Atheists and Godists

Darwin’s anniversary has reignited the whole God vs. Science debate, and Jug Suraiya joins in

In India, Darwin is not the bogey man as he is in the West. The Indic tradition which accommodates both atheism as well as a well-stocked pantheon of 33 million gods (including a monkey god) should have little problem playing host to evolution. However, many in India and not just those belonging to the Christian faith find themselves uncomfortable with the either/or position of the radical neo-Darwinists: choose between a Creator and Darwin; you can’t have your God and believe in evolution too.

Creationists or Godists ask how all the marvellous complexities of life could have come to be without a Creator. An often used analogy borrowed from a remark by physicist Fred Hoyle is that of a hurricane sweeping through a junk yard and by random chance assembling a Boeing 747: it just can’t happen. Therefore, there has to be a Boeing Engineer, a God working His intelligent design from behind the scenes. The neo-Darwinists retort: Oh, yes? And who created the Boeing Engineer who created the Boeing 747; another, an even more complex Engineer, and so on into infinite regress?

Bhagat Singh, in 1930 – at the age of 23, wrote about his lack of faith in God months before he was hanged. And his “Why I Am An Atheist” is a powerful and rational defense of atheism-

One fine morning Mr. Newman, the then Senior Superintendent of C.I.D., came to me. And after much sympathetic talk with me imparted-to him-the extremely sad news that if I did not give any statement as demanded by them, they would be forced to send me up for trial for conspiracy to wage war in connexion with Kakori Case and for brutal murders in connexion with Dussehra Bomb outrage. And he further informed me that they had evidence enough to get me convicted and hanged. In those days I believed-though I was quite innocent-the police could do it if they desired. That very day certain police officials began to persuade me to offer my prayers to God regularly both the times. Now I-was an atheist. I wanted to settle for myself whether it was in the days of peace and enjoyment alone that I could boast of being an atheist or whether during such hard times as well I could stick to those principles of mine. After great consideration I decided that I could not lead myself to believe in and pray to God. No, I never did. That was the real test and I came, out successful. Never for a moment did I desire to save my neck at the cost of certain other things. So I was a staunch disbeliever : and have ever since been. It was not an easy job to stand that test. ‘Belief softens the hardships, even can make them pleasant. In God man can find very strong consolation and support. Without Him, the man has to depend upon himself. To stand upon one’s own legs amid storms and hurricanes is not a child’s play. At such testing moments, vanity-if any-evaporates, and man cannot dare to defy the general beliefs, if he does, then we must conclude that he has got certain other strength than mere vanity. This is exactly the situation now. Judgment is already too well known. Within a week it is to be pronounced. What is the consolation with the exception of the idea that I am going to sacrifice my life for a cause ? A God-believing Hindu might be expecting to be reborn as a king, a Muslim or a Christian might dream of the luxuries to be- enjoyed in paradise and the reward he is to get for his sufferings and sacrifices. But what am I to expect? I know the moment the rope is fitted round my neck and rafters removed, from under my feet. that will be the final moment-that will be the last moment. I, or to be more precise, my soul, as interpreted in the metaphysical terminology, shall all be finished there. Nothing further. A short life of struggle with no such magnificent end, shall in itself be the reward if I have the courage to take it in that light. That is all.

[…]

Any man who stands for progress has to criticise, disbelieve and challenge every item of the old faith. Item by item he has to reason out every nook and corner of the prevailing faith. If after considerable reasoning one is led to believe in any theory or philosphy, his faith is welcomed. His reasoning can be mistaken, wrong, misled and sometimes fallacious. But he is liable to correction because reason is the guiding star of his life. But mere faith and blind faith is dangerous: it dulls the brain, and makes a man reactionary. A man who claims to be a realist has to challenge the whole of the ancient faith. If it does not stand the onslaught of reason it crumbles down. Then the first thing for him is to shatter the whole down and clear a space for the erection of a new philosophy.

He then goes on and puts forth the “problem of evil” argument against God. The Epicurean argument is-

Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?

Singh’s argument is similar in nature and he challenges God’s omnipotence, as also people’s willing to tolerate His injustices as opposed to those of Nero and Genghis Khan. As I said, a powerful argument. The translation and proof-reading could have been better though. Another version is available from the Marxists Internet Archive; Singh, after all, was an anarchist/ socialist.

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Comments

  • shaunphilly  On February 18, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Thanks for that great post. I struggle sometimes with less serious issues than being hanged, but such things as discrimination, alienation from family and friends, etc. Reading the strength of such people as Singh in such times leads me to believe that it is very possible to lead a life of integrity of my beliefs in the face of mere social and cultural sanctions.

    Progress in the world will come about faster with the willingness to stand up for what we believe in as rational, intelligent, informed people.

  • Undercover Indian  On February 18, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    Jug Suraiya, ha, Where does he gets his figure of 33 million gods? He has hurt my Hindu sentiments ;) Cuz there are not 33 million but 35 million gods. What does this heathen know about Hinduism. This pest of a man. I am just kidding there. I have never understood this fascination of some authors with 33 millions gods thing. Even an ordinary , unquestioning, Hindu will tell you that there is only one God and while he might have pictures of 10 different “gods” in his pooja room.

    There is a seminal hymn in Oldest of hindu scriptures , Rig-Veda which you might have heard if you have ever watched “Discovery of India” during old good Doordarshan days!! It use to come in afternoon after “superman”, and “Danger bay” and other such serials. The Hymn encapsulates the earliest speculations of Hindus about mystery of creation and God. It goes like:

    ————————-

    Then there was neither Aught nor Naught, no air nor sky beyond.
    What covered all? What rested all? In watery gulf profound?
    Nor death was then, nor deathlessness, nor change of night and day.
    That one breathed calmly, self-sustained; naught else beyond it lay.

    The Gloom hid in gloom existed first-one sea eluding view.
    That one a void in chaos wrapt, by inward forever grew.
    Within it first arose desire, the primal germ of mind,
    which nothing with existence links, as ages searching find.

    The kindling ray that shot across the dark and dreariness-
    was it beneath or high aloft? What bard can answer this?
    There fecundating powers were found and mighty forces strove –
    A self supporting mass beneath, and energy above.

    Who knows and whoever told, from whence this vast creation rose?
    No gods had been born. Who then can ever the truth disclose
    whence sprang this world, whether framed by hand divine or no-
    Its lord in heaven alone can tell, if ever he can show.
    ————————-

    I think this hymn pretty much takes care of Darwin Big bang and many others before or after them, depending upon how you want to interpret it :)

    There are 5 ways of knowing the God , Hinduism says. like Gyan yoga (through intellect) , Bhkati Yoga (devotion) etc. The highest path is said to be Kriya Yoga. The Path of experiencing. Not Yoga as Shilpa Shetty yoga, but Kriya Yoga, the so called science of experiencing God. Well. But regardless, whatever little I have read of hinduims, the doubts and questioning like what Bhagat Singh does are pretty much part of Hinduims. May be if he had lived little longer, he would have read Vivekananda’s Gyan Yoga or may be if was really inquisitive , he would have gone to experiment with Kriya Yoga.

  • Aristotle The Geek  On February 19, 2009 at 12:38 am

    Shaun,
    “Reading the strength of such people as Singh in such times leads me to believe that it is very possible to lead a life of integrity of my beliefs in the face of mere social and cultural sanctions.”
    That is true, but it does raise serious questions about the state of society and culture doesn’t it? Its not just religion, but every kind of belief. Some people will fight against the tide, some won’t – they will give in, and a third group will embrace misanthropy.

    “Progress in the world will come about faster with the willingness to stand up for what we believe in as rational, intelligent, informed people.”
    It probably will, but there is this small matter of “why plant a tree the fruits of which you are never going to enjoy.” Sometimes, the temptation to throw the fight is just too great. But one recovers one’s sanity just in the nick of time.

  • Aristotle The Geek  On February 19, 2009 at 1:29 am

    Undercover Indian,
    I have watched Benegal’s production of “The Discovery of India,” and have also listened to the hymn from the Rig Veda – only the first and last stanzas though. This Wikipedia article on the show says the full hymn was only played at the beginning of the first episode.

    An interesting analysis of the “hymn of creation” can be found here. And I find this translation easier to understand than the one you have provided; its by the indologist Max Muller-

    Then there was not non-existent nor existent:
    there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it.
    What covered in, and where? and what gave shelter?
    was water there, unfathomed depth of water?

    Death was not then, nor was there aught immortal:
    no sign was there, the day’s and night’s divider.
    That one thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature
    apart from it was nothing whatsoever.

    Darkness there was: at first concealed in darkness,
    this All was undiscriminated chaos.
    All that existed then was void and formless;
    by the great power of warmth was born that unit.

    Thereafter rose desire in the beginning,
    Desire the primal seed and germ of spirit.
    Sages who searched with their heart’s thought
    discovered the existent’s kinship in the non-existent.

    Transversely was their severing line extended:
    what was above it then, and what below it?
    There were begetters, there were mighty forces,
    free action here and energy of yonder.

    Who verily knows and who can here declare it,
    whence it was born and whence comes this creation?
    The gods are later than this world’s production.
    Who knows, then, whence it first came into being?

    He, the first origin of this creation,
    whether he formed it all or did not form it,
    Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven,
    he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows it not.

    This is what is called speculative metaphysics – how did the universe come into being; who created it; if God created the universe, then who created God etc. Doesn’t serve any purpose because such questions are simply unanswerable. In the end it comes down to one simple question – do you believe in the supernatural, or do you not? And the answer to that decides how you live your life.

    As to Hindu / Vedic philosophy – I haven’t read any of its texts, but this is a good introduction. However, since the writer is a Sankaracharya who lived in the 14th century, he ends with Advaita philosophy – Vedanta.

    The first chapter is the most interesting one, and the only one I have read because it deals with the Carvaka school of thought – an atheistic school that can be traced back to about 600 BCE. I have written about it here. The reason they are interesting is – they launch a brutal attack on the Vedas. Read these paragraphs for example-

    [T]he Veda is tainted by the three faults of untruth, self-contradiction, and tautology; then again the impostors who call themselves Vaidic pundits are mutually destructive, as the authority of the jnana-kanda is overthrown by those who maintain that of the karma-kanda, while those who maintain the authority of the jnana-kanda reject that of the karma-kanda; and lastly, the three Vedas themselves are only the incoherent rhapsodies of knaves, and to this effect runs the popular saying

    The Agnihotra, the three Vedas, the ascetic’s three staves, and smearing oneself with ashes,—
    Brihaspati says, these are but means of livelihood for those who have no manliness nor sense.

    Hence it follows that there is no other hell than mundane pain produced by purely mundane causes, as thorns etc.

    and

    There is no heaven, no final liberation, nor any soul in another world, Nor do the actions of the four castes, orders, etc, produce any real effect.

    The Agnihotra, the three Vedas, the ascetic’s three staves, and smearing one’s self with ashes, Were made by Nature as the livelihood of those destitute of knowledge and manliness.

    If a beast slain in the Jyotishtoma rite will itself go to heaven, Why then does not the sacrificer forthwith offer his own father?

    If the Sraddha produces gratification to beings who are dead, Then here, too, in the case of travellers when they start, it is needless to give provisions for the journey.

    If beings in heaven are gratified by our offering the Sraddha here, Then why not give the food down below to those who are standing on the housetop?

    While life remains let a man live happily, let him feed on ghee even though he runs in debt; When once the body becomes ashes, how can it ever return again?

    If he who departs from the body goes to another world, How is it that he comes not back again, restless for love of his kindred ?

    Hence it is only as a means of livelihood that Brahmans have established here, All these ceremonies for the dead, —there is no other fruit anywhere.

    The three authors of the Vedas were buffoons, knaves, and demons.

    All the well-known formulae of the pandits, jarphari, turphari, etc. And all the obscene rites for the queen commanded in the Aswamedha, These were invented by buffoons, and so all the various kinds of presents to the priests, While the eating of flesh was similarly commanded by night-prowling demons.

    Absolutely delightful people.

  • yet_another_hindu_infidel  On February 21, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    the “god” experiment failed long time ago. but still the world would have been a wonderful place if there were only one god, however imaginary he/she might be. but just then, two morons showed up. one with a fetish for pedophilia and the other who thought he was “neo” of nazareth. and they ruined everything and still continue to do.

    how can the dharmic civilization survive among these megalomaniacs?
    monkey gods and 33 million celestial beings no longer sounds silly to me. but it’s time we end this “god” experiment and resist. the history of mughuls as bare witness. submission is not an option. pacifism is a b1tch.

  • yet_another_hindu_infidel  On February 21, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    …and let the hunter become the hunted.

    aristole,
    your blog isn’t doing a 1024*768 on my firefox 3.0.6 browser.

    *rofl*
    here’s what i found on your style sheet.
    http://s3.wordpress.com/wp-content/themes/pub/journalist/style.css

    #container {
    width:911px; /* this has nothing to do with the ‘911’ event */
    margin:0 auto;
    position:relative;
    }

  • Aristotle The Geek  On February 22, 2009 at 1:21 am

    # “the “god” experiment failed long time ago. but still the world would have been a wonderful place if there were only one god, however imaginary he/she might be.”
    The biggest problem is human stupidity – that, is the root of all problems. You think the world, or India even, was a great place in 300 BC, when there were no Christians and Muslims? Ask Chanakya – he was riling against the invasion by two other religions – Buddhism and Jainism. And seeing his home state ruined by an idiot king, and the west of India being attacked by barbarians from Macedonia. And what about Sparta and Athens? Why the hell were they fighting? And Attila’s hordes fifteen hundred years back; what was he up to?

    Its a Sisyphean nightmare – you roll the stone up the hill, and it rolls back down again. And so it continues.

    # “how can the dharmic civilization survive among these megalomaniacs?”
    It will survive. Those who worry about the “Hindu way of life” disappearing underestimate its resilience. It swallowed Buddhism and Jainism; their teachings actually. What makes you think it won’t survive a few others? As long as it keeps improving – dropping practices that cause grievous harm to others – like sacrifice, sati, child marriage, and casteism, and stopping idiots from “within the fold” destroying it, it should be fine. Read Jaswant Singh’s interview?

    “I cannot countenance efforts to Talibanise the Hindu society. If the minister has objected to it, good for her. I am opposed to the government entering people’s bedrooms. And if women want to relax and have a drink, whose business and right is it to object,” he said.

    Pointing at beautiful paintings depicting female dancers in a spiritual trance and another of Maneka and Vishwamitra hung in his office walls inside Parliament House, Singh said the moral police are a “killjoy”.

    Extending his support to M.F. Hussain, the veteran leader said, “What do they have against beauty and art? Hinduism is not even a religion. It is a way of life that celebrates diversity, different views and ideas. Look at our ancient temples, our cave paintings and the wonderful depiction of different aspect of human existence. I cannot, for instance, understand why Hussain is being hounded. Have these so-called moral police seen the paintings and murals in our temples?”

    According to him, the Indian society is now being subjected to a “ Victorian, puritanical” onslaught which was never its natural essence. “We celebrated love and music. We did not frown upon alternative ideas of human existence. I don’t know where these moral guardians have sprung up from,” he wondered.

    Poor fellow was charged with distributing opium at a party, a case of India’s Victorian laws banning an age-old harmless practice.

    The only threat that a religion in which the lingam is worshiped; male Gods morph into women, and even give birth to a god-child; the devas enjoy their time with apsaras in a see-through attire, drinking somras and fulfilling their every fantasy; gods frolic with married women; etc etc etc, can encounter is the one from within. Hinduism has more to fear from the various pig-headed senas than Islam or Christianity.


    # “your blog isn’t doing a 1024*768 on my firefox 3.0.6 browser.”
    You have to scroll sideways to see the whole page?

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