Realm Of Randomness

April 30, 2007

What if you’re wrong ?

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Randomizer @ 5:15 pm

[ Note: The following is a frank, open-minded discussion on a few religious issues. If you are likely to get offended by such questioning, this is the point where I would advise you to stop reading. If you intend to continue reading, please make sure you have read my previous post – I intend to have this as a connected series ]

Now that you have guaranteed me an open-mind, this would be the right setting to introduce you to a man named Richard Dawkins, whose talks I have been following with utmost interest the past week.

Dawkins is, to the world, the face of Atheism today. But it is important to note that he is not just that . He is a Scientist first, and an Atheist second, the latter merely being a consequence of the former. A staunch defender of Darwin’s theory of Evolution, he is a very big contributor to the scientific world, but undoubtedly though, his popularity is due to his skills as an author and an orator, and as the voice for Atheism and Naturalism in the modern day world.

I have watched many of his videos on YouTube, but here is one of the finest. Please watch it. It comes after an hour long lecture on his book ‘The God Delusion’, where he explains why he believes God does not exist. A lady from the audience, quite presumably a Christian, asks him this ‘simple question’ during the Q&A session after this lecture:

“What if you’re wrong?”

[ The audience becomes noticeably silent and amused, eager to see how Dawkins would counter this. It seems like a debate-killing question – what if you’re wrong? How does one answer this? But Dawkins returns to the podium, and what follows is classic ]

” What if I’m wrong? …

You happened to have been brought up, I would presume, in the Christian faith. You know what it’s like not to believe in a particular faith because you’re not a Muslim, you’re not a Hindu. Why aren’t you a Hindu? Because you happen to have been brought up in America, not in India.

If you had been brought up in India, you’d have been a Hindu. If you had been brought up in Denmark in the time of the Vikings, you’d be believing in Wotan and Thor. If you had been brought up in Classical Greece, you’d be believing in Zeus. If you were brought up in Central Africa, you’d be believing in the Great Juju on the mountain.

There’s no particular reason to pick the Judeo-Christian God, in which, by the sheerest accident you happened to have been brought up, and ask me the question, “What if I’m wrong?” – What if you’re wrong about the Great Juju sitting in the bottom of the sea?”

A fitting response to a potentially debate-killing question. An answer that was delivered with as much arrogance as the question itself, and rightly so.

But this incident is more than just a stunning display of debating skills. His response describes what most religious people in the world do not want to think about at all : Is it a mere fluke that you were born into a family that followed the ‘right’ God?

Do the religious thank their stars every day that they were born into the family which taught the ‘correct religion’ and not the ‘wrong one’?

What is crystal clear to see, but blinding to most religious people all the time, is the fact that you would accept your family’s religion as the absolute correct truth, regardless of what it was… and that itself deals a severe blow to its credibility.

Advertisements

14 Comments »

  1. Well here are my views……….

    I am not saying god exist or god doesn’t exist. Its a debate which will never conclude. When some scientist say prove it that god exits ? Religious figures might say we have faith and you prove that god does not exist and so on.

    There usually never a common conclusion between the two sides. As that lady asked What If you are wrong. Well what if he is ?
    It is to some extent true that you accept the religion in which you are born into, but there many people who even embrace/change into other religion for whatever reason it may be.
    Irrespective of whether God is there or not, I think the universe is way too complex, and there are way too many question unanswered by the scientific community regarding the universe. Definitely you can say there will one day be scientific answer to these questions, :)
    There was once a famous scientist(I don’t really remember his name) who thought earth was flat and sun revolve around earth :)

    When there are so many questions to be answered you can’t really blame people who question WHAT IF YOU ARE WRONG. And I think there can be a better answer to this question other than “What if you are wrong ????? ” :)
    And you can say the same holds good when they ask PROVE GOD EXIST and gets the answer YOU DISPROVE IT.

    I remember I had a botany prof in school who was an atheist and somebody asked him what is the purpose of our lives ? And he answered that we were the reaction of a very complex natural phenomenon, blah blah blah, A religious guys would have said that this a temporary life(As everyone dies) and you are supossed to doing good things, helping other people to have a better after life in heaven blah blah blah.

    To a school student in class 6 the latter explaination makes things. simpler ;)

    –> Salman

    Comment by Anonymous — May 1, 2007 @ 2:41 pm | Reply

  2. As usual, a complicated argument. So I won’t try to bite off more than I can chew. I will go by simpler empirical considerations.

    “There was once a famous scientist(I don’t really remember his name) who thought earth was flat and sun revolve around earth :)”

    The above would have been a reasonable argument if the claim is that scientists are always right. But that is not the claim. The claim infact is exactly the opposite – that science has a mechanism of peer review, of questioning, the tradition of chucking a theory the moment experimental data disproves the theory.

    You can theorize all you want, but the most seemingly elegant and mathematically consistent model of the world is rendered incorrect and/or incomplete by nature and its harsh realities. And the great thing about science is that one who comes in and shows that established theories are wrong are held is awe by the scientific community ( and over time by the world at large ).

    With religion and religious thought its exactly the opposite – the one who questions the establishment is the most dangerous person. There is no such thing as peer review, no questioning, only ( and often extremely restricted interpretation) – its top down from the beginning to the end. It does its best to retain its hold over the people by demonizing/eliminating those who question the establishment. And no I am not talking about how religion is currently practiced – its always been that way and a good look at the tone of the so-called holy books gives one an idea.

    And I am extremely suspicious of people that stakes to the claim truth. I also extend this sentiment to the religious way of thinking.

    Ofcourse, the above does not prove that scientific way of thinking is obviously superior. You might still argue – ‘why is peer review important ? how does the need to question the establishment itself certify the merits of value system ?’

    Fair enough. Here is where personal preference might come in and the debate enters the realm that every god debate eventually gets into.

    To that I would say that to human beings, questioning comes naturally. I feel extremely uncomfortable with value systems that discourage it. And if that doesn’t settle it for me, I would just say it defies my idea of common sense.

    Coming to the question dawkins was asked, he might as well have said – “If that I am wrong is proved beyond reasonable doubt, I will accept it. That is how we scientists behave.”

    Comment by Sharath Rao — May 2, 2007 @ 6:53 am | Reply

  3. Mistakes from above :

    And I am extremely suspicious of people that stakes to the claim truth. I also extend this sentiment to the religious way of thinking. —->>>

    And I am extremely suspicious of people that stake claim to the all the truths there are. I also extend this sentiment to the religious way of thinking.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    I have other points to make, but I will if this discussion catches up.

    Comment by Sharath Rao — May 2, 2007 @ 6:57 am | Reply

  4. Definitely a complicated topic to discuss.

    Again I am not saying God exist or doesn’t exist. What I am trying to say is just by saying that YOU CANNOT PROVE GOD EXIST, does not disprove the existence of god to those who believe in it.

    @Sharat as you said: “The above would have been a reasonable argument if the claim is that scientists are always right. But that is not the claim. The claim infact is exactly the opposite – that science has a mechanism of peer review, of questioning, the tradition of chucking a theory the moment experimental data disproves the theory.”

    I think the question “What if you are wrong ? ” holds good to any scientist. And a layman would expect a proper answer rather than another question.

    What I get the impression is when somebody says: “There is no god, why do you believe in such things?”, I think then it is upto that person to prove that god doesn’t exit.

    –Salman

    Comment by Anonymous — May 2, 2007 @ 9:51 am | Reply

  5. @Sallu -<br/><br/>I agree with most of what you have said, especially the way you said that you cannot blame people for asking, ‘What if you are wrong’, because science is developing all the time. Point taken.<br/><br/>However, what is the alternative the lady/believers is providing ? When the Alternative to Science is to believe in something which has absolutely no proof – the choice is pretty obvious. <br/><br/>It’s like a detective saying ‘Based on the crime scene, and the clues that are here, we can presume (a) That Mr.X committed the crime because all the clues point to him, or (b) Dismiss all the clues and say that an invisible monster committed the crime, and planted the evidence on Mr.X. You cannot prove that an invisible monster DID NOT commit the crime, can you? ‘ . <br/><br/>In the above analogy, Mr.X is the science of fact/evidence, and the invisible monster is belief. On which side of the above argument do you lie ? <br/><br/>Also, about ‘A scientist thought the earth was flat’ – What alternative did religion provide at the time? When scientists eventually did discover the earth was ROUND, and NOT the center of the universe, relgion tried to dismiss that as well !

    Comment by Randomizer — May 2, 2007 @ 4:50 pm | Reply

  6. @Sharath – I tried Sam Harris’ videos.. he had great points to make – however i’m afraid he is getting into politically incorrect waters and might be dismissed by the public soon for it.<br/><br/>@Sallu – Also, let me add that R.Dawkins did not answer ‘what if you are wrong?’ with another ‘what if you are wrong?’ – What he did with his entire answer was to show how absurd/pointless the question itself was. And once a question is rendered pointless, there is no need to answer it

    Comment by Randomizer — May 2, 2007 @ 4:58 pm | Reply

  7. “Why aren’t you a Hindu? Because you happen to have been brought up in America, not in India.

    If you had been brought up in India, you’d have been a Hindu. “

    err… if you had been brought up in india, you might also have been a muslim, a christian, a jew, a buddhist or a member of some other religious tradition. india’s meant to be a pluralistic democracy, remember?

    Comment by Anonymous — May 3, 2007 @ 8:40 pm | Reply

  8. As i see it, scientifically there is no entity such as GOD. I used to be a believer in the early years of when i heard about GOD, then an atheist, then an agnostic, then a believer in God (to be precise “Believer in the concept of the GOD”).
    Its like in the early years of life, one is born dependent, and the religion gives him/her a companion to call upon when one is in trouble or in uncharted waters and the belief in god gives him the gut feeling to move forward and to be thick in the action than a mere spectator which is the essence of life. But it has its drawbacks, that being blind faith, black magic and the likes.
    The more time one dwells on this subject as an atheist, one starts to see the other dimension of the god. We want God for the same reason as we want to have super heroes among us or at least in our imagination. Someone who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, someone everyone can look upon for as a role model, someone who can make impossible possible.
    From that bigger picture u can see that god is a psychological need.

    —> gtp

    Comment by Anonymous — May 4, 2007 @ 3:30 pm | Reply

  9. @anon 1 – agreed , but I guess in the context of the debate there really was no necessity for the acknowledgement of the religious minorities in India. <br/><br/>@anon 2 (GTP) – if you classify yourself as a believer – then you believe God exists. If you say that scientifically God doesn’t exist – then you are a non-believer. <br/><br/>I don’t understand how you can have the cake and eat it too when the two statements are quite evidently mutually exclusive.

    Comment by Randomizer — May 4, 2007 @ 4:56 pm | Reply

  10. @Anonymous: <br/>”err… if you had been brought up in india, you might also have been a muslim, a christian, a jew, a buddhist or a member of some other religious tradition. india’s meant to be a pluralistic democracy, remember? “<br/><br/>You are right, But<br/>I believe it was just an example what Randomizer put across and the theme of the debate is not affected with that.<br/><br/>@GTP: “From that bigger picture u can see that god is a psychological need.” <br/><br/>I beg to differ from this… I don’t think all the believers consider God as a Psychological need. And for most of the believers GOD is very much different from Spider man and Superman. If its your opinion of god then fine but I don’t think you can generalize it.<br/><br/><br/>@Randomizer& Sharath: Just a comment, Why do I get an impression that, Science is against GOD, And all scientists are non-believers ?? <br/>I don’t really think it is like that. Science is not for contradicting the existence of God, Some scientist are athiest but not all.

    Comment by Salman — May 4, 2007 @ 7:41 pm | Reply

  11. Salman,

    As cliched as it may sound, science is not a set of facts, but a way of thinking about the world with elements such as hypotheses, experimentation, verifiability of hypotheses, reproducibility of results, prediction of future states of a system given current states as well as explanation of the past behavior.

    None of these form the religious view of the world where you go directly from hypothesis to ‘truth’.

    Secondly, the religion has a lot to be humble about its track record with respect to, among other things, how its model of the world has stood the test of nature and natural phenomenon. There was a time when everything unknown was explained via religious philosophy – planetary and stellar motions, sun/wind/rain gods in Hinduism/Greek mythology etc. Over the centuries, this has been supplanted by scientific view which has had an excellent track record. Scientific theories, for most part, may have been incomplete, but they have been correct or correct-ed.

    Hence I think that the scientific way of life has no place for religion. Those who manage to do so have to compartmentalize their brains in such a way as to render one part of the brain completely in disagreement with the other. And since they understand very well that religious way of thinking falls short of explaining the world , they try not to compete with science. Rather it is purported that religion is a different way of thinking so as to be incomparable to science, that both are necessary for humanity. As far as I am concerned, religion is just wrong science.

    Just because people feel good about (a certain) religion and look for some kind of support says nothing about its ability to explain real world phenomenon. Infact, its considered a matter of shame that only 57% of the scientsts of the prestigious National Academy of Science are atheists, while the rest are either uncertain ( still okay) but about 15% or so are staunch believers.

    Comment by Sharath Rao — May 5, 2007 @ 3:43 pm | Reply

  12. >>From that bigger picture u can see that god is a psychological need.

    If you talk god as einstein did(not a personal god, but more like natural laws/beauty of and harmony in universe, thats a different thing. But otherwise, here is my reply.

    I am sorry, but what about the over 64% Japanese, 50-60% Swedish etc. ?? and 8% world-wide ?
    http://www.adherents.com/largecom/com_atheist.html

    1000 years ago when women formed maybe less than 8% of the workforce, I guess the men (and some women) justified this as “women being at home, raising a children, is a psychological need.”

    So I would rephrase that as –
    >>From that bigger picture u can see that *people think that* god is a psychological need.

    Comment by Sharath Rao — May 5, 2007 @ 3:54 pm | Reply

  13. @ Randomizer <br/> Let me answer your question this way. Sceintifically i am not a believer in god. Psychologically i am a believer in the CONCEPT of god. By that i mean that there is no entity such as god, but there is a THOUGHT / CONCEPT that is god. So, from your standpoint i would be a non-believer.<br/><br/>@ Salman<br/> Yes, Its my Opinion, it is what i think about it. And I wish to hear more opinions.<br/><br/>@ Sharath Rao<br/> Yes it has always been the people who think .. It is THE people who think that “god the entity” is for real and Its the people who think that “god is a psychological need”, which is what i meant to say in my last comment and when somebody says it, that somebody believes so. <br/> And regarding the psychological need, there is more ways to satisfy that need. The concept of god is just one of them.<br/>So all that 64% Japanese, 50-60% Swedish etc and 8% world-wide may had satisfied their need through some other way. I hope i answered u to the point.<br/> And now about the 1000 years before men/women labour issues, i would like to bring nature to defend me. If one is a man of science one knows that men are more masculine than women, and you can imagine what kind of work one would be doing 1000 years ago. Work at those days would have needed more masculine personalities, which is hardly found in women. <br/> What I am trying to say is that GOD is a manmade imagination, and many person’s used it to their own ends, both good and bad. Remember what ancient greek politicians used to do when people’s mood are down, they would erect a statue of a greek god. It is just one of the example. If you think of a tribe you will get a idea of their selection of god and devotion to it/them. That is how it all started.

    Comment by GTP — May 6, 2007 @ 3:27 pm | Reply

  14. gtp,

    Point taken. Nothing to add to or contest what you mentioned :-).

    Comment by Sharath Rao — May 7, 2007 @ 12:57 am | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: