Why I Am Atheist, Not Believer Or Agnostic

Originally written in October 2012

The following post is not another rant or an attempt to disparage believers but an argument from rational perspective in response to their accusation about me being arrogant for being an atheist.

Even though now I am sympathetic to believers’ position, it fills me with an urge to insult them when they call me arrogant upon knowing that I am atheist. Their timeless complaint is that atheists are ungrateful for the life that has been given to them, supposedly by God. Hence, arrogance. The basis for this is the logic that if something exists it must have a creator. Therefore, the universe must be created by God. This is not to mention various stories around God provided through different religions.

There can be (and there are) N number of explanations for natural phenomena that don’t involve God. Over the history at countless instances we have found explanations for the natural happenings which were earlier attributed to God. It actually takes high intellectual deficiency, or ignorance, to still not want to admit that God explanation is a substitute for the real explanation and is used in absence of good knowledge about the thing in question. If historical trend is anything to learn from, there is always a scientific explanation, it’s just a matter of us finding it.

Some smart ones, mostly when they are in intellectual circles, claim to be agnostics (albeit they are believers most other times). They disdain atheists for not believing in God by arguing that God’s nonexistence is unprovable, and therefore, atheists are arrogant. What they don’t get is, not believing in God’s existence is not the same as rejecting all possibilities of God’s existence. For that matter even being agnostic technically means not believing. You can’t believe in God’s existence and be doubtful about it at the same time. If you are in doubt about God’s existence (agnostic) that means you don’t believe God exists. And when you don’t believe God exists you satisfy the definition of atheist. I might as well say that there is no such position as agnostic. One is either a believer or a non-believer, aka atheist.

The literal meaning of a-theist is: one who does not believe in theistic God. A- is a negative prefix coming from Greek language. Like English un- (as in un-grateful).

When I was unsympathetic to believers I had a thought that those who are agnostic about God are either fools wanting to look intelligent or intelligent cowards. I still think it’s true about many claiming to be agnostics. In case of God there isn’t really a position of agnosticism – or at least not such that they can claim superiority over non-believes.

If one really thinks one is doubtful about God’s existence and still says prayers to God then one just doesn’t get it. The doubt is not coming from a rational place. One is probably tired and bored of God’s inexorable silence and at the same time is having a deep-seated need to believe he exists. It looks to me rather a weak and helpless position since this so-called agnosticism is not a result of rational thought but something else entirely. These people can’t claim to be more intelligent than atheists, nor does it indicate humbleness on their part. They are just a confused bunch.

I don’t reject all possibility of the creator’s existence but I have more reasons to lean towards certainty of God’s nonexistence than the other way. In the ordinary course of life just as I am certain that werewolves don’t exist, and fairy tales are not true, and there is no teapot between the Earth and the Mars orbiting the Sun (even though we can’t really prove any of that) I would say I am certain, too, that God does not exist.

I do know people, both atheists as well as believers, who are cocksure about their beliefs to the point of being arrogant. But being an atheist by itself doesn’t make one arrogant.

The Paradox of Individualism

Originally written in July 2012

I am against individualism. So much so that in many heated discussions about politics and morality I don’t even recognize an individual. There’s no individual. individual doesn’t matter at all. There’s only the collective. The society. When I say such things, obviously, on the surface it looks as if I am against the welfare of individuals which, naturally, to many feels unfair and counter-intuitive. What good is the society if the individuals who comprise it are not recognized, respected, given freedom, right? Wait a minute. Answer this question: What emerged first, human dignity or society?

Are we really free? Do we really have a right to live the way we like without being harmed by others? Do we intrinsically deserve respect and dignity? Or it has become possible only after we developed a civilized society? What would life have been prior to the society in the state of nature?

Individualism is an enemy of the very thing it purports to celebrate. It does not make an individual free, it kills freedom.

Animals in a jungle are perfect individualists. They own themselves. They act according to their own whims. They don’t have to follow any rules or abide by any law against their will. There is no one in their world who dictates how everyone ought to live. They are free of duties and responsibilities. Thus, a jungle is a real utopia for the supporters of individual freedom. Or is it?

In a jungle, life has no value and only power rules. That is precisely because animals don’t come together to form a society with cooperation and acceptance of social roles and responsibilities. They don’t form laws and take it upon themselves as a moral ought to live in accordance with them. They don’t live in the interest of the whole jungle but are committed to their own animal interests. The fact that animals lack the capacity to form a civilized society is beyond the point. The point is: each for himself is the way animals live in a jungle. And their existence is far from pleasant.

Individualism can’t lead to anything else but anarchy, the jungle rule, as the natural consequence. If all I think about is my own welfare then what incentive would my neighbor have to ever help me with anything, knowing that I am never going to act in their interest? If everyone in the world is individualist then isn’t it quite logical that no one has any motivation to act to benefit others, because everyone knows that their favors are never going to be rewarded?

A perfectly individualistic society is where everyone is looking after their own interests. And because no one is interested in enabling others’ welfare no one extends their care beyond themselves, not caring about the state of the society as to how their actions affect the society, the environment and so on. Because of this, living conditions undergo degradation and it becomes harder and harder for the individuals to satisfy their interests. Since individuals satisfy their interests by harnessing/exploiting their social environment (which is degrading because of individualism) soon that leads to dog-eat-dog situation. Then the life of pursuit of one’s interests becomes a battle. And in battle, it is clear that only the powerful would succeed. Exactly what happens in the jungle!

This is the paradox of individual freedom. If we strive for individual freedom alone, we will never have it. We will lose whatever we have of it, even. It’s only by thinking in terms of betterment of the collective that we all can hope to benefit and get to the world where human beings have respect, dignity and freedom (in limited sense, of course). We do have freedom, but it’s not our natural right or anything like that. We enjoy freedom precisely because we have formed a society which is based on a mutual agreement to cooperate in the sense of living with acceptance of civic duties responsibilities. Call it a positive paradox of giving up your interests.

If we think deeply over it, we don’t really have to give up our interests but understand that the only interests we can practically have in the long run are the collective interests. If you live in the interest of all, and everyone else is living in the same way, then that would automatically create a world where everyone’s interests are taken care of by everyone. The world of sharing and caring. Everyone then feels respected and treated with dignity. The very popular notion that human beings deserve respect and dignity is a product of this arrangement – only that now we have taken it for granted that we deserve it just because we are humans. That’s such a misguided notion! Our ancestors have worked to earn it and we have to work if we wish to maintain it.

Stop being individualists and think in terms of family, community, society, the world. Do what is good for the collective. That’s the only way to preserve our dignified individual selves. If we kept fighting for individual rights and freedom to live as one pleases without regard to anyone else, as the media- and market-driven world is doing today then in the future human life will have less and less value.

There Is No Such Thing As True Nature

Originally written in July 2012

One often hears that one should always follow one’s true nature. Many people hold that in difficult situations where an important decision has to be made following one’s true nature is the right and the only moral way to go. However, the question is: What is true nature?

Humans are driven by emotions/instincts as well as by intellect/rationality. The drive of instincts pertains to animal nature and the drive of rationality pertains to human nature. We have both the natures within us. And more often than not both natures want us to do different – often opposing – things. For example, a smoker has an instinct to smoke but his rational mind would say that it is bad for health. What for him is the right thing to do then? Which one of the two is his true nature? If the proponents of follow-your-heart philosophy are to be believed then he must smoke. But it’s clear that if we all lived like that the society would soon perish. That can’t be right.

Another camp believes that rationality is a higher faculty (which I too agree with) and the decisions arrived at rationally are always the right ones. For if you keep doing things driven by your instincts while at the same time rationally you also know that they are harmful to you, or even have the knowledge that you could live better by doing better things, that knowledge will gnaw at you and won’t allow you to be happy. Thus, the decisions approved by rational thought seem to be superior than those driven merely by instincts. If so, following the true nature would mean acting rationally.

Is the matter of true nature settled thus? Far from it. A little more reflection on rationality would reveal that rationality itself is not constant. Rationality is just a tool, a method of arriving at a conclusion by structured thought. The outcome depends on the goals determined by values and knowledge level of the person employing rationality. The goals themselves are corruptible by instincts and also the knowledge level isn’t constant. Therefore, all “rational” people won’t necessarily have the same conclusion over something. And even one person may not hold the same rational position all the time. As the knowledge level changes, so does the outcome of rational thought.

I also said that the goals are corruptible by instincts/emotions. In fact, they have to be so! A rational human being without emotions would be akin to a robot. One has to have emotions and one has to respect instincts to an extent. The goals are essentially set by, or are rooted in, emotions. And rationality is a means to the ends which are those goals. Rationality on its own can’t provide us any goals because, rationally speaking, universe has no meaning for us whatsoever. Unless one is emotionally rooted there would be no motivation to live.

The question of true self, thus, doesn’t have a clear answer. Instincts and rationality will often conflict. Follow-your-true-nature people want to get rid of the conflict by choosing one side. They err. The conflict is actually the healthy state.

The truth is that there’s no such thing as true nature. We are fundamentally made with conflicting motivations. The universe grows by conflicts. Without conflicts there would be no evolution, no life. If one chooses to go with instincts alone, one will be doomed. If one follows rationality alone, one would meet the same fate. One should accept the conflict and base every decision on one’s best judgement at that moment and not bother about true nature.

Follow-your-true-nature is a narcissist’s way of saying do whatever the hell you like. For it justifies the action by saying one just followed one’s true nature.

True Self and Individual Sovereignty – No Such Thing

Originally written in June 2012

There is no such thing as true self. Yes, genetically speaking everyone is unique, but genetic blueprint is not equivalent to self. Genetic blueprint is like a mold. It does in part shape the outcome as to how the individual would turn out, but the substance of the outcome also – and more importantly – depends on the ingredients of the inputs. These ingredients are thoughts and ideologies and other elements from the social environment the individual is exposed to through his life. These would determine what thoughts and ideologies the individual himself would have.

When whatever ideas one has are acquired from and influenced by the world outside (meaning, however the individual is he is shaped by the elements from the external world) how can one claim a set of ideas as truly one’s own? How can one say that a particular behavioral pattern is one’s true self? The term true self assumes a particular mind with specific thoughts and ideologies as a given.

People develop ideologies, tastes, preferences, wants, desires and so on, and begin to think they are their personal tastes, preferences,.. In a way they are, but not really. Moreover, people think that because there is such a thing as true self and since everyone has a true self everyone is entitled to live life the way they want. Pop culture tells them that following one’s true self is the only right way for a person to act. They call this entitlement individual sovereignty.

Let’s have a closer look into this to see whether one’s ideologies, tastes, preferences, wants, desires and so on (self) are really one’s own. When I am writing this, slim fit jeans are in fashion so I prefer those, as does everyone else I know. Ten years ago wide bottom jeans were in fashion. I do remember that I had then a couple of old slim fit pair of jeans (which would have been considered ultra-modern today) of my dad’s which I never thought of wearing. because in those times only girls wore slim fit jeans. I, like everybody I knew then, preferred wide bottom ones. And I thought that those looked attractive too, which seems rather funny today, because today slim fit ones are deemed attractive and everybody wants slim fit jeans. The fact that my dad had slim fit jeans means in his time they must have been in fashion, too.

How is it that people (a group as large as a community, city or even a nation) have one uniform preference at one point in time and another uniform preference at another point in time? Is my desire today of buying a pair of slim fit jeans my own desire? In other words, is the desire coming from my true self? Is it just a coincidence that my true self and the true selves of the entire world I know have the same preference in jeans? The fact is, what I think is my own desire is actually formed by what I see other people around me doing.

Whatever we think we are – our thoughts, ideologies, tastes, preferences, wants, desires, … – it is all shaped by our experiences with the world we live in, by seeing and observing other people, their behavior and habits, and many other things surrounding our existence. People from a particular religious or cultural background have similar traits and behavioral patterns. Most people behave in statistically predictable ways. It points to the fact that individual self is made up of shared and collective ideas and experiences. Self is not a genetic given and hence no individual has a true self.

The fact that one’s self or individuality is formed by the elements of the external world means that people can be systematically conditioned to have certain self. That’s what corporations and vested interests through media and advertisements are doing today. They make people desire things they don’t really need, but people think it’s their own desires.

No true self means that no one has preferences that are truly their own. No one has individuality in true sense, and therefore in my opinion there should be no such thing as individual sovereignty which is above the shared interests of humans as a group.

What Is Rationality? Is Man A Rational Animal?

Originally written in May 2012

“Man is a rational animal – so at least I have been told. Throughout a long life, I have looked diligently for evidence in favor of this statement, but so far I have not had the good fortune to come across it, though I have searched in many countries spread over three continents.” – Bertrand Russell

Definitions

Rationality is defined as a) the state or quality of being rational or logical, and b) the possession or utilization of reason or logic; and rational is defined as a) having or exercising the ability to reason, and b) of sound mind.

These are general definitions. The terms can be understood in a deeper way.

Man is said to be a rational animal. Does that mean all men are logical and are good at utilizing reason? If not, then why is man still called a rational animal? There are irrational men and there are rational men. What is it to be truly rational?

What Is Rationality?

As the definition above says, rationality is a state or quality of being rational (i.e. exercising the ability of reasoning) or logical. However, this definition doesn’t actually tell us if rationality is a positive or a negative trait. All it says is that rationality is a way, a method. A tool. Without any underlying values and belief system the tool of rationality is useless and means nothing. Our values and belief system help us decide our goals. Then to act in ways that take us towards our goals becomes the rational thing to do. Thus, only in context of our goals can we say that to do and think certain way is rational or irrational. Rationality is a tool to help us achieve the ends. The ends are the goals that we set in life. Rationality tells us how exactly we are supposed to live if we want to meet those goals.

To take a simple example, if your goal is to become a computer engineer then we can say that it is irrational to spend your time reading books about, say, quantum physics, and the rational thing to do is to learn about computers. But does that tell us whether learning about quantum physics or computers is in itself rational or irrational irrespective of one’s goals?

If what is rational depends on one’s goals then isn’t rationality subjective, since everyone has their own different set of goals? This question perplexed me for long time when I was grappling with understanding rationality. I would often think of a jihadi terrorist and try to understand how to prove his acts irrational. No doubt those terrorists are gruesome human beings for killing people the way they do and for the reasons they have for doing so. But think about it in this way: A jihadi terrorist believes that doing what he does is God’s will, and it is the only way for him to get to the heaven. He is brainwashed into believing that his acts serve the greatest purpose of humanity. His knowledge and understanding is limited, and so flawed are his values and belief system, and consequently his goals. But is he aware of it all? Clearly not. Thus, he is actually choosing the most rational path for himself. That means when we say that terrorists are irrational people, mustn’t we mean that they are irrational from our perspective, whereas they may be rational otherwise?

A somewhat startling learning out of it is this: For given knowledge and understanding – also called starting assumptions –  if one takes the most logical path to reach one’s goals then one is rational. There are two caveats in this statement. 1) one’s knowledge and understanding about life may be flawed, or not the best, and 2) one’s reasoning/logic in pursuance of the goals based on those starting assumptions may be flawed.

In the terrorist example, therefore, even if the terrorist’s reasoning may be fine, his knowledge and understanding is flawed. There’s no God, no heaven etc., and the man is misled big time. To us having better knowledge and understanding he is irrational. Likewise, there may also be cases where the starting assumptions are right but the reasoning process followed is flawed. (Refer to the list of logical fallacies.)

When it is said that one has rational arguments for one’s position, that in itself does not mean that the position one’s arguing for is good and the person is rational. Because even if one has rational arguments supporting one’s position, as we saw, rationality is merely a tool. Till we don’t know the person’s goals (which are determined by the starting assumptions) and his reasoning process we can’t tell if he is rational.

Theoretical And Practical Reason

Ancient Greeks had concepts of rationality called theoria (theoretical reason) and praxis (practical reason). The latter is also called instrumental rationality. Instrumental rationality is a tool to serve specific ends. Anybody can be instrumentally rational and at the same time be irrational from others’ point of view.

What is theoretical reason? Theoria is that rationality which justifies a position irrespective of any individual’s starting assumptions. The position reached through this type of rationality is “the” rational position. It’s what is truly Rational (with capital R). But I believe since we have epistemic limitations we can’t have complete and absolute knowledge. Meaning, there’s always a possibility that our knowledge and understanding can be improved. Therefore, in true sense, we can never be perfectly Rational. The corollary to that is: rationality is always subjective. Theoria, however and therefore, justifies a position reached through the best of human knowledge and understanding.

Is Man A Rational Animal?

Humans are called rational animals in that they always have some justification for whatever they are doing. I think the appeal here is to praxis or practical reason or instrumental rationality. However, I believe most humans don’t even meet the conditions of instrumental rationality. For example, when pushed by emotions and instincts humans often act in a way that they know in their head is not the best way (defying their own knowledge and understanding) and also the reasoning followed by most people is not always correct. Therefore, I would say humans quite often are irrational on this count.

As for being rational in theoria sense, vast majority of humans are irrational, because the goals most of the humans pursue are not the best ones, i.e. not derived using the best of human knowledge and understanding of life.

Conclusion

It would thus be apt to say that man is an animal capable of rationality at best.

Sexual Freedom – Good or Bad

Originally written in March 2012

In our times there are many advocates of sexual freedom or free sex (myself formerly being one of them) with a justification that sex is a natural activity, suppression of which would cause many a type of suffering.

The above line of thinking suffers from a fallacy called appeal to nature. What these people fail to understand is that what is natural is not necessarily good or desirable from social perspective. Nature is barbarous. One needs only look at the lives of other animals to see that.

Sexual restrictiveness is one of the foundations of human development into civilization. A society which lifts all restrictions on sexual pursuits would turn into chaos with man-woman relationships becoming more painful than ever.

Sex has evolved to be taboo not because of crazy ignorance of the society, as the advocates of free sex who decry tradition would have one believe. It’s considered bad for the reason that it is counterproductive with respect to most of the human pursuits.

For the creatures with self-awareness and the goals of their own apart from the nature’s evolutionary goals (propagation of genes through reproduction), it’s only obvious that sex should come under regulation. From nature’s standpoint, sex is the sole purpose of our existence. But since nature’s goals are not our goals as humans, sex is detrimental to our interests.

No doubt that sex is immensely pleasurable, but pleasure is kind of a trap. It’s an incentive placed by nature for us to reproduce. Not that reproduction is bad. In fact, where nature’s goals overlap human goals is when one wants to have a child of one’s own. But in every other situation sexual pleasure is a distraction from the worthwhile human pursuits.

Overindulgence of sex is not only counterproductive but destructive with respect to our social goals. Look at the life of a sex-addict. Look around to see what obsession with sex does to marriages. Our society is too evolved to afford giving free way to the so-called natural behavior.

Why is it so difficult to tackle this problem?

Sexual freedom is always an attractive thing from an individual’s standpoint. Since everybody enjoys sex and possesses strong sexual urges, the easier one gets it the better. It’s one of those nasty problems which turn almost irrevocably harmful to the society after they have become a mass phenomena. Until then the individuals with the potentially harmful tendencies greatly benefit from exercising them. It’s hard to be checked at an individual level because the benefits of sexual restraint are far away in effect and indirect (in that it will benefit the society as a whole, not the individual directly), whereas in direct sight to the individual are mostly the disincentives of controlling one’s urges in the face of choices.

Religion had worked out an ingenious solution to this conundrum by making unregulated (premarital and extramarital) sexual indulgence immoral, courtesy the Big Guy in the sky. Now thanks to increasing influence of mass media, the values established by religion are washed away, bringing about animalistic culture of narcissism and alienation, and disintegration of families and society.

Majority of the modern generation are lost creatures without the sense of right and wrong, without correct guidance, and with no higher purpose in life than pleasure seeking. No wonder they so love the idea of free sex.

Unrestrained sexual expression and predominance of sex in relationships is not the mark of a forward society but a backward one. Kill tradition and bring sexual freedom, and let marriage become an utopia and ugliness crime.

Happy riding back to nature!

Can a Man and a Woman Be Friends?

Originally written in March 2012

There is no reason for a man to be interested in women (and for a woman to be interested in men) other than sex. Biologically and evolutionarily speaking, copulation is the only reason why there are two sexes around, and it is fundamentally the only thing for which the members of the two sexes are drawn to each other.

Propagation of genes is why we are. Whatever else we think life is about is a delusion born out of our genetic programming and a part of the grand scheme of nature the cold bitch. Not that these delusions are bad (for what choice do we have?), but to the best of human understanding that’s what life is.

A man and a woman can’t be friends in true sense of the word. Meaning, they can’t have a pure friendship. The forces governing same-sex friendships and those governing cross-sex friendships are significantly different. To give some hint of the difference in the dynamics: one doesn’t use the same criteria for evaluating people of both genders while choosing friends. The degree of influence one’s male and female company exert on one (other things being same) is not the same. And that evidences plentiful role sexuality plays in friendships involving opposite sexes. One is influenced and affected by a person of the opposite sex far more easily and deeply than by a person of the same sex.

Sexuality makes one biased towards the person of the opposite sex in every situation which has a possibility of it leading up to sex (which is almost always), no matter how remote the odds. And no, one doesn’t always have to have a conscious intention of sex while exercising the bias. It just happens that way, apparently because such behavior is hardwired in our biology. This purported end of the bias, sex, would not be the goal of pure friendship. This I say because friendship is a human concept serving human goals, as opposed to nature’s goals which is sex. For a relationship to qualify as friendship the minimum condition is that it must be founded on some social purpose. The purpose that originates from one’s human nature as opposed to the animal nature. Since the sexuality-induced gender bias is always present in a man-woman friendship, such friendship is always more or less impure, and as a consequence there are complications roughly proportional to impurity in friendship.

The complications in man-woman friendships arise because the biological intention (or animal purpose, sex) freeloads in the boat purported for social purposes (or human purposes). This is manifested in friendships in which the parties would not admit their sexual interest (be it active or latent), but their biology, through behavior, would from time to time betray them creating what is called awkward moments of sexual tension.

In modern age the reverse is also quite common, where the social goals freeload in the boat purported for biological interest. This is when the two persons have decided to come together as fuck-buddies and then try to pretend to themselves and to each other that they are friends (“friends with benefits”) and care about each other more than just for sex. The pretense probably is the result of guilt triggered by deep-seated values by which being fuck-buddies is wrong.

People of the opposite sex who become friends, then lovers, and then break up, find it hard to remain friends. They wonder: if we were friends before, why can’t we be friends again? Well, one reason can be that either both or one of them is not yet free of the romantic feelings for the other. If, however, that’s not the case then here’s why: they never were friends in the true sense. (And this reason is always there in cross-sex friendships to more or less extent, by the way.) Whether the two were conscious of it or not, it was always about sex. Romantic love, for that matter, is nothing but sexual desire of subtle nature. When they totally eliminated the possibility of sex by breaking up, their biology wouldn’t support them to be together as friends for there’s no reason left for it.

Exceptions to the above analysis

1. Asexuals
2. Gays
3. Unattractive people

In case of asexuals it’s easy to see why. Though I have never met an asexual person, so I can’t be totally sure, but here’s what I think: Since asexuals won’t have any appetite for sex they won’t exercise the bias towards the opposite gender. Neither have I known a gay person. But I think a gay person would exercise the bias towards the own gender and would be able to have pure friendship with the opposite gender. These two may be the cases of perfect exceptions.

The third case may be of imperfect exceptions. Say, if one’s friend of the opposite gender is so unattractive that there’s no possibility of one even imagining sex with him/her ever, then one may be able to keep the friendship totally free of sexuality-induced gender bias. However, since the taste in looks is a subjective matter we can’t tell with certainty which cases would fall under exceptions.

Barring the exceptions, the analysis stands true for all cases of man-women friendships.

Now I am at a peril of being accused as obnoxious cynic. All that said, there’s no reason to not believe that a man and a woman can be friends. If we tweak the definition of friendship a little bit to include the sexual component as a valid purpose then they can be friends very well. The gist, then, is that a man and a woman can’t be friends in the same fashion as men-men or women-women can. But that’s no reason to not enjoy the friendship, or whatever one may call it. I for one would still call it friendship.