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Sunday, March 18, 2018

SUNDAY WITH ATHEISTS

Ah, Sunday, when I usually touch on religion.  Today I will begin a series reviewing popular books that question the sense and reality of religions.  To begin, Wikipedia has a long list of atheistic authors.  I was surprised at some names and the length of that slate.  Surely irreverent, but atheist can be hyphenated:  at-heist.

I'm not really an atheist, although I lean in that direction, and published a chapter in SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity on the Golden Evolution.  Here is my take on the future of religion.

Before I wrote that above chapter I began reading a number of books treating the subject, as for example, The Complete Idiot's Guide to the World's Religion.  Why?  I knew nothing about the subject.

Mind you, I grew up a block from a Christian church, and that was a good part of my social life.  My parents were Buddhists, but they were not particularly influential in my choice of religion.  I actually spent a year taking classes on Catechism, and through college belonged to the Nisei Methodist Church, while being mostly a Presbyterian in Mem Chu at Stanford.  Mem Chu is how we referred to Memorial Church, as Hoo Tow for Hoover Tower.

However, I remember as a child (8??) asking a Buddhist priest how many people he knew attained Nirvana.  The best he could do was Buddha.  At that point, my attitude shifted from blind acceptance to inquiry, which is my current state of mind.

Going back to my early religious reading list mentioned above, I found the popular Conversations with God (Books 1-3) particularly annoying, and with ease, could have made those books up myself.  Neale Donald Walsch has had a checkered career and  was actually accused of plagiarism just about the time Simple Solutions for Humanity was being published.  I read two out of three of them only because people gave me copies.

The Physics of Immortality by Frank Tipler seemed particular promising, for he had actual equations for proving the existence of immortality.  He scientifically proved there is a God.  I reached page 5 and gave up.  Most of you would, too.

He also wrote The Physics of Christianity, which of course I did not buy.  Skeptical Inquirer said:

The Physics of Christianity by Frank Tipler, a mathematical physicist at Tulane University, is a sequel to The Physics of Immortality, a bestseller in Germany before it was published here in 1994 by Doubleday. In that book, Tipler argued that anyone who understands modern physics will be compelled to believe that at a far-off future date, which Tipler calls the Omega Point (borrowing the term from the Jesuit paleontologist Tielhard de Chardin), God will resurrect every person who lived, as well as every person who could have lived! Our brains will be preserved as computer simulations and given new spiritual bodies to live happily forever in the paradise described in the New Testament.

The End of Faith by Sam Harris was particularly influential.  Harris was a Stanford undergrad when he got so interested in spiritual insights without the use of drugs, that when a sophomore, he left school to study meditation in India and Nepal.

He returned to earn a B.S. in Philosophy in 2000, wrote this book immediately after 9/11/2001, and went on to gain a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from UCLA.  To quote him on his point that religion contains bad ideas:  one of the most perverse misuses of intelligence we have ever devised.

Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett was academic and thoughtful.  Said the National Center for Science Education:

In this sizeable book, Dennett, a philosopher already famous for his earlier work Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995), undertakes to convince his readers that religious beliefs have no empirical foundation and hence should be abandoned to prevent religious fanatics from destroying the world in a nuclear holocaust. In developing his argument Dennett relies on two sources: Charles Darwin's theory of organic evolution by natural and sexual selection and Richard Dawkins's theory of cultural evolution by the copying and competition of "memes" (ideas, rhymes, behavior patterns, and so on) which lodge themselves in the brain and compete for survival in human societies. Religious memes — gods, spirits, and so on — have no reality except as memes because their extra-human existence cannot be proved scientifically by observation and experiment.

Which leads me to my hero in this field, Richard Dawkins.  His The God Delusion is the one book anyone interested in this field, or not, should read.  Richard, as I called him when we had a small chat in  Honolulu in 2007, is my favorite writer on the subject of religion. I revere him, mainly, I think, for his courage. I honor him later with a special section. Professor Dawkins very clearly argues that there is no God. I changed the tenor of this chapter after our talk.

There are, literally, hundreds of books I could have cited.  I'm ending with two.  The first, released at the time I was writing my religion chapter for SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity, and a second, just published last year.  The consensus Atheist Horsemen are Dawkins, Harris, Dennet and Christopher Hitchens.  

God is not Great, was written by Hitchens.  To quote myself:

A noted British journalist, who is a visiting professor in the U.S., provides an angry and vitriolic treatment of religion, maybe even sensational. He already indicts religion with his subtitle: How Religion Poisons Everything.

The key point to this book is that I recognized the above after reading only a few pages.  I kept it in my car and/or golf bag, and  finally, more than a decade after purchase, I finished reading it last week.

Conversely, The Greatest Story Ever Told...So Far, by Lawrence Krauss, was made available just about a year ago.  I got an e-copy before it was actually released.  Just yesterday, I finished the book.  Krauss has already been recognized as a player in this field.  He is a noted theoretical physicist and cosmologist.

He has a monthly column in Scientific American, and is on their board of advisors.  So is Richard Dawkins.  However, to suggest that this publication is atheistic is to believe that science is anti-religion...which could well be so.


Most of you will recognize the "new" atheists.  Next Sunday, I'll delve further into God is Not Great.

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1 comment:

Pupuk untuk Sawi Putih said...

what a greatly long of adventure there, god bless you