I stand with a lot of people like Rotblat, Feynman, Harris, Dawkins, Cornforth, Namazie etc trying to save the Enlightenment as the religiously dogmatised of the 21st Century flee the societal consequences of their mystical dogma unaware that the dogma they cling to is undermining the Enlightened freedoms they are desperately seeking
60th Anniversary of the Einstein Russell Manifesto…2015 … re Jo Rotblat
Feynman “The Meaning of it All”
An essay on my present “Skeptical” philosophical perspective and “Good Enough Theories”…(GETs)
I used to call myself an atheist but this terminology is not well-defined as it appears to mean different things to different people and so I think a more precise statement is needed to describe my view more precisely. For instance it seems obvious that all “religious” people are also mainly “atheistic”, at least in part, in that they dismiss some or all the religious claims of people of other faiths as is nicely encapsulated here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4BXMD-gn40. Presumably Christians do not accept the religious views of Muslims and vice versa. Similar relative attitudes are presumably held, to varying extents, by adherents of other religions: Buddhism, Shamanism, Baha’i, Confucianism, Hinduism, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism and the belief systems of Australian, American and other indigenous peoples, etc. this seems so obvious that it is almost unbelievable that anybody cannot see that it undermines any rational analysis of religious belief in general. The most obvious conclusion is that only one religion can be right (then the question is of course which one?) or all are not right! Occam’s razor arguments conclusively or so it seems to me come down on the side of all religions being subject to major problems with regard to their veracity.
Thus the blanket complaint that atheists are arrogant because people often think an atheist says there is no God should be clarified by defining exactly which God is under consideration. A good example is the response of Einstein to the question he was asked: “Do you believe in God”…Einstein replied: “I believe in the God of Spinoza who reveals itself in the harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings”. Having studied a little of the philosopher Spinoza’s concept of a God, c.f. “Spinoza in 90 minutes”by Paul Strathern, I think that many would consider him to have been pretty atheistic or at the very least pantheistic. In fact I think I could go along with this concept which considers the universe and the way it works as some sort of beautiful concept worthy of some sort of reverence or at least admiration.
Thus, after discussion in 2013 with my dear friend, the late “Kappa” Cornforth (Sir John Cornforth cf www.vega.org.uk), I have decided that a much more accurate and precise definition of my overall philosophical perspective is that of a “Skeptic”. A pretty accurate description as far as I am concerned of my Skepticism is: “An overall approach which for acceptance requires all information without exception to be well-supported by reliable evidence. Generally questioning all claims regarding knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts; or doubt regarding claims which are taken for granted elsewhere.” (Abstracted from Wikipedia with slight personal refinement). The important corollary is that although many philosophical constructs, such as religious ones, may be very important, I as a skeptic do not accept their validity as facts; and the key words are “for acceptance”. However a skeptic by this definition will accept the validity of claims when supported by reasonably reliable empirical evidence.
Good Enough Theories (GETs)
Note that I do not subscribe to the Popper claim: “A theory in the empirical sciences can never be proven, but it can be falsified” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Popper) which I think has mistakenly given Science an unfortunate Achilles Heel and a green light to the anti-science brigade to gain-say and dismiss any scientific evidence they wish per se. This bald statement has, I think, done a lot of damage to general credibility of much highly reliable work of the scientific community over contentious issues in the eyes of unquestioning lay people. In fact were Popper’s theory correct presumably it could never be proven so but only falsified. My view is that many theories are what I call “Good Enough Theories” due to overwhelming empirical evidence that they work satisfactorily. For instance, contrary to whatever Creationists and Intelligent Designers might claim, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is supported by an avalanche of synergistic cross-disciplinary evidence from almost every branch of the sciences: Paleontology, geology, biology, genetics, chemistry, physics etc. My favourite cross-disciplinary example is provided by the fact that the fossils of such creatures as the Cynognathus, which are dated to the Triassic period which occurred before Tectonic Drift data indicates that the continents divided are to be found in Africa and South America and later fossils are not found on both these continents. The efficacy of compounds, such as diethyl ether, as exquisitely effective, overwhelmingly humanitarian anaesthetics has been confirmed by the millions of operations that have been carried out, worldwide, since the mid-19th Century. However there appears to be no similarly, even remotely, convincing evidence for the existence of a mystical creator or life after death or that praying is at all effective. Thus, for instance, I hold the same view that Muslims appear to hold in that they do not “accept” the claim, which is central to Christianity, that Jesus was a deity. By the way neither did Isaac Newton who was an Arian. I hold this view not because of any dogmatic claim but because there appears to be no reliable evidence commensurate with my definition of a “true enough theory” which I think is applicable to the Maxwell theory of electro-magnetism encapsulated so eloquently in the four Maxwell-Heaviside Equations. These I consider to be “true enough” as every day they are proven to work effectively by each-and-every person on the planet every time they use their mobile phone and are prepared to pay for this remarkable modern communications technology. The same perspective holds for the Theory of Relativity which is necessary for the determination of accurate GPS data. “Good Enough Theories” (GETs) are good enough for a particular purpose and this leaves the way open for improvement for another purpose. A good example is the “improvement” of Classical Mechanics by the development of Quantum Mechanics (not replacement or falsification) and a better perspective is to recognize that Classical Mechanics is a limiting case of the more “perfect” Quantum Mechanics which may be a specific limiting case of the Theory of Everything. Interestingly it might be noted that in general physical processes whose dynamical understanding requires quantum concepts are almost invariably initially visualized in classical terms.
Thus to avoid confusion and clarify my own “personal” “atheistic” perspective, it is subsumed exactly and completely in the above and not by anyone else’s personal perspective on what they think atheism is. It revolves entirely around the unacceptability, to me, of any and all constructs which require belief unsubstantiated by reliable evidence for acceptance – no less and no more.
Furthermore: It is not at all clear to me that it makes a lot of sense to spend a lot of effort ruminating over the plethora of figments of human imagination for which there is no evidential support…it certainly does not seem to be worth the time as we seem to be no further forward on these issues than were Greeks such as Epicurus or that great Scot – David Hume. For instance: Does it really make much sense to ruminate for long over the possible existence of fairies because apparently some people claim they “exist” or that some people believe they have been abducted by aliens? To argue, as some people do, that intelligent people in the past, such as Newton, believed this or that or were religious is also not a rational argument. Newton was not only an Arian and did not believe in the Trinity but he was an Alchemist and not many today believe in simple Alchemy. Furthermore, before Darwin and the discovery of DNA it was obvious; A God created the Earth in 7 days; before the discovery of the 3 Degree Background radiation he did this about 5000 years ago and before isotope dating and the discovery of the Yucatan asteroid crater … Noah’s flood explained the death of the dinosaurs. All perfect “explanations” and still satisfying to some! In a similar vein a Texas based astronaut, who has I presume the ear of US State Governors, when I asked him what evidence he might need to convince him that Climate Change might be a possibility, responded “I am not interested”. With regard to such a response I suggest that one of my observations applies:
Although knowledge cannot guarantee good decisions, common sense suggests that wisdom is an unlikely consequence of ignorance!
I fully support the aims of the British Humanist Association and am happy to do what I can to further them as I feel they focus on some of the serious issues that confront us now and will continue to confront us in the 21 st century.
In these disturbing times in which the political leaders of the USA, UK and Germany (Blair, Bush and Merkel) as well as countless organisations, using massive financial resources, strive to drag us all back towards the mind-set in which the Dark Ages were mired, the Champions of the Enlightenment are the freethinking Humanists. The challenge is however to maintain our democratic secular values, firmly set in doubt and rational argument, but still remain tolerant and steadfast in interactions with those who seek to undermine these values.
On Religion and Ethics:
At no point do I ever remember taking religion very seriously or even feeling that the biblical stories were any different from fairy stories. Certainly none of it made any sense. By comparison the world in which I lived, though I might not always understand it in all aspects, always made a lot of sense. Nor did it make much sense that my friends were having a good time in a coffee bar on Saturday mornings while I was in schul singing in a language I could not understand. Once while my father and I were fasting, I remember my mother having some warm croissants – and did they smell good! I decided to have one too – ostensibly a heinous crime. I waited for a 10 ton “Monty Python” weight to fall on my head! It didn’t. Some would see this lack of retribution as proof of a merciful God (or that I was not really Jewish because my mother wasn’t), but I drew the logical (Occam’s razor) conclusion that there was “nothing” there. There are serious problems confronting society and a “humanitarian” God would not have allowed the unaccountable atrocities carried out in the name of any philosophy, religious or otherwise, to happen to anyone let alone to his/her/its chosen people. The desperate need we have for such organisations as Amnesty International has become, for me, one of the pieces of incontrovertible evidence that no divine ( mystical ) creator (other than the simple Laws of Nature) exists.}
The illogical excuses, involving concepts such as free will(!), convoluted into confusing arguments by clerics and other self-appointed guardians of universal morality, have always seemed to me to be just so much fancy (or actually clumsy) footwork devised to explain why the fascinating and beautifully elegant world I live in operates exactly the way one would expect it to in the absence of a mystical power. Of course the excuses have been honed and polished over millennia to retain a hold over those unwilling or unable to accept that, as a Croatian friend of mine once neatly put it, “When you’ve had it you’ve had it”.
… I have very serious personal problems when confronted by individuals, organisations and regimes which do not accept that these freedoms are fundamental human rights. I feel one must oppose those who claim that the “good” of the community must come before that of the individual – this claim is invariably used to justify oppression by the state. Furthermore there has never been any consensus on what the “good” of the community actually consists of, whereas for individuals there is little difficulty. Thus I am a supporter of Amnesty International, a humanist and an atheist. I believe in a secular, democratic society in which women and men have total equality, and individuals can pursue their lives as they wish, free of constraints – religious or otherwise. I feel that the difficult ethical and social problems which invariably arise must be solved, as best they can, by discussion and am opposed to the crude simplistic application of dogmatic rules invented in past millennia and ascribed to a plethora of mystical creators – or the latest invention; a single creator masquerading under a plethora of pseudonyms.” (From Les Prix Nobel, The Nobel Prizes 1996 , Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1997 – see below.)
On accepting the BHA invitation to become “a Patron of Humanism”, he wrote: “I fully support the aims of the Association and am happy to do what I can to further them as I feel they focus on some of the serious issues that confront us now and will continue to confront us in the 21 st century.”
At the Starmus Festival 2015 I asked the gentleman next to me what evidence he would consider to convince himself that climate change might be a possibility. He said: “I’m not interested”. As Socrates said: “it is a sign of intelligence to consider arguments with which you don’t agree”
Some Efforts on saving Enlightened Humanitarian attitudes
In July 2001 Kroto was one of the signatories to a letter published in The Independent which urged the Government to reconsider its support for the expansion of maintained religious schools.
In July 2009 he joined other eminent scientists and educators calling for vital changes to the proposed science curriculum for primary schools in England in a letter to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.
In March 2010 Kroto protested against the NAS (National Academy of Sciences) in the US hosting the Templeton Foundation’s infamous annual prize for ‘scientific’ research on the “spiritual dimension”. Kroto said, “For the National Academy of Sciences to get involved with an organisation like this is dangerous … The National Academy should look very carefully at what the majority of its members feel about the apparent legitimising of the scientific credentials of the Templeton Foundation.”
Promoting Scientific Facts… helping Zack Kopplin fight Louisiana Law on Creationism
Letters written on Humanitarian issues
Other letters and blogs
An interview with RT (formerly Russian Television)
While I was in Tenerife at the 2014 STARMUS conference I was interviewed by an outstanding Russian interviewer Oksana Boyko who asked a lot of penetrating questions. She had obviously done her homework on me and although I was surprised that I was not asked about my science but about my views on humanity and society et cetera I was very happy to respond. The URL of the interview which is posted on YouTube is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JK7yoGPJtk
I must admit that I thought that I handled the questions with sensitivity and care and I was not prepared for the relatively abusive, cynical and also racist blogs that were posted after it by people who indicated that they felt they were truly religious. I have pointed out that the founding fathers of the USA and recognised that a secular constitution was of paramount importance for democracy. Furthermore they also recognised that it was also vital for the freedom of individuals to believe what they wished. They had seen the results of the 30 years War in Europe and the devastation it had caused as Catholics, Lutherans and and Calvinists fought for supremacy. What it seemed to me we have in the Middle East today is a similar situation and I tried to address this in as humanitarian the way as I could. I have listened to my comments again and I feel that they have been distorted by several of people out of all recognition. A friend of mine has made written a short piece about people who claim to be religious and show nothing of the generosity spirit and Christian attitudes that Jesus seems to have valued.
it seems to me a perfect example of Don Marquis is great quote:
“if you make people think they are thinking, they love you but if you really make them think, they hate you”
Recordings of presentations at Beyond Belief symposia organised by Roger Bingham
This recording includes video of Trent Lott (when senate majority leader) telling pre-college students it is a waste of their time to study Mathematics and Science if they want to be a senator.
At the time of this altercation I thought: “Hmm, the skeptic doth protest too much, methinks!” I later discovered that Shermer has taken money from the Templeton foundation!
I stand with Maryam Namazie in her incredibly brave work for “One Law for All”
It has been covered by Thomson Reuters Foundation
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