Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Burden of Proof

One of the prime irritating factors of debating my atheism with others is that it often appears that the burden of proof falls upon me to explain how the supernatural is not possible. What's accepted in our society is that those who adhere by some religious or spiritual doctrine have an elevated status as far as raising doubt about the non-existence of their deeply held belief system. What confounds the thinking is that those who find solace in their version of religion or spirituality feel as though we atheists must through logic and the scientific method completely disprove every tenet of their belief structure through the tools of science. Upon such achievement, it is only then that grounds for debate are established, and we apparently are on equal footing. It must be understood however, that the scientific method was not developed solely to refute the illogical beliefs of others, but to inquire and understand the universe that we live in. It has long been established that reason, with just religion and spirituality as tools alone could not help us understand the inner workings of our physical world. It is only through the accumulation of evidence and empirical thinking along the scientific method that we have begun to understand how the sun provides heat, gravity allows us to remain bound to the Earth, evolution through natural selection provides the variety of life, and even which areas of the brain activate to allow for lively philosophical debate. None of these answers can ever be attained by deeply studying some ancient texts that are deemed holy, or praying endlessly for weeks to understand the cause of an underlying disease. Perhaps religion's role is to sharpen our mental acuity for philosophical debate with others who hold on to an illogical and ill conceived faith-based view of the world?

With the burden of proof shifting to those who hold onto arcane notions of religion or spirituality, the task is completely up to them to explain their logic and endearing faith to such tenuous notions. It is only when one is able to step away from their indoctrinated belief structure for even a few moments that the illogic of their faith can be revealed. It is ultimately those who have the most enduring faith that see other's illogical belief as ridiculous, while justifying their system through jarring logical gaps. For these reasons alone, I shall try to briefly highlight the ridiculous notions of the major worldly religious and hope that even those who rigorously grasp at their faith can at least find the absurdity of some of these notions.

Christianity -- circa 2000 years ago in some backwater region of a backwater village in a backwater area of the Middle East, an omnipotent being sent himself through some dichotomous duplication even via his own offspring to cleanse humanity of their sins by dying. He was born through a virgin, convinced of his own superiority, managed to thoroughly convince some disciples and then eventually, nailed to a cross because he was inciting the revolutionary idea that he was the savior of humanity.

Islam -- A man, whom we must never depict from threat of death, reared in another backwater area, of a backwater region, of a backwater..... in the Middle East had the truth revealed to him while on a mountain by a supremely powerful deity who's greatest wish was adoration and unceasing, zealous, enthusiastic worship. He then married a woman much older then himself and sent about spreading this message through threats of violence, loosely woven metaphors, and strict adherence to fasting rituals and complete submission to the same deity of the previous faith.

Hinduism -- A pantheistic belief, originating in an extremely rural region of India, that incorporates the essence of animals as true gods, worships them in a variety of ways, depending on the regional difference, and through ceaseless rituals, countless gurus, and the doctrine that one's essence will be reanimated into another creatures upon their deaths attempts to achieve an enlightened state that can never be totally fulfilled.

Buddhism -- A malleable and ethereal essence that pervades the universe and continually transmits a notion of tranquility, requiring countless meditative trances and chants, while constantly adapting to regional differences and yet, will still always remain unattainable because perfection can never be achieved and can never be known (originating in another extremely rural region of India).

Judaism -- An all knowing, omnipotent, omnipresent entity, who was vengeful, genocidal, jealous, treacherous, and out right malevolent decided to choose a group of people and continuously test them through pain and suffering to gauge their loyalty and faith. These people then felt the need to quell any dissent from others of the same group who questioned such a hateful deity through mass slaughter, genocide, and of course the natural wrath of their deity. Plagiarized much of these ridiculous notions from neighboring regions and then attempted to pass them off as original (and although claimed to originate in a certain backwater region of the middle east, actually originated and spread through another backwater region of the middle east --is there a trend here?).

Scientology -- A group of space aliens from tens of millions of years ago from the planet Xenu escaped to Earth and were trapped, killed, and then their spirits were imprisoned before binding to certain human beings and then reanimated.

Quadrapteradragonism -- A four winged dragon that lives in an unseen parallel dimension ultimately chooses only the morally just people who have sacrificed their spare time to praying for rain on the 5th full moon of the year, fasting during the summer solstice for 3 days and then retreating to mass orgy on the nearest shoreline (whether sea or lake) after the 1st blue moon of the leap year. These people then control the direction that their offspring will take from the as yet unseen parallel dimension.

Well, obviously, having made up the last one, one can see how ridiculous these notions of religion can get. Yet, one can't easily leave those portending to adhere to some "spirituality" off the hook easily either. The thoughts and reasoning of these people tend to run in even greater notions of absurdity, and ultimately, one can truly be lost in this jumble of religions/spiritual insanity. The most reasonable mode of escape is to conclude that although any of these notions are possible, their likelihoods are so infinitesimally small that the burden of proof falls least upon the "de facto" atheist (a term coined by Richard Dawkins). This ultimately then is the starting point of logic, and it is up to the extraordinary beliefs to support their claims (as Carl Sagan said, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof"). In other words, the burden of proof lies not with the atheist, but with the religious and spiritual.

As a final note, much of this, and previous posts may come off sounding arrogant. That cannot be helped when one clears the garbage and attempts to inquire about the universe; ultimately leading to our understanding of our own place within it. These arguments only seem arrogant because there is a lot of working science behind them. To fully understand this position, one must embrace the scientific method, and learn to shy away from scientific ignorance. Before deciding that evolution through natural selection doesn't make much sense, try to understand the theory first. Before determining that there is no possible way the Earth can be 4.6 billion years old, try to educate yourself in introductory geology. The same however, cannot be said of religious or spiritual views. As much as one attempts to educate themselves with these notions, they are still ultimately an imaginary creation of the mind. It's like trying to obtain a degree of theology in quadrapteradragonism. Even though that may sound funny, this is exactly how other religions should be viewed. The only difference being that tradition has allowed the existing "official" religions to survive through virulent and self-perpetuating memes (another term coined by Richard Dawkins which represents tiny informational packets for the mind, much like genes are for the body). Much has been made of the fact that science explains the hows and religion explains the whys, but this is a very unreasonable estimation. Science can explain the whys about as well as religion, while also adhering to the working knowledge of the universe. As a final meme for thought, it must be remembered that, just because one seeks to find an answer doesn't mean there's an answer to be sought.

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