The Atheist Delusion

Once upon a time there was a flying spaghetti monster.

It got eaten.

Some people got bored, and so came up with other imaginary creatures. Unicorns. Fairies. Ideas such as parliamentary democracy were put forward as new ways of entertaining and occupying people, notions such as justice and freedom were also thought up.

None of these had any substance, not one of these had any precedence in evolutionary theory, but they mattered to a few, for a while. Of course debates took place. Santa Claus was voted to exist in the parliamentary democracy known as the United Kingdom. Showing that such imaginary shapings had a primacy of sorts, and perhaps people were more used to thinking of the world in terms of some ideas than others, but still, decisions were made, and continue to be made, based on the chosen beliefs of every individual under the sky.

Of course the atheists will object, they will say that science tells us which beliefs are true, probably, and which are not. But then the epistemologists and the logicians will come out and hold their zealot cousins aback from full frontal attack by pointing out, gently at first, but with increasing insistence, that science is just a very nice method for collecting facts, and how people see those facts, interpret them depends very much on how they want to use them.

Henri Poincare, remarkably humble man considering his staggering contributions to mathematics and the modern science we cherish today, realised one day while riding the tram that we categorize our facts about the world based on our own sense of harmony, their utility, and of course our ability to communicate these facts to each other. Interestingly, logic, or rather the many types of logic which currently compete for use are not immune from this personal classification, neither are any of the many varied types of mathematics.
This doesn't deny that science isn't an extremely useful measure of the world in terms of phenomena. The collection and ordering of knowledge is one of the noblest human pursuits, arguably the most noble for the lives it saves, and the insight and relief from suffering it brings. However if history has taught us nothing else it is to keep an open mind.

The objects which are collected by our experience are by no means exhaustive, our understanding by no means infinite, and our memory hazy. Our insight into the future is limited to those causal relationships we believe will hold based on a very slim set of key experiments from empirical evidence, and yet, for such little work we have come a very long way towards mastering those elements which untamed hindered our survival.

The remarkable success of our rational modern world comes from several key disciplines; mathematics and logic combine with a rigorous Socratic method, and a ceaseless pursuit of knowledge, of constant experimentation, validation, peer review, and ordering and indexing of existing data. Problems begin to arise when our experimental data throws up results which fly in the face of some cherished belief.

A good example is the Creationism trend within the Victorian Era. The Victorians had  very strongly held beliefs as to the nature and origin of man, based in Christian doctrine, and also consequently the nature and origin of species across the world. These were under constant challenge from outside cultures and the growing body of evidence through scientific work. The creation of the world, with its creatures fully formed was seen as a centrepiece for the belief that God was the architect of the world, and mankind. The Bible was true, and anything else was deemed heresy. It wasn't the first time for this pattern, but definitely the first time it forced several related cultures to actually jettison core values in return for academic growth, military power, and of course political stability.

Of course their belief in Creationism was wrong. As Darwin sailed the oceans with the Beagle, he found ample evidence of natural selection, and the differentiation of species over many generations to form new species. The finches come to mind. So do Pigeons. For those interested in reading the book (Origin of Species) take my advice and skip the section on pigeons. It is very boring. The rest of the book is quite good though. He makes his point well. And his results combined with the work of the geneticist Mendel, lead naturally to a theory of evolution. In simple terms once species become sufficiently differentiated that they cannot breed with each other, they can then be regarded as new and separate species.

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
This was a shock for the Victorians; there was now a method for new species to come into the world which didn't require a Creator God (as Christianity described Him). A major pillar supporting the Church's theory of the world was removed, and their authority on temporal matters (and consequently spiritual matters) significantly weakened. All this was very sad for Christianity, however if you move away from the Christian traditions to Islam, you find that the central dialogue between the church and secular atheistic institutions in Victorian England, and Europe and the Americas had little if nothing to say which affected the Islamic view of creation. Quite simply their attack was on the Christian God, His Church, and the tithes. And their assumption that all religions  were essentially the same was false, which is why you're seeing so many atheists now scrambling to come up with new dogmatic positions to insult Islam and Muslims.

God, in Islam, is not anthropomorphised (given human face or personality), indeed the anthropomorphic representation of God in Christianity is shorn away in the early stages of debate and God is reduced to principle attributes to allow whatever conception of Him which remains to fight on against philosophical onslaught. In fact the philosophical flames keep scorching off layer after layer of dogmatic characterisation until what is left is a pure monotheistic conception of God as the Infinite, the Eternal, the Absolute, the Omnipotent, Omniscient etc, which is similar to the Islamic list of 99 names for Him. And yet the attacks on him which remain still attack on the basis of His being a Person, because the Bible states that apparently man was made in His Image. This is regarded as highly dubious and as an article of faith is not present in Islam. The net result of this is that Muslims tend to enjoy science a great deal more than their Christian cousins, and tend not to get drawn into long debates on Evolution.

Yes there is a possibility that life evolved from single celled organisms. Then again, we have no concrete evidence of anything with a simple genome transforming into another species with a more complex genome. A critical and necessary step in the ladder of evolution. Still. In 2017. So do Muslims deny evolution? Not really. It doesn't affect their belief in God. He may very well have used evolution as a mechanism for the creation of the world. Or He may not. They're sceptical of evolution, as they are of cold fusion, and the promise of lower taxes.

Of course this is only one side of the coin. The traditional arguments against God in Christianity were also all arguments against authority, the strict control of thought, censorship of ideas, and suppression of knowledge. As they don't apply to Islam, those which remain are in deadlock with the rather clear conception of Allah which Muslims have.

So what of the case *for* belief in God? 

Interestingly, this is left to the individual to resolve. There are many examples in the Quran which point to signs in the heavens and earth as proof of Allah's, His Power, His Majesty. Yet the central dialogue between the Prophet and the natives of Mecca wasn't whether God was real, but rather that there weren't many Gods, but just the One. That no image of Him would suffice, no idols should ever be worshipped or any human sacrifices required. That He preferred kindness and charity, and real spiritual courage, and most of all sincerity. There wasn't, and still isn't a priesthood in Islam. No soul is meant to bear the burden of another in the Judgement day, as a consequence the individual is required to come to their own understanding of God, and their place within the world, taking other's words as advice and nothing more.

In concrete terms for some it is the poetry and the power of the Quran. For others it is evidence of a Creator they see in the world. For others it is a matter of logic. For yet others the presence of justice in the world is enough. Yet others simply say they 'know', and leave it at that. Sometimes again it's all these and more... It is hard for an atheist or an agnostic to have a conversation with these people, the normal 'conversations' don't work, and there is no traction. Belief in God isn't contingent upon one over-riding 'trick' it simply is.

So the natural courses of conversations shift to cultural misconceptions, to racism, to bigotry and then on to hatred. Conversations about 'understanding Islam' shift to 'your traditions' to 'well I saw a news article which said..' and then an attempt to claw the 'problem of evil' argument into the dialogue, leaving the other party deeply disappointed that what seemed like a genuine chance to share ideas and knowledge and culture between two intelligent people has turned into a dry cold semantic debate on the variance of values and the superiority of one set of logical skills over another. (Muslims usually win these discussions by pointing out that the role of the Devil (Iblis) is fundamentally different in Islam, and he has a purpose to serve like anyone else. So Free Will, the Goodness of God, and his Omnipotence are preserved.)

The difficulty that most atheists, and Christians, and indeed many Muslims face is not the flying spaghetti monster, it's the fixation on and adherence to tales about him. Looking at the world with fresh eyes means continuing to think, then it doesn't matter whether the spaghetti monster gets eaten, evolution turns out to be entirely false, or parliamentary democracy turns out to be a left turn in history and soon forgotten, because you'll still be on your way.

Free from delusion.

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