My views on God and Atheism. How Feynman influenced them.
I was brought up in a Hindu household, but I don't ever remember believing in an anthropomorphized god. All the gods I read about in Amar Chitra Katha were all too human with folibles that were relatable. They seemed more like superhumans rather than a Christian God which is omnicient, omnipotent and the creator of reality.
By the time I joined college, I was an Agnostic. I felt that atheism was too strong a stance. I did not have any evidence to believe in God, but I could not rule it out either. Agnostic is just a fancy word that means - "I don't know if God exists, I don't think its possible to know".
The turning point for me was when I came across this quote by Feynman,
"I call myself an atheist. Agnostic for me would be trying to weasel out and sound a little nicer than I am about this." - Richard Feynman
I realised how I was afraid to admit to myself what exactly my true belief was. I aim to be honest to myself and in pursuit of that I had to admit that you believe in things you had evidence for and you don't believe in things for which you don't have evidence. The lack of evidence for god is not due to a lack of looking for it.
Also atheism never claims to never believe in god, ever. With new evidence at any point of time I am willing to update my beliefs. Atheism accurately reflects my current beliefs on the subject.
So I decided not to weasel out and try to get along with everyone. I decided to identify as an atheist.
A relevant quote from Richard Dawkins is - "I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden". I maintain a healthy dose of skepticism and entertain the possibility of us living in a simulation, aliens roaming around us, and I can extend the same probabilities to God.
In atheism I reject the existence of any deity - a supernatural being, which interacts with humans. The theories people usually offer for how these deities supposedly operate are not falsifiable. There is no empirical evidence (the repeatable kind) to support the claim that they exist.
The next time I seriously revised my beliefs regarding this topic was when I was binging Jordan Peterson's videos. I highly recommend his biblical series, which was where I was forced to consider alternative definitions for God.
His conception of God is hard to pin down. I don't claim to understand what his idea of God is, but of his many attempts at explaining it, my favorite is
"God is the highest value in the hierarchy of values.” - JP
I think his view is that morality and religion are inextricably linked. The hume's gap is a real issue. For people like me all caught up in logic and science, I used to take the underlying values I operate on as implictly true. JP's "God" is defined with respect to our value system.
It feels like a waste to abandon the term God as just a wrong concept, a relic of the past, rather let me try to propose a God that I can accept, something that lends itself to the "personal God" conceptualization. I see some progressive people consider God to be - "some energy", "nature", or "fate" but I don't like vague or redundant ideas like that.
Every culture will have an ideal man, women, father, king, etc. Take all good masculine men society respects and abstract away extraneous details to get this ideal of a man. This abstraction can be done with other roles like mother which would be nested inside the women ideal. Note how this ideal would be almost impossible to describe explicitly using natural languages. Now if we take it one level higher and abstract out from all these ideals that society holds, we get God.
Why does this conception have value? Well we worship this God through our actions when we respect these ideals in others and ourselves. People holding similar value systems have similar Gods, different cultures would have different Gods. This god is immortal in the sense that as long as the culture persists, it can't be killed. It sits inside each of us watching our actions and acts as our conscience. Does this God exist? It is as real as any other shared fictions we humans have like countries, money and companies.
I'll come back and try to flesh out this better when I have more clarity. But these sorts of ideas attract me and I feel I might be spiritual without being religious.
What are the main components of a Religion? First would be rituals which commemorated important milestones - births, death, marriage, etc. It serves to sanctify, reaffirm the power of these institutions. A social sanction is given for the sexual union of individuals, to reward individuals that move towards the ideals the community shares, to shame detractors, etc. Rituals create mutual knowledge regarding the shared values of that culture. It helps build a sense of community. I think we still hold onto most of these mostly because we are so used to it.
Religions define an in-group, your tribe, you have rules regarding diet, clothes, how power is distributed, who has what responsibilites. This imposes structure on society. I think my personal identity is more connected to science and rationality than any traditional religion.
The third part of a religion would be the ethics, we are questioning some parts of the morality that traditional religions place on us like dating and travelling abroad but we still hold on to most of the moral structure regarding bestality, murder, etc.
The final part I could identify was the metaphysical component where the religion tells us our purpose in life, the idea of karma, fate, rebirth, moksha. I think nihilism is true but the truth is not always useful.