Lecture on Atheism

By Mr. Erkki Hartikainen

The Finnish Society for Natural Philosophy 10/30/2003

Updated 02/26/2009

  1. Introduction
  2. Concepts
  3. Science
  4. Philosophy
  5. History
  6. Definition of atheism
  7. Definition of atheist
  8. Atheism and atheist in native language
  9. The meaning of the life
  10. History of atheism

Introduction

Because I am not a professor of philosophy, there is some kind of CV in the brochure of this lecture. Almost everything in CV is something I was never willing to do. I am from middle age countryside and people were openly laughing for the foreign words of the upper class. For example “philosopher” was a very bad nickname. I have always been poor and the opponent of the views of the Finnish upper class, and therefore I have been working in bad jobs. I have had no time, money and upper class friends to try to get the professors title.  Afterwards I think that I had not liked to be a professor.

There have always been some critics of scholarship. Sextus Empiricus (c. 200 CE) wrote a book “Against the Professors”. So I am not the first denying the validity of the method of authority.

My concepts have always been different from the concepts of the Finnish upper class. Upper class has slightly reduced the use of the worst pig Latin. For example the concepts of the computer science (my work) have been translated very well to Finnish language. New Finnish words are better than the original English words.

Do not wonder if I strongly criticise the concepts used by the upper class.

When I later say that “Professor X said…” I am using humour. If we consider the truth, the person who said something has no significance. If we consider the truth, only propositions have significance.

Concepts

Human language has, in my opinion, developed in the societies of apes for power use and lying. The production of the concepts has been the task of the leaders of the herd and the priests. After the development of the agriculture and keeping of the cattle it was the task of the rich people. The purposes of the concepts have been for example give orders to lower classes and slaves and to defend the life views of the upper class. Language has been necessary, too, to keep internal pecking order of the upper class. Using of suitable concepts has made possible to get lower class to accept its position. Religion has been and is the worst form of repression using concepts. In Finland it is customary to use only positive language of the institutions of the upper class. I have the courage to say: Religion is the oldest form of the ordered criminality.

Science

(Remark to the English translation: The word “Science” means in continental Europe both science and liberal arts.)

Latin word scientia (the origin of the word science) means knowledge or skill. The meaning of the word “knowledge” is disputable. New research shows that people in west understand the word “knowledge” differently from the people of East Asia. Majority of the people of the west thinks that the paradoxes of Edmund Gettier (1927- ) are real paradoxes but only small part of the people in East Asia is thinks that they are real paradoxes.

Now we have no need to know what the paradoxes of Gettier are. The paradoxes of Gettier have been one of the reasons to the difficulties to define what “knowledge” means. After Gettier books have written by the metre about definition of the knowledge and each writer is trying to make his or her own definition. After that there is more controversy than earlier.

Because the concept of science is related to the concept of knowledge, it is problematic. My opinion is that we should stop to use the word “science”.

Another important reason to stop using the words “science” is the fact that there is no progress in demarcation of boundaries between science and pseudoscience. Logical empiricism was trying to create some kind of norms for this border but the priests of the science forbid the logical empiricism.

Third important cause to stop using the word science is many peculiar faculties (faculty of theology) in universities. Of all sciences the theology is the most absurd; it will study something which does not exist (god). Good number two is education; it will study something which is not possible. Third is philosophy or “friendship of the wisdom”. There is no consensus of what is wisdom. Even more controversy is of which is wise.

Because there is no evidence for the existence of gods the only rational conclusion is that there are no gods. Science does not honour the truth.

Because the word science has a very good reputation every sort of cheating will use the word science.

Philosophy

Pythagoras (569-475 BCE) said not, that he is wise. He said that he is a friend of the wisdom. Pythagoras believed that the gods exist. Pythagoras was thinking that only gods are wise. Human beings, according to Pythagoras, can at best to be only friends of the wisdom or philosophers. True wise are, of course, sophists, but sophist is a nickname.

Logical empiricism supported to stop the science philosophy and the moving of some rational parts of philosophy to other sciences.

Ancient Greeks said that the word “philosophy” is so fine that it is not possible to translate it to barbarian languages. As a proof that English speaking people are barbarians we have the Greek word “philosophy”.

Exactly, philosophy is the friendship of wisdom. As I said, there is no consensus of the meaning of the word “philosophy”. Even if we will reach the consensus of the meaning of the word “philosophy” we will certainly disagree which is wise. My opinion is that we should stop this “science of wisdom”.

Personally I think that it is not possible to stop philosophy and other kinds of crazy thoughts. People with high proportion of transmitters (serotonin, dopamine etc) in brain will continue to lead this crazy power system. New Scientist tells that neurologist Peter Brugger from university hospital of Zürich has discovered that high concentration of dopamine in the brains will lower the ability to draw conclusions and produce supernatural experiences. People with high concentration of transmitters in brains feel to be high valued.

The people who think that they are high valued will go to the top of the society. High valued people will not die.

Before the recent ruining of the western society (finished by politicians Mikhail Gorbachev and George W. Bush) one of my hearers asked me in U.S. that did I know that the majority of the members of the philosophical association of U.S. are atheists. I was not able to answer. If I should answer now I were giving my own question. I will question if he does know that the majority of the members of the philosophers association of Finland has always been non-atheists.

History

I agree those who said that history is science fiction of the past. Almost every ideology has written a new history. We in Finland are living the period of Christian history. One on the principles of Christian history writing is to deny the existence of atheism in history. We give a special honorary mention to Professor Simo Knuttila from the faculty of Theology in University of Helsinki.  Thanks to him there is wrong information on history of atheism in the newspapers of Finland.

We can not be secure of anything in to history books but I think that the spoilers of the western thinking, the gang of four is: Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Hegel. There is the gang of four in the eastern thinking but I will represent it in another lecture.

If somebody will get evidence he or she can find financial aid for me. However I will say that I am not interested to work to the opinions of humankind just now. I agree the hero of Nemesis (Isaac Asimov’s last novel): It is good that humankind is not able to spread human evil to the space.  Nemesis was the god of the justified revenge in Ancient Greece.

Definition of atheism

Atheism is a single proposition: There is no god or no gods.

Theism is a single proposition: There is a god or gods.

This is an ontological definition. God exists or god does not exist, there is no third alternative. There is nothing between existence and non-existence. (I disagree with Hegel.)

Deism (there is god but it is not influencing in the universe) and pantheism (god is same as universe) are both forms of theism. Here I will agree with Christian historians.

Definition of atheist

Human knowledge on existence or non-existence can be erroneous or incomplete. Somebody can think that there is no god. Another person can think that there is a god or gods. Third person can be unsure.

Atheist: A person who thinks that atheism is true.

Theist: A person who thinks that theism is true.

Ignostic: A person who is not sure which of the two alternatives is true.

(There are no proper agnostics. Some people may think that they are agnostics but in reality they are atheists or ignostics.)

Atheism and atheist in native language

Emotions and values are joined to concepts, in most cases as a result of the strong brainwashing, sometimes naturally (for example “shit”). Shit is different to human beings and hound.

Atheism is godlessness and atheist is godless in English. Godless is a positive thing as is spotless.

Bible insults godless people. It is possible to bring a suit against the publisher of the Bible using UN papers on human rights (U.S. has not ratified them). If we had righteous system of justice many priests and religious were paying a fine for insulting godless.

There is a blasphemy law in Finland. The penalty is imprisonment. Only hundred years ago the archbishop of the Lutheran Church of Finland was demanding capital punishment for blasphemy.  It is allowed to insult godless people in Finland but it is not allowed to insult non-existing god.

The meaning of the life

Farmer from Laihia (Scotland of Finland) was dying. Three men of the family were standing near the bed and discussing funerals.

-How many taxes we will need, three?

-No, two is enough, other people can walk.

-So all can walk.

Farmed got up and said:

-Matthew is right, bring my trousers, we will walk all.

Ernest Nagel (1901-85) said that the explanations are the descriptions of the circumstances which give the big probability to the event. Some thinkers of the ancient Greece (Plato 427-347 BCE) were thinking that the only correct explanation is the answer to the question why, which is the purpose of the event.

It has been said (for example Kurt E Baier (1917 - )):

“The truth is that these two kinds of explanation are equally explanatory, equally illuminating, and equally full and final, but that they are appropriate for different kinds of explicanda.”

When in an uninhabited forest we find what looks like houses, paved streets, temples, cooking utensils, and the like, it is no great risk to say that these things are the ruins of a deserted city, that is to say, of something man-made. In such a case, the appropriate explanation is teleological, that is, in terms of the purposes of the builders of that city. On the other hand, when a comet approaches the earth, it is similarly a safe bet that, unlike the city in the forest, it was not manufactured by intelligent creatures and that, therefore, a teleological explanation would be out of place, whereas a causal one is suitable.

It is easy to see that in some cases causal, and in others teleological, explanations are appropriate. A small satellite circling the earth may or may not have been made by man. We may never know which the true explanation is, but either hypothesis is equally explanatory. It would be wrong to say that only a teleological explanation can really explain it. Either explanation would yield complete clarity although, of course, only one can be true. Teleological explanation is only one of several that are possible.

It may indeed be strictly correct to say that the question "Why is there a satellite circling the earth?" can only be answered by a teleological explanation. It may be true that "Why?" questions can really be used properly only in order to elicit someone's reasons for doing something. If this is so, it would explain our dissatisfaction with causal answers to "Why?" questions. But even if it is so, it does not show that "Why is the satellite there?" must be answered by a teleological explanation. It shows only that either it must be so answered or it must not be asked. The question "Why have you stopped beating your wife?" can be answered only by a teleological explanation, but if you have never beaten her, it is an improper question. Similarly, if the satellite is not man-made, "Why is there a satellite?" is improper since it implies an origin it did not have. Natural science can indeed only tell us how things in nature have come about and now why, but this is so not because something else can tell us the why and wherefore, but because there is none.

We can ask the purpose only if we know that something is done intentionally. We can use purpose only after we have proved that there is a purpose. Some people have been thinking exactly opposite, that the existence of the purpose presupposes the existence of god or gods (Fedor Dostoyevsky 1821-1881). Science says that we have first to prove the existence of the acts of the god and only after that we can begin to speak that there is some divine purpose in life.

When we begin to discus the question of the purpose on life we have first to pay attention to different meanings of the word “purpose”.

What are the two senses? In the first and basic sense, purpose is normally attributed only to persons or their behaviour as in "Did you have a purpose in leaving the ignition on?" In the second sense, purpose is normally attributed only to things, as in "What is the purpose of that gadget you installed in the workshop?" The two uses are intimately connected. We cannot attribute a purpose to a thing without implying that someone did something, in the doing of which he had some purpose, namely, to bring about the thing with the purpose. Of course, his purpose is not identical with its purpose. In hiring labourers and engineers and buying materials and a site for a factory and the like, the entrepreneur's purpose, let us say, is to manufacture cars, but the purpose of cars is to serve as a means of transportation.

There are many things that a man may do, such as buying and selling, hiring labourers, ploughing, felling trees, and the like, which it is foolish, pointless, silly, perhaps crazy, to do if one has no purpose in doing them. A man who does these things without a purpose is engaging in inane, futile pursuits. Lives crammed full with such activities devoid of purpose are pointless, futile, and worthless. Such lives may indeed be dismissed as meaningless. But it should also be perfectly clear that acceptance of the scientific conception of reality does not force us to regard our lives as being without a purpose in this sense. Science has not, only not robbed us of any purpose, which we had before, but it has furnished us with enormously greater power to achieve these purposes. Instead of praying for rain or a good harvest or offspring, we now use ice pellets, artificial manure, or artificial insemination.

By contrast, having or not having a purpose, in the other sense, is value neutral. We do not think more or less highly of a thing for having or not having a purpose. "Having a purpose," in this sense, confers no kudos, "being purposeless" carries no stigma. A row of trees growing near a farm may or may not have a purpose: it may or may not be a windbreak, may or may not have been planted or deliberately left standing there in order to prevent the wind from sweeping across the fields. We do not in any way disparage the trees if we say they have no purpose but have just grown that way. They are as beautiful, made of as good wood, as valuable, as if they had a purpose. And, of course, they break the wind just as well. The same is true of living creatures. We do not disparage a dog when we say that it has no purpose, is not a sheep dog or a watchdog or a rabbit dog, but just a dog that hangs around the house and is fed by us.

Man is in a different category, however. To attribute to a human being a purpose in that sense is not neutral, let alone complimentary: it is offensive. It is degrading for a man to be regarded as merely serving a purpose. If, at a garden party, I ask a man in livery, "What is your purpose?" I am insulting him. I might as well have asked, "What are you for?" Such questions reduce him to the level of a gadget, a domestic animal, or perhaps a slave. I imply that we allot to him the tasks, the goals, the aims which he is to pursue; that his wishes and desires and aspirations and purposes are to count for little or nothing. We are treating him, in Kant's phrase, merely as a means to our ends, not as an end in himself.

The Christian and the scientific conceptions of reality do indeed differ fundamentally on this point. The latter robs man of a purpose in this sense. It sees him as a being with no purpose allotted to him by anyone but himself. It robs him of any goal, purpose, or destiny appointed for him by any outside agency. The Christian conception of reality, on the other hand, sees man as a creature, a divine artefact, something halfway between a robot (manufactured) and an animal (alive), a homunculus, or perhaps Frankenstein, made in god's laboratory, with a purpose or task assigned him by his maker.

However, lack of purpose in this sense does not in any way detract from the meaningfulness of life. I suspect that many who reject the scientific conception of reality because it involves the loss of purpose of life, and therefore meaning, are guilty of confusion between the two senses of purpose just distinguished. They confusedly think that if the scientific conception of reality picture is true, then their lives must be futile because that conception implies that man has no purpose given him from without. But this is muddled thinking, for, as has already been shown, pointlessness is implied only by purposelessness in the other sense, which is not at all implied by the scientific conception of reality. These people mistakenly conclude that there can be no purpose in life because there is no purpose of life; that men cannot themselves adopt and achieve purposes because man, unlike a robot or a watchdog, is not a creature with a purpose.

Criteria and standards notoriously vary from field to field and even from case to case. The same procedure is applicable also in the evaluation of a life. We examine it on the basis of certain criteria and standards. The medieval Christian view uses the criteria of the ordinary man: a life is judged by what the person concerned can get out of it: the balance of happiness over unhappiness, pleasure over pain, and bliss over suffering. Our earthly life is judged not worthwhile because it contains much unhappiness, pain, and suffering, little happiness, pleasure, and bliss. The next life is judged worthwhile because it provides eternal bliss and no suffering.

Armed with these criteria, we can compare the life of this man and that, and judge which is more worthwhile, which has a greater balance of bliss over suffering. But criteria alone enable us merely to make comparative judgments of value, not absolute ones. We can say which is more and which is less worthwhile, but we cannot say which is worthwhile and which is not. In order to determine the latter, we must introduce a standard. But what standard ought we to choose?

Ordinarily, the standard we employ is the average of the kind. We call a man and a tree tall if they are well above the average of their kind. We do not say that Jones is a short man because he is shorter than a tree. We do not judge a boy a bad student because his answer to a question in the Leaving Examination is much worse than that given in reply to the same question by a young man sitting for his finals for the Bachelor's degree.

The same principles must apply to judging lives. When we ask whether a given life was or was not worthwhile, then we must take into consideration the range of worthwhileness which ordinary lives normally cover. Our end poles of the scale must be the best possible and the worst possible life that one finds. A good and worthwhile life is one that is well above average. A bad one is one well below.

The Christian evaluation of earthly lives is misguided because it adopts a quite wrong standard. Christianity singles out the major shortcomings of our earthly existence: there is not enough happiness; there is too much suffering; the good and bad points are quite unequally and unfairly distributed; the underprivileged and underendowed do not get adequate compensation; it lasts only a short time. It then quite accurately depicts the perfect or ideal life as that which does not have any of these shortcomings. Its next step is to promise the believer that he will be able to enjoy this perfect life later on. And then it adopts as its standard of judgment the perfect life, dismissing as inadequate anything that falls short of it. Having dismissed earthly life as miserable, it further damns it by characterizing most of the pleasures of which earthly existence

This procedure is as illegitimate as if I were to refuse to call anything tall unless it is infinitely tall, or anything beautiful unless it is perfectly flawless, or anyone strong unless he is omnipotent. Even if it were true that there is available to us an afterlife which is flawless and perfect, it would still not be legitimate to judge earthly lives by this standard. We do not fail every candidate who is not a genius. And if we do not believe in an afterlife, we must of course use ordinary earthly standards.

I have so far only spoken of the worthwhileness, only of what a person can get out of a life. There are other kinds of appraisal. Clearly, we evaluate people's lives not merely from the point of view of what they yield to the persons that lead them, but also from that of other men on whom these lives have impinged. We judge a life more significant if the person has contributed to the happiness of others, whether directly by what he did for others, or by the plans, discoveries, inventions, and work he performed. Many lives that hold little in the way of pleasure or happiness for their owners are highly significant and valuable, deserve admiration and respect on account of the contributions made.

It is now quite clear that death is simply irrelevant. If life can be worthwhile at all, then it can be so even though it is short. And if it is not worthwhile at all, then an eternity of it is simply a nightmare. It may be sad that we have to leave this beautiful world, but it is so only if and because it is beautiful. And it is no less beautiful for coming to an end. I rather suspect that an eternity of it might make us less appreciative, and in the end it would be tedious.

It will perhaps be objected now that I have not really demonstrated that life has a meaning, but merely that it can be worthwhile or have value. It must be admitted that there is a perfectly natural interpretation of the question, "What is the meaning of life?" on which my view actually proves that life has no meaning. If we accept the explanations of natural science, we cannot believe that living organisms have appeared on earth in accordance with the deliberate plan of some intelligent being. Hence, on this view, life cannot be said to have a purpose, in the sense in which man-made things have a purpose. Hence it cannot be said to have a meaning or significance in that sense.

They naturally assume that this life or that can have meaning only if life as such has meaning. But it should by now be clear that your life and mine may or may not have meaning (in one sense) even if life as such has none (in the other). Of course, it follows from this that your life may have meaning while mine has not. The Christian view guarantees a meaning (in one sense) to every life; the scientific conception does not (in any sense). By relating the question of the meaningfulness of life to the particular circumstances of an individual's existence, the scientific conception leaves it an open question whether an individual's life has meaning or not. It is, however, clear that the latter is the important sense of "having a meaning." Christians, too, must feel that their life is wasted and meaningless if they have not achieved salvation. To know that even such lost lives have a meaning in another sense is no consolation to them. What matters is not that life should have a guaranteed meaning, whatever happens here or hereafter, but that, by luck (grace) or the right temperament and attitude (faith) or a judicious life (works) a person should make the most of his life.

"But here lies the rub," it will be said. "Surely, it makes all the difference whether there is an afterlife. This is where morality comes in." It would be a mistake to believe that. Morality is not the meting out of punishment and reward. To be moral is to refrain from doing to others what, if they followed reason, they would not do to themselves, and to do to others what, if they followed reason, they would want to have done. It is, roughly speaking, to recognize that others, too, have a right to a worthwhile life. Being moral does not make one's own life worthwhile; it helps others to make theirs so.

History of atheism

Article includes a short history of atheism but that part of this article will be published as a separate article.