Thursday, May 24, 2012

Atheists for a Religious Society

I support the Church, not as a pillar within, but as a buttress without.

 In times of fear or perplexity I pray to God and it helps. It helps a lot.

Winston S. Churchill
 Then the LORD brought down fire and brimstone (Image source)
To the modern mind, the idea that somewhere out there is a being in the form of an anthropoid ape with the power to create thunder and lightning, earthquakes and volcanoes is scarcely credible. The notion that this being created not only the earth but the heavens above is to most of those raised during the modern era utterly absurd. But religion stems from the early days of human existence and to understand how it took root in mens' minds, we need to understand the minds of those who lived in earlier times.

There is no question that any educated person today is vastly more knowledgeable, if less wise, than King Solomon. For the great majority of those who lived before the modern age, education as we understand it was non-existent, as were the multiple and readily accessible sources of knowledge that we take for granted. What people in times past knew, they knew almost entirely from personal experience or from what other people, mostly people as ignorant as themselves, told them.

In such a world, what was not to believe about an extra-terrestrial ape with magical powers and the vanity, arrogance, and cruelty of the local lord or petty prince? People are afflicted by plagues, they are struck by lightning, crushed in the rubble of houses shattered by earthquakes, starved when their crops are destroyed by a swarm of locusts. If, then, a tribal chief or elder says he was addressed by a voice from a burning bush unconsumed by the fire, which explained such disasters as punishment for disloyalty, for failure to keep the Sabbath holy, for coveting a neighbor's house, or wife, for lying, stealing, or committing adultery, why would you not believe it? For no reason, apparently, since religion has been universally accepted by mankind as far back in time as we have knowledge.

Today, the circumstances of the potential believer are very different. We are raised with the understanding that whatever happens has a material cause and that whatever we seek to have happen must be initiated through the arranged occurrence of necessary causal prerequisites.

Everything that happens, we believe, is just physics.

Yet few of us could give a satisfactory account of Newton's laws of motion, let alone the workings of a cell phone, so we are not physicists, just believers in physics. We have faith in physics. And having faith in physics, we accept the word of the high priests of physics who tell us what can be done by physics and what cannot. And what cannot be done by physics, so we are told, is the creation of the Universe by an ape with magical powers. In fact, according to physics, magic is whatever is inconsistent with physics, which means that the religion of the magical ape is, in principal, false.

Thus the scientific revolution has brought about a transformation in our understanding of the world and, with that change, a transformation in our moral universe.

So long as mankind believed in the ape magician with a proprietorial interest in human affairs, morality was fixed, independent of human desire or belief, and enforced by belief in the most extreme system of Hellish punishment and Heavenly reward. Thus, until the modern age, religious belief provide a rigid matrix for the control of human behavior that operated internally, controlling the behavior of the individual through control of his beliefs and emotions.

Having abandoned religion for physics, we are now free to do as we please except insofar as we are subject to an ever broadening array of state-enforced external controls achieved through video surveillance, X-ray scans, body searches and an increasingly Stasi-like systems of spying.

David Hume, who was the first to clearly explain the physics approach to knowledge, was among the first to grasp how faith in physics would transform morality. "Honesty," he said, is the best policy, "but the wise knave will take advantage of every exception."

To those of us brought up in the West during the early post-Christian era, the significance of David Hume's analysis of morality was not particularly shocking. Most of us knew of the Golden Rule and, to many of us there is no phrase in the New Testament that is unfamiliar. Thus we internalized, in some degree, the moral precepts of Christ in early childhood, and though we were later taught to ridicule them, we mostly believed that the residue of Christian moral feeling within our hearts was universal.

But among those socialized as Christians but taught to ridicule Christianity, few socialized their own children in the Christian tradition with anything like the rigor with which they themselves had been so indoctrinated. Thus over a period of several generations, Western society has undergone a transformation from one in which many, especially of the ruling elite, were imbued with the values of saintly virtue to one imbued with the virtues of the intelligent psychopath. We may say "I feel your pain," but why would we, except for hypocritical public display, have the slightest concern for your suffering, particularly if we profit by it?

To most intelligent atheists, whether they be psychopaths, or tenderhearted individuals brought up with the psychopath's moral code, the consequences of this progressive transformation of society, from one regulated by self control to one in which behavior must be subject to continual external control seems, at best, to lack charm, and at worst, to be headed for tyranny, or collapse, or quite likely tyranny followed by collapse.

It is time, therefore, to ignore foolish intellectuals such as the late Christopher Hitchens or the even more foolish evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins who seek popular acclaim by pointing out the obvious physical inconsistencies and impossibilities of the various religious creeds, and instead turn to the question of what role religion has played in the evolution of humanity and whether the continuation of humanity as it has flowered in the West is possible under a regime of unenlightened atheism.

Religions are not all equal. Religion is one of the factors that differentiate societies and determine their prospects of survival. The importance of religion thus depends not on its truth as physics, but its impact on the physics of survival of tribes, nations and civilizations.

How religion may serve society in the modern age is a fascinating question and it is ultimately a physics question, since the survival of human groups depends on the control of human behavior, and human behavior is a matter of psychology, which in turn depends on neurological physiology, all of which resolve to matters of physics.

It is time, then, for those committed to the faith of physics to apply their minds to broadening that faith in ways that make it compatible with human survival, and with a reversal of the present decline of Western civilization.


  1. It's funny but I used to believe in evolution. I always assumed it was proven, well established, fact. Of course when I studied it in more detail, as well as many of the 'creationist' arguments, I realised it was full of massive holes. It shouldn't be a surprise that the PTB have pushed the 'theory' for so long and to such an extent. It serves their purposes very well.

    1. Evolution unquestionably occurs. The changing in color of the population of Great Britain since 1950 is an example of evolution in progress, although some would say it was an unimportant change, while others would say it was not "progress."

      On a longer time scale, the fossil record seems to provide convincing evidence that the forms of organic life on Earth have changed progressively, i.e., have evolved. The only seeming alternative to that being that fossil record must be an elaborate practical joke, although God is not well known for humor.

      But, yes, there are holes and difficulties with the theory. As Darwin remarked:

      "To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I confess, absurd in the highest degree."

      And it is not difficult to see how the process may have been subject to intelligent intervention. My own modest proposal concerning the emergence of humanity on Earth provides one example of how that might have occurred.

  2. Not even creationists deny micro evolution, which would account for your example. I've seen no good examples of macro-evolution where there should surely be multiple thousands. In fact the very concept of a fish, for example, evolving into a land mammal is frankly absurd when carefully considered.

    1. Yeah. As noted above, this bothered Darwin too.

      But you must admit that the fossil evidence is baffling if there has been no macro-evolution. Why else the apparent sequence of forms over time? As Einstein might have put it: "God does not play practical jokes."

      And the ontogenetic recapitulation of phylogeny is suggestive though not quite as vividly as Haeckel originally claimed.

      See: we even have gill slits!

    2. But then when Einstein said, with reference to quantum theory, "God does not play dice" it seems he was wrong. So perhaps God plays practical jokes as well as dice.