The Dubai Reasoning!

It is surprising how misunderstood atheists are. Most people really do not know why atheists become atheists. There are popular misconceptions such as atheists do not believe in God because they think that something that cannot be seen cannot be believed. Another misconception is that atheists are messengers of evil or the devil. Yet another misconception is that atheists believe in evolution which states humans came from monkeys. All of these arguments against atheism are ignorant and straw-man to say the least.

Mohanlal in Kilichundan Mampazham

Mohanlal in Kilichundan Mampazham

There is a popular Malayalam film named Kilichundan Mampazham. In that Mohanlal talks about belief. He says that just because one has not seen Dubai, doesn’t mean Dubai doesn’t exist. So far two close friends of mine have used the same logic to me while talking about atheism. They say that if I haven’t seen God, it doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist. Well, first of all I must tell everyone that it is not because we can’t see God that we don’t believe in God’s existence. This argument stems from the lack of understanding of what evidence means. People are yet not clear with the concepts of direct and indirect evidence.

I have not seen my brain yet. In fact most humans have not seen their own brain. However, we know that it exists. We are aware of its existence from various indirect evidences that we can verify. For instance, we can perform an EEG or a PET scan and verify that we have a brain. Other indirect evidences would be the cognitive processes that goes on inside our head all the time. We think therefore, we do have a brain. We really don’t need to cut open the head to verify its existence but if we do, we can be sure that will see our brain. When a crime happens, the detective doesn’t see the crime directly in most cases. He collects evidences such as fingerprints, footprints, blood samples, video and audio recordings, letters and emails, chat scripts, witness testimonies and many other things before drawing his conclusions as to who might be the culprit.

Similarly, we know that Dubai exists from a variety of indirect evidences such as personal descriptions of people who visited that place, photographs and documentaries and news related to that place among others. All these convince us that Dubai exists even though we haven’t visited it. Hence the argument that atheists reject God because they haven’t seen God is meaningless. It is not just the direct evidence that we verify but also indirect evidence. There hasn’t been any testable way to prove that God exists both directly or indirectly. Which is one of the main reasons why we don’t believe in a God.

Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan once said, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence“. However, we must use that statement carefully in any context. Or rather, we shouldn’t misuse that statement. When I speak about aliens, some people ask me how am I so sure about their existence. Of course I am not fully sure about their existence. However, the indirect evidence is so overwhelming. At the time I am writing this, scientists have discovered over 700 planets and over two dozen of them are in the habitable zone around their parent stars, which means they can harbor life as we know it.

Now, life as we know it alludes to the carbon based life form. Carbon as you might have studied in high school, has a property called catenation. It can form long chains of molecules that form “backbone” for other molecules and atoms to attach. Our DNA is one such molecule which can self replicate and therefore form the base for life to evolve. DNA may not be the base for life in other planets but still it is highly likely that it will be a carbon based self replicating molecule. When scientists search for life in other planets, they look for signatures of life such as oxygen-carbon dioxide cycle, presence of organic molecules, presence of moisture in the atmosphere etc. And intelligent or industrialized life form would have further signatures such industrial waste gases, radiation, presence of radio waves artificial light sources etc. These are prominent indirect evidences that scientists are looking for all the time in the planets that are being discovered.

exoplanet artists impression

Exoplanet (Artist’s Impression)

We haven’t found direct evidence for aliens because we have barely started looking. It’s been just over 110 years since we invented radio. Which means, the farthest those early signals have gone is 110 light years. Our galaxy is over 100,000 light years across and have an estimated 400 billion stars. And there are roughly a hundred billion such galaxies in the observable universe (give or take a few billion). In the last 20 years since the first discovery of an exoplanet, we have found over 700 confirmed planets. Hence, the discovery rate is quite high and in the coming years, the number of planets we find will be truly mind blowing. Thus, the day is not far before we find the first clues for a life form that is truly alien. And when that happens, our civilization will be changed forever.

Coming back to the main topic of discussion, evidence can be direct or indirect. In science, a theory can be verified through experiment, through observation or through mathematics. In addition, there is a rigorous process of peer-review. It is only when such a verification occurs that a theory gets accepted in the scientific community. Scientific community is hence very rigid because there is no room for error there. Therefore, any Tom, Dick and Harry cannot come up with a theory and say, “Hey, this is my new theory, accept it.”

God, is a concept invented at a time when there wasn’t an understanding about what was going on in the world. To be more specific, the God in our culture(s) is basically the “God of the gaps”. People tried to plug in the various holes in their knowledge about the world using God(s). Religion was a political and cultural construct invented in order to keep people in control by exploiting this ignorance. However, today we know so much about the world around us that we can start pulling out the plugs from many such holes and put our scientific understanding in place. For example, we didn’t know how things fall in the past, but we do today. So, we pulled out the corresponding plug and put theory of gravity in. We didn’t know why there was a retrograde motion for Mars and other planets, but we do today. So, we pulled out the plug and put Heliocentric theory in. We didn’t know why diseases occur, but we do today. So, we pulled out the plug and put germ theory in. So as and when we learn a new thing about this world, one God disappears or as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson put it, “God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance that’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller as time goes on.

This was a simple article about the atheistic viewpoint. If this doesn’t provoke thought in a religious person and helps him understand why atheist reject God, then I am not sure what will. Any questions on the content of this post is welcome. Thanks for your time.

The Einstein Argument!

There are people who believe in God because their parents or community does so. There are some who follow the “because there is something, someone must have created it” logic. Yet some others believe because they are not sure but do not want to take “risk“. However, recently I heard an interesting preposition. It basically preys on my keen interests in astronomy and astrophysics and states that as I learn more about the universe, some day I would realize that there is a God and leave my atheistic point of view.

The source of this partially ignorant preposition is even more interesting. It uses Albert Einstein as a yardstick to measure the highest level of intellectual achievement and then uses that as an argument against atheism saying, “Even Albert Einstein believed in God. And you are talking about atheism.” The words “even” and “you” are the problem sin this sentence, which you will understand as you read on. The preposition also takes its position from a very popular urban legend where Einstein as a student seemingly “proved” God to his atheist professor.

There is no doubt that Einstein is one of the greatest scientists of all times. However, using him as a yardstick of intellectual achievement in my opinion grossly demeans other great scientists who lived during his time, before him and after him. The fact is Einstein actually never believed in a God. Of course he was not an atheist. He preferred to be an agnostic, which is good as a scientist since agnosticism is in many ways like atheism except for the part where it accepts the lack of surety as to whether a supernatural creator created this universe and then interferes with the events happening in it.

Hence, touting up his name  in order to sell one’s religious point of view doesn’t make sense. There are other issues in using Einstein’s name in this case of a supreme God who has influence over how events unfold in the fabric of reality. First of all when we talk about an intelligent creator being, it is a scientific hypothesis. We are talking about an intelligent being that has the capability of various feats. Then the question that would naturally follow would be “Where did this being come from?

Secondly, Einstein had big problems with quantum mechanics. The world as we know can be divided according to two models. The one for which Einstein is famous for which is general relativity and the other is quantum mechanics. Now, in order to describe reality completely, we need both the theories.

General relativity goes about explaining the universe at a macroscopic scale. It is very beautiful and elegant and describes a predictable universe. It appears that Einstein’s obsession with predictability of the universe is one of the reasons why he is an agnostic. Unfortunately, at the most fundamental levels, the universe is totally unpredictable. The works of Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Max Born, Wolfgang Pauli and a whole bunch of other scientists during Einstein’s time and afterwards conclusively prove that the quantum mechanical nature of our universe at the fundamental level is unpredictable.

It is obvious that Einstein had a problem with it because he wanted his predictable view of the universe to work at all levels, which it didn’t. If quantum mechanics was just a theory that couldn’t be verified experimentally, then he would have easily brushed it aside and moved on. But that was not the case. Experiments after experiments kept proving the quantum mechanical nature of reality at the fundamental level. This is where Einstein had a problem and he went on making the famous statement, “God doesn’t play dice with the world.”

To his death, Einstein didn’t accept quantum mechanics even though he knew that it was a true way of understanding nature at the microscopic scale. In fact, towards his later years, he became a recluse and refused to read the papers of new scientists who were making excellent progress in the field. It is said that he wasn’t even aware that two new forces viz. the strong force and the weak force were discovered. He spent his remaining few years of life working on one particular problem, which is combining electromagnetism and gravity, which were the only two forces known to him.

So, as a scientist, his achievements in relativistic mechanics, gravity, photoelectric effect etc. are excellent. However, he had this exceptionally biased point of view towards quantum mechanics, which was the other half of reality. It is funny to know that it was his own earlier works in physics that lead to the creation of quantum mechanics. That probably might have disturbed him further.

To summarize, touting up Einstein’s name in religious arguments is futile because of two reasons. First, he never believed in a God and was an agnostic. Second, he was biased enough to discard one half of reality that describes the universe in order to favor the other half. Further, he was never the only intellectual of his time or anytime for that matter. Thomas Edison, Paul Dirac, James Chadwick, Paul Ehrenfest, Sigmund Freud, Niels Bohr, Pierre Curie, George Gamow, Julian Huxley, Frank Whittle, Alan Turing, William Shockley, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Erwin Schrodinger etc. are some of the scientists and inventors during Einstein’s time who were confirmed atheists. Other famous historic and contemporary atheist scientists and inventors include Jim Al-Khalili, Svante Arrhenius, Subrahmanyan Chandrashekhar, Francis Crick, Richard Dawkins, Sandra Faber, Richard Feynman, Alan Guth, Wilhelm Ostwald, Edmund Halley, Stephen Hawking, Peter Higgs, Lawrence Krauss, Joseph Louis Lagrange, Alfred Kinsey, Pierre-Simon Laplace, Alfred Nobel, Sir Roger Penrose, Carl Sagan, Leonard Susskind, Steven Weinberg, Richard Stallman etc.

We can’t in anyway say that Einstein was somehow more intelligent than them or his contributions are greater than all these people or that his religious point of view is somehow better than them. Einstein himself is known for his seemingly ambiguous statements about God and religion. Hence, to conclude, it is a futile attempt to use Einstein’s religious point of view as an argument against atheism.