Dear Mr Bedford
I personally do not need religion, but lots of people do. Although it is true that science has pushed the frontier of knowledge, thus reducing the field occupied by supernatural explanations, a lot of people still rely on invented religious answers for what is left. Moreover, a significant number of people go further than that and reject scientific discoveries when they conflict with their beliefs (just look at the fundamentalist Christians who reject evolution for instance), the number who believe in astrology, and so on. And, even if the afterlife concept is erroneous, the majority of human beings today still believe in it. They do not believe in it because there is proof of it, but simply because it comforts them.
In fact, I remember talking with a person who was a strong believer in reincarnation, who thought that all living things reincarnate. I asked that person if she ever wondered about the next lives of the millions of dead skin cells that everyone is shedding every day. That puzzled her because, even if she new that all organisms are made of a vast collection of cells, somehow she was still reasoning as if an organism was a singular thing. She simply answered that it is the whole organism that reincarnates and that was it.
When it comes to religious belief, people stop thinking straight. In another instance, somebody told me that he was agnostic, but believed that “conscience” survived the death of the body. I asked that person how something that disappears 8 hours a day during sleep, or when you faint, that can be altered dramatically from a blow to the head, is supposed to go on after death? Again, that person found a way out, saying that conscience is a deeper concept not affected by physical changes.
For moral guidance too, many people need religion, because they want a sense of absolute right or wrong, and the state cannot provide that sense of the absolute. For instance, alcohol consumption is legal here, but illegal in some countries. Is it right or wrong to consume alcohol? Or, late us think about abortion, a subject that divides our society. Most people have a hard time that right and wrong are relative concepts. (As an aside, I could never rely on the state personally for any kind of moral guidance, because I do not believe that lawmakers know more than me and that I should therefore trust them. I accept most laws only because they help society to function, not necessarily because any specific law makes sense)
Perhaps things will change. I see the potential for change once we start merging more with machines, unless people invent a soul for self aware computers and start to believe that they too will have an eternal after life.
From: Darwin Bedford [mailto:Darwin@atheists.net]
Sent: May 16, 2002 2:04 AM
Subject: RE: Rational for survival?
I am enjoying this high level discussion. Two of your thoughts are incorrect. You say that most people still need what religion brings them -- alleviation of anxiety related to death, explanations for a complex world, and moral guidance. Moral guidance can be provided by state education or some other secular means. Explanations for a complex world are being found by the scientific method daily. Alleviation of anxiety related to death is being fed by the erroneous concept of life-after-death. People may come around to realizing that although there may be some pain experienced with some forms of dying, that there can be nothing more peaceful then knowing that when your dead you feel and know nothing because you no longer exist. I agree that this would amount to a paradigm shift regarding the subject of death, but my glass is half full--perhaps you are viewing your glass as half empty.
The other thought that is incorrect is that the survival of the planet is important. It is not--that is to the totality of existence it is not. However, if we decide to go along with our inherited make-up (i.e., not to override it with our being aware of things), then it is important to us by our declaration only. I can assure you that our essence will be assimilated into the void at some point in the future and there will be nothing that we can do about it.
I hope that you absorb the content of what of what I'm trying to express here. Another observation I have is that what you say regarding people's beliefs is true of today but this can change--again, I know that I am viewing my glass as half full.
EVERYTHING SAID IN THE CONTEXT OF GOD BEING REAL IS MERE NONSENSE.
At 09:07 AM 5/15/02 -0400, you wrote:
Thank you for your reply.
There is no doubt that the very process of evolution through natural selection leads to organisms that are good at survival and reproduction. There is no doubt also that intelligence has been the most important factor in the survival of human beings. It is because of our brainpower that we were able to have civilization and to accumulate knowledge from one generation to the next. That in turn lead to the development of technologies that allowed us to thrive in almost all of the planet s environments. But, our intelligence made us aware of our mortality and, fearing death (by the way, fear of death is a good tool for survival), we invented religions with an after life to deal with the anxiety. Moreover, we like to get answers, to understand things and most people are not comfortable without a model of the world that is incomplete. Once again, religion felt the gap by inventing explanations for things that we did not really understand. Another function of religion is to secure a form of social order through its moralistic judgements, its affirmation of some absolute moral order. The thing is that different religions present different answers for an after life, as models of the world and its origin, and on moral standards. The flexibility of intelligence accounts for the fact that different human groups invented different religions. And of course, different religions can rarely cohabit in peace, for the simple reason that, if one admits that other people religions may be true, one has to question his own and, in doing that, loses the comfort that faith in his beliefs gave him, and that defeats the purpose of adhering to those beliefs. Therefore, the normal response is to be intolerant to other people s belief.
We will not eliminate religion, for the simple reason that most people still need what religion brings them (alleviation of anxiety related to death, explanations for a complex world, moral guidance ). When traditional religions may be on the decline, they are replaced by new cults that serve the same functions.
Still, I fail to see why the survival of the planet is important. There have been massive extinctions before. There could be more, what is the big deal? For instance, why is it so important to preserve, let us say, the boreal forest as it is now? After all, 10 000 years ago (which is a very small time on geological scales), there were sheets of ice over a kilometer thick where those forests now stand? Why should it last for ever?
From: Darwin Bedford [mailto:Darwin@atheists.net]
Sent: May 15, 2002 2:57 AM
Subject: Re: Rational for survival?
The rationale is simply this... Our make-up as animals is given and we are comprised of proven survival mechanisms. So just accept that you are an animal of nature with values and emotions to help you to survive.
I also touch upon this subject in article titled The Simplicity of Existence at http://www.atheists.net/pages/simple.html
Here is an excerpt.
THE PHYSICAL LAW OF EVOLUTIONARY PROCESS:
For any sub-grouping of stuff particles; as a result of the equilibrium effort, higher and higher orders of equilibrium may be attained as time pa sses. As the stuff particles find more efficient arrangements, higher levels of order may be attained. It could be said that these higher orders evolve -- thus we have an evolutionar y process.
Sub-atomic particles are an ordering of stuff particles. Atoms are an ordering of sub-atomic particles. Molecules are an ordering of atoms. The simplest of life forms are an ordering of molecules.
Life may be the result of the physical law of evolutionary process.
I hope I have at least contributed to the answer of your question.
At 01:26 PM 5/14/02 -0400, you wrote:
I have taken great interest in reading the different papers that are
available on your website.
I am an agnostic, one who does not believe in God or any other type of
While reading your article about atheism and the environment, something
You wrote this:
"There is evidence that the wide-spread belief in gods and its effects are
detrimental to the planet's survival. Church dogma and the influence of
priests that dictate procreation are more to be feared than just irrational
beliefs in gods."
I think that indeed, belief in gods may adversely effect the planet's
survival. However, why is that a bad thing? After all, life on the planet
will survive at most a few more billion years before being scorched by the
sun. If it ends sooner, what is the big deal?
I fail to see the reasoning that justifies the desire to see life survive,
including human beings.
I value many things, including life, human or not, because I happen to have
emotions drive me that way, but I could never, as an agnostic, find a good
rationale for the values I hold.
Perhaps you have an answer