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Atheists are Rascals! (Part 3)

essential_hinduism_thumbIn this post I will be dealing with the ISKCON’s misinterpretation and smear on atheism from their article, “The History and Analysis of Atheism”.

1. The nature of atheism is degrading: its practice leads to bondage and suffering (duhkha) because of an attachment to matter, which degrades (entropy). Matter cannot be a source of anything higher – order, development, or life (which cannot appear by chance).

2. Happiness through atheism is impossible, as it is not in harmony with the nature of person, society, universe, and God (dharma).

The following statements have nothing to do with the nature of atheism. Atheism is about not believing in the existence of gods or a god. Slanderous remarks don’t answer the atheist’s questions concerning the existence of a supernatural deity.

Unlike the average Hare Krishna cult member, the atheist has a sense of `his relative importance’ in the great chain of Nature – and he doesn’t need to use drugs like LSD to feel it. Happiness can be achieved even if you don’t believe in a supernatural higher up. He is not ruled by guilt and suffering to enjoy his life. Well…suffering and sacrifice are really part of religious life.

3. Atheism is a belief system.
A belief system consists of a mandatory philosophical system. Atheism does not have a mandatory philosophical system. In a layman’s language, a mandatory philosophical system means a philosophy in which a person lives.

Well…I am an atheist but the atheist who sits next to me may have a different view regarding morality. Some believe in an objective morality (See Michael Martin and Sam Harris regarding objective morality) while other atheists believe in a relative morality. Some atheists are communists, while others are objectivists. Some atheist abhors religion while others do not. There is no definite connection on what atheists believe…except they do not believe that gods exists.

4. Offensive atheism” and “defensive atheism”
There is no such thing as “offensive” and “defensive” atheism.

5. By definition, atheism is the world-view that denies the existence of God. To be more specific, traditional atheism (or offensive atheism) positively affirms that there never was, is not now, and never will be a God in or beyond the world.

A worldview is a particular philosophy of life; a concept of the world held by an individual or a group. Since atheism is not a philosophy then we can say that atheism is not a world-view. It may be a part of a certain worldview but atheism per se doesn’t constitute the whole picture.

A worldview is also defined as the set of beliefs about fundamental aspects of reality that ground and influence one’s perceiving, thinking, knowing, and doing. Atheism doesn’t constitute a set of beliefs but rather it is just non-belief.

6. The atheist cannot logically prove God’s nonexistence. And here’s why: to know that a transcendent God does not exist would require a perfect knowledge of all things (omniscience). To attain this knowledge would require simultaneous access to all parts of the world and beyond (omnipresence). Therefore, to be certain of the atheist’s claim one would have to possess godlike characteristics. Obviously, mankind’s limited nature precludes these special abilities. The offensive atheist’s dogmatic claim is therefore unjustifiable. As logician Mortimer Adler has pointed out, the atheist’s attempt to prove a universal negative is a self-defeating proposition.

The problem with this article is that it doesn’t have any idea what atheism is. Come on…to disbelieve something does not entail a person to be omniscient. In addition, in contrast to the article, we always prove negatives…we do it all the time. If I say that there are only bananas in my lunch box, I also prove that there are no apples in my lunch box. Remember, every positive statement implies negative statements.

There are two ways to prove the non-existence of something…like god or gods: i.) if it leads to a logical contradiction and ii.) by carefully seeing and looking.

Example: A mananaggal (vicera sucker) does not exist. Can I prove it? Sure, I can. We can prove it because of its impossibility. There are no known living thing that can fly by separating its lower torso and survive. Right? Moreover, we know that aerodynamically speaking, the body of a human being cannot fly using giant bat-wings.

Flying carpets do not exist because it is aerodynamically impossible.

Logically speaking, a perpetual motion machine cannot exist. There are no married bachelors and a four-sided triangle does not exist.

Negative existential proposition, a proposition that denies the existence of something, is impossible to be proven.

That is according to Alder as promoted by the ISKCON article. However, there are ways to do it…and I bet the author of the ISKCON article has not discovered it yet…

As suggested by Adler in his book Truth in Religion, “articles of faith” are propositions that cannot be proved but can be “disproved by the proof of propositions that are their logical contraries or contradictories. For example, the belief of the Mormons that Joseph Smith received the golden tablets from God is an “article of faith” since it cannot be proven.

However, as said by Adler, it can be disproved by a contradictory. According to the Judeo-Christian Bible, there is only one God. The same claim can also be seen from the Muslim camp. Well that means the Christian God and the Islamic God cannot exist simultaneously. Thus, both religions are making a positive existential claim and both are making an implicit negative claim that gods contrary to their god do not exist.

The “nail in the head” of Adler’s claim that negative existential propositions cannot be proven is the fact that the claim that “negative existential proposition cannot be proven” is itself a negative existential proposition!

This point can be forcefully emphasized by asking the atheist if he has ever visited the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The library presently contains over 70 million items (books, magazines, journals, etc.). Hundreds of thousands of these were written by scholars and specialists in the various academic fields. Then ask the following questions: “What percentage of the collective knowledge recorded in the volumes in this library would you say are within your own pool of knowledge and experience?” The atheist will likely respond, “I don’t know. I guess a fraction of one percent.” You can then ask: “Do you think it is logically possible that God may exist in the 99.9 percent that is outside your pool of knowledge and experience?” Even if the atheist refuses to admit the possibility, you have made your point and he knows it.

This is quite very easy. The atheist could also simply ask the Hare Krishna cult member, “Do you think it is logically possible that God may not exist in the 99.9 percent that is outside your pool of knowledge and experience?”

If the theist is going to claim that all propositions having any kind of deductive relationship to “god exists” are outside of what we know, then that is his burden of proof to show he is right.

7. Many atheists consider the problem of evil an airtight proof that God does not exist. They often say something like: “I know there is no God because if He exists, He never would have allowed all those atrocities in history to happen.”

A good approach to an argument like this is to say something to this effect: “Since you brought up this issue, the burden lies on you to prove that evil actually exists in the world. So let me ask you: by what criteria do you judge some things to be evil and other things not to be evil?

The best way here is to define evil. What is evil? In a simple layman’s term, evil is that which causes harm or destruction or misfortune. Evil is morally objectionable behavior… Oh I forgot, ISKCON doesn’t believe in morality… (“But, in the highest sense, there can be neither good nor evil” – Bhagavad-Gita, 140).

To deny the existence of evil or to claim that evil is an illusion does not make the problem of evil go away. An illusion of evil is still evil, therefore, if there is an illusion of evil, there is evil.

Remember that one can only know that all is an illusion against the backdrop of reality. Example, a mirage can be considered an illusion based on the effect of hot air in atmospheric refraction. The hot air in the atmospheric refraction is real. So if evil is an illusion then where did the illusion originate? How did the illusion originate, and how is it passed down to successive generations? Why does everyone experience it from his or her first moment of consciousness? Pain or evil is part of the human experience and is encountered by all. What happened in Hurracane Katrina, on 9/11 and on the tsunami that killed thousand in South Asia are not illusions.

A simple torment of a toothache is not imaginary. The experience is real and the damage (cavities) is present. These are not subjective hallucinations. Dentists do not extract figments of the imagination.

Then point out to him that it is impossible to distinguish evil from good unless one has an infinite reference point which is absolutely good.

The infinite reference point for distinguishing good from evil can only be found in the person of God, for God alone can exhaust the definition of “absolutely good.” If God does not exist, then there are no moral absolutes by which one can judge something (or someone) as being evil. More specifically, if God does not exist, there is no ultimate basis to judge the crimes. Seen in this light, the reality of evil actually requires the existence of God, rather than disproving it.

Secular ethics does not require god belief. The problem here lies that the article’s “infinite reference point” is a god who is said to be “an absolute”. In atheism, there is no need for an “infinite reference point” to distinguish good and evil. Good and bad actions are objectively based on the biological nature of human beings and are definable in absolute terms. Those objective standards are independent of any opinions or creeds.

It’s really this simple: Without living beings with needs, there can be no good or evil. Without the presence of more than one such living being, there can be no rules of conduct. Morality, then, emerges from humanity precisely because it exists to serve humanity.

Therefore, any chosen action that purposely benefits the human organism or society is morally good and any chosen action that purposely harms the human organism and society is morally bad.

8. Many sophisticated atheists today are fully aware of the philosophical pitfalls connected to offensive or dogmatic atheism. Prominent atheists such as Gordon Stein and Carl Sagan have admitted that God’s existence cannot be disproved. This has led such atheists to advocate skeptical “defensive atheism”. Defensive atheism asserts that while God’s existence cannot be logically or empirically disproved, it is nevertheless unproven. Atheists of this variety have actually redefined atheism to mean “an absence of belief in God” rather than “a denial of God’s existence”. For this more moderate type of atheism, the concept of “God” is like that of a unicorn, leprechaun, or elf. While they cannot be disproved, they remain unproven. Defensive atheism’s unbelief is grounded in the rejection of the proofs for God’s existence, and/or the belief that the concept of God lacks logical consistency.

Atheists can logically disprove the existence of a god. One known method is called The Argument of Incoherence (AKA Incompatible Properties Argument). The argument attempts to derive contradictions in the concept of God.

How about empirically disprove the existence of god? The argument from Physical Minds is a nice argument on the impossibility of a disembodied mind without the association of a material brain.

According to Gordon Stein, “Obviously, if theism is a belief in a God and atheism is a lack of a belief in a God, no third position or middle ground is possible. A person can either believe or not believe in a God.” (Gordon Stein, “The Meaning of Atheism and Agnosticism,” in G. Stein, editor, An anthology of atheism and rationalism, with introduction (Prometheus Books: Buffalo NY 1980).

Now here’s a quote on what Carl Sagan thinks about God, “The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying… it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.”

So when did Dr. Sagan and Gordon Stein say that god’s existence couldn’t be disproved? I don’t know…maybe it was an illusion of the ISCKON article.

Oh and by the way, atheists don’t re-invent the meaning of the word atheism as this ISCKON article allege. Atheism is not a denial of the theist’s claims; it’s skepticism of the theist’s claim.

9. Atheism cannot adequately explain the existence of the world.

Neither do theists.

10. An atheistic world is ultimately random, disorderly, transitive, and volatile. It is therefore incapable of providing the necessary preconditions to account for the laws of science, the universal laws of logic, and the human need for absolute moral standards. In short, it cannot account for the meaningful realities we encounter in life.
The theistic world-view, however, can explain these transcendental aspects of life. The uniformity of nature stems from God’s orderly design of the universe. The laws of logic are a reflection of the way God Himself thinks, and would have us to think as well.

A so-called transcendental aspect of life is an illusion. Supernatural and spiritual explanations only act as a temporary break from inquiries that enter the human mind. Speculations regarding transcendental aspects are empty. There are really no answers to something that is claimed to be beyond natural.

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Atheists are Rascals! (Some Notes on Indian Atheism)

image004It seems that Christians are not the only ones who are too nervy with atheists. In a Friendster group, someone copy-pasted an article from an ISKCON site entitled “History and Analysis of Atheism”.

I think the article was intended to show the errors of doubting god.

According to this article, Atheism is known since the Vedic times when its main proponent was philosopher Carvaka.

Who or what is this Carvaka.

We really don’t have much information regarding the Carvaka school of thought. Sadly, there were no surviving texts. Owing to the fierce opposition of the Vedic establishment, not a single document has come down to us, and we only have ideas of these ancient Indian materialists from the writings of their enemies and critics, particularly the philosophical treatises and compendia (darsana) written by their Vedic opponents between the 9th and 16th centuries.

Tradition attributes the ancient Indian materialism to Carvaka along with another sage called Brihaspati. According to the Puranic Encyclopedia: the name “Cârvâka ” can be traced to two places in the Hindu mythos. Certain Sanskrit texts refer to a philosopher named Cârvâka who began this school of extreme materialism.

In the Mâhabârata, Cârvâka is a rakasa (A goblin, evil spirit, fiend, and enemy of the Aryas) friend of the prince Duryodhana who disguised himself as a Brahmin and reviled Yudhiºþhira’s triumphant entry into Hastinâpura after the Great War, preaching profane, atheistic, and heretical doctrines. He was soon exposed by real Brahmins and reduced to ashes by the fire of their eyes. This description from the epic poem Mahabarata represents the indignation of religious schools in India against the materialistic philosophy of the Carvaka.

The Carvaka (which by the way they are also called Lokâyata, from loka, the Sanskrit word for “world,” since it holds that only the materialistic world exists and nothing more, such as the soul, heaven, or hell.) school of thought teaches the following:

1. God is non-existant.
2. There is no pre-existence or after-life.
3. There is no such thing as salvation (moksha); death itself is salvation.
4. Happiness is the only goal of life.
5. The wise should seek happiness with productive work.
6. Pursuit of music, erotics, medicines etc., adds comfort to life.
7. Distinctions of class and caste are hypocrisy.
8. The term “chastity for women” is rubbish (men and women are alike as far as chastity is concerned).

They also rejected the authority of sacred scriptures and they believe that an immortal soul and the metaphysical spirit are impossible because there aren’t any non-material objects that survive death as afterlife. For them, the idea of retribution (“Karma”) and the concept of reincarnation are hogwash. Consciousness is viewed as a product of the material structure of the body, characterizes the body itself rather than a soul and perishes with the body. Consciousness and the senses are the result of a particular combination of atoms and the proportions in which they were combined. After the death of an organism, this combination disintegrates into elements that then combine with corresponding types of atoms in inanimate nature.

Sounds too familiar?

Like their Greek counterpart, the Carvaka regarded the elements (water, fire, air) or else time or space, as the primary substances of the universe. The Universe was formed by these 5 elements (Panchamahaabhutas) namely: Prithvi (earth or solidity), jal (water or liquidity), agni (fire or fieriness or brightness), vaayu (wind or movement), and aakaasha (aether or emptiness), These elements, in turn, are said to be composed of atoms, indivisible units that are conceived as immutable, indestructible and having existed for all time. The atoms that comprise them determine the properties of any given object.

The Carvaka criticizes the Verdic priesthood, Brahmanism, rituals, and the caste system just as non-theists and anti-theists denounce today’s religions and churches like Christianity and Islam. They scorn the Vedic foundations upon which orthodox schools base their philosophies (six of the so-called schools of Indian philosophy – Sankhya-Yoga, Nyaya-Vaisheshika, Mimamsa and Vedanta – regard the Vedas as authentic).

Carvaka ethics urge each individual to seek his or her pleasure here and now. “As long as you live, live life to the fullest,” said Carvaka. “After death, the body is turned to ashes. There is no re-birth.” These words, so full of love for humanity and life, are strikingly reminiscent of the life-enhancing philosophy of Epicurus.

Since the afterlife, priesthood and those stories taught by the Vedas are considered worthless, the Carvaka recommends people to take up productive activities like agriculture, and other useful pursuits of the physical world. Stress was laid on justice in all lifestyles. Hence, inequalities in the case of gender and caste were opposed. Contemporary Humanists share this basic idea – therefore, Carvaka is humanistic.

To paraphrase what the Carvaka believes here are some extracts from the verses collected by Madhava – an orthodox Sanskrit writer of fourteenth century CE – in his compendium of Indian philosophy titled Sarva-darshana-sangraha.

Beyond the disputes on the issue of priesthood and ritual, the opposition against the Carvaka/ Lokayata is on the matter of its materialistic doctrine. The idea that leads to Cartesian dualism (The doctrine that the soul is distinct from the body) is not new. Since time immemorial, our ancestors have always thought that a disembodied soul leaves the body at death or that the soul gives the material body consciousness. This same idea also predominated most ancient Indian orthodox schools of thought.

According to Vedanta-sutra 2.2.1,2,8 matter cannot cause creation because it cannot be shown how and why the passive dead matter started to act. The argument is how this can be the case, especially since the material elements are unconscious, while a human has consciousness. According to most orthodox schools of thought, that is impossible without the use of some spiritual element.

The Cârvâkas defend their position in several ways.
First, they contend that stating that a new quality cannot emerge from a combination of base elements is an assumption – such cases exist. Their example appears in the above quote of the Sarvadaroeanasamgraha, where the new intoxicating quality appears in liquor when one mixes ingredients devoid of such a quality in a particular manner.

Secondly, the Lokâyatas posit that consciousness must be a product of the material human body. The fact that the body alone is material is admitted by all. The question becomes whether consciousness is a quality of the body and not a spiritual quality of its own. In Indian logic, a causal connection between two phenomena is established by an anavaya, or uniform co-presence, confirmed by a vyatireka, or uniform co-absence. For example, fire can be established as the cause of smoke because the two are always together, and similarly the absence of fire also results in the absence of smoke. The same reasoning can be attributed to the body and consciousness. Where there is a body, there is consciousness, and wherever there is an absence of body, there is also an absence of consciousness.

Today, thanks to modern neuroscience, we now have a better idea that the “soul” and the mind are just products of purely material processes. Traditional belief about the immortal soul, the mind and the issue of dualism are now just blather of archaic philosophies and religion…and the Carvaka/ Lokayata were right to doubt it.

On my next post, I will deal with some of the claims that the ISKCON article presented as proof of the existence of God.

Until then.

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