Sunday, January 17, 2010

Status report: Yet another atheist blog is officially born

Note the new decoration in the right column.

On a friend's recommendation, I read Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, which is a graphic novel about the life and work of British mathematician/philosopher/logician (yes, he was that damn good) Bertrand Russell. Logicomix also shows the influence Russell had on other prominent figures such as Ludwig Wittgenstein and Kurt Gödel. If you're remotely interested in this sort of thing, I highly recommend checking out Logicomix. If you're really interested, you'll naturally want to read the writings of the main characters themselves.

Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem states that no logical system can be both consistent and complete. This implies that any complete system will require axioms that cannot be proven within the system itself. The Incompleteness Theorem was a huge blow to Russell and many of his colleagues, who had spent the last few decades trying to formulate a mathematical system based on absolute certainty. Gödel had now shown that such a system was impossible.

For a long time, I had suspected as much on some level, and of course, many of history's great thinkers have hinted at it. Sources as diverse as Socrates and the Kena Upanishad (like most of the Upanishads, the author or authors are unknown) advise skepticism of anyone who claims certain knowledge of absolute truth.

I think one of the things that leads people to say, "Atheism is just another religion," is the certainty that some atheists seem to insist on in their tone--for instance, when someone says directly or indirectly that religion has never produced anything of value and has nothing to offer people today. That's a pretty dogmatic-sounding statement, dripping with certainty and more than a little smugness. I don't think that atheism is just another religion, but I would say that there are those who treat it the same way some devout believers treat their beliefs.

Another implication of all this is that I probably won't be able to find a single group that has what I'm looking for. Previously, I've been known to agonize that there's something wrong with either me or the group when I'm not getting along with them like I'd hoped. For instance, if I didn't like the tone of one of our atheist meetups, I'd ponder the "trouble with atheism," or worse, fear that I was some poseur intellectual lightweight. Now I'm starting to think this distrust of certainty might be all right.

In fact, for the time being, I'm going to continue visiting the Vedanta Society, too. I think they have a lot of interesting stuff to say, philosophically, and I get a sense of humility and community that I haven't gotten too many other places (I wish I could say I got this from freethought-related groups, but this is not the case). Also, what I've seen of their writings so far tends to display a keen understanding of how people work. Many belief systems, religious and otherwise, have bred disaster out of their failure to account for this.

Actually, if I had to describe my belief system, naturalistic pantheism (I'll probably elaborate on this in the near future) would come closest, but since there's no community for that in my area, I have to make do with what I have. It might happen that I can practice Vedanta in a pantheistic way.

But there are things I have in common with the most militant atheist, too, like the lack of belief in anything supernatural and the desire to keep religion out of government (and science classes!). And by the definition espoused by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, I'm at least a de facto atheist. So, up goes the scarlet A.

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