Vanity thought #1221. Atheistic assumptions

There has been a war on religion going on for some time, like for the past hundred years or so, but it has really intensified since the turn of this century and the new angle of attack is fairly modern in its nature and its arguments.

Americans are leading the way, as usual, but they are also the only ones to really care. In the rest of the world the idea of converting people to your world view is seen as so last century and they can’t be bothered to hunt a few remaining Christians. America, however is the most religious country in the West and Christians there have been actually making ground against science. They went about it in a democratic way – by voting it out and voting creationism in.

Atheists resorted to similarly unconventional methods – media, especially the internet, and the power of ridicule. Forget arguments and any resemblance of dedication to rationality and facts, they are in full propaganda mode. They also figured out that they should focus their attack on the young people and so they employ the tools youngsters would appreciate. Atheism, therefore, presents itself as cool, exciting, and cutting edge, as compared to dinosaur like Christian preacher relics.

I’m not an adolescent any more and so their arguments are not directed at people like me, and I’m not sure we should battle them by trying to outcool them on the mobile. I’m not sure we need to battle sarcasm with more sarcasm and twisting facts of our own. Christians think it’s perfectly okay and so start clubs for girls who won’t have sex before marriage, or start Christian rock bands but I’m not sure if it’s really helping. Religiously inclined youth certainly needs outlets to express their desires and aspirations, like we have prasādam and kīrtans, but that is not the same as trying to outdo demons on their own turf.

Maybe our new fangled festivals of colors or bhakti fest circuits are necessary to keep general population interested but I don’t see why they would appeal to established devotees. Even some kīrtana melās seem to be directed more at personal sense gratification than at genuine glorification of the Holy Name, but that is getting off topic.

The point I was trying to make is that instead of fighting new wave of atheism on its own terms – in a mud pit – we should make sure that their actual arguments do not find sympathy among serious seekers of truth. I think we should learn to see beyond the facade and expose underlying contradictions instead of trying to outcharm Neil deGrasse Tyson, for example. More on NdGT in a couple of days.

Back to the Island of Knowledge, yesterday I got to the end of the introduction, today it’s turn of the first couple of chapters that focus on gradual emergence of science in the ancient world. The author mentions existence of other religions in different parts of the world but he really means Ancient Greece, because that’s where modern science got its roots from. Okay.

The opening of the first chapter is remarkable.

    Can we make sense of the world without belief? This is a central question behind the science and faith dichotomy, one that informs how an individual chooses to relate to the world.

Notice how the word “dichotomy” is slipped in as if it was an axiom? There was no such dichotomy for over two thousand years and when it emerged about a hundred years ago it was quickly defeated for being a nonsense that it is, but this is the staple argument of modern day atheists. For some reason they absolutely must make science and religion into eternal enemies, completely incompatible with each other.

The book then goes on to muddle the matter a bit by drawing similarities between religious and scientific approach to answering exactly the same questions. Here another assumption is quietly slipped in – that both science and religion are meant to explain reality. They aren’t. Religions are meant to engage people in Lord’s service, whether they come with explanations of reality or not is not the point.

Of course all religions try to explain reality but they also all promise to provide believers with material comfort, provide answers to people’s prayers. When people want answers to their own prayers they want satisfaction of their own desires, and it has nothing to do with religion. When they pray for daily bread we understand their religion to be tinged with karma-kanda, and when they want to understand the world it’s a tinge of jñāna. Both should be rejected but both are also necessary to keep neophytes on the hook, no one starts off as a pure devotee.

Atheists, however, assume that we are just like them, we want exactly the same things and value exactly the same values. Those who promote science assume that we go into religion for the same reasons they study physics – to understand how the world works. Parts of us do, we have the presence of the same quest in our minds, too, but, ultimately, we just want Kṛṣṇa to be happy.

By reducing search for God to search for knowledge atheists create a strawman religion that they then proceed to defeat. Their next argument is that science is so much better at understanding the world that only fools would stick with religious myths. They are partly correct and we can’t dismiss this argument in absolute terms, which makes us look weak by modern expectations where everything must be absolutely awesome, but we are still right.

Fact is, in Kali Yuga we can’t understand the world the way Vedic sages did and science, therefore, does have an advantage. We can’t chant mantras to ignite fire, for example, what to speak of demonstrating yoga siddhis or flying vimānas, so we accept scientific substitutes in the form of airplanes or TV and the internet. This doesn’t mean that Vedic sages were not right or were not superior.

If our goal was to replicate their success then, perhaps, we would be better off with science, but it isn’t and, therefore, we just shrug our shoulders and keep on chanting. Jñāna is not our goal, if we don’t get enough of it to favorably compare with science we don’t mind, we’d be fools to chase that dream anyway, as Kṛṣṇa explained in Bhagavad Gīta.

Moving on, as I said, author’s views on religion are primitive, he treats religion as primitive science, trying to answer the same questions but with severely limited knowledge. Gods, in his view, were invented for practical as well as psychological reasons. People feared nature, he says, and they were afraid to be alone in the face of its great power so they invented personalities behind forces of nature that could be reasoned, negotiated with and, if necessary, taken shelter of.

This is just one of the many scenarios of how religions came into being offered by modern atheists. We, OTOH, say that it was Gods who reached out to humans and their presence was a given then but, unfortunately, practically impossible now, and it had little to do with actual religion – selfless and causeless service to the Supreme. We are not talking about the same thing, again.

There is always the question of mythology. We take Vedic stories are true, atheists insist that they were fabrication from start to finish. There’s a quote given in the book that touches on this (emphasis mine):

    For the Australian as well as for the Chinese, the Hindu and the European peasant, the myths are…

Peasants? Really? Only Hindu peasants believed in Purāṇas? And brāhmaṇas? Is it some giant conspiracy where millions of brāhmaṇas know that stories they feed to peasants are fake? Or is it only modern brāhmaṇas who fell for this but in ancient times they knew the deal and invented religions to keep peasants under control while having not a shred of faith themselves? Really?

The quote continues, btw:

    … the myths are true because they are sacred, because they tell him about sacred beings and events. Consequently, in reciting or listening to a myth, one resumes contact with the sacred and with reality, and in so doing one transcends the profane condition, the “historical situation.”

Turns out it’s a fairly accurate description of the process, expect it’s the other way around – “myths” are true because they DO provide contact with “sacred” and DO help people to transcend their profane “historical situation”. It still works even for us, perhaps better than ever because it’s the only method of self-realization that still works in Kali Yuga.

So, what I tried to demonstrate today is how modern atheists construct a strawman religion, fight it, and claim victory. Strawman argument is one of the logical fallacies that are quite popular in that kind of circles so, perhaps, it would help to use a familiar term here.


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