THE UNBELIEVERS: Another Stab At Atheism

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Author of this essay:

Ven. Ming Zhen Shakya
(October 13, 2014)

THE UNBELIEVERS: Another Stab At Atheism

It could be supposed, and probably should be, that Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss believe that science stands in opposition to religion in much the same way that brave, intelligent David stands before big, dopey Goliath. The problem is not that they see themselves as Davidian agents, but that they lump all religions and religious people into that one belligerently stupid enemy.

Constrained in such a way, ordinary religious persons find it difficult to follow the arguments that the two atheists make in The Unbelievers. We cannot tell who or what constitutes the "pro" when they are presenting the "con," and vice versa.

First of all, Science and Religion are not in the same category of "things" that can be compared or opposed. We might as well argue the pros and cons of Fish and the Constellation Pisces. Yes, there are many observations we can make about them that suggest a certain commonality... the name and the familiar fishy shape... but what is there to argue about? As Dawkins and Krauss would answer, science can demonstrate as objective fact what it observes about fish; but astrology's belief in the earthly influences of the Constellation Pisces is unprovable conjecture.

Regardless of what astrology was in antiquity, today it merely has an oracular function. As such it does not lend itself to the rigor, the scientific methods, of ichthyology - no more than the study of fish induces a man, as he begins each day, to be more self-aware and to consider the psychological significance of other environmental factors. People do not study fish in the same way that they study horoscopes.

As to the belief in Evolution and the Big Bang Theory, I've conducted a ministry for a quarter-century, and I have never met another human being who didn't believe in Evolution or in the Big Bang. (time) t = 0 seconds, or t = 1 is a fascinating subject and while it in no way affects my spiritual life, I and everyone else I know would like to hear more about it... especially t minus 1.

Zen's "God" is not a big guy with a beard and galaxies for earrings who stalks the cosmos. He is the Buddha Amitabha (Infinite Light) a.k.a the Buddha Amitayus (Infinite Time) and he exists inside every human being - that's why he's omniscient. He witnesses everything we think and do. (Back in the '70s, the first thing I learned at the Zen Center of San Francisco was, "The Buddha we bow to is the Buddha within.")

If people want to believe that in that second before the Big Bang, God decreed that the material world should come into being, that's ok with me. If someone wants to nominate another "First Cause," fine. I'm listening. We all are.

As to Evolution, I own an old copy of The Origin of Species and the Descent of Man. I live in the desert and collect fossils. All my neighbors do, too.

Religious Fundamentalists protest what they perceive to be attacks on their faith's scriptures: News gatherers cover their protests because they are sensational, sometimes outrageously so. The placards of the Westboro Baptist Church are shockingly vicious. Often, these protestors are fanatical because they have "snapped," or "gone over the edge." They're enacting a defense mechanism as they try to cope with distress of some kind and degree. Nobody fully sane is that completely vicious. We understand why newsmen cover them. "Dog bites man" won't sell newspapers. "Man bites dog" will.

And where we find sane and reasonable folks who would like the Bible's version of creation accommodated, we find precisely what Lawrence Krauss noted: "If you have to pick and choose you're better off throwing the whole thing out." These people do not want to diminish the Bible's moral and ethical influence by tossing out one section of it and then, as Krauss suggests, dumping the whole while they're at it. Their lives are governed by these scriptures. It is their faith in God and in the country that trusts in God that makes them stand patriotically and pick up a rifle when they are called to duty.

Is it fair to imply that because science dismisses astrology as so much nonsense, only simpletons consult their horoscopes? And more... that the same "simpletoniety" that scientists find in astrology permeates all of an astrology believer's thought processes? Dawkins uses the example of a hypothetical surgeon who believes that babies are brought by the stork. He relates his unfortunate experience with real people to whom he had just delivered a talk on the subject. After the talk his audience protested that the surgeon's private thoughts about reproduction via storks are irrelevant and that what is important is how well the surgeon performs surgery. Dawkins was upset by even the memory of this apostasy.

What Dawkins fails to understand is that his audience bloody-well knew that he had substituted the word "stork" for the word "God." And what the audience was protesting was evaluating a man's abilities to perform a job in terms of his religious beliefs. What Dawkins is assuming is that any jackass who believes in God just ain't qualified to do anything more than manual labor. He indignantly asks, "Would you want this doctor to treat you?" In Buddhism we refer to the Poisoned Arrow parable. Now, if Dawkins were wounded by a Poisoned Arrow, would he tell the surgeon who has come to remove it not to touch him until he has first explained his views on human reproduction?

By Dawkins' reasoning, men who fly planes or operate missile systems are unfit to do so if they are stupid enough to believe in God. If his ass were threatened by a foreign power, would he institute suit to prevent God-believers from using the weapons that scientists have developed to protect him? Or would he more likely break into a chorus of Onward Christian Soldiers?

According to Dawkins' Stork example, we ought to throw The Principia into the trash as just another raving from a deluded Believer. Obviously, if we wouldn't let a surgeon who believes in such nonsense operate on our kids, we wouldn't let a professor who believes in Divine Creation teach our kids. I don't know how the Brits feel about the works of Isaac Newton, but on this side of the Pond, we think they're rather wonderful. And that probably goes for Canada, too. But Gadzooks! Isaac Newton was *gasp* a Believer.

No doubt we will be told that Einstein made Newton irrelevant so it really doesn't matter what the Bible-thumping mathematician thought. Yet, as was admitted by Einstein himself, even scientists can be wrong in startling ways. When Jesuit George Lemaitre, a Belgian Roman Catholic priest and a physicist/astronomer, first presented the mathematical "proofs" of his "Cosmic Egg" (Big Bang) theory, Einstein dismissed him saying, “Your calculations are correct, but your grasp of physics is abominable.”

When we discuss science and religion we are, in essence, discussing two distinct worlds: Zen lays them out on a cartesian grid. Thirty-six hash marks are inscribed on the abscissa. The ancients marked off the material world from #36 down to #6. (36 is Earth; 35 is Water; 34 is Fire; down through people and perception and a lot of other archaic designations. Number 6 is where T=0. It is Maya, the point at which the spiritual gives rise to the material and where spirit becomes flesh. When we transcend #6, we enter #5, the spiritual world's glorious state of meditation. We proceed through #4, visionless divine union or protracted orgasmic ecstasy. #3 is the brief but momentous experience of being aware that the Buddha Amitabha is looking out of our eyes. This is Satori. Numbers 2 and 1 are Divine Marriage, a deliriously visionary androgynous state. From #1 down to the origin is the province of the Divine Child - who grows up very fast. On the negative side of the origin is The Void. All religions provide their followers with the guidelines and methodologies to attain these identical exalted states. Atheists are free to confine themselves to the material world - the world that we call "illusionary" because everything in it is in flux... everything. Only in the reality of the spiritual world, from #5 down to the Origin and into the Void, do we find stability, uniformity, and bliss that beggars language. To people who have spiritual experience, the Big Bang and Evolution are fascinating material-world subjects; but they lack a certain urgency.

And is it really necessary to ridicule the Crucifixion and to deride the idea that God would allow his son to be subjected to the tortures of a sacrificial death? Is it beyond Dawkins' imagination to suppose that when a Christian mother feels the pain of losing a child, when she falls to her knees and weeps, begging to understand her child's suffering or death... that she then looks to the Madonna and finds a modicum of comfort in the sharing of such a terrible experience? To live in the material world is, on occasion, to experience pain... the desperation of loss, of defeat, of being helpless to provide, of being victimized or betrayed. At such times people need words of solace. They need to know that they are not alone in their grief. This knowledge is often curative. If knowing that even Christ, himself, could be subjected to such adversity can make a person's despair seem less egregious, well, what is wrong with that?

For this same reason, a few millennia ago, when famine and hunger were major problems, Buddhists created the icon of the Fasting Buddha.

Photo credit: Diogenese101

Why was it necessary for Dawkins to ridicule the Communion ritual? He wants to know if Christians honestly believe that the Eucharist turns into the body of Christ. Well... yes, some of them honestly do. If physicists have no trouble conceiving of something from nothing, then they should have no trouble conceiving of one thing becoming another. How Christians regard the Eucharist is their business. In Zen Buddhism we, too, have a Communion ritual. The priest at the altar consecrates water - the ancients believed that amniotic fluid nourished the divine child (the Future Buddha). In our transubstantiation ritual ordinary water becomes divine amniotic fluid which is poured into a goblet and passed around for all to drink.

Kwannon, the Androgynous Boddhisattva, nourishing the Future Buddha.18th Century Silk Painting, Japan.

And about Dawkins' "no first parent" a la homo sapiens... Whatever happened to the Eve Hypothesis? We were told that between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago, a mother in Africa experienced a bigger-brain mutation that kicked-started our homo-sapien superiority. What is so imperceptible about that?

Krauss mocks Cardinal Pell. During a Q&A discussion in Sydney, the Cardinal (who is visibly annoyed with himself for having consented to participate in the discussion) wants to dismiss the whole irrelevant topic of Evolution. He flicks off the subject of Neanderthals... our ancestors... whatever. Dawkins is very nearly speechless. He sputters, "They are our cousins! We are not descended from Neanderthals!" Excuse me... but a couple of years ago (check Google) there was a flurry of scientific papers in which it was proposed that our human ancestors interbred with Neanderthals. If that science was what the Cardinal had in mind, then yes, we might be descended from them to one degree or another. But other scientists discredited that theory. Shame on the Cardinal for not keeping up with the next-to-the-latest theory. Shame on Dawkins for failing to mention the 2012 Theory of Human-Neanderthal Interbreeding.

Krauss smarms triumphantly, asking his own audience if anyone watched the Q&A program. He then says, "Manifestly the Cardinal doesn't understand Evolution. In fact, he manifestly doesn't understand anything."

Also, when a young Muslim wants to make a point about quantum mechanics, Krauss interrupts him disdainfully, "whereas I, who actually understand quantum mechanics, [and you don't]know that..."

Yo, Larry... Do you and Dick think that nobody has figured out that you're deliberately being smug and contentious because you know that controversy sells books and increases talk-circuit fees? Liberace's spirit must be dancing on your shoulders. You provoke criticism so that you can "cry about it all the way to the bank." Nobody cares if you make money. Just don't forget to tithe.

But let's get to tougher stuff.

The pettiness that Dawkins and Krauss deplore is nowhere better exemplified than in the case of Apollo 8. When the spaceship circled the moon on Christmas Eve, the three astronauts aboard, moved by the beauty of the shining blue earth "rising" in the blackness of space, read a few verses from Genesis to the listening world and concluded with a wish for all to have a Merry Christmas. It was, in mankind's history, a lovely moment. Yet, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, President of American Atheists, immediately filed suit against NASA for violating the separation of Church and State. Atheists were so offended by this "Christmas Card from space," that when Colonel Buzz Aldrin - who got his PhD from M.I.T.- prepared to be the second man to stand on the moon in the Apollo 11 mission, he celebrated Holy Communion with consecrated bread his pastor had given him. But naturally, nobody on earth was allowed to know this because of atheist objections.

The crew of Apollo 8 were the first humans to witness Earthrise on December 24, 1968
Photo credit:

Religious zealots may have brought us the Inquisition, but Torquemada has many avatars and some of them are highly educated.

It is too soon after breakfast to talk about the "American science" of Eugenics that in the first half of the 20th Century dominated biological scientific inquiry. Universities were given huge grants by Carnegie, Harriman, Rockefeller, and Kellogg (among others).

Heralding the survival of the fittest, Darwin - not Charles Darwin but a relative of his - led a parade of scientists to decide that the human race could be improved by selective procreation since worthless defectives took up so much of the time and money that would otherwise be spent nurturing perfect kids. People were poor and uneducated because they were stupid and/or lazy. Criminality as well as clubbed feet were inherited. Preventing the problems presented by these undesirables made good, old-fashioned common sense. Sure. The Eugenics movement forced thousands of sterilizations - African-Americans and other poor persons; individuals with questionable morals or intelligence; and people born with diseases considered incurable or with congenital deformities considered uncorrectable. They were all targeted. Hitler loved American Science since it justified genocide; and when Eugenics' advocate Charles Lindbergh visited Germany he was given a medal... a nice square cross to wear at his neck. National Geographic did a beautiful spread on Der Fuehrer. Jews fell into the category of "defective undesirables" that the Nazis were determined to remove from the civilized world.

Who knows how much such idiot science influenced the course of the 20th Century? When the Jews were deprived of their rights and property and were herded into concentration camps, and when London was Blitzed (in one period of 57 straight days of Luftwaffe bombing, 40,000 Londoners were killed and a million homes destroyed) we sat on our asses, prodded by our pro-German Master Race sympathies to stay "Neutral." These atrocities went on and on. (I recall listening to FDR's radio address in which he noted that December 7th was a date that would live in infamy and then declared war on Germany and Japan. My father, an Amsterdam Dutchman and WWI U.S. Army vet, said with disgust, "It's about time!")

Who knows how true a scientific truth is? Maybe Dawkins and Krauss would like to remind us of Berkeley Professor Peter Duesberg's scientific works on AIDS. He was quite persuasive.

Nelson Mandela's successor, President Thabo Mbeki believed Duesberg so much that he appointed him to an advisory panel. South Africa curtailed the use of anti-retroviral drugs because, as Duesberg insisted, AIDS is caused by long-term consumption of recreational drugs and/or anti-retroviral drugs, and HIV is a harmless passenger virus. The government's solution? "Eat more broccoli, lemons, and nuts, and stay away from drugs... then you won't get AIDS." The government's policies, created on the assumption that AIDS had no connection to HIV, "in great part," to quote Wikipedia, "is thought to be responsible for hundreds of thousands of preventable AIDS deaths and HIV infections."

How beautiful, how wonderful science is, says Richard Dawkins, but, he adds, "Religion is not wonderful. Religion is not beautiful." How does he know? Some religious activity can cause trouble. So can some scientific activity. Many scientific accomplishments were demonstrated in the Blitzkrieg's aviation science; many were seen in V-1 and V-2 rocket science; and much science went into Zyklon-B's chemistry science. But, hell... the Nazis were Believers... not in Christianity, of course... but quite of few of them literally worshipped Votan. I'm serious.

We'll leave Nazi Medical Science for another time.

And how can Dawkins gush so sweetly about atheist countries?

I recall only three officially atheist countries. The Soviet Union; China, and Cambodia. The Soviet Union had its Gulag; the Red Guards in China closed the universities and put physicians, teachers, scientists of all kinds, and clerics that they didn't kill outright into forced labor camps. (My own master was imprisoned for 20 years.) Get PBS to show "The Cancer Detectives of Xian" if they can find it in their archives. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge was so pro-atheist and anti-intellectual that they slaughtered anybody who even wore eyeglasses or could speak a foreign language - along with a million and a half Buddhists. Google "The Killing Fields."

As to the choice Krauss gives Dawkins: "Would you rather explain science or destroy religion?" You guys are kidding, right?

Humming Bird