Saturday, November 17, 2007

CREDO REVINCO - another version

Credo Revinco - a latin phrase coined by me after searching online dictionaries. it probably means "I believe I refute". If it doesn't mean that, it still sounds cool.

My first CR was coming from the direction of the "War on Terror". Here is a new attempt at a Credo coming from a different direction. The last section is pretty much directly lifted from Richard Dawkins.


Do you believe in God, or practice a religion? I think you are mistaken to do so, and you should reconsider. Since the day I realised I don't believe in God, I have felt liberated and powerful. I've seen the beauty and wonder of the world and the people in it, untainted by fear and superstition. A way of life without religion has been a good and joyous way of life.

Please think about whether your belief is really what you feel inside. Are you just going along with what your parents or other members of your community believe? Please think about whether your belief has come about after you've considered the facts. Think about the things you were told when your belief was being formed; if those things were wrong, maybe you should reconsider your belief.

I was raised as a Christian, but I abandoned religion when I was 14, and now I believe there is no such thing as god. If you are over 30 you might be too set in your ways to make the change the way I did. But if you are young, you might be inclined to change your mind.

Religion tells us that God made the world. This idea was formed thousands of years ago, when people still lived in caves and didn't know any better. Now through the wonderful sciences of cosmology, astronomy and biology, we know the earth was formed from a giant cloud of debris which came together by the force of gravity and became the solar system. We can see the process continue in our own solar system, and we can see new versions of solar system formation being repeated in distant space.

We know that life on earth has come about through the gradual process of evolution by natural selection. We can see the way this process continues around us. Farmers and dog breeders know how animals' offspring change by selective breeding, over just a few generations. Over thousands or millions of generations the changes from natural selection are amazing. We see the way animals and plants have evolved by looking at the different species that survive today. Examining fossils has shown us that this process has been going on for millions of years. This study has given us an astonishingly complete picture of the evolution of life, and insofar as we can be certain of anything, we can be certain that evolution is a fact.

So we know that God did not make the world, or the people and other living things who live on it. The science we used to arrive at this knowledge is relatively simple. To me it's easier to understand than the science that led to the invention of the television, for example. Many people don't understand exactly how a television works, but they don't deny the existence of television factories in China. Likewise it is silly to deny the existence of evolution, the truth of which is easier to see.

Once those facts are accepted, religions can be judged on with a clear head. If you grew up in a Muslim country, you probably believe in Islam; if you grew in in Europe, you're more likely to believe in Christianity; in India, it's probably Hinduism. Is your religion true just because you happen to have been born in that country? Are religions which are popular in other countries false just because you weren't born there? It would be arrogant of me to believe Christianity was proved true because I was born in Australia, where that religion dominates.

All the world's religions can't be true. Inescapably, the conclusion is that none of them are true. We already think that about ancient gods, like Zeus and Odin. We have stopped believeing in most of the gods which have come in and out of fashion throughout history. Why not go one god further?

THE ATHEIST'S ROAD TO DAMASCUS

Jonathan Miller's recent television programs outlining the history of atheism included a recurring line of questioning for the atheists he interviewed. Most of them had been raised with some form of religion, so Jonathan Miller asked, "how did you come to shake off your religious upbringing".

They all had different stories, ranging from a gradual realisation that they didn't believe what they'd been taught as children, to a flash of revelation that some other reality was far more plausible.

In my own case, it was the latter. I was raised Catholic, and attended Catholic schools for 13 years. The Catholic faith was always presented as fact, and don't remember anyone daring to suggest otherwise until one night when I was 14. The subject of religion was not often raised in casual conversation, but someone mentioned it in the Year 9 dormitory. My classmate Colin Powter confided in me that he believed everything we were taught about religion was untrue. In my memory he said something like, "it's all a load of crap!"

"What, all of it?" I replied.

"Yes, everything."

It was a defiant statement with very great appeal to the instinctive rebelliousness of a healthy 14 year old. Hearing those sentiments for the very first time, in that instant, I knew I was in complete agreement.

My disbelief arrived almost fully formed, and it gave me a rush of excitement. Here was something that made perfect sense, and gave me a tremendous feeling of superiority over the deluded clerics who had power over me in almost every other way. I made a conscious decision that night to consider myself an agnostic, and spend the subsequent years deciding on the bigger question of whether god existed at all. It was probably about three years before I decided the answer was no.

All it took to convert me was the realisation that one of my peers did not believe in the dogma of Catholicism. I had never been told in 10 years of education that I had a choice. Embracing that choice was thrilling, and that erases any embarrassment I might have that it happened so late. Other atheists report they discovered their unbelief when they were as young as five. A collection of these enlightenment stories would make a great book.

Not telling children that they have a choice in this matter now strikes me as being a terrible abuse of their rights. It is important for atheists to counter this and make their beliefs public in a strident, entertaining, eloquent way. The Blasphemy Challenge is an admirable project to propagate these declarations.

I came up with the idea of the credo revinco, a brief declaration of what I believe and why. I hope that the minute it takes to read it might provide the same flash of enlightenment as I had back in 1977, even if it's just for a single person.

ATHEISM BOOKS ARE EXCELLENT

There has been a slew of books advocating atheism recently. I decided to try reading as many of them as possible.

Top of the heap is The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I read one of his other masterworks The Selfish Gene a few years ago, and found for the first time I really understood evolution. It's his credentials as a scientist which make his arguments so elegant. He can be funny, sarcastic or angry when it's called for. He also expresses praise, admiration and wonderment for the natural world and the works of humanity which deserve it.

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris is a very attractive little hardcover book. To me it felt like a classy version of the little pamphlets printed by the Rationalist Society of New South Wales, which I used to buy when I was a rebellious Catholic school boy in the 1970s. Harris seems to have put a lot of love into this book. It is beautifully written, and although it is aimed at an American audience, it's a good read anywhere in the world.

God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens was an arse-kicker of a book. Every now and then I found myself roused by polemic and invective like this. Hitchens doesn't like religion and he says so without fear of offending any over-sensitive souls. Refreshingly, he takes aim at non-Christian faiths as well, such as Hinduism and Islam. I found by the end of the book I had had my fill of his contrarianism, but not before he had served up memorable arguments, facts and anecdotes.

I'm now reading another of Sam Harris's books The End of Faith. I have Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett on the shelf, and The Atheist Manifesto by Michel Onfrey is also beckoning me at Gleebooks, the quality shop down the road.

Is there a limit to how many words can be written about this subject? I think there is a never-ending quest for the perfect, convincing, concise argument which will lift the delusional veil of superstition and indoctrination in minutes. I call it the Credo Revinco, which is probably bad latin for I believe I refute. I jot down my own Credos from time to time, and I ALWAYS think there is room for improvement. If there is repetition in these books, it is part of that process of refinement, and it's great pleasure to see the picture sharpen in focus with each new perspective.