A WORLD WITHOUT GOD. IS IT POSSIBLE?
I don’t try to imagine a personal God; it suffices to stand in awe at the structure of the world, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it, said Albert Einstein.
Can we live in a world without God? Yes, I can imagine a world without God, free from the bickering of religions, but it may be difficult. According to Richard Weinberg, the American physicist, the difficulty offers one other consolation – that there is a certain honour, or perhaps just a grim satisfaction, in facing up to our condition without despair and without wishful thinking – with good humour, but without God.
The beginning of modern science in the 18th century brought conflict with religious belief. According to Edward Gibbon (1737-94) the Byzantine church viewed that “the study of nature was the surest symptom of an unbelieving mind.” This idea of conflict was published in a book, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom in 1896 by Andrew Dickson White.
Recently, there has been an approach to “Reconciliation of science and religion”. The Vatican-backed ‘Templeton Foundation’, founded in 1987 by an American billionaire, spends $70 million per year in research to find a common ground between science and religion eg the medical benefits of prayer.
Stephen Jay Gould, an American biologist argued that there could be no conflict between science and religion, because science deals only with facts and religion only with values. This view was opposite to what most adherents of religion held in the past, and it is considered as a sign of decay of belief in the supernatural that many today who call themselves religious would agree with Gould.
The main reason of the conflict according to Susan Haack, Prof of Philosophy: “the tensions between science and religion are that there has been a gradually weakening of serious religious belief, especially in the West, where science has been most advanced.” A survey in Birmingham 1990, showed that while an average Sunday church attendance has dropped, lowest in Sweden ( 4 percent), Christianity is rising in Asia, Africa and Latin America, called ‘global south’ because the gospel is proclaimed and believed as God’s Word.
Hugh McLeod, in his “The decline of Christendom in Western Europe”, says that the process has spectacularly accelerated since 1960 as reflected by changing attitudes to death, to
technology, religious language and liberalisation of the once-powerful state church. The situation is often called “Post-Christian Europe”.
In Asia like Pakistan, where science is rudimentary with lack of freethought and scientific scepticism of religion for the existence of God, the tension between science and religion is very minimal. Growth of basic science especially that has conflict with God is discouraged in the Islamic countries. Muslim physicist Abdus Mohammed Salam, who in 1979 became the first Muslim scientist to be awarded a Nobel Prize for work he did in England and Italy, has since never been heard to produce any scientific paper in Pakistan.
In medieval times, the friction between scientific discoveries and specific religious doctrines was tolerated and accommodated by the more enlightened among the religious. Galileo remarked that “the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how to go to heaven, not how heaven goes.”
Bible mentions that the earth is flat as noted by Copernicus. These writings led some early church fathers to reject the Greek understanding that the earth is a sphere. Dante thought the interior of the spherical earth a convenient place to store sinners (hell).However, there were educated Christians who, long before Columbus discovered America, accepted the spherical shape of the earth.
The other important source of tension according to Haak, is that traditional religions rely on an authority – an infallible leader such as Mohammed or a Pope, or a body of sacred books such as the Koran and Bible, unlike Hinduism, which is simply a way of life. As science has become anti-authority it flies in the face of religious conservatism. Science has also authorities like Einstein but they are not infallible. Einstein’s theory of relativity is a basic now, known as an effective field theory, that is, an approximation.
The religious belief is also weakening in America. The number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has nearly doubled since 1990, rising from 8 to 15 percent (South Baptist Theological Seminary). Even those who think religion is good do not have much in the way of clear religious belief. The trend is similar among modern Meiteis. The religious belief was clear about my father and mother’s time.
The steady decline in Christian religious belief is also evidenced from what Pope Benedict XVI said recently during Mass at the Sistine Chapel (Vatican), that parents should now turn to Bible in naming children’s name instead of celebrity-inspired names such as Lily, or place names like Brooklyn (David Bekham’s son). Meitei parents now name their children all sorts, not just un-Hindu, but crass like Samson, Delilah, Tennyson and Hitler.
Spirituality is central in Buddhism, which does not call for belief in God but the supernatural soul and reincarnation. 65 per cent of Japanese do not believe in God – the only Asian nation that has made the greatest progress in science. A recent book by the Dalai Lama barely mentions reincarnation.
Religion is not just a belief about God and the afterlife, but a host of other things: a set of moral principles: rules about sexual behaviour, diet, observance of holy days; rituals of birth,
marriage and death; and the comforts of belonging with fellow believers, which in extreme cases allows the pleasure of killing those whose religion is different.
Because of these pleasures it will be difficult to live in a world without God. It is not that giving up religion will lead to a moral decline. There are plenty of people including me, my wife, and Richard Dawkins, without religious faith, who live extremely moral lives, while some religionists have fostered the most horrible crimes.
I am an agnostic (not atheist). My view is that religion, at least in its traditional supernatural manifestations, is not compatible with science. The existence of soul and afterlife is illogical, which for the purpose of this article, means lacking in principles of correct reasoning.
Belief in God is like a belief in a non-existent hero of a novel, such as Khamba in Dr Jodha Sanasam’s ‘Akanba Shaphoogi Erei’, which I have just read .Most people believe in God because there are no explanations for a whole host of mysteries, ignoring the fact that over the years these mysteries were one by one resolved naturalistically due to science
Whereas scientists have now learned human behaviour in terms of the chemistry and physics of the brain, and nothing is left that needs to be explained by our having an immortal soul. The emotions such as love between boy and girl, love between husbands and wives and their children are made possible by chemical processes in our brains, not through the intervention of super being.
As Bernard Shaw put it, “The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober man.” Richard Feynman said, “The theory that it’s all arranged as a stage for God to watch man’s struggle for good and evil seems inadequate.”
Though there is still the most difficult problem of how to integrate the conscious mind with the brain, metaphysical or ontological naturism rejects the objective existence of any supernatural being such as occurs in various religions.
Replacement of religion by science is frightening for many. Plato was horrified when Democritus and Leucippus explained nature in terms of atoms. Isaac Newton, who rejected the idea that the world could be explained without God, actually did it himself with his nontheistic explanations about the laws of motion- without which NASSA could not send a rocket to the Moon. It is because of gravity that creationists and scientists don’t float off the earth
In “Society without God” Phil Zuckerman writes of his experience in Sweden, the least religious nation in Europe. “One gets a fuller, richer, and more intimate sense of life in a society wherein religion is minimal.”
Ever since Charles Darwin discovered that humans arose from apes in Africa through natural selection acting on random heritable variations, without the need of God, many people including Darwin lost their faith. This continued to disturb religious sensibilities with the worry of what will happen to the souls after death!
I am not advocating that all the people I know should lose their religious beliefs. However, for those who have lost it and those who are about to, there is a consolation that more and
more people now know that there is nothing after death. Death is absolute – an anaesthetic from which none comes round (Philip Larkin).
As “Brevity is the soul of wit” (Hamlet), the answer is ‘there is nothing to it’.