Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Blog Page 21

Why Richard Dawkins fails to convince?

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Richard Dawkins New Athiesm
Prof Richard Dawkins

In 2006, the widely acclaimed book of Prof Richard Dawkins “The God Delusion” was published. A reputed biologist at New College, Oxford, Dawkins ventured into the field of philosophy and theology and concluded that the concept of God is merely a “delusion”.

It is always productive when people delve into disciplines other than their own because it brings forth new ideas and fresh perspectives. Dawkins’ contribution is therefore significant because it did indeed stir things in the religious world and renewed the interest in the age old debate of God vs. Science. However, this is where his contribution ends as he does not bring anything new to the table that would further our understanding of the existence or absence of God.  In fact, with his book he is simultaneously mocking the theists while undermining the intelligence of atheist community.

Dawkins was perhaps compelled to write his book as he faced a direct confrontation from the proponents of “Intelligent Design” theory in his own discipline. It is likely that the surge in the book sales might have surprised Dawkins himself. His message has resonated with the pulse of the time.

We are indeed living in an age when disregard of religion is higher than ever and Dawkins has cashed in on this sentiment. In the present times, religion is an easy target, many ironically branding it the root of all evil.  The myopic view the media has taken towards religion, where only the most fanatic voices are the broadcast, has no doubt got people scared of any organized religion. Currently, the non-religious groups represent the largest growing demographic.

Over the last hundred years, there has been a seismic shift in the way life and world is viewed. At least three concepts have changed dramatically:

  1. God has been more or less replaced with marvel of the Universe and Cosmos
  2. Interest in “life after death” has shifted to life in this world alone
  3. The concept of “Soul” has been forgotten and has been replaced by anatomy and wellbeing of human body

With the shift from the “belief in the unseen” in the age of materialism, it was natural for the “New Atheism” rise. Its proponents (Dawkins, Harris and the late Hitchens) took a stronger line, which did not just question religion, but countered it with hostility and zero tolerance.

This radical approach has its own shortcomings. Firstly the fundamental arguments that are made to disprove god are simplistic and flawed. They might seemingly provide intellectual ammunition to the rising atheist community, but fall on their face when countered with robust logic. In fact the veterans of Atheism (Prof David Albert, Stephen Law, Richard Swinburne) themselves are embarrassed by the absurdity and the school boy errors in the founding arguments laid by the “New Atheists”. For example the widely used  “ Russell’s teapot” argument which is as follows:

  • Let’s assume that there is a teapot going around the earth
  • There is no telescope on earth that can sight an object as small as a teapot
  • There is no evidence to confirm its absence
  • So the teapot must be present
  • If teapot can exist with the absence of proof for it, similarly God must be present because there is no evidence to disprove it.

Reusing this argument (originally put forward by Bertrand Russell), Dawkins is  trying to to make two points. Firstly he  is sarcastically saying that in the absence of evidence of god, one is justified in thinking there is no God. And secondly, if there is a god than the burden of proof lies with one making the claim of a deity that is seemingly absent.

The teapot example fails because it is not the absence of evidence that the teapot exits but it is rather the presence of sufficient proof that it does not exist. To elaborate, no teapot was ever sent to space by us and there is no evidence of any extraterrestrial being putting it there. Thus to summarize, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence (Thank you Dr. William Lane Craig ).

New Atheism has time and again failed in responding to the Contingency argument, the Cosmological argument, the Teleological argument and many other classical philosophical arguments pointing to the presence of a creator. It mainly focuses its attack on pluralism in theological concepts, criticism of varied interpretations and inconsistencies in narration to disprove religion. Furthermore they do it wearing the spectacle of materialism and with the wrong premise that Science can explain everything.

It is no doubt that science is a wonderful tool which has enhanced our understanding of the world.  However there are a multitude of phenomenon that are still undefined and unquantified. The presence or absence of God or questions on morality are not for Science to answer. Similarly science doesn’t give the full answer to the age old questions, where did we come from and where will we go? What was the ultimate cause? If indeed it is used to answer these questions, the corollaries are inconclusive.

“New Atheism” also  assumes that it is the only legitimate voice of science, while religion  is incompatible with reason. In saying so, they completely disregard the scientific works religious figures from past. Yes, at times in history, religion has confronted science. However when looking at the whole picture one finds that there were a vast number of scientists that were inspired by religion. Furthermore, religion did not just inspire scientists, but also leading artists and philosophers of the times.

In the Quran alone, there are over 600 verses that command  contemplation of the the world and creations. God has asked the believers to approach him through his signs. The Quran tells the followers not only to reason, but to convince people with the best of arguments. And yet, religious followers are often found at loss when confronting the new wave of atheism. This shows the decay in imparting knowledge of theological proofs and diminishing scholarship level in the communities. It does not imply that people who follow religion are disadvantaged because of their illogical, A-scientific and irrational approach.

It is time that we start showing the benefits that religion brings. It enriches lives and fulfils our intellectual needs about the major questions. It is a motivator for virtues and deterrent for harm in the society. It is a mechanism for self-reflection and self impeachment. Yes it can be at times hijacked and misused, but we need to protect it from this vulnerability rather than demolish the whole institution.

It is time for the religious demographic to rise up, regain scholarship and educate the world.

Malala Nobel Prize: An Accolade that Divides the Nation

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Malala Yousufzai
Youngest Nobel prize winner: Malala Yousufzai

Today began with an explosion of twitter feeds congratulating Malala Yusufzai and Pakistan on winning the Nobel Prize. BBC website confirmed the news a little while later. Living in Pakistan, where people are starving for good news, this was something to savour. And thus it was no wonder, that many people from Pakistan, at least through their “online avatars”, were celebrating what for them was a “National” victory.

Malala

A few hours later, a Facebook status update popped up, labelling “Malala” a prostitute. That wasn’t a shock, as there are elements in Pakistan that do hate her to the core. The appalling thing was the sudden surge of replies in favour of that update. The visceral hatred for Malala manifested in subtle comments like “Traitor” to the more hardcore “Whore” punctuated by the more sophisticated “Soul seller to the devil”. The venting of darker emotions for Malala quickly coalesced in thunderous clouds in cyberspace. Television talk shows that have become a favourite pastime for an increasingly politicized Pakistan will today dissect this achievement and decide the fate of Malala.

It was sad to see how Dr Abdus Salam (first Nobel prize) winner was treated by Pakistan. It is no doubt, that Malala will be treated in the same coin. It will be extremely hard for her to be able to gain the trust of the conservative masses in Pakistan. It will be extremely difficult for her to be accepted let alone feel welcomed.  She has already been tainted with disingenuous accusations of blasphemy. For those who realize the sensitivity of Pakstani’s towards the blasphemy issue will realize how serious this is.

What is to be taken out from all this? Firstly, many people, not just Pakistani’s have lost the trust in global institutions and they are right too by the way. If Henry Kissinger, a proponent of wars and conflict, the planner for mass genocide through food control can be given a Nobel peace prize, then what other mass murderer doesn’t deserve it. Some may make the radical argument that even dictators have provided times of stability and peace. Thus for Nobel Prize to be seriously recognized and respected globally, it needs to recall the previous awards that were given to figures, whose legacies are stained. It needs to recognize and reward people whose personalities are shafts of light, whose contribution to calm and progress in peace is astronomical.

Secondly if Pakistanis cannot bring their hearts to like Malala, than at least they should stand up for her cause. They should celebrate the fact that right to education for women in Pakistan is not negotiable. They should take her mantle and champion this cause around the world.

The “Blood Moon” Conspiracies

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The astronomical phenomenon of a red lunar eclipse that occurs four consecutive times in two years is known as “Tetrad”. People with more colourful imagination like to call it “Blood Moon”. Contrary to popular belief, it is frequent and has occurred at least 4 times in the last 60 years.

Tetrad : Blood Moon
Blood Moon: A rare phenomenon

The reason that the eclipse appears red (or bloodied) is because the moon passes through the outer band of the earth’s shadow. Thus for an observer on the moon, it is same as watching sunrise or sunset, across the horizon of planet earth. While an observer on earth sees the moon painted in red. The second “blood moon” of the current tetrad occurred in the early hours of 8th October, 2014. It was preceded by one on the 4th of April and will be followed by two more in April and September next year.

We are living in times when doomsday conspiracy theories are making their way into the mainstream. The world did not end in December 2012 (Mayan Calendar’s end) and yet we saw countless hours on TV coverage of people pedalling this hoax. There was even a Hollywood movie “2012”, made to bank on people’s fascination to this theory. It is no wonder then, that San Antonio Pastor John Hagee wrote the book titled “Four Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change on the phenomenon on Tetrad. In his book he notes that the tetrads have coincided with major historical events in the past.

The Pastor mentioned in April, “Every time this has happened in the last 500 years, it has coincided with tragedy for the Jewish people, followed by triumph. And once again, for Israel, the timing of this tetrad is remarkable,”  The events mentioned in his book are Discovery of America, Holocaust , Birth of Israel, six-day war and recapture of Jerusalem.

Hagee’s correlation makes the book an interesting read; however it also muddies the water and creates a smokescreen. With reference to the current Tetrad, the pastor has mentioned the existence of imminent threat to the state of Israel. He propounds his case by citing the recent turmoil in the middle-east region.

It is true that the middle-east is currently in a very volatile state. Any undesirable perturbence can trigger events of geographical and historical importance, but that is beside the point. The point is that going by this theory of Israel being in imminent danger paints it to be the aggrieved rather than aggressor.

This is in contrast to Israel’s actions following the start of current tetrad. In August, nearly 1000 acres of Palestinian territory was grabbed by Israel and declared “State Land”. This came after butchering of 2100 Palestinians in Gaza the previous month. God forbid, if this recent massacre and oppression is a tragedy than what will be the scale of the triumph?

The world is in turmoil. It is easy to lose focus with tension simmering in Ukraine and Russia and ISIS wreaking havoc in Middle East, all this with an outbreak of Ebola in Africa. If the world is to see peace, the first step is “sincerity of intention”.  The intention by all parties to achieve sustainable peace through truth and reconciliation.  This is where our belief and efforts should be invested. Let’s not wait for an astronomical phenomenon to turn our fortunes.

Containing ISIS -The five necessary steps

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This is in continuation to the previous article: Understanding ISIS

In order to eradicate the threat of ISIS, it is important to contain and quarantine it first, rather than going for an outright obliteration. As most nihilistic groups are self-effacing, once contained they will eventually decay out of existence. However if they are tempered with wrongly, the collateral damage can increase several folds. The world needs to be patient and has to learn from a historical context, how similar groups in the past were neutralized.

ISIS: Yet another nihilistic meance
ISIS: Yet another nihilistic meance

Fascist and Nihilistic groups have always existed in history and they are not limited to one culture or one religion. In fact, fascist ideologies of the recent past were  driven without any religious impetus . Even with a cursory glance on the Muslim history, one finds that such groups (with similar ideologue and methodology) have indeed existed in the past.

The historic khawarji movement or the Hashisheen movement lead by the Hasan- i-Sabbah both are comparable to ISIS. It took rulers decades to weed them out. They have always been a tiny minority and remained at the fringes of society rather than in the mainstream.  More recent example is that of Pakistan in 2008, when Swat valley suffered the menace of TTP rule. The world needs to take a page out of Swat valley cleanup operation when trying to devise a strategy against ISIS.

 Five Steps for Containing ISIS

The following five steps have to be taken to contain ISIS.

  • Immediate withdrawal by Western Forces

It is now well deduced, that at the start of an armed conflict, the end might look to be insight, but it never is. Decades after operation Desert storm, the west still finds itself getting sucked in yet another operation in the same region. The use of force is never a panacea, although it may temporarily quell the opposition but it never eradicates it.

At present it might seem that reconnaissance followed by air strikes would finish off the 30,000 odd fighters of IS. However, any aware soul can work out how this story is going to pan out. Once the costly air strikes have finished with diminishing returns, a case will be made for boots on the ground. The problem is that these boots never really find firm footing but almost always find a quagmire. Gorilla urban warfare is almost impossible to win without sustaining heavy losses. Furthermore it is a protracted affair. By backing off from the lead role, the west will remove itself from being the naked antagonist in the eyes of potential recruits for IS.

  • Muslim Countries should take charge

A coalition of Muslim countries is exactly what is needed to bring their own houses and neighbourhood in order. Impeachment should start from within. It is no doubt that bulk of the fighters originate from immediate neighbouring countries. Once the coalition is made and objectives defined, the alliance should assign roles according to the expertise of each country. Turkey and Pakistan who have well trained and professional army should take the lead in military training and defence of borders.

Jamia Al Azhar of Eygpt, which is respected world over by all Muslims, must provide the moral guidance and religious impetus for this confrontation. Iran can seal it borders and play a passive role in logistics but should steer away from any involvement on the battlefront.  Iran’s front-line involvement can jeopardize this operation as it can potentially get labelled to Shia vs Sunni conflict, which would be playing in the hands ISIS.

  • Build the Counter Narrative

There should be no doubt that the warped world view that ISIS has is very compelling particularly for the alienated, ostracized, disenfranchised, impoverished and unprivileged. Potential recruits may not be religious on the outset but a fascination to an alternate reality where they have position of authority propels them to join the ranks. It is no wonder that younger adults and teenagers are more likely to join hands with ISIS.

A counter narrative that is based on truth and the whole truth should be presented to counter IS ideology on the theological front. The power of media should be used to propagate the message. In countries where a trust deficit between the rulers and the populace exists, figures that are authoritative and trustworthy should take up the mantle to promote the counter perspective. In the end, the power of truth will serve as guidance for those who pay heed and will help in stemming the flow into the sorry escapism of the caliphate, that is ISIS.

  • Safe Passage for Defectors

It is equally important step in containing ISIS is making sure that they are not ambushed against a wall. A mechanism for safe passage should be established particularly for individuals who due to their vulnerability have fallen into the trap.  There are many who would like to defect but the uncertainty of the treatment on their return acts as a vice.

It should be made clear on the outset how every country would treat its returnees. They may be sent to rehabilitation centers to curb their extremist tendencies in future, but whatever the measure; it should be mentioned and withheld. A gung-ho approach of showing no mercy will prove to be counterproductive.

  • Address the Grievance

It is a general tendency to deal with the criminals and not the crime. Unless the root cause is addressed and eliminated, this problem is bound to arise again. The injustice in Palestine and other Muslim territories, the disparity in the world, the indifference of the world in resolving the Muslim issues, sectarianism within and the relentless globalization which cloaks the spread of modern western culture all constitute the grievance steeped in the Muslim world. These problems are complex and would take extreme efforts to even drum up a political will. However great the challenge, even if an ounce of sincere effort is noticed, it would go a long way in establishing trust among the grieved Muslims and the wider world.

The Swat operation was successful because the native population who initially hailed the TTP as messiahs, were given time, so that the true character of their captors  was found out by the very people who supported them.  It was only when the natives had tasted the wrath and menace of their captors and their feelings turned sour that the army moved in. The residents of Swat themselves became the eyes, ears and hands of the Pakistan Army. This lead to a more effective purge of the perpetrators. Similarly, the residents of areas that are under siege by IS should be seen as force multipliers and should be part and parcel of in any planned operation.

For further reading on Psychology of the ISIS, click here.

Convergence Stride Starts on Yaum e Arafat

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Convergence Stride takes the inspiration for its name from chapter 2  verse 148 of the Quran

“For each [religious following] is a direction toward which it faces. So race to [all that is] good. Wherever you may be, Allah will bring you forth [for judgement] all together. Indeed, Allah is over all things competent.”

So lets race together and converge to all that is good.  Ameen.

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