Why I Don't Intend to Read the Quran

This conversation began with an insistence that I must read the Quran. I'm putting the latest phase here so that I can link to fuller explanations.

“I cannot see what is so amazing about a world governed by chaos and some laws of nature that just happened to be there.”

You have just re-iterated inaccurate theistic/deistic arguments.

The laws of physics and chemistry refute the claim of chaos. Even quantum physics can be understood according to statistical probabilities. As to “just happened to be there” – call the values necessary (as opposed to contingent).

We can’t look back prior to the “Big Bang”, so we have no way of knowing how this universe happened upon its fundamental values. However, it is a logically ludicrous regress to postulate the necessary pre-existence of a purposeful deity who "Banged" it all together ~14.7 Ga, created our planet ~4.6 Ga, created our lineage ~6 Ma, and then supposedly chose to reveal ‘Himself’ – first as animism, then as multiple deities – in a series of horrendously inconsistent religions beginning ~6,000 ya. (Earlier if you consider burial rituals.) If He’s in such a tizzy over being worshipped and dictating our behaviour, what took Him so long?

Religions can’t all be right, they certainly can all be wrong.

“About a world in which humans are just a bunch of proteins, that try to make their existence tolerable by appreciating other phenomena, that are ultimately pointless. But I can see why an atheist must create this emotionally comforting "appreciation of nature" world view. ”

This is the old teleological "purpose" argument. It explains why theists find their beliefs emotionally comforting, but it is not a logical argument for the existence of a deity. Purpose is a psychological construct.

We contain more H2O than protein, but our operating systems rely on proteins. (Electrolyte and pH balance merely ensures a comfortable 'working environment' for proteins.) Denaturate our proteins and, whether we are bacteria or humans, we die – end of consciousness for us, end of ‘existence’ for both.

My existence is highly tolerable without any recourse to delusion. I probably owe my propensity for enjoying life to natural selection – individuals who hate life are unlikely to leave descendents. Presumably our early hominid ancestors felt much the same way long before their descendents felt a need to invent religions.

“It is very strange how someone can realize so much of the beauty and complexity of the world, and yet believe there is nothing behind it. It baffles me how one can see the beauty of the eye, the majesty of our bodily systems, greatness of our intellect, and harmony of the ecosystems, yet ascribe it all, and then some, to a process that is at heart, random and unplanned.”

Appreciation of beauty is a byproduct of having a nervous system and does not rely up a notion of underlying purpose.

The processes are not random. However, there is no need for a purposeful plan – check out the principle of natural selection.

The eye has independently evolved (and sometimes been lost) several times. Our body systems are scarcely majestic, though they are complex and amazing. In fact, we are rather shoddily “designed”.

I certainly continue to be horrified by the utter lack of “greatness” in most human minds – most are credulous, permanently closed, lacking in understanding, illogical, and exhibit impairment of critical thinking. Maybe I’ve simply become unduly cynical about human aptitude after debating too many creationists.

“I believe the vast majority of atheists don't do this because it is logical, but because of the objections you raised about religion, all of which are emotional. Then they justify it using a guise of logic, and an implicit assumption that all truth is material.”

I don’t personally know the vast majority of atheists, and I certainly doubt that you do. I do agree with you that some people reject belief because they have good reason to feel abandoned by an “uncaring God”. Sometimes these emotional epiphanies lead to a logical re-examination of beliefs. Probably more often they remain as unexamined failures of belief. Many people lack the education to unemotionally re-evalute their basis for thinking.

My atheism is purely based on logical interpretation of the evidence (both physical facts that have better, tested, explanations than a deity, and the absence of evidence that ought to be undeniably attributable to a deity). I was so young when I first had doubts that I never had any expectations of assistance from a loving deity, so I was immune to emotional loss of belief. I continued to examine the evidence for many years before becoming logically convinced that belief in the supernatural definitely results from promoted magical-thinking.

“Whether or not we like an aspect of a truth or not, does not make it any less true.”

Which, of course, cuts both ways.

“The point about division, first, assuming one religion is true and others are false, then it logically makes sense that you inform others of this truth, and believe others are incorrect. If you don't like this idea, it doesn't make the religion any less true.”

It’s not a question of liking or disliking the idea – it’s really the application of logic and Occam’s Razor. As I said above, they cannot all be right, they certainly can all be wrong. The unifying principle beneath the existence of all religions is human psychology. If you study human psychology, you soon see why this is so. This is probably why psychiatrists have the highest rate of atheism amongst physicians.

I’m not saying that religions have not codified some aspects of human moral thinking. Clearly, amidst all the bigoted edicts, they have reiterated some principles of genuinely moral behaviour.

“There is division due to nationalism, culture, language, ideology, race, generation, a myriad of other factors. Does that mean that the idea of countries is bad for humanity? That all political ideologies are inherently evil? Does it mean we abolish culture and speak one language? People are different, it is in their nature.

[And if your Lord had willed, He verily would have made mankind one nation, and they shall continue to differ.] Quran, 11 - 118”

You are not addressing what I originally said. In fact, nothing close to what I said, which was, “One objection [to religions] is to the divisions between people that are promoted in the name of religious dogma.” You speak of natural, historically evolved, geopolitical divisions. These divisions are undeniable and are troublesome when they lead to warfare, which is, after all, merely politically-sanctioned murder (or self-defense). Matters are quite bad enough without adding religious warfare to the mix. I’m not merely talking of the clash between the Abrahamic religions (J-C-I), but also to historical intra-national religious conflicts (including Catholic-Protestant violence).

The Quranic verse merely restates the obvious in the form of a ad hoc pseudoexplanation.

“I also don't see how an atheist can claim anything is moral or immoral. Can you please explain to me whether a certain chemical reaction is moral or immoral? Whether some electricity flowing is good or evil? But that is all human feelings and perception are, right? Just some chemistry and physics.”

My friend, I can’t imagine that you are serious in asking about moral judgements in supposedly chaotic (your view), purposeless, and ultimately impersonal physical reactions. However, our cognition operates at a hugely macro scale in comparison to its chemical substrate-reactions. A trillion neural interconnections are sufficiently “macro” to make moral judgements without recourse to a “designing deity", even a “designing deity" who supposedly dictated one contradictory tome after another.

It a common theistic myth that atheists lack a moral sense. Professional philosophers have, to my knowledge, not yet come up with a unifying theory of morality. Biological research strongly suggests that many aspects of our morality are innate. Interestingly, recent research in psychology has uncovered the different criteria on which liberals and religious conservatives base their thinking about morality. According to my moral viewpoint, many fundamentalist Christians are highly immoral because they espouse the polar opposite of the Golden Rule as expressed in the physician’s credo – primum non nocere (first do no harm).

“As for the indefensible, young earth, dinosaurs with humans, universe is 6000 yo kind of thing, that just means that interpretation of Christianity is at odds with physical reality, it doesn't mean religion as a whole is wrong.”

I did not say that it says anything about the truth value of religion as a whole. It does, however, highlight one of the problems of any religion that insists upon rigid acceptance of dogma. In order to continue to misinterpret the Bible, YECers must deny facts. This attitude of denying reality to protect deluded beliefs spreads into other aspects of creationist midguided-thinking. Creationist and theistic apologetic arguments read like a textbook of fallacies of logic.

Huge amounts of time, money, and misinformation is devoted to promoting these deluded beliefs. ID enthusiasts consider themselves a cut above YECers, but their ideas are just as unfounded and ridiculous and are potentially more damaging in so far as IDers campaign to degrade science education.

“The atheist believes all truth is material and can be directly verified by the scientific method, right?”

Not quite. I think that most atheists would say that physical facts are examinable by the scientific method. Value-laden questions, such as moral questions, cannot be "directly verified" by the scientific method.

“Where did this principle come from? No doubt, great truth can be realized this way, but why do you assume all truth? Why do you ascribe what you feel to be within you to just the material, and deny anything such as a soul?

[And they ask you about the soul. Say the soul is of the commands of my Lord, and you have not been given of knowledge but a little.] Quran 17 -85”

As I have just said, scientists make no such claims.

Conversely, why would you assume that a man in a cave in the desert was privy to great truths when other men (often in desert areas - is it heatstroke at work?) have failed to determine the answers to such questions?

The Quranic verse merely reiterates a now refuted dualistic conceptualization of consciousness.

“Just because we don't fully understand it using our intellect, doesn't mean it does not exist. As wonderful as our minds are, they have their limits, something we must recognize.”

Are you referring to the concept of “soul”? The meme certainly exists. It’s a modified argumentum ad ignorantiam to argue for existence on the basis of limited cognitive capacity for comprehension.

However, I definitely agree with you that very many human minds are demonstrably limited in their understanding.

“I fear you may be denying a truth, just because you don't like aspects of it.”

No, I’m denying untruths because they have no factual or logical basis. I dislike illogic, particularly illogic that runs counter to all the evidence, or that relies upon the impossibility of testing something that really ought to be testable and to have no other explanation.

“My friend, please ponder your own existence, do you really believe you are here as the result of the chaos after the big bang, then some molecules somehow forming a living cell? That the only way we differ from bacteria is in the arrangement of the molecules? That the purpose of life is to eat, sleep, procreate, and die?”

Ah, but I am not claiming to be here as the result of chaos. Nor have I ever claimed to be – that is your idea.

Indeed, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that some molecules do have properties of self-organization. It did not even require a particularly long time. The planet had bacteria by 3.5 Ga, at the latest. You have bacteria in your cells – mitochondria are modified bacteria that underwent endosymbiosis. (Plant chloroplasts are also modified bacteria.) You have DNA sequences that were directly acquired from those ‘endosymbiozed’ bacteria. Some of your ‘housekeeping’ gene sequences are identical to those of yeast.

Frankly, I think that reality is far more fascinating and wondrous than God-did-it pseudoexplanations.

We are merely vehicles by which our DNA transmits itself down the generations (provided that we cooperate by having descendents). DNA does not do so intentionally, it merely happens to work that way because that way works. (I know it sounds tautological, but think about it.)

Bacteria, yeast, and plants need not enjoy the activities, but they lack a decision-making apparatus. To higher animals, there’s lot of fun in drinking, waking, eating, sleeping, and procreating (I should say ‘the act that can cause procreation if we aren’t always careful’ because childbirth looks painful).

Why? If they were not fun, the DNA sequences that made those activities un-fun would never have led to (careless) procreation and would not have been passed along. Dying is not necessarily fun, but it is a result of having an existence that’s dependent on degradable molecules.

I’m not asking you to abandon beliefs that you regard as truths and that clearly give you comfort. I merely ask you to re-evaluate some of your misconceptions about atheism. I have enjoyed our discussion, and I agree that we probably do share some basic values.

Again, I wish you peace too :)

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