Archive for March, 2010

I’ll see your Pascal’s Wager and raise you one Greek pantheon.

March 31, 2010 2 comments

As an atheist I am constantly bombarded with the same question raised by my friends who are indeed among the faithful. It is an old question dating to Blaise Pascal. It is, what’s the harm in believing in God? If I am wrong in believing, then no harm no foul. If I am an atheist and there is a God, then I am fucked. At first glance this is indeed a marvelous argument in which hedging my bets would pay off.

Here is my argument. If I believe in Yahweh the God of Abraham and the basis of the Judeo-Christian tradition then I am betting against all other religions. What happens if I die and appear in front of Ra or Vishnu or Zeus? I’m shit out of luck. One has to accept that the God in the Bible is the only god in order for Pascal’s Wager to be at all pragmatic. Frankly, with the number of deities that have been fashioned over the years who is to say that Marduk is any less likely to exist than Thor or Cernunnos. If anything it is more pragmatic to be a deist or at least a pantheist than a monotheist.

This however brings me to my more important point. If there was a supreme being, to whom I was presented upon my death, I would hope that he or she would be more influenced to pass judgment on me based on my actions. Seeing that my disbelief was sincere and based on reason as opposed to a belief based on simply playing the odds or fear of retribution. However, if it came to that and I was damned at least I would have all of eternity to write more blog posts condemning the uselessness of God.

Categories: Uncategorized

Why I don’t believe in God…

March 31, 2010 Leave a comment

The reasons are innumerable. I could write for days on ignorance of believing that bronze age pastoralists knew more about the birth of the cosmos than modern particle physicists. I would need a much larger venue than this to list the reasons that science, because it is a questioning discipline, is more reliable than religion which claims it already has all the answers. And of course, I could simply regurgitate the same arguments again and again how moral systems stem from places that have never known religion and therefore the church does not, as it likes to think, have a monopoly on morality. Instead I will begin with myself and where I lost my faith and how as someone who considers himself an Epicurean like many of the great polymaths before me can debunk the existence of God with a single argument about the dialectical nature of free will and omnipotence.

I lost my faith when I was a mere 10 years old. When I was an infant I was baptized into the Episcopalian church and attended that almost exclusively until I was about 9. At home the tensions of religion showed me their true divisive nature as my father was a French Catholic and my mother an Episcopalian. As far as I knew Christianity was the only religion but it was different when my father practiced than when my mother practiced and it was a point of contention with my grand-parents, devout French Catholics who had a statue of Mary in the back yard and demanded that I know the rosary and the saints and catechism.

Very young Ken

My mother and I circa 1984. Little did she know I would grow up to be a godless heathen.

As I got older I was exceptionally bright, excelling in science and mathematics. By the time I entered school I could do arithmetic and basic algebra and read books well beyond those of my peers. As with all children born and raised in the eighties I was interested in dinosaurs and science and nature and thus began to question the book of Genesis at an early age. Where were the brontosauruses? How did Noah get the Tyrannosaurus Rex onto his Ark? When I would ask about them in Sunday School my questions would be dodged or I would be ignored completely. For some reason I felt that perhaps these people didn’t have the answers and I began to seriously question.

Because of the religious tension in our house where my father would not attend Episcopalian service nor could my mother attend Catholic service, eventually our family would attend neither church but instead a third denomination, Southern Baptists. Looking back now this seems so incredulous. Certainly Episcopalians and Catholics have more in common with each other than either does with any of the Lutheran formed Protestants. Service was much different. Rather than a beautiful old stone cathedral with gorgeous woodwork and iconography (while I despise religion I can appreciate the art) we attended a modern building with wood paneling and lots of songs that I had never heard of. These Baptists were nothing like the Christians I knew from growing up. Many of them were just so “fake.” I couldn’t stand it, they always had these reptilian grins on, nothing but sugar coated niceties came out of their mouths, it was unnerving.

When I was 10 years old tragedy struck my house and my baby sister, Irene, passed away from a congenital heart defect. For the first time I began to question the nature of the concept of God and omnipotence. Something wasn’t right. Conflicting messages about how “God has a plan” and “be righteous before the Lord” began to churn in my mind. At 10 years old I lost my faith.

A loss of faith is a hard thing to reconcile. At first I thought that perhaps I just didn’t understand well enough. At the age of 11 I read the bible in its entirety. Upon completing this task I was certain that I was only more confused than when I had started. I was always told that God was a loving and caring God but I got no further than Leviticus and Deuteronomy when I decided he most certainly was not. I would have to have said I agreed when Richard Dawkins said;

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

If this was the God of Christ then I was most certainly not a Christian. I sought answers outside of the religion I had lived in my whole life. At first I studied various paganisms. This lasted from age 12 through 17. I was fascinated with Greek and Roman myths growing up so I studied Celtic, Norse, and Egyptian paganisms trying to find an answer. Alas, with a disbelief in one God I certainly wasn’t going to find solace in multiple.

At 17 I discovered Buddhism. Perfection, a spiritual belief that eschewed the concept of a deity. No gods to rule, only the self and the not-self. I considered myself a Rinzai Zen Buddhist until I was in my mid-twenties. But even though I had found what I thought was my path I kept searching. By the time I was 25 I had read at least a majority of the Bible, Torah, Talmud, Koran, Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Dhammapada, Tao Te Ching, and dozens of Buddhist and Hindu Sutras. I had honed my understanding of religion by constantly engaging in debate with those who thought differently from myself, which growing up in a small town will afford you plenty as an agnostic.

I enjoyed Zen Buddhism because it not only rejected the idea of gods but most of the supernatural mumbo jumbo of the Theravada or Vajrayana traditions. It was simple, don’t be an asshole and you will be fine. However, my reading continued. I read Marx and Kropotkin; I read Camus and Sartre; I read Aristotle and Jefferson. I began to develop the feelings about religion that I had internalized at a young age. Religion was like an old toy, left over from childhood that I simply had to part with if I was to progress to adulthood. I became an atheist.

I came to realize that free will and omnipotence simply cannot coexist. I took Epicurus’s old saying about God and evil;

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

Instead of discussing God and evil I began to ponder the concept of being all-knowing. Please allow me to illustrate my point. If God is an all-knowing, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being as he is represented in the Judeo-Christian tradition then we humans have no free will; these two concepts are antithetical to one another. At first this is an easily dismissible claim, so what? But it is not the concept of fate that bothers me, it is the concept that God is so willing to punish for what he knows we are bound to do. For because if God is all knowing then we can have no power to do otherwise. Ever action we make is already known along with each outcome. Thus there is no free will. A sinner has no option but to fulfill his destiny as it is seen in the eyes of the omnipotent. For God your crimes are already committed, and judgment already awaits before you are even born, he is a tyrannical bully hell bent on punishing those who are no more than cogs in a piece of clockwork. Now it follows that if we do in fact have free will, then God simply cannot be the God as described in the holy books of the major religions. If he is none of those things listed, then why call him God?

Could God exist? Not in any manner as he has been made out in any contemporary religion. Thus I reject his existence, because if he is not what the Bible, Koran or Torah claim him to be on such an important case as his omnipotence then why should I waffle over the smaller details which are just as likely to be dead wrong. By rejecting the existence of a Supreme Being who knows all and sees all I liberate myself and all others to embrace our collective free will. In the words of Albert Camus, “Je rebelle, donc nous existons,” I rebel, therefore we exist.

What brave new world…

March 31, 2010 Leave a comment

What a better day to create this blog than the same day we humans have created in a laboratory a minuscule recreation of what happened 14 billion years ago at the centre of our universe. Today we collided two protons deep beneath the French Swiss border unleashing particles that have remained unseen since the dawn of time.

Large Hadron Collider

Associated Press

The information that will come from this collision will drag us kicking and screaming into this century and inevitably rewrite our understanding of particle physics and what happened just moments after the creation of the universe. It is my hope that people will be able to leave their petty bronze age beliefs behind when the undeniable evidence that science produces shows that it was not a grand schemer in the sky that created the world in 6 days but a wondrous chain of events spanning 14 billion years. Here’s to science.