Monday, May 21, 2007

God Delusion

Below are the notes I have compiled from the Book God Delusion by Richard Dawkins []. The book starts with the thought why most of us continue doing a thing, despite we hate doing it and despite we all are endowed with the power to stop. He mentions his wife saying "I didn't know I could" (to atheist?). He talks about the how environment plays a role on which religion we choose "Victim of Childhood Indoctrination - Mutatis Mutandis". But he also mentions that "Same experience led people to different paths". He seems to be frustrated on the point of a child being labeled by folks; he says "Children are too young to be religiously labeled". He then brings and interesting point on how many scientist's quote has been taken out of context to prove there belief in God. For e.g., one of Einstein's most eagerly quoted remarks is 'Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.'

But Einstein also said, "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it." [Source: Max Jammer's book Einstein and Religion] He describes the naturalist's attempt to understand nature as "As ever when we unweave a rainbow, it will not become less wonderful". Then he defines the terms:

Theist - Deity is intimately involved in human affairs. Deist - Deist God never intervenes after setting up initial laws governing the universe, and certainly has no specific interest in human affairs (People like Voltaire and Diderot fall in this). Pantheists - "God as a no supernatural synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings (People like Spinoza fall in this)." On the biased attitude towards religion, he cites example of United States Supreme Court allowing the use of hoasca tea (which contains the illegal hallucinogenic drug dimethyltryptamine) by members of church in New Mexico while ruling against the use of Marijuana as a therapeutic agent. Talking about religious irony, the book cites statements like 'Behead those who say Islam is a violent religion'! In an interesting manner when he starts talking about Old Testament, he brings out the famous quote of Ralph W. Emerson: "The religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next." On evolution, his bottom line is "any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution." Something again which I can relate to Hinduism, he says "What impresses me about Catholic mythology is partly its tasteless kitsch but mostly the airy nonchalance with which these people make up the details as they go along. It is just shamelessly invented." In Hinduism I have seen that from recovered Four Vedas [where Indra is mentioned more often then Visnu] don't mention 99.9% of the ~330 million Gods. Later based on personal likings people brought their God forward and wrote treatises like Shivpuraan [Lord Shiva is Supreme here] while in Vishnupuraan [Lord Vishnu takes the center stage].

He brings out famous words of Nehru: "The spectacle of what is called religion, or at any rate organized religion, in India and elsewhere, has filled me with horror and I have frequently condemned it and wished to make a clean sweep of it. Almost always it seemed to stand for blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition, exploitation and the preservation of vested interests." which are still so relevant in India. On the question of the healing power in a Prayer, he quotes work of Galton: "He noted that every Sunday, in churches throughout Britain, entire congregations prayed publicly for the health of the royal family. Shouldn't they, therefore, be unusually fit, and compared with the rest of us, who are prayed for only by our nearest and dearest?" Galton looked into it, and found no statistical difference. His point is what Arthur C. Clarke puts as his Third Law ['any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic'] "The crucial difference between gods and god-like extraterrestrials lies not in their properties but in their provenance. Entities that are complex enough to be intelligent are products of an evolutionary process. No matter how god-like they may seem when we encounter them, they didn't start that way." Then he discusses the Thomas Aquinas' 'Proofs':

  • The Unmoved Mover. Nothing moves without a prior mover. This leads us to a regress, from which the only escape is God. Something had to make the first move, and that something we call God.
  • The Uncaused Cause. Nothing is caused by itself. Every effect has a prior cause, and again we are pushed back into regress. This has to be terminated by a first cause, which we call God.
  • The Cosmological Argument. There must have been a time when no physical things existed. But, since physical things exist now, there must have been something non-physical to bring them into existence, and that something we call God.
  • The Argument from Degree. We notice that things in the world differ. There are degrees of, say, goodness or perfection. But we judge these degrees only by comparison with a maximum. Humans can be both good and bad, so the maximum goodness cannot rest in us. Therefore there must be some other maximum to set the standard for perfection, and we call that maximum God.
  • The Teleological Argument or Argument from Design. Things in the world, especially living things, look as though they have been designed. Nothing that we know looks designed unless it is designed. Therefore there must have been a designer, and we call him God.

For point 1 to 3, he sees two problems:

  • God himself is immune to the regress.
  • Omniscience and omnipotence are mutually incompatible.

For the 4th point, he creates the 'peerless stinker'. For the 5th point, he quotes Darwin: "Evolution by natural selection produces an excellent simulacrum of design, mounting prodigious heights of complexity and elegance."

I feel Stephen Wolfram's work [Book: New Kind of Science] on cellular automata also brings in interesting pattern emerging from simples rules. Fractals are another good example.

He brings also mentions the ontological argument, proposed by St Anselm of Canterbury in 1078 "a being than which nothing greater can be conceived. Even an atheist can conceive of such a superlative being, though he would deny its existence in the real world. But, goes the argument, a being that doesn't exist in the real world is, by that very fact, less than perfect. Therefore we have a contradiction and, hey presto, God exists!" To mock this he quotes Australian philosopher Gasking who tried to prove a non-existent God on similar lines of thought! He points to the fact in the days of Michelangelo, making religious sculpts was practical. Given a task to paint for Science Museum, he would have come up with a thing different than Sistine Chapel! He points to the Pascal's wager, cowardly bet-hedging, which talks about practicality of being a believer! He mocks at this feigning belief in God by pointing to Douglas Adams in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, "where we meet the robotic Electric Monk, a labour-saving device that you buy 'to do your believing for you'. The deluxe model is advertised as 'Capable of believing things they wouldn't believe in Salt Lake City'." He then talks about Brain as a Internal Simulations software which takes sensory inputs and creats the picture of reality which might be an illusion [eg, Necker Cube]. "To simulate a ghost or an angel or a Virgin Mary would be child's play to software of this sophistication." "Constructing models is something the human brain is very good at. When we are asleep it is called dreaming; when we are awake we call it imagination or, when it is exceptionally vivid, hallucination." He talks about Hoyle's Boeing 747 gambit "the probability of life originating on Earth is no greater than the chance that a hurricane, sweeping through a scrap yard, would have the luck to assemble a Boeing". To answer this he brings in Darwin with the "Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection". He cleverly brings in phrase 'irreducible complexity', and 'the smooth gradient up Mount Improbable'. Darwin himself said as much: 'If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find no such case.' He says one of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding. "Creationists adore 'gaps' in the fossil record, just as they adore gaps generally. Michael Shermer has wittily pointed out that if a new fossil discovery neatly bisects a 'gap', the creationist will declare that there are now twice as many gaps!" He brings in to notice that "If the scientist fails to give an immediate and comprehensive answer, the creationist draws a default conclusion: 'Right then, the alternative theory, "intelligent design", wins by default.' Notice the biased logic: if theory A fails in some particular, theory B must be right. Needless to say, the argument is not applied the other way around. We are encouraged to leap to the default theory without even looking to see whether it fails in the very same particular as the theory it is alleged to replace. Intelligent design - ID - is granted a Get Out Of Jail Free card, a charmed immunity to the rigorous demands made of evolution." On the question of "What is the benefit of religion?" he mentions:

  • One arises from the theory of group selection [Different skill sets, one goal, get together]
  • The second follows from the theory that I advocated in The Extended Phenotype: the individual you are watching may be working under the manipulative influence of genes in another individual, perhaps a parasite. [Common Cold]
  • Third, the 'central theorem' may substitute for 'genes' the more general term 'replicators'. [Ideas want to propagate!]

In George Bernard Shaw's words, 'The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.' On faith healing "Homoeopaths may be achieving relative success because they, unlike orthodox practitioners, are still allowed to administer placebos - under another name. They also have more time to devote to talking and simply being kind to the patient." He asks "Is religion a placebo that prolongs life by reducing stress?" I guess, may be religion takes the load off from our shoulders to explain the universe! Or may be all religious people are suffering from a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder? He suggests work by Michael Persinger and others 'that visionary religious experiences are related to temporal lobe epilepsy'. And 'Religion is a tool used by the ruling class to subjugate the underclass.' The he talks about an interesting phenomenon of Moth's self immolating behavior: "But the light compass relies critically on the celestial object being at optical infinity. If it isn't, the rays are not parallel but diverge like the spokes of a wheel. A nervous system applying a 30-degree (or any acute angle) rules of thumb to a nearby candle, as though it were the moon at optical infinity, will steer the moth, via a spiral trajectory, into the flame. Draw it out for yourself, using some particular acute angle such as 30 degrees, and you'll produce an elegant logarithmic spiral into the candle. Though is it fatal in this particular circumstance, the moth's rule of thumb!" The gullibility of child is put forth with "The child cannot know that 'Don't paddle in the crocodile-infested Limpopo' is good advice but 'You must sacrifice a goat at the time of the full moon, otherwise the rains will fail' is at best a waste of time and goats. Both admonitions sound equally trustworthy." He compares this with a computer which can not differentiate between a good and bad program. "The assignment of purpose to everything is called teleology. Children are native teleologists, and many never grow out of it." "It seems to me entirely plausible that the intentional stance has survival value as a brain mechanism that speeds up decision making in dangerous circumstances, and in crucial social situations." A connection between love-religion, "I made the comparison between falling in love and religion in 1993, when I noted that the symptoms of an individual infected by religion may be startlingly reminiscent of those more ordinarily associated with sexual love." The biologist Lewis Wolpert's point is that irrationally strong conviction is a guard against fickleness of mind: 'if beliefs that saved lives were not held strongly, it would have been disadvantageous in early human evolution. It would be a severe disadvantage, for example, when hunting or making tools, to keep changing one's mind.' He brings in the idea of MEME as a plausible explanation for existence of religion. "Most religions evolve. Whatever theory of religious evolution we adopt, it has to be capable of explaining the astonishing speed with which the process of religious evolution, given the right conditions, can take off." Why are we moral? He elaborates using the Darwinian model:

  • Being in group increases the chance of our survival.
  • Reciprocal Altruism of Robert Tivers['You scratch my back, I will scratch yours!'] - Symbiotic? "Reciprocal altruism works because of asymmetries in needs and in capacities to meet them." "Altruistic giving may be an advertisement of dominance or superiority. Anthropologists know it as the Potlatch Effect" [Norwegian economist Thorstein Veblen and Israeli zoologist Amotz Zahavi] Though we no longer live with close kins who can reciprocate, it has remained just like sexual lust. "It is a strong urge which exists independently of its ultimate rationale." "We can no more help ourselves feeling pity when we see a weeping unfortunate (who is unrelated and unable to reciprocate) than we can help ourselves feeling lust for a member of the opposite sex (who may be infertile or otherwise unable to reproduce). Both are misfirings, Darwinian mistakes: blessed, precious mistakes."

"The message of Harvard biologist Marc Hauser's book, to anticipate it in his own words, is this: 'Driving our moral judgments is a universal moral grammar, a faculty of the mind that evolved over millions of years to include a set of principles for building a range of possible moral systems. As with language, the principles that make up our moral grammar fly beneath the radar of our awareness.'"

"Immanuel Kant famously articulated the principle that a rational being should never be used as merely an unconsenting means to an end, even the end of benefiting others." "The main conclusion of Hauser and Singer's study was that there is no statistically significant difference between atheists and religious believers in making these [moral] judgements." Einstein said, 'If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.' [I guess a Twist to the word God-fearing!] "I suspect that quite a lot of religious people do think religion is what motivates them to be good, especially if they belong to one of those faiths that systematically exploits personal guilt." He also brings forth the wild stories from the Old Testament (reminds me of some stories from some well know Hindu Scriptures esp. the story of Noah looks like a direct lift off from story of Manu from Vishnu Puraan). "I am trying to establish for the moment is that we do not, as a matter of fact, derive our morals from scripture. Or, if we do, we pick and choose among the scriptures for the nice bits and reject the nasty." I guess this is coded into our genome itself! He talks about religious leaders [common people?] picking up certain lines from scriptures and leaving rest, "By what criterion do you decide which passages are symbolic, which literal?" Napoleon, who said, 'Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet,' and with Seneca the Younger: 'Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.' Voltaire got it right long ago: 'Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.'

Nobel Prize-winning American physicist Steven Weinberg said, 'Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.' To point towards Hindu-Muslim fight he quotes Salman Rushdie: 'What happened in India has happened in God's name. The problem's name is God.' "Sam Harris, as so often, hits the bullseye, in The End of Faith 'The danger of religious faith is that it allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy.'" He says "When a science book is wrong, somebody eventually discovers the mistake and it is corrected in subsequent books. That conspicuously doesn't happen with holy books." "We believe in evolution because the evidence supports it, and we would abandon it overnight if new evidence arose to disprove it. No real fundamentalist would ever say anything like that."

On the Consolation, he says "according to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, is the alleviation of sorrow or mental distress. He divides consolation into two types:

  • Direct physical consolation. A man stuck for the night on a bare mountain may find comfort in a large, warm St Bernard dog, not forgetting, of course, the brandy barrel around its neck. A weeping child may be consoled by the embrace of strong arms wrapped around her and reassuring words whispered in her ear.
  • Consolation by discovery of a previously unappreciated fact, or a previously undiscovered way of looking at existing facts "

"Is the imaginary-friend phenomenon a higher illusion, in a different category from ordinary childhood make-believe?"

"the power to comfort, and provide a vivid sounding board for trying out ideas." "If you take religion away, people truculently ask, what are you going to put in its place? What have you to offer the dying patients, the weeping bereaved, the lonely Eleanor Rigbys for whom God is their only friend?"

But here we are seeking truth here and not a reason for existence of religion :) "I think we all know people who enjoy the idea of religious faith, and resent attacks on it, while reluctantly admitting that they don't have it themselves." Very common in Hinduism for sure, otherwise I won't be seeing so much immorality around! He mentions "They believe in belief." Reminds me of a line from a very famous Indian film, 'Guide', where the hero is asked whether he beleives in God and he replied "In logo ko mujhpar viswaas hai, aur mujhe inke viswaas par viswaas hai [village people believe in me and I 'believe in their belief']!" .

More Quotes from the book and othewise

Adams (on the idea of relegion):

'Here is an idea or a notion that you're not allowed to say anything bad about; you're just not. Why not? – because you're not!'

Carl Sagan:

'if by "God" one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying . . . it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.'

Phillip E. Johnson:

'Darwinism is the story of humanity's liberation from the delusion that its destiny is controlled by a power higher than itself.'

Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle:

'When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.'

Albert Einstein

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.

Steven Weinberg

Some people have views of God that are so broad and flexible that it is inevitable that they will find God wherever they look for him. One hears it said that 'God is the ultimate' or 'God is our better nature' or 'God is the universe.' Of course, like any other word, the word 'God' can be given any meaning we like. If you want to say that 'God is energy,' then you can find God in a lump of coal.

Bertrand Russell

"The immense majority of intellectually eminent men disbelieve in Christian religion, but they conceal the fact in public, because they are afraid of losing their incomes."

Blaise Pascal

"You'd better believe in God, because if you are right you stand to gain eternal bliss and if you are wrong it won't make any difference anyway. On the other hand, if you don't believe in God and you turn out to be wrong you get eternal damnation, whereas if you are right it makes no difference."

Thomas Jefferson

"The priests of the different religious sects . . . dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight, and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subdivision of the duperies on which they live."

Marek Kohn

To an evolutionary psychologist, the universal extravagance of religious rituals, with their costs in time, resources, pain and privation, should suggest as vividly as a mandrill's bottom that religion may be adaptive.

Einstein & Faith Thursday, Apr. 05, 2007 By WALTER ISAACSON,9171,1607298-3,00.html]

"What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos," he explained. In fact, Einstein tended to be more critical of debunkers, who seemed to lack humility or a sense of awe, than of the faithful. "The fanatical atheists," he wrote in a letter, "are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who--in their grudge against traditional religion as the 'opium of the masses'-- cannot hear the music of the spheres." "Schopenhauer's saying, 'A man can do as he wills, but not will as he wills,' has been a real inspiration to me since my youth; it has been a continual consolation in the face of life's hardships, my own and others', and an unfailing wellspring of tolerance." "I know that philosophically a murderer is not responsible for his crime," he said, "but I prefer not to take tea with him." Scientists aim to uncover the immutable laws that govern reality, and in doing so they must reject the notion that divine will, or for that matter human will, plays a role that would violate this cosmic causality.


There is in every village a torch - the teacher: and an extinguisher - the clergyman.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Aa Jaana Na Jaanaa

Song is on the way to completion but I want comments in mid-way thus posting.

A a a aaa jaaaana
Na na na naa jaanaa

Madhosh raatein hain
Khaamosh baatein hain
Jaane man khoya hoon kahaan....

Bridge to:
Kehta to hai meri main tera
Par na jaane tu gayi kahaan
Koi jaane naaa

Again I ask for comments from you guys for the version 2 of this song!


Mere Dil Ke Paas ...

A song I have been writing for sometime now, part of the lyrics comes from few lines I thought while trekking sandakhpu []. Here it goes:

Mere dil ke paas
Chupa ek raaz
Jize dhoonde tu
Hoon main wohi hooon

Wo anmit kaahaani
Baatein Nayi purrani
Jize dhoonde tu
Hoon main wohi hooon

Saanson main jo naheen
Aankhon main kho gayee
Main tera rahaa
Najaane tu kahaan gayi

Mere dil ke paas
Chupa ek raaz
Jize dhoonde tu
Hoon main wohi hooon

Wo anmit kaahaani
Baatein Nayi purrani
Jize dhoonde tu
Hoon main wohi hooon

Hoon hoon hooooooooo
Hoon hoon hooooooooo