Friday, 22 March 2013

If you believe in one God - you are 99.96% atheist

written by Rich
Anthropologists studying religion can you tell that every single human tribe or civilisation ever recorded believed in some sort of religion, with its god, or gods, and creation story. We all know about the ancient Greeks with their Zeus and Apollo, and the Romans with their Jupiter and Neptune, but don't worry these are all examples of ancient gods, right? Their time has been and gone.

I'm inclined to believe that if you told a person from long ago that happened to believe in say, the babylonian defeater of evil water gods and creator god, the great Marduk, that in a couple thousand years time some blogger will be citing him as an example of how socially constructed and fallible all gods are. And granted that the further back you go the more severe the punishment for blasphemy, then I would be certainly surprised if you lived to tell the tale.

We happen to be in a certain time and place right now, and the gods that are considered great, could possibly end up in some other well written blog post in centuries to come. Who's to say that Yahweh or JesusAllah, or Krishna won't be the same butt of a joke? And good luck to that witty person/AI.

Back to our anthropologists, if you were to kindly ask them to tally up the number of gods ever worshipped right up until today, then depending who you read or spoke to, there would be a great deal of variance from around 3000 to half a billion? Now even I find half a billion to be a ridiculous figure. Nevermind the point can be made with lets say, 3000 gods. We can confidently say that atheists do not believe in 100% of those gods. Now take your average monotheist and you can see that they are in fact 99.96% atheist, because they have to deny those other 2999 gods for their particular god to be well, the god. Atheists don't believe in all those old timer gods, and we also happen to take that 0.04% step further.

''So...what do you believe in...nothing?!"

Written by Rich
If you are anything like us at theneuroatheist you will enjoy talking to others about their perspective. You have also probably come across the question of your own beliefs. Now within some groups of society I have often found that many people have a general miscomprehension of what atheism consists of and -by extension- what I believe. 

"So. What do you believe in...nothing?!"  

I don't know why, but this question is annoying and is usually presented straight after I describe myself as an atheist or anti-theist.

I think the reason why I find this question slightly frustrating is that the 'atheist' label really does not tell you anything about what an atheist believes. You know, a-theism, or any other a-something words, are the type of words that can only allow you to assume precisely what an atheist does not believe in. Which is god or any aspect of the supernatural.

Of course in the real world, there are some assumptions that one may take upon learning that your colleague is atheist. Namely, that they are of a rational mind and have a respect for the scientific endeavour, evolution and so on. Despite these concepts being closely related, atheism does not in itself tell you what to believe.  

The question becomes frustrating as the premise misunderstands atheism. This post does swing slightly more to my own Neuroatheistic perspective, as my thinking is mainly influenced by brain science. However I think that the general message would also apply to any other type of atheist, and so, here is my answer to this rather tedious question:

How could I not believe in anything? That sounds near impossible. Anyway Atheism as a philosophy, or an ideological perspective by definition does not tell you what to believe!

The Atheist position is a position of disbelief. To be clear, being an atheist means that you reject the idea that the universe has a supernatural element to it, including (but not limited to) witches, superstition, souls, a god, the god or gods, so on and so on and so on. It goes further, because atheism provides the means to express that their is a complete absence of evidence for the existence of any supernatural aspect and especially any gods spawned from any human mind at any point in recorded time.

The nice thing about atheism is that once this concept is established, what you decide to believe from this point on is up to you, and this is the beauty of Atheism. Their is no dogma, no infallible scripture, questions are welcome, be a free thinker, appreciate reason, use empirical evidence to come with your own conclusions.

"So what's the point?"

People have often then followed with this question and I suppose that could be considered as a well conceived question, but actually this question doesn't have a point in itself. Why does there have to be a point during life? In the sense of the universe then perhaps there is no point, and what's wrong with that? Doesn't that make the actual time we have alive here on earth even more spellbinding, so much more worthwhile?

I am not a nihilist, but do we not hold it within our power to carve out our own personal points to our own existence? As we are here and happen to be conscious beings then maybe we should learn about how reality works, how the brain composes our experience of reality, and perhaps how reality was physically created in the first place? Do what we can to minimise the suffering of our fellow brothers and sisters, and then we die, full-stop.

Fullstop? Oh come on! We now know that if you damage the brain anywhere you can potentially obliterate any facet of what humans have described for eons as our unique spirit or soul, the essence of what seperates us from other animals. Language, consciousness, memory, or any other cognitive capacity that we unwittingly use, is as fragile as anything. So on the event of a whole brain death, how can you really expect to "rise up" from your brain, go on to a supposed heaven and use language, and talk to and recognise loved ones, use English, or experience joy? It just goes against the last 150 years of cognitive neuropsychology and neurology.

In spirit of this I thought it would be apt to talk about what I think my own death would be like. Well be is obviously the wrong word as my first person conscious perspective won't be anymore. Anyway semantics aside, I actually take solace in my own mortality, and with a slight poetic license I am allowed to say that the infinity of time before my birth wasn't so bad, so why should it be any different, post existence. We struggle to imagine death because it is not a foreseeable conscious state, by definition, and so we have used our powerful cognitive flexibility to describe an outcome apparently much more pleasurable and undeniably supernatural. And to lean onto a Freudian discourse, cultural superstructures like religion have built around these death anxieties to now encompass modern day desires of seeing our kittens in heaven.

I take solace in my own mortality and I don't have to fantasise some implausible and hyperbolic alternative to get by. I am a material being with a material beginning and a material end.

A quote from Neil de Grasse Tyson: 

"I would request that my body, in death, be buried not cremated so that the energy content contained within it gets returned to the earth so that flora and fauna can dine upon it just as I have dined upon flora and fauna throughout my life"

An extract from the Amber spyglass by Phillip Pullman