Friday, February 25, 2011

A tiny speck in a vast universe

Jesus and Mo:
Thanks to Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie for writing today’s strip. (Via Jerry Coyne).
The image is Voyager 1′s Pale Blue Dot.

Here's Coyne:
The old joke goes, “What do you call a Jew who doesn’t believe in God?”  The answer is, “A Jew.”  And that’s largely true, but there are some exceptions to Jewish atheism.   One is Rabbi Eric Yoffie, who, in a piece at PuffHo called “The frustrating, difficult, never-ending search for God,” tells us all how to find Him in these difficult times when the Big Man in the Sky seems to be hiding from us. The upshot: all is well, for we can find Him by reading sacred texts, keeping our eyes open, observing rituals, and acting like God (presuming, of course, that we know how God acts).  But the final paragraph is telling:
All of this might be a little overwhelming, I say. But start somewhere. The search for God is frustrating and difficult, and it is never done. But with God, our lives have meaning and purpose; without God, we are reduced to being no more than a tiny speck in a vast universe.

There’s Abrahamic religion in a nutshell.  Because we don’t like the truth—which is that all of us are just specks—we make up a god.

It always strikes me as odd when believers make my case for me. Almost always, when you question their belief, it eventually falls back on just wanting to believe.

Now, I can certainly understand wanting to believe. But what I can't understand is letting that control what you do believe. Doesn't that seem rather, er,... cowardly?

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not accusing all believers of being cowards. After all, it's very, very easy - for all of us - to believe what we really want to believe. But if this is where your justification for belief ends up, because you really can't justify it any other way, aren't you just admitting cowardice?

That old canard about "there are no atheists in foxholes" is the same thing. It's not an argument for religious belief being true, only about the effect of fear. Obviously, it's not literally true. Many atheists have served our nation in wartime. Rather, as a comment about fear, it's true in a figurative sense.

Well, it's human nature to grasp at straws when you're in danger of losing your life. Fear can make us do some crazy things, so I can even understand deathbed conversions. What I can't understand is letting fear control your whole life. That's simply being a coward.

Sorry, but the refusal to face reality is just cowardice. Besides, Yoffie is wrong in another way, too. You don't need to believe in a god in order to give your life meaning and purpose. You can do that yourself. Stand on your own two feet, raise your head high, and decide your "meaning and purpose" for yourself.

To me, that photo of the Earth from 4 billion miles away is really inspiring. You want "meaning and purpose"? Think about that photo - what it means and what we've accomplished in order to take it, all by ourselves, a naked ape not long out of the trees, with no instruction, supernatural or not. You want meaning and purpose? Just think about that.


Malay Atheist said...

The vastness universe lends itself equally well to supporting arguments from atheists and theists of all flavors.

Theist argument: Who else could have created this vast universe but god? He made the vast heavens to glorify him and serve as signs for us to perceive his power.

Atheist argument: What kind of cosmic super being focuses its attempts at guiding humanity on a relatively small region of the earth known as the middle east?

And, the idea of being humble in the knowledge of the vastness of the universe plays equally well for both camps too.

Theist: The atheists are arrogant in their knowledge, perpetually using science to back their claims. They don't know everything.

Atheist: X religion is arrogant in its assumption that it, and only it, is right about everything, to the exclusion of every other possibility. They don't know everything.

I give up. Debate is largely fruitless, and oftentimes poses a danger to someone like me.

WCG said...

I agree with your last line, Malay Atheist. But not the line before that. We can't give up.

Debate isn't entirely useless, not here in America, at least, where people are free to change their minds (though even here, many people aren't open about their atheism, for fear of economic or social consequences).

The point of the cartoon is that fear makes believers clutch at straws. Atheists argue that it's foolish to believe without evidence. But theists really, really want to believe, since the truth scares them.

Thanks for commenting.

Jim Harris said...

I believe many kinds of knowledge and study will lead to atheism. Studying cosmology is one of them. How can we be so important to God when we're so tiny compared to the rest of the universe.

Two other academic routes that lead to atheism I believe are the study of comparative religions, and the historical study of the Bible. Faith depends on having limited knowledge.