If there is one thing that I secretly carry in my eyes while trying to see through a person, it is the search of an ability! Ability of an individual to face truth. Being an atheist, for me that one truth is often about a person’s potential to be open-minded about the absurdism of life. Since I agree with it, I also agree with the nature of its slope that can push even the mighty Sisyphus into a barren swamp every time he tries to cultivate any ideology or belief in its baseless, meaningless mud. My post yells out of this dark swamp about the wonder of radiating resilience the truth (atheism) bears in its being; about books that are breathtakingly bold and radical in their service to thinkers and rationalists. About books that not only confirmed my bias but also made me cautious about dismissal, pestering and pity doomed to fall my way for life. Nevertheless, some truths are worth speaking out for, with this sentiment, I hereby dedicate this post to four books to understand atheism. And if you sense the slightest hint of absurdity, know that it is working, at least for me!
Atheism is how you think of the truth, absurdism is what you feel of it!
God is one idea we buy blindly without giving it much thinking. Perhaps, our brains are hardwired to find meaning. (I am assuming the scenario of first-generation-atheism). I am no neuro-scientist but the only explanation (or pseudo-explanation) that I come by at the end of this internal inquiry is that it has something to do with how human consciousness responds to the fear of unknown at the neuron level. On the contrary, what stands undeniably true and apparently visible, is the shrewd transportation of this learned instinct across countless generations disguised as myths, fables, stories and what not. Darwin’s theory of evolution had been out since 1860. Even after more than 150 years of being a scientific evidence about something that concerns the very core of our existence at the cellular level, it is astonishingly difficult to come to terms to a reality where two contradictory principles (God and Evolution) that are meant to negate each other, are instructively, institutionally taught either as parallels or equally essential utilitarian premises. In a world gladly residing in the arms of ludicrous but comforting illusions, how can one walk out and build the foundation of a rational thought and be sure of his ground? If at all, atheism was a principle or a system or any ideology, there could have existed a certain intellectual infrastructure to seek refuge in. But that’s far from its fluid form! It is in all its simplicity, a negation, a denial, a rejection of theism and its confining derivatives and thus shape shifts its conceptual practicality according to the intruding premise. The imperative that falls on an atheist’s shoulders from here on is the one of how to embrace absurdity in exchange for the truth. Thankfully, the books I have on me in the least, try to address this issue from four different perspectives. It is not in my selfish nature to lead others on a liberating quest, the post is simply a humble guide about books worth approaching while one is on such a course.
Atheists sustain the absurdism of life by living the meaningless, meaningfully!
The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins – Although almost all books by Dawkins directly or indirectly counters the idea of God since the very nature of his work has a bearing on creationism but The Blind Watchmaker battles one peculiar argument that is sly in its wits and navigatory tactics. It tackles the argument of Intelligent Design often used by believers as the higher hint of god’s presence in nature, citing it to be too sophisticated to be a matter of chance or randomness leading and shaping the universe that functions precisely to their observation. The book offers plenty of context and evidence for reader to become comfortable with the idea of biological genesis of nature at large. Endowed with Dawkins’s love and wisdom for scientific temperament, process and evidence, the book beautifully weaves the premise of biological complexity & diversity of our planet, reiterating Darwin’s ingenious theory of evolution. However, the highlight of the narrative is the author’s remarkable skill of translating this technical enquiry in and as philosophical and epistemological inserts. From there on, it is only predictable that Dawkins will distinctively separate design and the illusion of design by addressing the temptation of mankind’s urge to treat them as one and same.
Having figured out the greater question of who we (biologically) are and where do we come from, it makes sense that Dawkins’s line of work is enough to convince a stoned slate. But his battle is far from over! Trouble with this singular piece of the larger jigsaw puzzle of atheism is that evolutionary biology is not something we experience or perceive consciously. It is an innately inquisitive enquiry that’s inconceivable for a random observer to take on just like that. Had it not been the case, Dawkins’s seminal contribution would have been out rightly popular and much to his dream come true, larger chunk of the educated societies world over would be gladly, officially atheist.
Why not then? Simply because mankind thinks more about where is it destined to go than where it comes from! Because it refuses to see mortality as the ultimate truth. Because it cannot comprehend that his existence is at the mercy of biological cells that will eventually die one day, because it wants to live in an afterlife even if in a formless form!
Hence, the next book recommendation!
Free Will by Sam Harris – An atheist’s higher caliber smoking gun, Free Will would render you defenseless and in awe of author’s argument that there is no free will. This is where absurdism will begin to imprint its first footsteps on your consciousness. Harris doesn’t just openly lay bare what is and what is not of the larger argument but acquaints his readers with the evolutionary cost and burden of choice that would befall on human brain otherwise. With breath taking clarity of his premises citing neuroscientific clauses, Harris classifies brain and mind as different operational faculties. (Harris’s works has drawn criticism by peers from the scientific community for not addressing the issue of will at length, precisely weak/strong, conscious/unconscious nature of it). Even though the comparative between Dawkins and Harris is built on similar premises (evolutionary biology and neuro-biology, biology being the common denominator), Harris’s work adds another dimension in his appeal. And this appeal is not heard only in scientific community but in a courtroom where jury is random people, mostly religious.
Free will is the foundation on which religion institutes its cyclic machinery of salvation. No free will and hell & heaven fall on its face. No free will, the cycle of moral merit doesn’t kick off, no nirvana is in sight, no divinity in being human. No free will and mankind stares at the absurd nothingness!
Why Free Will? Because, it will enforce you to think about causality, about neuroscientific genesis of the decisions we make, about how deep it runs and most importantly about why the free will is an illusion.
The Case Against God by George H. Smith – My personal favorite! Its been more than a decade since I read the book and yet I can clearly recall some of its power packed arguments. Out of the realms of biological genesis and darkness of neuroscience, The Case Against God book relies solely on the faculty of human mind to find flaws in theistic beliefs (predominantly Christian) and step asides the need for one to be a professional philosopher to decide, establish or re-route the course of conversation by setting in motion some astoundingly original premises. The book identifies with the simplistic, minimalist definition of Atheism and thus leads the audience accordingly. Like every other book, it too drew criticism for not addressing or assigning atheism, a certain structure. It is also for the same reason that the book isn’t necessarily philosophically godly in essence but Smith’s ability to lend weight in the ‘knowable’ and ‘intellect’ works like a charm and he uses these propositions quite intelligently to dispose off theistic claims. The Case Against God is ideally exclusively a book for literal buyers of religion as it poses uncomfortable questions. I can not help but see the book as a precursor to the empowering of intellect on a slow, internal journey in the long life of a institutionalized believer. A must read indeed!
God is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens – And then there was one!
Like his other works, Hitchens in his predictably deplorable temperament and stylishly polemical tone, directs all his energy into attacking organized religion (chiefly Abrahamic) for being categorically invested into bringing delusions, dogma and destruction everywhere in the world. Hitchens isn’t shy a bit of equating religious hegemony with a lethal poison that can ruin the fertile faculties of human mind and turn it into a barren base, blind and oblivious to reason or empathy in a deeply dynamically contextual world. By delving straight into the history of religion, the book alarmingly brings to attention, its innately stubborn nature and refusal to evolve with both time or human need. His critique is equally unforgiving to eastern spirituality that appears to be a better bargain for salvation being statistically, empirically moderate. Draped in the dramatic superstitious attire and proposing nothingness in lieu of salvation, Hinduism or Buddhism do not come off as convincing alternatives either. For better or worse, the book is neither interested in evidence nor in the utilitarian principle of god. The liberating context of the book is hidden in plain sight. By dismantling the continuum of morality and god, the author concludes that god/religion (Hitchens doesn’t consider the difference between two to be a difference at all) is a choice humans are conditioned to make but the one that is not needed to be made in the first place.
Why would you need more than one book to arrive at Atheism? Because, atheism’s very essence is to refute God. It has to morph, shapeshift and dress-up its arguments the way its opponent does. Hitchens’s totalitarian Orwellian Big Brother God or Dawkins’s inevident one; the one that can be taken on via Smith’s definitions or dismissed by Harris’s illusory free will, the quest of Atheism needs to place the right perspective in the right fit of this jigsaw puzzle.