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Atheism, God, & the Nature of the Universe

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I've just discovered this forum and am glad to be on board. I offer for you a distillation of letters between my cousin (a Muslim) & me (an ex-Muslim who became an atheist long ago). The crux of the following is a dialogue concerning God & the nature of the universe. When we were children growing up in Indonesia, we were both raised as Muslims. When I came to live in America 20 years ago, we lost touch. Recently we began conversing again since she is now living in the US. She started the exchange by asking me why I wasn't a Muslim anymore. What follows are my actual responses, though I have omitted her questions and replies so that the text flows more easily. May the reader finds this of value...

Dear Cousin, the problem with all religions is that it is based on faith. Faith by definition is: "Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence." Which necessarily means that no argument/logic/reason is needed in order to accept the gospel of that particular religion. Even the supreme FAITH in the existence of God is without question to the believer.

These people are being selectively rational. They can be extremely logical & analytical when it comes to all other matters of their life, but when it comes to God - they shut down their minds. All the arguments for the existence of God have been thoroughly examined and debunked for hundreds of years; the most popular being the "argument from design" which keeps popping up under different metaphors.

Another problem is that by surrendering your rational faculties when it comes to matters of religion, it leaves you open to the manipulation by various leaders who claim to have more knowledge of God/scriptures/Koran, etc.

I'm not saying that nothing good can come from religion; obviously you can develop strong familial or communal ties. Also, some (though not all) of the morality espoused by religion can be beneficial, such as "Thou shalt not steal." But all that & more can be achieved without the need of the supernatural and without sacrificing your mental faculty. What I am advocating is a life based not on faith, but on reason; and a morality which is based on life in THIS world.

Cousin, I'm not sure what you mean by "spiritual needs". Since I'm an atheist, by definition I don't feel the need to be comforted or reassured by the presence or plan of a divine entity. I get comfort & reassurance about my life from doing the things I enjoy and the people I love. But I think a lot of people believe that "if somehow, a benevolent, supreme being is watching over me, then no matter what happens, no matter how bad things get, it's all part of God's master plan. Whether I understand that higher purpose or not is unimportant, just as long as I have FAITH, then I'll have the courage to continue on. Besides, life in this world is just a prelude for the life to come in Heaven."

Now, I do consider myself a "spiritual" person, but that spirituality is not based on the supernatural. When I say I'm "spiritual", what I mean is that I feel a connection, a one-ness, with the universe. I see myself as the physical manifestation of energy - just like water can either be a solid, liquid, or gas - so can energy manifest itself as either rocks, trees, cats, or human beings. I feel fortunate that right now, a small portion of the energy of the entire universe has transformed itself into a human being, and I'm able to comprehend my own nature and the nature of the universe - which is really the same thing. One day, I'll be dead and the atoms in my body will be part of something else, perhaps a worm or a flower. Actually, the atoms in my body are constantly being replaced by other atoms - what was once atoms in a bushel of wheat, were transformed into a cow, and in turned transformed into me. The energy that was a cow has now been literally "reincarnated" as a human being capable of self awareness, contemplation, and wonder.

Think of it another way. If the universe did not have beings capable of contemplation and wonder - if the entire universe were full of nothing but rocks & gas, then there would be no one to appreciate it. It would be like a beautiful symphony playing with no one to hear it. But because beings capable of self awareness, contemplation, and wonder do exist, we have in essence completed the circuit. Not only does the universe exist, but now someone is aware of it! The symphony is playing and the audience is loving the show. Why resort to a supernatural explanation when the secrets of the universe are in plain sight?

Who do I have to thank for the marvelous symphony? Certainly not some all powerful, all knowing entity. It's understandable to look at our universe and wonder, "Who created all this?" The problem with saying "God created the Universe" is that it doesn't solve anything, it doesn't have any explanatory power. Let's say we were trying to figure out how gravity works, but instead of doing calculations & experiments with falling weights, we merely said, "There must be some unknown force responsible. We don't know what it is and we don't know how it works, but we have a name for it - the 'G-force'. Furthermore, its existence is without question - you can't do any experiments or rely on observation to prove or disprove it. It just is - don't question it, accept it."

The second problem with saying that "God crated the Universe" is that it will lead to an infinite regress. Because one can always ask, "If God created the Universe, then who created God?" If your answer is "No one created God, God always has been, always will be." My reply is, "Well then, let's just save a step and say that no one created the Universe, the Universe always has been, always will be."

Does that mean that you & I are just using different words to express the same idea? That depends - if you believe that God is just another word for Universe, then we're in agreement. But if you believe that God is an entity separate from the Universe and that he acts with intelligence, purpose, motivation, & planning, I would have to disagree.

Which leads me to my next point - the word "Universe" means "The totality of all existing things." Therefore it is meaningless to ask what is beyond or outside the Universe; you cannot have some entity standing outside of everything. By extension, the concept of "a creator & the things he creates" only applies to things IN the Universe, it does not apply to the entire Universe itself.

For example you can say, "John created this watch." This is a meaningful statement only because "John" & "watch" are both things which exist IN the Universe. But the statement, "God created the Universe" is meaningless because how can you have something outside of Everything which in turn creates Everything??

Perhaps what you're saying is "Look at all the things happening in the universe - the marvelous symphony. It seems impossible that it could all happen at random, without purpose, without a conductor running the show." To which I say: "The individual neurons in your brain are not conscious. It is not aware of the fact that it is trying to solve a problem or make a decision about what you should have for dinner. They are simply passing along chemicals across the synapses, minding its own business, doing its own thing. Only when taken as a whole and looked at from a wider perspective does the action of neurons passing along chemicals seem to be doing so for a greater purpose."

So now you say, "Let's take that analogy further. Perhaps humans are to God the way neurons are to humans. Perhaps there is a meta-consciousness which we cannot perceive; just like the individual neurons are not aware of us, so we are not aware of God in a direct way."

To which I say, "Perhaps. But that is just a theory which has yet to be proven. Even if it were true, the meta-conscious God came into being AFTER the Universe has already existed."

But all my reasoning & logic with regards to the God issue is perhaps irrelevant to you dear cousin. You still haven't told me whether your belief in God is based solely on FAITH or on evidence/reason....

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