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The Diagnosis of Atheism

Faith is one of the basic needs of a human civilization. Faith refers to a belief, trust, or confidence that is not based merely on logic, reason, or empirical data, but based on the belief of a higher entity like God, a higher power, a person, elements of nature, and/or a perception of the human race as a whole. Faith can be placed in a person, inanimate object, state of affairs, proposition or body of propositions such as a religious creed. The object of faith typically transcends what can be proven scientifically and sometimes exceeds what can be objectively defined. Faith can mean believing unconditionally. Faith, by its very nature, requires belief outside of known fact. Faith is formed through instinct, intuition, meditation, communing with nature, prayer, or perceived usefulness of a belief system [1].

 

Faith forms the foundation of human civilization as it brings a large number of people together who live their life based on some common principles and beliefs. Many noted philosophers and theologians believe that faith is the basis of all knowledge. Faith must be present in order to know anything. One can never learn anything in life unless one assume, believe, or have faith in the credibility of the person, place, thing, or idea which is the source of the knowledge.

 

However, faith is mostly understood in context of God and religion. The faith in God is the oldest and the most popular faith of mankind. Even in the modern era , more than 95% of the people have faith in God. A believer says that God is supreme and He has created all beings and the Universe. However, a nonbeliever may argue “It is not the God who has created man but it is the man who has created God”. While there is no dearth of people who can give their life for the cause of their religious believe, yet for people like Mao “Religion is the opium of masses”.

 

Today there are thousands of religions in the world and interestingly each one has its own God who may have different names and characters. Hinduism for example, is supposed to have 330 millions Gods while in other monotheistic religions like Islam and Christianity, there is just one God.

 

A minority of the population, who do not believe in God, are called “Atheist”. Though atheists are in the minority in most countries, they are relatively common in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, in former and present Communist states, and, to a lesser extent, in the United States. A 1995 survey attributed to the Encyclopedia Britannica indicates that the non-religious are about 14.7 percent of the world`s population, and atheists around 3.8 percent [2].  

 

Nonreligious persons are not atheists as they believe in the existence of a Supreme power thus  include the people who are professing no religion, nonbelievers, agnostics, freethinkers, dereligionized secularists indifferent to all religions.

 

It is, therefore,  a surprise that even after six centuries of the evolution of science, more than 95% of the people do not deny the existence of God while almost 85% of the world population actually believe in God. It is also a fact that scientific knowledge has made no dent on the popularity of the religions and faith. Even Einstein said that religion without science is lame while the science without religion is blind.

 

Though it is common to call the people who believe in God as faithful, theist (or believer), and those who don’t believe in God as nonbeliever, faithless or atheist, yet it would not be proper to say that all who don’t believe in God are nonbeliever since without believe and faith no society can survive. Whether the people having faith on science are not faithful? Are 85% people really have complete believe in God as studies have established.

 

Even though, atheism simply means lack of believe in God, yet atheism can’t survive unless, it has strength of an alternative philosophy. Man by his nature can’t leave any question answered. It wants explanation for everything he sees and realize. When, his knowledge was limited, he created the concept of God which provided ready explanation for everything. Accordingly, if Sun shines, it is due to God, the days and night happens due to God, weathers are created by God and so one. However, as the knowledge of man grew, he found convincing explanation for many events which he earlier thought as mysterious (believed to be done by God). Just five centuries back, men believed that Earth is flat and Sun revolves around it. Today, no educated person would believe this theory. The growth of scientific knowledge has broken many such myths of religious knowledge. Yet science has no explanation or knowledge for some of the most important realities of the universe. For example, how we are born? What happens to us after we die? In such domain, even now the religion is the only explanation which is believed by man as science has no satisfactory theory for such realities.

 

The Cult of Science

The word "science" itself is simply the Latin word for knowledge:  scientia. Science used to be known as "natural philosophy," until the 1840`s. Even Isaac Newton`s great book on motion and gravity, published in 1687, was known as “The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy” [5]

 

The origin of science can be said to begun with Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), who gave the concept of heliocentric solar system. The ancient and mediaeval astronomers believed the theory of geocentrism, which means that the Earth is the center of the universe, with the sun, moon, planets, and stars moving around it. Mediaeval physics believed that motion was caused by an "impetus." Things are naturally at rest. An impetus makes something move; but then it runs out, leaving the object to slow down and stop. Therefore objects have to be pushed by external force to keep an object moving.  This was even an argument for the existence of God, since something very big -- like God -- had to be pushing to keep the heavens going [5].

 

Copernicus introduced the “heliocentric” theory which stated that the Sun is in the center while all other planets of Sun like Earth moves around it. However, he was worried about getting in trouble with the Church as his theory was against the doctrine of Church. The Protestant Reformation had started in 1517, and the Catholic Church was not in any mood to have any more of its doctrines, even about astronomy, questioned. So Copernicus did not let his book be published until he lay dying.

 

                           

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) took his theories further and provided further evidence for the Copernicus theory.  He applied mathematics to motion and produced positive evidence for the Copernicus theory of Sun centric solar system. He produced the first astronomical quality telescope and saw several things in the sky (heaven) like the Moon. He found that the moon had mountains and valleys like the Earth which upset the ancient notion that the heavens, the Moon included, were completely unlike the Earth.

 

Galileo proved the Copernican astronomy by evidence and arguments, but antagonized the Catholic Church. He was kept under house arrest for the rest of his life. As Galileo left his trial, he is supposed to have muttered, E pur si muove -- "And yet it moves." [5] . Even after Galieo was prosecuted by Church, it could not change the Truth. It only discredited Church. Many centuries after the death of Galileo, the Truth is well established and today hardly anyone would believe that the Earth is in the center of the Universe.

Atheism  

One of the famous principles of Indian philosophy is “Satymev Jayate” (Only Truth Wins). These words were inscribed in the famous Ashoka Pillar three hundred years before the birth of Christ and it is part of the emblem of Indian flag. Gandhi also said that there is no God except Truth. It is a natural instinct of the man to support the Truth if it comes in conflict with any other concept even if the concept is that of God itself. Therefore, a True believer in Truth is the true believer of God. Thus, science is nothing but an attempt to discover the Truth even if its methods may be different.

 

Atheism (Greek, a,”not”; theos,”god”), is the doctrine that denies the existence of deity. In English, the term atheism was adopted from the French athéisme in about 1587. The term atheist in the sense of "one who denies or disbelieves" predates atheism in English, being first attested in about 1571 [3]. It is not merely a coincidence that the 16th century was also the era when scientific thoughts were taking root in the human minds in Europe. The period is noted for the rise of modern science and the application of its findings to technological improvements, which culminated in the Industrial Revolution. [4]

 

Copernicus (1473-1543), can be said to be the father (or originator) of this new branch of knowledge, called “science”. It is also not a coincidence that atheism was coined in 1571 after the birth of science. The thoughts and beliefs of a person can never be slave of any power on Earth (even if he wants it to be) and only his body can be enslaved. When the Churches tried to defeat the Truth by force and coercion, people gradually came to know what is Truth and their faith on “science” grew. Once the faithful of science grew in sizeable numbers over half a century (and the faith on Church declined), the result was the cult of “Atheism” which disbelieved in the existence of deity or God as preached by the Churches. Thus the seed of atheism appears to have been sown by science, thou it surfaced before the world only after few decades.

 

Thus science can be considered to be new faith for mankind whose principles are diametrically opposite to that of religion. Those who completely believed on science (which believes on logic and material evidence) can not have faith on religion. For a believer, whatever is written in the Bible (or any other religious book) is the gospel truth and can’t be questioned. Thus Science and Religion can be considered as two mutually exclusive domains founded on two different precinct viz. body or soul, arguments or believe; logic or faith.

 

If this is True than the question arises, why even after five centuries, 85% people have faith on religion. The answer lies in the linguistic word “faith”, “believe”, “religious” or “Atheist” which can’t be understood by “Crisp” or “Boolean” logic as their answer can’t be given in “Yes” or “No”. To understand the “real” meaning of these words, we have to understand the basic concepts of “fuzzy logic”.

 

Linguistic Variables and Fuzzy Logic

The concept of Fuzzy Logic (FL) was conceived by Lotfi Zadeh, a professor at the University of California at Berkley in 1965. He explained that the linguistic terms (like tall, high, low, cold, hot etc) can’t be expressed properly by “crisp” logic.

                               

For example, let us define a “tall person” as the person of height 180 cms or more. Therefore, in crisp logic a person who is 180 cms is tall while a person who is 179 cms is short. The reason is that the set theory based on crisp logic can either have the value 1 (Yes) or 0 (No).

 

Zadeh extended this theory by extending the scope of crisp logic and termed it “Fuzzy Logic” (FL). He stated that the linguistic variables can’t be interpreted by using crisp logic. He, therefore, defined “fuzzy sets” which can have the membership value between 0.0 and 1.0. It can be explained by help of an example.

 

Let us define tall not as a crisp logic but the way we human being perceive the word “tall”. Let us agree that all persons above the height 180 cms are “definitely tall” while all persons below 170 cms are “definitely not tall” (short). Let the membership function of the set be defined as µ (miu) Hence if we construct a fuzzy set of tall persons, then a person whose height is less than 170 cms can’t be a member of the set (µ =0) while a person whose height is more than 180 cms is definitely a member of the set (µ = 1). However, the people whose height is between 170 cms and 180 cms would be member of the set with different value of membership function. We can determine the membership function from the following simple graph.

 

                 

 

Figure 1 explains the membership function of a tall person. Thus a person of height 175 cms can be said to be tall with the membership function of 0.5. i.e. with 50% confidence.  Fuzzy logic is now extensively used in the control systems, washing machines, image processing and many other applications where it is difficult to make a mathematical model of the problem. Today, Fuzzy Logic is one of the most important tool of Artificial Intelligence.

 

The Religion of Science

 Science is reasoned-based analysis of sensation upon our awareness. As such, the scientific method cannot deduce anything about the realm of reality that is beyond what is observable by existing or theoretical means. When a manifestation of our reality previously considered supernatural is understood in the terms of causes and consequences, it acquires a scientific explanation [7].

 

The scientific theories are formulated on the basis of human reason and logic, and the most promising theory is selected after analyzing the strengths of the evidences. In many ways, a scientific theory is similar to the modern court proceedings which are also based on the reasons, logic and the material evidences. Hence, mere knowledge of a fact is useless before the court unless it is proven by logic and material evidences. In the court of law, no truth is acceptable unless it is proven so in the eyes of law. Similarly no theory can be scientific unless it is proven based on material facts and reasoning.

                                                                                                  

 

The man who is an ardent believer of science can’t accept any truth unless it is proven by material evidences and arguments. He would perhaps not accept the husband of his mother as his father, unless the fatherhood is established by the DNA Test. For a true believer of science, nothing is true unless proven so by the scientific methods. Hence, he would shun animal product if it is proven that it causes obesity and cancer but restart its consumption, if it is proven otherwise. He may drink wine for reducing the heart attack or get married if proven that marriage is good for health. A follower of science believes that there is no knowledge of truth which can’t be explained by science or understood by the human mind.

 

Atheism means the absence of belief in God or deities. Atheists are thus the people who have no belief or faith in God. However, they are not the people without faith. Even though no statistics are available but if one can gather the data of the atheists or the non-believers, it is likely to be revealed that the atheists believe in science and scientific methods of investigations of truth. The countries like Europe, Australia and New Zealand which have the largest percentage for nonreligious people are also the countries who have highest believers of science. Thus atheists are the people who do not believe in God (who is imperceptible to the senses) but have believe in logic, reasoning and material facts which can be seen and believed.

 

Religion and God

A man of religion, have absolute faith on God. He believes that God is the beginning and the end of everything. For him, every word of religious text is the word of God, a gospel truth which should not be doubted. What unfortunately flows from such believe is that he also often believes that all other religions are false since those don’t confirm to his religion. Thus for him the people of other faith are either nonbeliever or infidels.

 

Since a believer, have deep faith in God who is omnipotent and omnipresent, he preys for the assistance of God for solving all his problems. If someone falls ill, it is because of the sin he committed against God. If one fails in life it is because, God decide him to be so. If one dies, it is his destiny. For him all actions of the man and nature are done by God. His world view is truly God-centric.

 

However, all religions are not similar in their concept of God. Many great religions of the world, may not even qualify to be called religious as they do not pose absolute faith on any God. For example, Buddhism is very close to atheism as it vehemently opposed the religious believes and rituals of Vedic era of Hinduism. In fact Buddhism started as philosophy which rejected the concept of God and idol worship which was so prevalent during the time of Buddha. Yet gradually the philosophy of Buddha, took the shape of religion and Buddha himself was worshipped like a God. Today, there may be more statues of Buddha in the world than any other God.

 

Similarly, Hinduism also started from the Vedic period around three thousands years before the birth of Christ. The Vedic people worshipped all forces of nature as God or deva (one who gives). Yet over a period of two thousand years, the number of Gods multiplied into millions. Then the fight in the name of God started. Gradually, the human mind started questioning the God hypothesis and the time of Upanishads came with the explanation which denied the existence of human-like God and believed Universe itself as God which can’t be seen and understood by human mind. Gita, the most sacred book for Hindus, suggested four methods of salvation or achieving the God i.e. Karmayoga (Union by Karma) , Jyanyoga (Union by Knowledge),  Bhaktiyoga (Union by devotion) and Dhyanayoga (Union by Mediation). Thus, except for Bhaktiyoga, the other means of salvation are almost atheistic in nature as those did not believe in the worship of God.

 

Monotheistic religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam on the contrary believe only on one God and they have a unique holy book (Old Testament, New Testament and Koran) which is the reference book for all believers.

 

The Clash of Faith

Today what is often termed as the clash of civilization is nothing but the clash of faith of different sects (religion, science). If we want right answers, we must start asking the right questions. Instead of asking, “Do you believe in God?” the question must be asked, “How much do you believe in God?”  Similarly, a follower of science must be questioned, how much he believes in science?. The answer we must expect is not a plain YES or NO but a fuzzy truth whose value shall be between 0 and 1 (0 an 100 percent).

 

Let us start by asking a question. If you are sick, will you go to a doctor or to a priest, or temple? Most of the people (including the theists) would perhaps say “doctor”. Even the believers will perhaps not go to priest for treatment or temple for prayer. Yet there are still millions of people on this world (like in some pockets of India), who will rush to priest for treatment.

 

The fact is that most of us do have strong faith in science. Very few people even amongst the believers really believe that earth is flat, or earth is the center of universe or that Sun or Moon are Gods, or you can get good job or score high marks in examination by prayer alone.

 

It is a fact that most of us believe in science as well as in God. Science has made tremendous impact on the mankind in last few centuries. We use electricity, watch TV programs, use Internet, and fly in air, thanks to science. Yet science can’t explain everything nor can it make world a better place. It can’t explain the meaning of life. Why we love (and hate), how we create music, how life is created. This points the fingers to the existence of a superior force which permeates all the entities of the world and universe.

 

Thus we have faith over God as well as faith in science though of different intensity. This can be explained by the fuzzy logic.

 

 

 

There are only a small percentage of people who have absolute faith in God and the same is true with the faith in Science. Most of the humanity has faith in God as well as Science. Atheists are thus not the faithless people but those who have faith in science. They try to understand it by observation and logic.

Conclusions

 The quest of truth has always been the goal of man. God is one of the greatest truths of the universe which have been discovered by the great human beings from time to time in different parts of the world. This gave rise to various religions and creeds. However, over a period, religions become more dogmatic and exploitative due to the vested interests who build institutions for religions. Due the failings of the people manning these institution, people often lost faith on God and religion and discovered truth by logic and reasoning. This from time to time posed challenge to the religion, and forced the religions to change with time. The root of atheism thus lies on the capacity of human mind to understand the truth by using his mind, which is the scientific method of investigation. Thus atheism is a natural desire of mankind, which is present in all human beings in different degrees.

 

References:

 

[1]        Faith, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faith  

 

[2]        Worldwide Adherents of All Religions by Six Continental Areas, Mid-1995. Encyclopedia Britannica. URL: http://www.zpub.com/un/pope/relig.html

 

[3]        Atheism, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism  

 

[4]        History of Europe, Wikipedia URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Europe        

 

[5]        The Beginning of Modern Science, URL:http://www.friesian.com/hist-2.htm

 

[6]        Science, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science  

Author:Awdhesh K Singh

Date:1/22/2007

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