Thursday, January 26, 2012

Just Too Dumb to Be an Atheist

There I've said it.   I'm just too damned dumb to accept atheism.   And, the way I see it, so are you even if you won't admit it... yet.  It's the whole faith thing that stops me in my tracks.   What is faith but a willingness to accept as true something that you cannot prove and otherwise wouldn't believe?  It's a suspension of the common sense skepticism that we invoke every day to see us safely through a limitless variety of situations great and small. I know that's a crude definition but it works for my purposes.

To me, atheism is itself a quasi-faith.   The belief that there is no greater moral power than man himself is a bit over-reaching.   It is a conclusion that is founded on man's own intellect which is probably quite feeble and flawed.  It's a conclusion that cannot be reached until we know everything that is inside us and outside us.   Do we have any real idea of what a God would look like, how we can discern the presence or absence of a God?

Just look at how precious little we actually know.   Quantum physics suggests there are no fewer than eleven dimensions.   Mankind's entire experience is based on just four dimensions, one of which we don't even understand.   We have the left/right dimension, the up/down dimension, the forward/backward dimension and we have something that may or may not actually even exist, time.

Time may not exist?  Absolutely.  Years ago I heard this perfectly explained by a senior US Navy officer who commanded the atomic clock at the US Naval Observatory.   Every day he went to work with an awareness that we don't understand time, we can't even prove it exists.

All of our faiths, atheism included, are formed out of this four-dimensional awareness.   Any other  dimension could instantly shatter the wobbly foundations of our strains of faith.   And who is to say that our dimensional realities - four, seven, nine or eleven - would be constant throughout our universe or anything that lies beyond?

It is no wonder we cling to so many "revealed" religions, each founded on one or several supposed human-deity interfaces from the ancient past.   All it takes is for some guy to convince his people that he just had a quiet word with their Maker who told the guy to pass along thus and so.  It either gets traction or it doesn't.   If it gets traction, there you go - scripture.   And then you can hand that down, century by century, unless your religion gets overtaken by another faith or your faithful get trashed by conquerors who set up their Gods instead.   But the longer you keep it going the more certain adherents are to believe it's true.

Revealed religions are, in my opinion, hooey.   That's why there are so many of them each convinced that all others are hooey.  See, no matter what revealed religion you embrace, you already agree with me about each and every other revealed religion.   That speaks volumes.

But this is about atheism which, for many, seems to be the default option when revealed religion is rejected.   Why?   Because you say so.  Really?  Because you with your pointy little head, you who understands so little, you who has never looked high and low or far and wide, you can't see God so he can't exist.   And we're supposed to put aside our skepticism because of that?

So where does that leave me?   I think I'm going to go with Einstein and accept that, somewhere on a scale between possibly and probably, there exists a superior being that we can perceive as Godlike.  I'm going to accept this is evident in the vast mysteriousness of the universe and in human consciousness, compassion and reason.   I guess that is a loose sort of Deism.  Maybe that's just where you wind up when you're too dumb to be an atheist. 


thwap said...

This was the topic that ended up with me leaving the discussion board EnMasse.

Some people there wanted to insist that atheists who attacked religion were no better than the fundamentalist zealots they claimed to despise.

I argued to the contrary that champions of rational and scientific understanding were responding to the very real dangers of irrational, incoherent human speculation that was dressed-up as revealed truth.

(Ironically, the word verification for this comment is "rable" which is close to the name of the discussion board "" that I left in the great schism when EnMasse was formed.)

I left EnMasse because my anti-atheist interlocutors were incapable of reading me correctly and insisted on ascribing all sorts of nasty attributes to me, as if all our years of comradeship were disposable in their pathetic desire to be proven right.

My atheism is based on the unknowable nature of the vastness of existence that you yourself refer to here. A vastness that is conveyed to us via human-directed scientific-rational thought.

Science will not provide us with the answers. But our revealed religions, these human speculations have already failed so spectacularly.

You can know nothing about whatever god-like figure you postulate might exist. What sort of religion is that then? What sort of higher power is this? What does it explain for you? Absolutely nothing.

I think you'd be hard-pressed to find an atheist who KNOWS there is nothing beyond what human science will show us. But they'll ask you why you're inventing something to believe in that really explains nothing.

nrepin said...

I'm just curious how it makes more sense to say "you can't see God so he must exist." rather than "you can't see God so he can't exist."

Only one of those seems like a rational place to start to me.

The Mound of Sound said...

Thwap, first of all, what does atheism mean to you? If, like me, you accept man is incapable, either through intellectual impairment or lack of knowledge and discovery, of really grasping notions such as god why should a belief in the possibility of a god be any less valid than a belief in the non-existence of any god? Why should we not continue looking, inward and outward, for signs that point to the existence of some greater entity, even a creator of some sort?

You assert that "science will not provide us with the answers." How can you possibly defend that? What do you know of what science will or will not do, what it may achieve, what capabilities it may develop in the future?

Finally, what makes you think that my perception of a possible God constitutes a religion at all? I think that too is a reach you haven't established.

@nrepin, why should you frame this as limited just to the two possibilities you posit? What I find interesting is that, like adherents of revealed religion, you argue premised on an assumed ability that we are intellectually capable of these questions. My premise is that we're not.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you fairly represent Einstein:

On 22 March 1954 Einstein received a letter from J. Dispentiere, an Italian immigrant who had worked as an experimental machinist in New Jersey. Dispentiere had declared himself an atheist and was despaired by a news report which had cast Einstein as conventionally religious. Einstein replied on 24 March 1954:
It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it

thwap said...


I just don't see any reason to think about this unknowable God.

If there is an unknowable God, what does it matter? We don't know anything about it. We can't even speculate. It's pointless.

Science can't explain everything. I can't see how this is controversial. Science is based on our sense perception and we only perceive a limited amount of information.

The farther we get (say in understanding the very big like universes and in the very small sub-atomic stuff) only points to still vaster greatness and unapproachable smallness.

But we blunder along and unknowable gods are irrelevant to our progress.

The Mound of Sound said...

I understand, Thwap, that you see no reason to think about a God but I don't recall suggesting you should.

I never suggested that gods are unknowable. They are now but, to me, that's as much a reflection of humanity's limitations as anything else. What gives you the right to declare what science may discover in the future or that concepts such as god are irrelevant to our progress?

Why the stridency in your beliefs? What need does that meet? Think whatever you like and more power to you. Pax vobiscum.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Anonymous:

"My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God."

"I'm not an atheist, and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations."

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to use the word "God" God implies a higher power that meddles in human affairs. That I just cannot accept, there is no logic or evidence to that.

Yes science has a theory that there may be multiple dimensions, but at the moment that is all mathematical modeling and conjecture. A recent article in Scientific American postulated that these extra dimensions will likely prove untestable, and will remain enitirely theoretical. There is nothing known that can traverse the dimensional boundaries.

Does any of this preclude that another dimension gave shape and form to our own universe? That we are a 4 dimensional bubble that popped into existence within a higher dimensional framework No. But I wouldn't call that "God". God implies consciousness, a way of thinking and acting that understands us (even if religions claim we cannot understand God).

Our current understanding of our universe implies so far that any other form of "power" will be unconscious, that it is just physics, math, laws of existence.

Granted this does not mean we know everything, but I am very comfortable accepting that there is no God that interferes with or is aware of human affairs. If science eventually finds a higher power that can form universes, that would be neat, but I would bet that higher power will care not a whit whether we worship it or not. Which means it is irrelevant as a God and a source of religion.

Anyong said...

Your superior spirit is your brain. So MOS, do you hope there is an eternal life for you with streets paved with gold and you shall go on for ever and ever? I don't. People who call themselves Christians believe a person must be one inorder to live an ethical, moral life. Knowing this first hand not to be true and asking the question, does one have to attend a religious faith in order to be so, always produces a look of having been challenged and then comes the look of willful blindness. There isn't anything limited about the human mind. When we are born we have the ability of learning any human language spoken on earth. There is nothing arrogant about the brain being our superior reasoning power.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anyong - can my brain be my superior? I'm not sure I agree that our human brain isn't limited. It may be the dominant brain of any we know so far but that's about it. And, no, I have never and will never suggest a nexus between revealed religion and ethics or morality. Our history is proof of that disconnect.

thwap said...

You see, this is what I was talking about. How is it "strident" to ask you why you want to believe in the possibility of an unknowable God? Why is it zealotry for me to ask you what you get out of this? What does it explain for you?

Now, David Hume did something similar, but not quite what I think you're doing. Hume did not declare himself an atheist because he didn't know. But he didn't call himself a Deist either. For intents and purposes he was an atheist undeclared.

I'll repeat what I said in my first post and perhaps you can clue me in as to what is strident about it:

"I think you'd be hard-pressed to find an atheist who KNOWS there is nothing beyond what human science will show us. But they'll ask you why you're inventing something to believe in that really explains nothing."

And as for your not making a religion out of this unknowable God, I can see that. Up until the point that you gain some knowledge of this God. What then? Are you going to invite it over for drinks? If it turns out to vote "conservative" are you going to call it a fuck-head and have nothing to do with it? Or will you simply nod politely when you pass it walking down the sidewalk?

Anonymous said...

I think your assertion is wrong. I don't think it's possible to be too dumb to be an atheist. Atheism is a belief system. Your beliefs may be wrong, but I am not too dumb to have incorrect beliefs.

This video is pretty good in my opinion on the discussion of theism and gnosticism.

Anonymous said...

There's having an open mind and then there's having a mind so open one's brains fall out. It's not that we can't see God so he can't exist, it's that there's nothing to suggest that God exists, so it's pretty unlikely that he does. It's even sillier to get so butthurt about that idea that you define "God" into a meaningless concept in an attempt to... prove what point, exactly?

Do yourself a favour and stick to the political stuff.

doconnor said...

"The belief that there is no greater moral power than man himself is a bit over-reaching."

Morals come from a combination of genetics and culture traditions. There is no need to ascribe it to some greater power. If we met intelligent aliens they would likely have very different morals.

"Science is based on our sense perception and we only perceive a limited amount of information."

These days science is based on sensors created by our technology. They are much more powerful then our human senses and are continuously improving.

To me, atheism is really just the logic conclusion of science. You believe in finite number of things supported by evidence and reject the infinite number of thing unsupported by evidence, of which God is only one. Science is the process of understanding the universe, not the conclusion. By applying it we gradually improve our understand over time. We don't even know how far we are from a complete understand, or even if there if enough evidence available to gain a complete understanding. I think it is possible that we will completely understand the fundamental rules that govern the universe.

thwap said...


"Science is based on our sense perception and we only perceive a limited amount of information."

These days science is based on sensors created by our technology. They are much more powerful then our human senses and are continuously improving.

I could be wrong but I believe that technology only gives us extensions of our already existing senses (sight, sound, texture, etc.,) but that there are obviously things happening that we can't even imagine because we don't have the sensors for them.

Ben said...

I am an atheist, apparently people who are religious label that as some kind of faith (because I believe in no god, and that is a belief), and so I have to called myself non-religious to get it across to them that I don't believe in any religion relevant to the mechanics of the universe. That is, I don't consider it, and I don't wonder about it, I don't even question my existence because I am just another animal with some degree of intelligence that may not, and probably is not, sufficient to understand the universe, and thus justify the existence of a god.

Oh, and Atheism is completely irrelevant to science, using science is taking our understanding of the universe and applying it to ourselves, society, etc., in meaningful ways. Science should be practiced NO MATTER WHAT. I am a nanoscience student in Canada and science is fundamentally our understanding of the universe, nothing more. If you associate it with Atheism, and you are not an atheist, then you will likely put a huge barrier between yourself and the sensible world and will undoubtedly become inherently dumb, in that you won't understand simple interactions in nature that are proven because "it is against god". If you come across something in your religion that is inconsistent with science, you have to make up for it on the religion side, no question.

You bring up a fundamentally important point, which is that we are too dumb. If we do not possess the intellectual capability to conceive how the universe works, then how can we possibly know anything about what influences its behaviour? What gives you such arrogance in that you believe you understand the universe? You can't even see 99.9'% of the interactions around you, what makes you think you know why the fundamental forces of the universe work in the way they do?

That is completely analogous to the case in which you claim to not know what a fridge does, and yet you claim to know why people put food in it. It doesn't make any sense whatsoever. Your emotional security requires you to try to reason questions that you cannot easily answer, but those emotional influences have been with you since the start of your evolution in respects to what will best help you survive in the conditions at the time. Because of your recently new ability to reason, it is the responsibility of human beings to acknowledge the bias and spontaneity of emotional influences on our ability to reason. You say time may not exist? It took me time to write this message, you need to work backwards c'mon, of course time exists. We call this an assumption in science, we assume the universe has been around for time. You say quantum physics dictates there are no less than 11 dimensions, that is theory that is not proven, perhaps one of the more popular one's because it apparently induces into the common public a deep sense of wonder. In any case, is is still only one amongst thousands of unproven theories.

It is actually a catastrophe as people can publish these theories and the general public ends up being the main market (who have no understand of quantum mechanics/chemistry), book becomes a big hit, and the theory then becomes apparently "true". Friggen retarded and a pissoff, one of my professors even ridicules arts students because they feel they can justify understanding these mechanics with no prior knowledge.

Ben said...

Oh, and if you think there is some "Quantum Enigma" or if you associate it with transformers, time travel, any other farfetched hollywood flick, big budget publisher book related to the "weird and mysterious nature" of quantum physics, then forget it. There's no big mysterious black hole of a wonder that people give quantum. All we seek to understand is the interactions of light with matter/matterwaves, the energy states in quantum state materials (<100nm in any one dimension) and how they are influenced compared to bulk materials, the nature of subatomic particle interactions, and various other things that are not as exciting as you may think. We are essentially reaching the end of our ability to conceive things in science meaningfully when working with these topics, and so we can conclude that our limit to intelligence does not give us the right to make further assumptions relevant to the nature of the universe despite any urge to. A dog is only so smart, but it is smart than an ant. A human is the same, but smarter than a dog. That doesn't mean we are the smartest in the universe such that we can reason it.

Ben said...

On the contrary, religion should be induced into a population to encourage common values from which everyone in the public would abide, and thus make it easier for the government to sustain a sufficient degree of public order such that people are happy, as they can make assumptions for their strategic planning based off of the fact that they know someone believes in a certain kind of religion.

This should be applied ideally to more than 90% of the population to suppress the need to be greedy and unfair amongst the majority of the population as they would already be emotionally satisfied over a false hope. Religion is actually a brilliant thing as it can bring the greatest hope and happiness to people out of nothing, and deliver nothing. The other 10% can be completely rational, though they will feel the need to be greedy to satisfy themselves as they know they will not go to an afterlife, and that there are no punishments for doing wrong in your life. Thus we have a structure to which happiness is distributed evenly amongst the population, and most of it is free!

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Ben.

"We are essentially reaching the end of our ability to conceive things in science meaningfully when working with these topics, and so we can conclude that our limit to intelligence does not give us the right to make further assumptions relevant to the nature of the universe despite any urge to. A dog is only so smart, but it is smart than an ant. A human is the same, but smarter than a dog."

Do you really believe that? Doesn't evolution and natural selection continually advance all organisms. Couple that with scientific innovation today and the wall that you perceive seems unfounded.

Look how far mankind has advanced in just a century on a planet that is perhaps billions of years old. Now we are capable of creating life, mapping the human genome, perhaps even blending human and mechanical materials.

Everything I read suggests we have only begun to tap our intellectual capabilities even as we begin to explore the edges of artificial intelligence.

Then again, atheism is based on the inherent assumption of "that's all there is" which is a matter of faith itself. It seems a powerful aspect of human nature to perceive ourselves as much greater and more complete than we are at any point in time.

I suspect the only thing that will preclude us from evolving into some series of higher orders would be extinction events, most likely of our own making.

Ben said...

It's true that evolution occurs over time, but it takes a very long time. It is actually good that you brought up the point that we advanced so quickly, it took us a few thousand years to figure everything out that is relevant to our everyday life, to reach a point where we can't do calculations on our own so we have to build computers to do it, in fact, they do most of the mathematical rigor in modern engineering and science.

Anyways, it took us a few thousands years since civilized society began and now we are reaching the limit of our intelligence. Then you would say, "Well, we are evolving, so our capacity to conceive things should increase over time, no?" And the answer is yes, but it would takes hundreds of thousands of years of evolution to do so, and yet it only takes us a few thousand to work out most things that we wonder about.

This comes to a more significant point, in that biological evolution is not even really part of our chronological physiology anymore. The act of using healthcare and medicines is contrary to the fundamental mechanic of nature, in that the weakest do not survive. Our society obviously allows the use of medicine because the act of not doing so would undermine being righteous in manner. Anyways, the evolution that is more relevant to our society is that of computers, as we can increase the rate at which computers understand things, and so to make up for our own deficit in the rate at which we evolve, we can rather rely on the increase in the rate at which computers evolve. Furthermore, conservation efforts of species based on their evolutionary significance will become more irrelevant over time, as we are less dependent on nature and more dependent on the computational systems and engineering infrastructure that is more complimentary to our society's interests.