Hello Wordpretzels; happy Easter, a celebration of spring and new life.
This is a time when lots of children in Christian society are given the opportunity to wait for a rabbit to give them chocolate eggs to eat to remember the death of Jesus. Not to be confused with the birth of Jesus, which happened four months ago and features a character called Father Christmas.
So, a quick summation for a child would be:
A -Father Christmas –
- Overweight man with big white beard and red suit.
- Flies through the air on a sleigh pulled by seven reindeer, delivers consumable goods to children across the world in one night, preferably by going down the chimney.
B – Jesus –
- Man whose mum was a virgin when he was born.
- Dad an omnipotent supernatural being responsible for the creation of the universe, animals, planets, parking meters and Simon Cowell.
- Majorly upset the Romans, who killed him and put him in a cave.
- Came back to life and disappeared, reportedly to live with his dad.
So, you can imagine what it was like for me, a butterfly brained child in a predominantly Christian society, one that is quite relieved when you grow up and stop believing in Father Christmas, but quite alarmed when you stop believing in god.
“I don’t think god exists,” I remember telling my mum. I would have been about 10 at the time. I said it in a low voice, since I’d spent many hours in school assemblies and occasional visits to large, draughty, stone buildings full of people wearing pastel cardigans and interesting haircuts, telling me how great god is and that if anybody disagreed he would cast them down and do terrible things to them.
She fixed me with a stare.
“You should never talk about religion or politics,” she advised. I added it to my mental list of things I shouldn’t talk about, incuding sex (dirty) and granddad swearing (old age).
So I grew up not believing in god, but then, to be honest, that just means that I believe in one less god than most religious people. For example, somebody who believes in the Christian god doesn’t believe in Mohammed, or Buddha, or Shiva, Jehovah, Zeus, Kiak-Kiak, Jupiter, Anubis, Tiamat, Orishas, Noel Edmonds or many thousand other gods that are out there.
Anyway, this means I have a tendency to read books that may give me a little more insight into what life is all about. A couple of months ago, I came across one called “An Atheists Guide to Reality – Enjoying Life Without Illusions” by Alex Rosenburg. He is a scientist specialising in physics but also studies philosophy and neuroscience, which means he must be very clever. Much cleverer than me; I was worried for the author, however. You see, Rosenburg is a Jewish name, which means Alex has a Jewish mother. I grew up with Jewish kids and I know how scary their mothers are if you upset them.
The book explains how life, the universe and everything can be explained using the laws of physics, predominantly Kelvin’s second law of thermodynamics. This law states that everything tries to change into something else with an exchange of energy or entropy. It’s why your milk goes off. Combine this with Darwin’s theory of evolution, natural selection and millions of years and hey presto, you make a human being. This happened two million years ago. It took another quarter of a million years to produce a human capable of speaking, producing organisms capable of sharing information, making relationships, hosting chat shows and becoming politicians.
Then things started to get a little more demanding on my brain cells, since the book was based on something called scientism, where the laws of physical nature are the only laws in reality.
In a nutshell – there is no god, no purpose to life, no such thing as right and wrong, no free will and no ’self’.
I could feel a headache coming on. Apparently, extensive neurological research had shown that the brain carries out actions before we are consciously aware of doing them and it’s only introspection that makes us think we thought it. Everything we do doesn’t involve any planning. We don’t actually think about anything.
I felt my head spinning. I explained this to Lady Barton St Mary. She lowered her Homes and Gardens magazine and took a thoughtful sip on her gin and tonic.
“What do you mean, one doesn’t think about anything? That’s silly.”
I tried my best to explain. Mr Rosenburg was merely putting forward the hypothesis that our brains have beliefs and desires, but not thoughts about things. There are large packages of input/output circuits in your brain ready to deliver the appropriate (or inappropriate) behaviour when stimulated.
“You mean we’re just a collection of atoms, with no purpose or meaning?” she continued.
“Like a Big Brother contestant?”
“I suppose so. But with a brain,” I mused.
Whilst I was coming to terms with this, the book went further. History was bunk, as was economics, psychiatry, the judicial system and all the other social sciences. Humans like art and books and stuff because that’s what protected us from the truth. We have evolved to make science a difficult thing to understand. I’m with Alex on that one. Mind you, it hasn’t stopped Professor Stephen Hawking’s book ‘A Brief History of Time’ being a bestseller. Although it does look impressive on your bookshelf.
So, there we have it. The reality of everything is that we are organisms with no ‘self’ (soul, if you like), living on a planet that was randomly made, with no purpose or meaning. There is no such thing as good or bad; history, economics and social sciences are meaningless.
However, the upside is that we have a certain core morality built in, evolved through natural selection to benefit the survival of the species. So that’s alright.
Maybe I should stick to reading Runner’s World magazine.
Also, I’ve just remembered another piece of valuable advice my mother gave me. Don’t believe everything you read.
Have a lovely break.
The Atheist’s Guide to Reality – Enjoying Life Without Illusions by Alex Rosenburg 2011. Norton Publications.