02 April 2010

The Burden of Proof: How Atheism Has Adopted a Worldview That Science Never Intended

Josh Schrei wrote in the Hoffington Post arguing for some form of value of religion.
Atheists obviously don't know the value of spiritual practice, because they don't experience its value. Its a bit like someone who has sat idle in front of a computer for most of their lives telling a soccer player that there's no value in soccer. Coming from a non-soccer player, the statement means absolutely nothing. There are 4 billion+ people in this world who practice some form of religion. They are not all -- every single one of them -- enslaved by fear or ignorance as some atheists seem to imply. Clearly many of them are getting some personal value out of it.

Truth is not a popularity contest. With billions dollars pouring into the religious propaganda machinery, continuous expansion of wealth gathering and power grasping by religion is obvious. The illusion of people getting value out of religion is just an illusion. Granted socialising with like-minded people, having some quiet reflective time and doing some repetitive tasks (prayers) can help reduce some of the modern life stresses. Similar activities, without the illusion of a god and without the side-effects of religion gathering more wealth and more political influence could be organised in more healthy ways, such as get together with friends, read and discuss books of common interest, play some music, sing some songs or offer a hand for the needy.

Creativities come in two forms:
(1) Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers: The Story of Success, talked about a 10,000 hour rule - in a wide number of different cognitively complex disciplines, word-class expertise cannot be attained without at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. With such amount of practice, the product of the creation, in almost any measure, shows some form of creativity for a layman.
(2) Aha moments - an instant at which the solution to a problem becomes clear, an unconscious shift in mental perspective that can abruptly alter how we perceive a problem. An 'aha' moment is any sudden comprehension that allows you to see something in a different light.  This requires two pre-conditions: (a) one has to be on the task for a extended period of time and have accumulated sufficient experience in solving problems in near-by domains, (b) extensive knowledge base. The shift in perspective is looking at the problem from a different angle, based on the understanding of a discipline different to the problem at hand. It is a sudden connection between two parts of the brian - which has been experimentally verified.
In fact, our brain may be most actively engaged when our mind is wandering and we've actually lost track of our thoughts, a new brain-scanning study suggests. "Solving a problem with insight is fundamentally different from solving a problem analytically," Dr. Kounios says. "There really are different brain mechanisms involved."
By most measures, we spend about a third of our time daydreaming, yet our brain is unusually active during these seemingly idle moments. Left to its own devices, our brain activates several areas associated with complex problem solving, which researchers had previously assumed were dormant during daydreams. Moreover, it appears to be the only time these areas work in unison.
"People assumed that when your mind wandered it was empty," says cognitive neuroscientist Kalina Christoff at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, who reported the findings last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As measured by brain activity, however, "mind wandering is a much more active state than we ever imagined, much more active than during reasoning with a complex problem." [source]

Pointing out Newton,.Freidrich Kekulé and Srinavasa Ramanujan got their insight "intuitive" has nothing to do with believing in a god.

There is a reason that Hindu mystics after studying, debating, and meditating over hundreds and hundreds of years came to conclusions about the nature of the universe that have been substantiated by modern physics.

I have never come across any Hindu's understanding of the universe being substantiated by modern physics. I do not know much about Hindu, but I was a student of Physics. If someone can point me to some resources to verify this claim, it will be much appreciated. However, making statement, like the quote above, without reference and evidence, does not make the argument for religion any stronger.

Finally, DaveyDavey put in a comment which I agree:
This article [linked to the title of this post] is based on a false premise. Nobody has proven what gravity is, but we all have to live by its rules. No one has proven what time is, but its effect is undeniable. We understand the universe by what we can sense and intuit, and what we can deduce from observation. While the inability to know the unknowable has no doubt driven some deep thinkers mad, most of us are content to take some things for granted even though it seems that they will never be understood. Science keeps the door open for learning more about the universe, and religion has tried for a thousand years to slam the door in our faces.

The scientific method of understanding the universe by bearing and overcoming the burden of proof is a testament to human intellectual capability. To seek an end run around the burden of proof to gain acceptance of one's view of the universe is a measure of human deceit and gullibility.

I can only add that living with the false illusion of god does not make life any easier or worse. Life, as it is, is already interesting enough, complex enough and challenging enough. There is no more reason modern society should still move with the heavy shackle of religion. The used-by date of religion has long gone. Human has finally found a method of investigation which helps us to remove our biases and helps us, the whole species, to move on with better understanding of the physical reality we are in.

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