choose to define god differently. Perhaps they like to maintain the loving, benevolent aspects of the traditional Western-style deity and dismiss the evil, petty and hateful parts. Perhaps they imagine that god is everywhere and is all of us. Perhaps they think that god created the universe and walked away. But there is no reason to believe this. It is merely a palliative to help ease the loss of a beloved father-figure.

Many people accuse atheists of worshiping science in the same way that Christians worship god. This is absurd and false, but there is a grain of truth to it. Atheists and theists both have the same questions about life and the universe, but they look to different sources for answers. It is my belief that religion was originally developed as a kind of science, as a way to answer questions whose answers aren't immediately apparent. Over time, of course, both religion and science developed into two entirely separate entities. Some people believe that religion answers questions that science has no interest in, although I strongly disagree. I think that science can be made to address any issue. And this is why I don't think that bringing in a surrogate deity is helpful. Any thing we might develop to take the place of the missing deity would, by definition, be a fiction. Granted, I can't imagine that anyone's personal, benevolent deity would be specifically harmful to anyone, but if it is a false construct then there is no real benefit to it either.

How could I know it is false? Personal deities are (usually) responses to emotional and spiritual feelings that people may experience. I don't think that anyone has physical proof that a god exists. The argument I hear most often is, I just think there has to be more to life than this. Maybe there is more to life than this mean experience. But I can find absolutely no reason to think so. Since the dawn of time, or at least since the dawn of observation and curiosity, we have attempted to answer questions about our universe. As I mentioned earlier, we might have tried to answer those questions with gods. Apollo brings the sunlight, Prometheus brings fire, the Muses bring inspiration and so on. These explanations are not actually bad, although they are obviously wrong. In fact, from our perspective here on Earth, the sun truly does seem to arc from one side to the other. Without any further education in the matter you would be forgiven for not seeing the model of our solar system in the motion of the sun. But we have learned more and more and more and continue to learn. And over the centuries we have developed ideas and discarded them in favor of better and more accurate ones. And of all of the things that we have learned, "god" has not once been an answer. That terrible - yet highly consistent - track record is what gives me the confidence to say that personal gods are all false.

Even if belief in a personal deity is benign, it is still damaging in the sense that it pollutes and dilutes the understanding of the world. Just as early humans (and perhaps chimpanzees and elephants and whales) saw the sun and thought that it simply moved from one side of the horizon to the other, our experiences with spirituality (at least as it relates to gods and ghosts) is most likely a trick of the mind.

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