5 09 2010

I don’t know how old I was when I stopped believing in a god. I’m not even sure it was any form of concious decision on my part not to believe, more of a sub-concious overtaking founded by an almost innate desire for rationality. Try as I might, I cannot marry together the two notions of science and religion, I just can’t. At this point, it is perhaps best to admit that I really don’t know what I’m going to write. The debate, fuelled spectacularly by Stephen Hawking’s apparent rejection of the notion of a god, is one to which there is obviously no right or wrong answer. There cannot ever be. No-one will successfully prove or disprove the existence of a deity, thus for a large part the argument is trivial to the extreme.

I just don’t believe. I have nothing against people who do, but I simply don’t. I do have various views on some elements of religion however, such as the long-held belief that religion causes more problems than it solves (the Middle east is the classic example of age-old religious problems, but throughout history nearly every conflict has been, to some extent or other fuelled by religious intolerance). I also cannot shake the nagging thought that religion was initially conceived as a tool of the rich to control the poor (again, for me the Bible is prime evidence of this, written as it was by educated people for rich people). If we couple these thoughts with the notion that somewhere beyond time and space there is a deity sitting/standing/lying/existing somewhere then it becomes clearer to me why I do not believe in a god.

There is a more fundamental problem too. What does this ‘god’ look like? Most stereotypical images have an elderly man in a white robe with white beard. Yet it is a typically human trait to imagine things in our form. Take the idea of aliens for example, practically all film/television aliens have easily identifiable human features, eyes, mouth, legs or arms. They are there to provide familiarity to the viewer. The same applies to a ‘god’. God created us in his own image is the line that is spewed forth by religious folk, but this seems somewhat egocentric to me. Why must this all powerful deity have a face, or a body at all? It may be something completely unrecognisable to us humans. Something beyond our limited imaginations.

There are a number of other practicalities which do not add up in my mind. Why must the god in question have a book to pass on his word? I feel that this ‘god’ cannot have it both ways, it cannot sit back and watch our world objectively, far removed from any input; whilst simultaneously expecting us to surrender our lives to it based upon the ‘teachings’ written in a book of whichever god we are going to choose to believe in. If there is to be objectivity, do not have a book with your lore in it, there cannot be removal from the subject if there remains interference.

Which moves me back to the problem with the book. Any religious text had a starting point. Of course it did. Most were written by people who were literate, born out of stories designed to inspire fear, and generate control. As with any story, the drama of it made the tale worth telling. All the stories had a moral. All had a point to make. And most finish with some version of the apocalypse raining down upon us. Of course this was another storytelling feature, there had to be a consequence to the tales, something to keep the people in line. Some form of warning about the dire outcomes of not heeding the teachings of the book. Of course, scientifically, this is not far wrong. We all know that eventually our sun will explode, swallowing the Earth and destroying whatever, if any, forms of life that may be left. Truly apocalyptic, and yet known fact too.

Which moves me neatly onto the problem of science. I am no scientist, I do not appreciate the intricacies of physics or biology or chemistry. I do, however, appreciate that they are there. I appreciate that there are fundamental rules which dictate to us how the world works, and why it continues to do so. There is a rationality to science which appeals to me. Cold, hard logic dictates to me that there cannot be any god. It is the oft-quoted Sherlock Holmes which sums up the world best, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”. This is how science seems to work in my mind. Scientific fact continues to press home my own understanding of the world. Science, which can do so many things, cannot do the one thing it really needs to however. It needs to disprove a god. As demonstrated this week, that cannot be done.


Delving Deeper…

17 03 2009

It was with interest that I read this article about the Wizard of Oz. Yes, that childhood tale of a young girl just trying to get home, aided magnificently by the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion. Oh, and the dog. It is always interesting to read into books rather than taking the face value for granted. Now I’m not sure that I completely agree with the theory being portrayed in the BBC’s article, but it is interesting to see an argument or theory put forward well. A considered, rationalised approach substantiated with specifics from history to contextualise the argument mean that the original proponent of the viewpoint, Henry Littlefield has a strong case. Especially when you consider that the film actually took away some of the political points through subtle changes (the Ruby slippers were actually Silver in the original book, an apparent reference to the use of silver to substantiate the American Gold Standard which was ailing at the time the book was written.

Despite this, the viewpoints put forward by readers at the bottom of the page are more in line with my thoughts. You can read whatever you want to read in things. The Wizard of Oz has, through the course of the 20th and 21st Centuries become extended metaphors for a range of things. I think that this may be a case of reading something into it that was not intended to be there in the first place. By this I mean modern observers are mapping ideas onto the film that fit with the society that they know at the moment. This isn’t unusual, it has been happening for ages, and I think that the example of the Wizard of Oz serves to indicate this further.

To link in with this idea of interpretation of films, I saw Watchmen on Sunday. I have to say I really liked it. The film looked good, the plot was substantial, considered and thought-provoking, and I would recommend going to see it, although you may wish to lose the preconceptions of a ‘super-hero’ movie that my sister apparently approached the film with. I have my own theories on the movie that I will share with you, so if you haven’t seen it, now would be a good time to stop reading.

I think that it can be argued that the film is an anti-religious one. Dr Manhatten (the big blue one) is used as an extended reference to god, with the idea being sown into our heads early on, when it is explained that he does not consider himself to be a god. Through the film we see what Manhatten is capable of, infinite knowledge, bringing death, being in many places simultaneously, being an entity for people to unite behind (the film uses Vietnam to highlight this idea). All are ideas which can be seen to be ‘god-like’. This theory is further substantied when, at the end of the film, Manhatten leaves Earth to set up life in another universe. He therefore can be seen to be both the bringer of life and death. So very god-like.

I say it is anti-religion though because by the end of the film, Manhatten has been made into the bad-guy. Through the series of events that leads to the destruction of a large part of New York, Manhatten becomes the common enemy that prevents the Russians and the Americans wiping the planet out in a nuclear war. By giving them something to hate, Manhatten saves the earth (even though strictly it wasn’t of his own design).[I’m thinking that the next Batman film will follow a similar line given the ending to the previous one]. So, in the course of the film, Manhatten is shown to be god-like in all but name, and is hounded down and almost forced to leave the planet, indeed, the universe to save mankind. It is true that he could fight back, and would almost certainly win, but it is his love of mankind which sees him disappear. To me this smacks of being anti-religion.

I think. As I’m writing this I am also considering the possibility that the film is pro-religion too, as here is this omnipotent being who has saved the world from itself and has united enemies. I suppose it is what you make of it then. Just like the Wizard of Oz.

Hundreds of years…

26 02 2008

…Of academic reputation have gone up in smoke it seems to me. I found this on the internet, and didn’t quite believe it. I firstly had to check it was not April 1st. Thankfully it wasn’t. Then I had to check it wasn’t a prank. Again, perhaps unfortunately, it wasn’t.

The official website confirmed it, much to my disappointment.

I cannot understand it. Not even a little bit. These people at one of the most renowned universities in the world, have decided in their infinite wisdom, to study why people believe in God. What is more, they have been given £1.9 million to work it out. Can I have just half of that if I give the answer right here and now? Please?

From what I can gather, ‘god’ as an entity serves two purposes:

1. It is a way of dealing with death.

2. It is a way of dealing with life.

Firstly, it is to help people believe there is life after death. That there is something else, something which should be looked forward to, rather than feared.  God makes things good, if we are good then we will spent eternity playing blackjack on one of the millions of tables in heaven. For example.

If we are bad, we go and join Satan and grow rather fond of fire. Simple, isn’t it?

And to me this is a redundant argument. I think, judged by today’s standards at least, I have been ‘good’. At least, I haven’t murdered anyone, or slept with my neighbours dog. I haven’t done enough to justify being sent to hell at least. Which, because the middle ground all but disappeared after the Enlightenment, means I’m off to heaven. Now if God is a) all knowing, and b) all forgiving, the fact that I haven’t prayed every night for all of my life shouldn’t piss him off too much. Therefore, he will, perhaps begrudgingly, have to welcome me into heaven, regardless.

Which leads me onto point two. Believing in God is a way to justify why we are here. It is not enough to simply accept we are, and make the most of it. There are another two aspects to this I feel. Firstly, God is an explanation for human existance, and, by definition, any animals existance too. God, therefore is the meaning of life. God is why we are here, and why we are made the way we are. Secondly, God is a reason to live life well. When I say well, I mean looking after others, being charitable, not murdering anyone, or having elicit affairs with your neighbours dog. For example.

Running further with this, our physical form, our bodies, are effectively borrowed from God for the duration of their existance with the proviso that we do not abuse them. God created everything as a reflection of itself, so we should not destroy these miraculous creations, as we will be offending God. When they reach their expiry date, then our soul is free to join God and discuss whether we should take over Pluto.

Whether or not you have picked up on my cynicism about religion is not my concern. I will tell you now, in black and white, I think it’s all tosh. If God created us, then God created logic too. My logic says that God does not, and cannot exist. Yet it is one of those wonderful things which cannot be proved or disproved. What sort of deity creates people who are inclined to dismiss it’s presence? Maybe just a few screws loose…

Anyway, after that highly controversial rant, I am expecting my cheque from Oxford in the post tomorrow.