Google+ Followers

Saturday, October 18, 2008

From an Agnostic to an Atheist

I come from a hindu brahmin family and have had a moderately religious upbringing. As a kid I remember praying to god daily after having a bath, and here pops up the very first question I used to ask as kid....why should I pray only after having a bath? Why can't I pray before even brushing my teeth? or immediately after I come back from play when I'm sweating and muddy? I remember doing 'sandhya vandana' after my 'upanayanam' once or twice. To this day I do not know what 'gayatri mantra' means and why women are not supposed to chant it. And if women are not supposed to chant it how is it that T-Series makes a killing out of it by making Anuradha Paudwal sing it? I'm thankful to my parents that they didn't thrust their religious beliefs on me, didn't force me to pray daily, perform pooja and other rituals which have little meaning. Not that they are atheists, they'd tell me to believe in god, ask me to say the bare minimum prayers occasionally, be present during 'aartis', perform 'abhishekhas' and other such harmless things. They also instilled in me a great sense of character, discipline, independence, morals, ethics and many other characteristics which cannot be covered even in an entire different post altogether. I love them and feel lucky to have them as my parents.

But is good upbringing tightly coupled with being religious? Do we really need religion and god to be good? As I grew into my teens, and until my engineering I should say, I used to pray rarely and respect god. It was just one of those things I could take time out for easily but I never really gave it a serious thought and the belief in god was not strong. I always thought of rituals being illogical and having no meaning but was of the opinion that religion gave us a sense of right and wrong, taught us morals and ethics through the various vedas, puranas and epics. I thought as long as religion doesn't preach intolerance and violence, its a good thing to have. I was an agnostic. But one day my cousin showed me this video called 'Root of all evil' by Richard Dawkins and that video had me thinking about the truth value of god. It made me realise that the connection of morals, ethics, values and way of life to god and religion was absurd. I could lead a perfectly healthy, guilt-free, purposeful life without god. I could do away with god and be person with good character, a person who takes responsibility for his actions, knows what is right and wrong given the circumstances, has ethics, morals, values and a sense of direction in my life.

I have started reading a little on evolution, evolutionary psychology and have been fascinated by concepts like natural selection, kin selection, reciprocal altruism and the formation of social hierarchy among humans. I can appreciate human freewill and consciousness in world without god. I think that the theory of evolution is far more convincing than the god hypothesis. It makes a lot of sense and makes me a more responsible person, instead of just accepting things the way they are because god 'wants' it that way and I deserve it because of my karma. I hope people come out of their comfort zone of belief in god and realise that the god hypothesis has no truth value.

Friday, October 17, 2008

What's Religion doing in the 21st century?

Life for us is pretty convenient nowadays. Much of this convenience could be attributed to technology that is involved in our lives to such a great extent today that we almost take it for granted. You wake up thanks to the alarm on your cell phone (even better is the snooze feature that lets you extend your sleep), travel in A/C fitted vehicles with LCD screens while listening to your favorite Floyd song on the move, run programs or generate "process related" reports on your laptop/ desktop at work. You can speak to your friend in Scotland while gyming, put him on hold and pick your girlfriend's call thanks to your cell phone (which has other less important features like GPS, GPRS, MP3 playback and a whole range of 3G features) . You can download music, movies, chat, shop, pay bills, book tickets, bank/ trade online, have virtual avtaars, network with people with the help of internet. You can travel long distances in the comfort of flights or save your company some bucks by using tele/ video conferencing facilities. The things I've mentioned above are pretty common and one would feel 'handicapped' in a sense if some of these facilities were not accessible to him. I've not even started with smashing protons, QED, Mars missions, telescopes peeking into the birth and death of stars thousands of light years away from Earth, AS50, ICBMs, F1 technology......this thing could be endless!!

The point I'm trying to make is that we have acheived remarkable progress in science and technology which would mean enhanced reasoning capability. We have ideas/ philosophies (rationalism, objectivism), concepts of democracy, constitution of a nation, economy, social justice which reflect the progress in our thinking. We even have the elegant theory of evolution (since 1859) that best explains our origin and the big bang theory that would explain the start of the universe. Why then in this scientific era do people still believe in god and follow a particular religion? Why do they still let superstitions and religious beliefs govern their daily lives? Why do they interpret simple situations as acts of god or god's intervention? Why do they let men in saffron robes, white gowns or caps on their heads instruct them on how to lead their lives?

I do not have convincing answers to questions posed above. Religious beliefs maybe because of parents who pass them onto their children from an early stage. After teaching them to say 'amma' and 'pappa' babies are taught to say "Bappa Govinda", kneel before idols in respect, chant prayers and shlokas without even getting the meaning of words being uttered. They are supposed to thank god when good things happen to them and blame their bad karma and accept 'god's punishment' when bad things happen to them. People might be greatly influenced by the words of the swamijis, bishops or imams to take the religious path and 'embrace' god. Some poeple believe in a 'higher supernatural power' who is their source of strength, inspiration and who runs the world. People are tricked into thinking that it is the belief in god and the religious scriptures that teach us to lead a 'purposeful' life. People look to scriptures for ethics and morals and find a way of living in them. These reasons are quite plausible but not totally convincing as to why god and religion have stuck around for so many centuries now.

After I started reading about evolution and evolutionary psychology, I wondered if there were any evolutionary reasons for humans' belief in god. Could it be that belief in god enhanced the survival chances of humans? Some interesting points emerge as Richard Dawkins discusses the issue of belief in god from a darwinian point of view in his book 'The God Delusion'. He tries to provide the 'ultimate' reasons for humans to believe in god by throwing light upon the dualistic nature of the human mind which separates the mind from the matter thus paving way for the concept of 'soul' which is immortal. The teleological nature of kids assigns 'purpose' to inanimate objects and as they grow up a mapping between the soul and god's purpose emerges. Evolutionary biologists also discuss the possibility of religion being a 'by-product' of the things mentioned above and some 'misfirings' between the different lobes of the brain in the course of its evolution.

Although the origins of belief in god are still being debated and we cant place our bets on any one single idea, it is fairly easy to see how the god concept came into being. I find it ironical that in this scientific era the god concept and words of 'godmen' are accepted with such ease and fierce conviction that people are driven enough to kill each other and yet some of the most knowledgeable and brightest minds are left out of breath and frustrated in their attempts to widen human thought and often have to live their lives with the scare of a 'fatwah'. That there exists no one single idea about the origins of the universe, the belief in god and other such things that theology touches open is no proof that the scientific process is faulty. In fact it is this convergence (or divergence) of various ideas that puts science much ahead of the god hypothesis in terms of logic and rational conclusions. This process ensures that ideas are constanly refined and improved upon like in a control system with a feedback loop. Even though the ideas change, the core steps of having an open mind to new ideas with better logic and evidence, having an ever inquisitive mind and reasoning do not and that makes science a reliable tool for churning out new ideas.