Creative Arts

A Debate between Generations

Rocket ScientistThe year is 2032 CE and I have perhaps kicked the bucket much earlier. Ananya, my eight year old grand-daughter currently, has since become a Rocket scientist and she likes to discuss philosophical issues with her grandmother, my wife, whom she calls as “Avva” meaning Grandma in our mother tongue Telugu.

Ananya : Avva, they say that there was a Krita or Satya Yug, then a Tretha Yug when Shri Ram was the King of Ayodhya and Dvapara Yug when Lord Krishna ruled Mathura and then The Mahabharat War which started the Kali Yug which continues till today. God(s) used to descend from Heaven in those ages/Yugas and appear to Rushis/monks doing Tapasya or when Ghor Pap i.e., horrendous sins & crimes were being committed by human-like demons, they would come down to earth and do justice. Why is it that inspite of the moaning/crying of 6 million Jews, no god(s) appeared to rescue them from the Holocaust in the death camps of Hitler ? Is it because He is hiding ?

Avva : They say that this is Kali Yug and God(s) do not visit our planet in this Yug. Yes, he is said to be hiding.

Ananya : Does it mean He exists but is playing hide & seek or Peekaboo ?

Avva : Perhaps. I do not know why. The theologians say that He must have his reasons, His behaviour is a mystery and beyond human comprehension.

Ananya : Let me understand this. God(s) don’t make personal appearances or even send authenticated messages. This is a fact. So believers have to say something to explain this obtrusive fact. They claim that in Kali Yug, He doesn’t make his appearance. He is hidden. What a nice way to rationalize the whole thing !

Avva : Aren’t you being very critical of the wisdom of our ancestors ?

Ananya : Maybe. But Tata (Grand father) always used to say when he was alive, that we have to use our critical reasoning faculties before we accept our legacies & traditions. Nobody would buy the idea of an ideal, loving, concerned or involved parent who permanently hides from his children, so why buy the idea of a loving God who is hidden ?

Avva : To tell you the truth, I also felt the same for a number of years but didn’t have the courage to rock the boat.

Ananya : Avva, I have a theory. You know what ? The most obvious, simple, economical explanation of God’s non-appearance is that there are “no Gods” to do the appearing.

Avva : Now that you have mentioned it, it seems to make sense to me. Your Tata when he was alive used to tell me the same but I never took him seriously. Yes, you might be right…..

Ananya : I sure am Avva ! A kind parent, friend or benefactor doesn’t hide from you from before your birth until after your death and still expect you to feel love, trust & gratitude towards him. Why then should God hide from us ? Why is He never around when we desperately need Him ?

Avva : Our forefathers used to say that God makes himself invisible to us ” To test our Faith “.

They would say — “If humans believe in God after God reveals himself, it is no big deal. Humans have a Hobson’s choice and will necessarily have to prostrate before that God & subjugate themselves in all servility to Him, given that God is omnipotent, lest you incur His displeasure & wrath.

But if we have faith that He does exist despite the Hiddenness of God, it would be deemed as the greatest virtue a man is capable of.”

Ananya : That is cheating Avva ! A God that permanently hides and gives us no real evidence of His existence — yet considers it a virtue in us, to have faith that He does exist, despite the lack of evidence, is a God that is cheating and I want nothing to do with it, even presuming there is such a thing as God.

Everything since the Big Bang can be explained naturally, Avva. We know that scientists are pretty sure that the universe began almost 14 billion years ago with what has come to be called the Big Bang. They know that knowledge gained through science gives us a general understanding of how the galaxies, stars, and planets subsequently formed, and how life evolved on Earth from microscopic replicators to more complex organisms, all the way to the wide variety of species that we see today.

Every gap in knowledge has not been explained by science but enough gaps have been sufficiently filled so that we can reasonably infer that, the entire chronology – from the Big Bang to the rise of humanity on this obscure planet – can be explained without resorting to supernatural phenomena.

If so, this means that there is no need for a God to explain anything that has happened since the Big Bang. We can only speculate about what “caused” the Big Bang.

Avva : Maybe that’s true, but surely the Big Bang itself (or whatever else “caused” the universe to come into existence) must have necessitated a God, right?

Ananya : This speculation, however, is based on not even a shred of evidence, and reflects very human biases about causation. (That is, since we are thinking beings that can create things, we assume that the universe itself must have been created by a thinking being.)

Avva : We are awestruck by the grandiosity of the universe and the puzzle of origins, and feel that “there must be something.”

Ananya : Yes, there must be something. But to nonbelievers, that something equates to explanations that have not yet been discovered. The difference between believers and nonbelievers is that the former insist that the “something” must be defined as a being with intent, or at least a mysterious “higher power.” The nonbelievers like us, on the other hand, take a more humble position, simply conceding that these questions cannot be answered based on current limits on knowledge.

However one thing is certain. There cannot possibly be a God because of the existence of evil and human suffering caused by it.

If God is supposed to be omniscient, omnipotent & omnibenevolent, then —

If God is omniscient, he knows all about the evil in the world.

If God is omnipotent, he has the power to prevent the evil from occurring.

If God is omnibenevolent (perfectly good), he would wish to prevent all the evil.

But there is evil.

Therefore, there can be no God with these attributes.

Riddle of Epicurus

Avva : But according to western philosophies, man has Freewill. God has given human beings the gift of “freewill” and it is because of human misuse of this gift that evils arise ( Otherwise humans will be like “Robotic automatons” and God doesn’t get any pleasure in creating such unintelligent creatures). Why then blame God for all these ? Then again in Eastern philosophies you have Karma & reincarnation. Because of Bad Karma in past incarnations, humans have to suffer in this life. God has nothing to do with it.

Ananya : “Human misuse of this gift” did you say ? Maybe this kind of evil comes from man’s inhumanity to man and might have resulted in slavery, torture, wars and murders but what about Natural evils like Floods, Tsunamis, Volcanoes or Earthquakes ? You talk so glibly about karma, Avva. This was a very convenient construct to make people reconcile with their lot. Reincarnation ? This is another fiction. If that was true, how do you account for the rapid rise in human & animal population ?

Avva : These kinds of Natural evils may come from people choosing to live in what they know is a Flood plain or seashore, people choosing to live next to what they know is a volcano, people choosing to live in what they know is an earthquake zone. When people choose not to use the intelligence & reasoning capabilities given by God, they have to pay a price for it. It is man’s indiscreet decisions which lead to human suffering, not God’s.

Ananya : People living in these dangerous places have no where else to go. That is their home. They would much rather do fishing and stay near the seashore or cultivate their crops on the fertile slopes of a volcano than migrate to other places and beg for a living.

Then again your God has created an animal world divided into herbivorous & carnivorous creatures. One consequence is that the ‘flourishing’ of some absolutely requires the ‘suffering’ of others. This evil has nothing to do with human freewill. God could have made all animals herbivorous. Obviously an omnibenevolent God doesn’t exist. And if he is omniscient & omnipotent but not omnibenevolent, I don’t care to worship such an evil monster.

Avva : I totally agree with you and just like you, I am a secular humanist too. I was only playing the “Devil’s advocate” ! Ha ha ! I only wanted to test your scientific temper and critical reasoning faculties. You are good. That is why you have become a successful rocket scientist. We are all so proud of you !

About the author

V.N.K. Kumar

He is a Management Trainer & consultant. Has degrees in Engineering & Management. He is a Secular Humanist. Born 1938.

29 Comments

  • Gods dint create this universe
    gods does not test our faith,
    humans suffering is not due to the existence of evil, but everything suffers because of humans , so humans are evil

    • When you say “Humans are evil”, are you excluding yourself from this species ? You sound very pessimistic and nihilistic when you pass a blanket judgement like that. Perhaps you intended to say that some humans are evil-minded like Hitler,Pol Pot,Stalin and others. It is difficult to place you in any category. You seem to be a non-believer. If so, your thoughts are intriguing to say the least.

  • I want to prempt certain apologetic arguments that are certain to turn up in the comments to this article because they will miss an important point, which is:

    There exist a vast number of people who believe in a god(s) as depicted in the article. Any argument which ignores that fact is a strawman. Plain and simple. So if anyone has a different definition of god in mind, I’m quite sure there are other articles on this site which address it.

  • You say:
    “”Then again your God has created an animal world divided into herbivorous & carnivorous creatures. One consequence is that the ‘flourishing’ of some absolutely requires the ‘suffering’ of others. This evil has nothing to do with human freewill. God could have made all animals herbivorous.
    “”
    So do you mean to say, plants dont suffer when they are eaten?

    • Plants are composed of living cells, I agree. But higher animals have a brain and the brainiest animal is man, who is also sentient i.e., capable of perception & feeling. All animals have to eat some food, since they cannot photosynthesize energy from mere sunlight. Most of the animals with the exception of a few grazing ones, are carnivorous. Man is omnivorous. Eating plant food is not like eating animal food and plants certainly do not suffer in the way animals do. Unless you happen to be one of those saintly people who claim to live on just air and water, and they are present even in modern times, you are constrained to eat food. Even Jain munis/monks who cover their mouths lest they breathe in bacteria and kill them eat a vegetarian diet. Can you suggest a way for humans to survive without even eating plant food ?

    • Physicist and ecology activist Fritjof Capra says in his book ‘The Hidden Connections’

      For example, when you kick a stone, it will react to the kick according to a linear chain of cause and effect. Its behavior can be calculated by applying the basic laws of Newtonian mechanics. When you kick a dog, the situation is quite different. The dog will respond with structural changes according to its own nature and (nonlinear) pattern of organization. The resulting behavior is generally unpredictable.

      Viewed this way, a plant too responds to stimuli with structural changes according to its own pattern of organization and these responses can be treated as ‘sentience’ only in a metaphorical sense. ‘Plant sentience’ seems a misnomer since the underlying processes are only tenuously analogous to what is most commonly understood as sentience in the context of the animal kingdom.

      • His major contribution in the field of biophysics was the demonstration of the electrical nature of the conduction of various stimuli (e.g., wounds, chemical agents) in plants, which were earlier thought to be of a chemical nature. These claims were later proven experimentally by Wildon et al. (Nature, 1992, 360, 62–65). He was also the first to study the action of microwaves in plant tissues and corresponding changes in the cell membrane potential. He researched the mechanism of the seasonal effect on plants, the effect of chemical inhibitors on plant stimuli, the effect of temperature etc. From the analysis of the variation of the cell membrane potential of plants under different circumstances, he deduced the claim that plants can “feel pain, understand affection etc.”.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jagadish_Chandra_Bose

        • You are just pointlessly nitpicking. Plants have life but can’t feel pain in the same sense as animals do. So what’s your point?

        • J C Bose’s findings suggest considerable complexity in responses to stimuli by plants and such complexity cannot be treated as synonymous with sentience, as explained in this earlier comment.

          As for the usefulness of abstractions such as ‘sentience’, ‘consciousness’ and ‘sense of self’ in the Life Sciences, here is what Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran has to say:

          …When we achieve a more mature understanding of the different aspects of our mental life and the neural processes that mediate them, the word ‘self’ may disappear from our vocabulary. (For instance now that we understand DNA, the Krebs cycle and other biochemical mechanisms that characterize living things, people no longer worry about the question “What is Life?”)

          In any case, belabouring the point about plant sentience is besides the point here. Suppose one were to even assume that plants are comparably susceptible to pain as animals, that would mean that the supposed Creator has created ecosystems with greater net suffering, and this would make such a Creator anything but benevolent (thus reinforcing the argument that the article makes!)

  • Dear Prof. Kumar:

    Let God-existence or non-existence be there.

    First off, do you reall exist? If so, who, really, are you?

    Among the three basic entities – you, world & god – the most dear and near to you is this ‘you’ or ‘i’ . Isn’t it? That is why this thought comes: ‘I need proof of God’s existence’.

    So, why don’t you analyze and determine if you really exist and if so, as what/who ? Once this true ‘i’ is known, that can then ponder, if necessary, if god exists or not.

    In any case – about your own existence – there is no need to debate or convince someone else with solid proof.

    These days most of the knowledge is right under the nose (not in the mouth, but) at the finger-tips. So why don’t you do a search on ‘who am i’ and carefully sift through the hits and deeply reason out and figure your own true existence and the nature of it.

    May be there lies the answer/proof for you about god’s existence or non-existence.

    Warm regards,

    • It is very presumptuous of you to think that people here haven’t asked the “I” question. We did and found some answers as inane and some as more coherent and less prone to absurdities.

      • There was no assumption, nor was there any attitude of challenging your beliefs.

        It was simply a suggestion to find, if not already done, the truth (or the untruth) of the mind which is questioning the so-called believers & debating.

        Also to try and understand intuitively if mind is a capable instrument to find the truth of God without first knowing its own truth.

        Something to ponder about: “I think it is important to understand that freedom is at the beginning and not at the end. We think freedom is something to be achieved, that liberation is an ideal state of mind to be gradually attained through time, through various practices; but to me, this is a totally wrong approach. Freedom is not to be achieved; liberation is not a thing to be gained. Freedom, or liberation, is that state of mind which is essential for the discovery of any truth, any reality; therefore, it cannot be an ideal; it must exist right from the beginning. Without freedom at the beginning, there can be no moments of direct understanding because all thinking is then limited, conditioned. If your mind is tethered to any conclusion, to any experience, to any form of knowledge or belief, it is not free; and such a mind cannot possibly perceive what is truth.” – J. Krishnamurti

        • I assure you that people here take understanding the mind quite seriously. That is why we know that the mind is the brain. The brain has certain limitations given our evolutionary history. It is riddled with biases. So saying that mind should be completely free to perceive the truth is a non-starter. It sounds profound, but is devoid of any grounding in how the brain actually functions. I suggest you spend some time going through the articles here and the discussions on the forums.

          • @SC:

            You say mind = brain. Are you then also saying that the ‘i’ feeling (that is your self-identity) same as mind (or brain)?

            If so, where is this self-feeling (or the ‘i’ feeling) called ‘mind’ or ‘brain’ going when one is asleep? Why is the brain not asking it to be not burned or buried when one is no more ‘alive’ with the feeling of ‘i’?

            If not [if ‘i’ is neither the mind nor the brain], what else is referred to when one says and feels ‘I’ ?

            @RR below: once one party ascribes adjectives (‘deluded celebrities’/’nonsensical argument’ etc.) to the other party or the other party’s points/references, any further discussion is meaningless. 🙂

          • The questions addressed in this article were the problems of the teleological argument and theodicy. Counter-arguments to those will be welcome here and be examined for their own merits.

            An examination of the truth value or utility of the stance of Cartesian Dualism, which is what insistence on an immaterial yet embodied Consciousness amounts to, is quite plainly besides the point here. To a practising neuroscientist, Cartesian Dualism is neither a falsifiable claim nor is it necessitated as axiomatic in order to explain empirical findings. The working consensus and working hypothesis in this discipline is that “‘Mind’ is a name given to some of the things the Brain does.

            This Charlie Rose series co-hosted with Nobel Laureate Prof. Eric Kandel is a fascinating introduction, for those interested, into how many processes which in antiquity were considered the workings of a subtle ‘mind’, can be explained in materialistic terms, grounded in neurophsyiology. For those interested in attempted explanations of the persistent and unitary nature of consciousness amid the diversity of experience and interruptions like sleep, consider watching the talk by Nobel Laureate Prof. Gerald Edelman on this page.

            Given the prevailing scientific consensus, there seem to be no convincing grounds to hold that speculative narratives of a supernatural soul and empirical descriptions of naturalistic brain processes, are somehow mutually reinforcing. “Who am I?”-centric discussions to most neuroscientists would seem to be overly solipsistic ones. For those with a mystical bent uncomfortable with participating in a discussion along these terms, this seems an apt opportunity to yield to the ‘Silence’ they claim is so dear to them and so central to their practice.

          • @ AI

            Your links are so educative. I have learned quite a lot of things I didn’t know before. It intrigues me as to why some people can’t appreciate this. Could it be a case of misoneism, a hatred for new ideas?

          • Glad you found those links useful. Here’s another one 🙂
            Michael Shermer’s latest book “The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths.” attempts to address the question of why our beliefs tend to be so rigidly deep-seated over time, rendering us all susceptible to misoneism in a way. Here is a lecture video on the same book.

        • Mano,

          Quoting deluded celebrities like JK does not legitimize a nonsensical argument. Weaving a complex web of words and phrases, does not constitute a cogent explanation of an idea.

          Despite his waxing eloquence about it, did JK ever perceive the so-called truth, if so, why are spiritual followers still clueless about this ‘transcendental’ truth and chasing their own tails for it.

        • The article or the story in it, basically is about god’s existence.

          This trail of response was meant to highlight that god’s existence can be dealt with as an issue (either to verified to be true or negated to be false) only if the person who is seeking to know this (god’s existence or otherwise) first knows clearly “the truth of their own existence”.

          Thus the conversation went into the individual ‘i’, which one believes to be onself, and it’s nature/reliance on mind/brain for an identity.

          If you folks & the (neuro/material) scientists as well as the so-called ‘believers’ assume that god’s existence or otherwise can be proved conclusively without knowing one’s own true identity first OR by assuming this identity to be same as mind or brain, by all means carry on the quest.

          To state that ‘evil’ exists and hence god cannot exist is as much flawed as the believers saying god is all-loving. The flaw in either case is due to the fundamental and implicit assumption that god has a limited body/thinking mind (however big or powerful that limitation is portrayed to be) & the consequent feelings/preferences/emotions etc. ascribed to god, just like living beings have.

          @ AI -> //For those with a mystical bent uncomfortable with participating in a discussion along these terms, this seems an apt opportunity to yield to the ‘Silence’ they claim is so dear to them and so central to their practice.// – hahaha – nice way of saying ‘shut up’, thanks for the reminder. 🙂

          • The article or the story in it, basically is about god’s existence.

            No. It’s not just about that. But is also about the consequences of god’s existence. Also see my earlier comment, where I was expecting comments like yours. It is very convenient to ignore the sense god is used in a discussion, but use another definition and side track the discussion. Religious apologists have gotten by for millenia doing that.

    • Consider Rene Descartes as a case study of a philosopher who considered it his mission to ‘deeply reason out and figure your own true existence and the nature of it’. In his Discourse on the Method, Descartes lays out as a guiding method of all inquiry the following principle which freethinkers can agree with and which even people of faith will have no grounds to object:

      …. never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such; that is to say, carefully to avoid precipitancy and prejudice, and to comprise nothing more in my judgment than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt.

      The conclusion which Descartes reaches by the supposed application of this method is that what is beyond doubt is one’s own existence and God, is of course one that is not convincing to freethinkers. These conclusions of Descartes have been widely criticized by later philosophers. Further, the ontological argument which Descartes resorts to in his book admits to several classical and contemporary counter-arguments as well.

      Returning to those objecting to the stance in the above article, a suitable response by them would be to provide an answer to the Riddle of Epicurus that is neither demonstrably false nor unfalsifiable. Especially, those who think of themselves as defenders of Indian traditions of philosophical inquiry, would do well to remind themselves of these traditions’ insistence of a detailed purva paksha study before engaging in debate. They would also do well to heed Descartes’ advice of believing only those things which are beyond doubt. It seems very reasonable to doubt the validity of subjective personal experience as grounds for demonstrating supposedly universal truth.

  • Prof Kumar,

    Very good article overall with a refreshing simplicity of putting across the points refuting the belief in divinity and supernatural elements.

    Including the reference to Epicurus’s take on the puzzle and problem of evil was a good addition to this piece.

    On another note, if God were a politician or a leader, he would behave almost exactly as the believers defend his identity to be. ‘Free will’ and its variants would be an escape clause for a political God to wash his hands off any blame for the sorry state of humanity and yet expect the favor of flattery and servility called worship

  • If God doesn’t appear in Kaliyug and he has left the world to run on its own, then it is perfectly fine to ignore him and assume that he doesn’t exist in the present yug.

  • I have doubt here. why here some atheist hell bent ascertaining on scientific temper and critical thinking only achieved with not believing in god. why it so.. i have seen many atheist who are very irrational in there behavior and thought. you can see many people who are devotional and as well as scientifically and analytically sound.

    • Your observation is correct. There are all sorts of atheists & Religious people. Atheists can be rational about non-belief in gods but quite irrational about their faith in pseudosciences. Religious people can be rational in their decision making as scientists, Engineers or doctors but they can also have faith in pseudosciences. Being religious means being okay with believing in things without evidence (soul,afterlife,gods,heaven,hell,reincarnation,maya,karma) and with the same mindset, believing in pseudosciences like Astrology, Reiki, Vaastu, Homeopathy etc. After all faith(in gods or pseudosciences)is belief in something not only without evidence but despite evidence to the contrary. People live in water-tight compartments, allowing their intellectual brains & emotional brains to co-exist without cognitive dissonance.

  • I’m just mystifyed why the grandmother is the believer and carryier of Dogama and the grandfather is the critical thinker. Dead and absent like the god in kali yug. and this is fiction and needs to be treated as such.
    I’d like to have seen the young rocket scientist use her rocket info and the grandmother bring up the mother and relations that pertain to that strange marriage and so on.
    I’d like to have them doing something and being somewhere while they talked.

  • I couldn’t stop myself from leaving this comment, not to convey that I believe in Sanathana Dharma but to share my view with the young one who is curious.
    Back in Sathya Yuga it was war between two worlds/Universe where one side of population was completely dependent on Gods/doers of good.
    During Tretha Yuga it was a war between two countries, again the scenario was the same one side of the population was completely dependent on Gods, Dwapara Yuga was a war between two individuals (brothers) BUT both were perfect on their character either good or bad.
    Problem with Kali Yuga is… the war is within ONE between his/her will(which is good at times and bad at times).

    Well, why did The God not come down to help during catastrophes , good question …with all due respect to each one, if we get to know who they are, wouldn’t we want to know where they are from, what they do for living and why can’t we become them and why not use them… Since each one of us now have internal enemies to fight with along with science to help ourselves to an extent – I am afraid they chose not to turn up for every thing. Good luck!

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