Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Shoulders of giants

It interests me what Atheists of the past thought about the idea of God and religions, their rationale I suppose. Across the historical surface of theoretical physics there lies the formidable indentation of Paul Dirac, a modest man who came up with an equation that unified previously impenetrable fields of quantum mechanics and special relativity, and here it is..

These are subjects I do not begin to understand but from from what little I can fathom from reading about his solution to this problem I can appreciate the superhuman feat of reasoning that it took to crack it. The following passage is what he thought about religion early on in his life, apparently he mellowed slightly in older age as we all do. I find it fascinating to read his thoughts and reassuring in some ways that more and more people seem to hold with such views or at least are less concerned about expressing them openly.

I cannot understand why we idle discussing religion. If we are honest—and scientists have to be—we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. The very idea of God is a product of the human imagination. It is quite understandable why primitive people, who were so much more exposed to the overpowering forces of nature than we are today, should have personified these forces in fear and trembling. But nowadays, when we understand so many natural processes, we have no need for such solutions. I can't for the life of me see how the postulate of an Almighty God helps us in any way. What I do see is that this assumption leads to such unproductive questions as why God allows so much misery and injustice, the exploitation of the poor by the rich and all the other horrors He might have prevented. If religion is still being taught, it is by no means because its ideas still convince us, but simply because some of us want to keep the lower classes quiet. Quiet people are much easier to govern than clamorous and dissatisfied ones. They are also much easier to exploit. Religion is a kind of opium that allows a nation to lull itself into wishful dreams and so forget the injustices that are being perpetrated against the people. Hence the close alliance between those two great political forces, the State and the Church. Both need the illusion that a kindly God rewards—in heaven if not on earth—all those who have not risen up against injustice, who have done their duty quietly and uncomplainingly. That is precisely why the honest assertion that God is a mere product of the human imagination is branded as the worst of all mortal sins.

Paul Dirac

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