The Question of Suffering

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I read this story in an Indian newspaper some years ago. A mentally challenged young girl, who used to beg and live off scraps on the street, had been raped and brutalized, most possibly by many men. She had then been left on a garbage dump. For days, she had lain there, unable to move,  crying out to passers-by in the best way she could, pleading them to help her. No one did.  Not one. Till finally death ended the little girl’s agony.

As a purveyor of the litany of barbarities that pass for news, I have become hardened to what goes on in the world. But this one somehow just broke through. It may sound melodramatic when I say it but I had tears in my eyes. And I did ask myself “Why?”

In Arun Shourie’s new book (which I have not read) “Does He Know A Mother’s Heart?” and which has been reviewed beautifully by Pratap Bhanu Mehta here, he asks a similar question ” How can God let children pass through extraordinary suffering?” In looking for that answer, he questions every religion and many holy men. In the process, Mr. Shourie, one of the keenest minds of modern India and possibly the last of the truly great public intellectuals we have had in the country, tears through the logic religions use to justify suffering (“Your child suffers for your sins”, “Your child suffers for sins committed in a past life”, “Your child will enjoy great joy in his next life for the pain in this”). I cannot wait to read this book and I am sure, having read a few of Mr. Shourie’s past works, that it will be a worthy read.

The unquestioned believers will call the entire exercise of dissecting religious tenets futile. Religion, they will say, is the word of God (of course only their religion, the others are not), whispered to human representatives behind a burning bush, or through a dream or in a battlefield. Trying to find plot holes in His word is nothing but an expression of human arrogance, an endeavor doomed to failure. God (as expressed through THEIR religion) is always correct and if you found any “bugs”, it is your logical argument which has a problem.

I am an agnostic. That is I do not deny God’s existence nor do I doubt it. I simply believe it to be an unknowable question. As an aside, I am not an atheist because I find atheism to be dogmatic in its anti-dogmatism, because I have yet to encounter  conclusive proof that God does not exist (I believe that a proof or a counter-argument can never be found). Because I definitely do not believe that God came down and told his words to men, I am sanguine that religions are human constructs. And since humans are fallible, their creations will also reflect their fallibilities. Hence it is not surprising that religions cannot provide a logically coherent answer to Mr. Shourie’s “Why” (and my also).

One must remember though that all religion grew out of “Why”-s. Ancient man figured out pretty quickly that in this world, there is cause and then there is effect. If a tiger sinks a tooth in you, you bleed. If you jump into the river, you get wet. But what about night and day? What about the rains? What caused that? The Unknown.God. That the Unknown was totally beyond human control and understanding was a rather disquieting idea. So causalities were created—if man did something, God would respond to that action.  Which is why God needed to be kept happy  through gifts and obeisance (in the same way humans become happy).  Else if he became angry (for exactly the same reasons humans became angry), there would be Hell to pay. If you sacrifice an animal in God’s name, the rains will come on time. If you do not, there will be drought. Rituals thus came into being. And many of the “Why”s were supposedly answered.

At the same time, societies needed certain laws to be able to run efficiently. Do not kill people. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife. Do not pick her husband’s pocket. Thus humans sought to define a notion of “good” and “bad”. If you tell me “I am telling you that murder is bad” I won’t listen to you. But if you tell me “God commands you not to murder else he will make sure you lose your right eye”, you have my attention. Hence God became the final arbiter of good and bad. Along with that came the notion of justice—a system of positive and negative incentives that ensured their compliance. Some of the justice would of course be dispensed here on earth by humans but then there were a lot more that was going to be handed out up there or when the world shall end.

As the years passed, science answered many of the “Why”s? Most people realized that dancing around the fire won’t make the winters any milder. Or sprinkling ash on a man clutching his chest won’t make him better. But there were questions that remained un-answered, questions outside the purview of science. Why are we here? Where are we going? And why is their human suffering and why does merciful God do nothing about it? Men still turned to religion for these answers and religion obliged with a reply. Suffering happens due to causality (a concept even primitive men understood)—–its’ either something you did in this life (didn’t pray frequently or ate non-veg) or in the previous (murdered a few) that is “responsible” for your current  predicament. This was a comforting realization, that suffering happens for a reason, namely your actions, and that you will not suffer if you stayed good. It was also beneficial for society as a whole too because many men, who otherwise would not fear human law, stayed to the straight and narrow from the fear of divine retribution in this life or the next.

One cannot escape the fact that the concept of “good lead to good and bad leads to bad” is purely a human construct. If you look at Nature as a whole, you will see that things are a bit different. It is rough, brutal, cruel and frankly, terrifyingly unfair.There it is the survival of the fittest and the meek not only does not inherit the earth but gets wiped out from it. Nature does not care how you survive—-whether you eat your own cub or attack a pack of lambs, all it cares is that you do and that you bring every bit of advantage evolution gave you to the party.

Which is why I believe asking religions “Why do children suffer” is like looking for a ring lost in the dark near the light of the lamp. Most religions use morality-driven causality to answer the question of suffering whereas Nature (or God if you please), once you look real close, does not really care for human notions of right and wrong and of justice.

That is why I personally have stopped asking “Why?” when I hear of children dying or suffering. It is like speculating why a dice face came down as “one” instead of “six”. The only question worth asking is “What we, as human beings can do about the suffering of our fellow humans?”  That is only what lies in our hands.

God, should he exist, does not “care” for us or of our expectations from him.

Which is why, in turn, I shall never care for nor expect anything from him.

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163 thoughts on “The Question of Suffering

  1. I have for long asked this question, and have been putting off writing about it for long. Lovely post arnab, and beautiful story about the girl.
    do not want to write any comment or start a discussion.
    Thanks

  2. I have always believed that concept of God is like the concept of energy in Physics. It’s neither good nor bad, it just is. It’s how you use it that’s important.

  3. “The only question worth asking is “What we, as human beings can do about the suffering of our fellow humans?” That is only what lies in our hands.” agree totally

    and if possible , we should extend our sympathies to some of the animals too in decreasing order of their intelligence quotient(or emotional quotient).For instance we should not think twice to kill a harmful bacteria , but we shouldn’t kill a rabbit just to improve our shooting skills(we can do so with robots thanks to technology). And if we have to kill an animal we should ensure minimum of pain.

    anyways nice post. and looking forward to read the book by Shourie too.

  4. “In the process, Mr. Shourie, one of the keenest minds of modern India and possibly the last of the truly great public intellectuals we have had in the country, tears through the logic…”

    What??? How is that possible? What a self-effacing statement dripping with humility. It is open fact that the greatest public intellectual that we have in this world now is GB- a guy who inspires people all over the world- from Pippa Middleton to Matt Prior to Agarkar to almost all Bolly startlets to the legendary Dipjol.

  5. Brilliant post — timely and bold. A bit disappointed that you are an agnostic. I wonder if you have read Richard Dawkins — he argues quite convincingly that you do not need to wait for proof that God does not exist in order to rule out his/ her existence. God and his armies have done enough damage already for us to be fence sitting on this issue anymore.

  6. I couldn’t make it beyond third para.. It was just too many words.

    My question is to you is, if you had seen that girl crying for help, what you would have done?

  7. Very insightful post.
    And religion divides people.

    The makers realised that nothing in this world scares man more than the unknown and the unexplained.
    That’s why religion.
    Its good for a few things and very bad for some others.
    After all……superstitions and caste-system originated from religion itself.

    God is the greatest mystery man created but will never unravel.

  8. It is unfair to categorize atheism as dogmatic; it’s merely the belief that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence (and by evidence, I mean the kind which is reproducible and not anecdotal). The burden of proof should lie on the party making the claim, but I agree that not everybody believes or understands the scientific method.

  9. What Dr. Richard Feynman says strikes a chord – “God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand.”

    What humans really want is a unifying theory that explains everything. And the concept of “God” almost provides that. Only that – It is deeply flawed.

    In the context of this post, human suffering at the hands of other human beings can never be attributed to some mysterious force. Among multiple reasons, one of them is that humans do very poorly at directing their own thoughts at own will. Hence, in spite of knowing that doing something is heinous still end up doing it.

    Understanding the inherent workings of each individual entity, including human mind, can help us unravel the cause and effect principle that seem to appear universally.
    Inventing an illusion called “God” will not.

  10. I don’t think you fully understand the difference between agnostic and atheist. They aren’t mutually exclusive. Agnostic means no knowledge. Everybody is an agnostic as I haven’t seen anyone having knowledge (as opposed to opinion) on the question of god. More here – http://www.rationalresponders.com/am_i_agnostic_or_atheist

    As for logical proof disproving God, you’re right, there is none as you can’t prove something doesn’t exist. But does that mean everything that can’t be disproven is automatically a credible idea? Are you an ‘agnostic’ when it comes to crazy conspiracy theories or are you an ‘atheist’ when it comes to crazy conspiracy theories?

  11. Contrary to Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s review, the book actually deals with Arun Shourie’s spiritual quest after he suffered two hard-hitting personal experiences (one being his son & then his wife). He accepts God’s existence and starts by questioning the theory that suffering could be could be God’s will. In the process he embarks on a very curious sojourn. He reads teachings of disciples of Swami Ramakrishna’s death by cancer. How did Swami Vivekanand react to his Guru’s death which he describes as one most painful and excruciating, which happened even after his Guru lived a very compassionate and pious life! In his book no where he appears agnostic. Rather he debates with God in all his forms (read different religions) to satisfy his quest for spiritual truth!!!
    http://books.hindustantimes.com/2011/07/arun-shourie-pens-down-his-trauma/

  12. What,

    With respect to conspiracy theories (like 9/11) I weigh both sides equally and then throw my lot in with the side that overpowers the other with respect to the evidence that it provides in support of it. I am yet to see overwhelming evidence that disproves God. I am yet to see overwhelming evidence that proves it.

  13. What would you call someone who is agnostic about God under the present constraints of material evidence, but even if God were to be proved to exist, would like to work towards deposing that brutish tyrant off his pedestal with immediate effect?

  14. We have reached a stage where even science has just about started to delve into core meta physics, mysticism and fuzzy explanations. Just like a child if you keep asking “How” something happens…you will reach a point that is beyond explanation – through our limited worldly means that is.

    While I am not here to question your or anybody’s opinion, faith in God is a concept of personal realization and choice. It’s the surmises that people with limited realisation do that perhaps does not really match up with my way of thinking. Faith in that sense is sort of blind. People have atheist or otherwise or indifferent have decided a path for themselves and they are blind by it.

    Coming back to the girl, events like that is common everyday. Somebody in Somalia asked this question the other day – Do you really have pity on us Somalians or are you bored with us? Mixed Feelings?

    God and religion are simple stuff. Its us humans who have just complicated things up. Arun Shourie does borrow from Buddha’s wisdom. Now if Siddhartha was an atheist, it’s questionable whether he would have realised his realisations!!!

  15. it’s better to be an agnostic than to be an atheist.At least you acknowledge that you don’t have the answers to reach a conclusion rather than dismissing God outrightly.
    nature can’t be random in its working.and there has to be a method in its madness.Nature always wins-whether over humans or technology.creation just can’t be wrong.Maybe it’s too intricate and labyrinthine for our understanding..It’s not like our shoddy government it’s the master creation.
    Also,without the understanding of this crossword,our life seems hollow and terrifying as mortality,sooner or later,of others or our own,stares us in the face.
    Islam believes in the heaven of virgins even when soul may not have the senses left to experience,christians continue making prophesies for the impending doomsday,and hinduism is catching up with a decadent fundamentalism.religion is man made.
    Do not equate religion with spirituality.

  16. Arnab,you sure God is a man??
    because if he is,he indeed does not know a mother’s(or a woman’s) heart.

    “What we, as human beings can do about the suffering of our fellow humans?” That is only what lies in our hands.”
    how many mouths will you feed and how many will you clothe?

  17. Can I suggest a read in earnest?
    read “THe autobiography of a yogi” by Paranhansa Yogananda.
    It is NOT a religious book.
    insightful than Shourie’s any day.

  18. Arnab,

    I think it is futile to apply tarka while debating God. It is about personal experience. Once you experience it, there is no need to debate. I have not experienced the so called God. So I don’t debate about the existence. But I won’t go as far as to deny the experiences of others through my inexperience.

  19. I am okay with religious people as well as atheists. Both have picked up their sides. One side “believes” God exists and things happen in HIS will. The other side also “believes” God does not exist and things happen by mere coincidence and chance. The incident mentioned in the blog will be explained by one side as HIS will, lack of understanding of HIS words among people, the deeds of previous lives of the victim and the accused etc. The other side will explain it as a deed of some twisted people with absolutely no reference of God or HIS play. No arguments can arise, therefore so far so good.
    But I am always scared of agnostics (a word which itself is less than 200 years old). They seem to not take any sides mentioned above and most often keep twisting and arguing things leading to no clear side and thus creating a middle path which is both safe and arguably better because it has the positives of both sides and can then move themselves in favor of either side as per their convenience or as the situation arise. They will not appreciate the beauty of sea as HIS creation but will criticize and blame the same sea in the form of Tsunami when it creates it horrors. I personally find it a little unfair.
    Religion is a faith, a belief, a conscience and actually a way of life. It advises us how to live life. If a religious man says that the incident mentioned in the blog is horrendous and totally unacceptable then one can accept it because that judgment is based on some morals and ethics laid by a faith, a religion (and each have their own way of dealing with it). But I find it funny when atheists or even agnostics say that such an event was bad because how do they know what is good and bad, since they don’t follow any religion or way of life. They have their own morals and ethics which suit them. And if that is the case, then it is possible that the people who did that horrific crime also had a difference set of ethics and morals and according to them it was okay to do what they did. And if everyone starts living a life of his own self made morals then I guess we stand at the same stage from where life started.
    Religion needs a lot of patience, dedication and deep understanding. It is definitely complicated and can even blow your brains out. But how many of us truly try to dig into it. Just claiming that it is just sacrificing animals to deities to please HIM is a bit harsh and unfair. It is like a kid reading a text book of Physics in junior high and then arguing that the CERN Hadron Collider is a farce and just a dream.
    It is an unending discussion and a debate which had been going on since ages and I think will never end. So, nothing against anyone’s beliefs. The rape incident mentioned makes me sick and somewhat ashamed as a human being to some extent.
    I would also second Amit’s advice(mentioned above).

  20. came for humor,not dark humor if at all…
    About the question of suffering-People who are happy on earth do not give a heck to others’ suffering. If all is well,one never thinks of God or questions his own existence.Best of men melt in the furnace of suffering.Did you ever think of God while partying or while attending funeral of a loved one?
    Let’s not get into this debate.

  21. fantastic post. Am muslim, not strictly religious but some things I find meaningful to live with and practice…
    On suffering, no answer but possible perspectives: one that if God or whatever anyone wishes to call him, was to save humanity from misery and interfere in the world whenever someone is suffering then I dont guess there would be a point to be on earth anyway, we’d rather call it Paradise.. People suffer for many reasons, psychologically or for survival… the world has always been a melange of opposites and contradictions, the West and the Rest using Ferguson’s title for his new book… its the essence of being human, everything is imperfect… With that suffering is part of the definition of humanity and its conditions…

  22. some of the most humble people I’ve met have also had to suffer a lot in life.
    success never makes you mellow,hardship does.just like,Empathy is not a trait of the pompous.search for god by going within through stillness of meditation.it may be tough initially and boring to control your thoughts,but if you do not reduce god to a harlot and instead of pimping him through religion continue to delve deeep within,the answers will come from inside.

    and if god really makes an appearance,I’ll ask for his ID.
    dont you believe that somehow the key to God should be with us,within us?

  23. One cannot escape the fact that the concept of “good lead to good and bad leads to bad” is purely a human construct. If you look at Nature as a whole, you will see that things are a bit different.
    Very bad reasoning. Nature doesn’t contradict Karma, because the “bad” stuffcan be explained away by previous lives. Of course, Nature doesn’t prove karma either. There is no rational reason to believe in Karma, but then you can’t find contradiction in it either. It is just outside the domain of falsifiability. One thing though : emotionally, it is dissatisfying and perhaps even insulting to those who are suffering.

  24. Froginthewell,

    You fail to understand what I wrote. There is nothing called “good” and nothing called “bad” in Nature (since these are purely human constructs) and so “bad” cannot be explained in any way (next life, previous life). Many of the things which we think are bad are perfectly fine in nature. And yes I also mean that the concept of Karma is undefined in the natural world since Good and Bad are undefined. Its like division by zero. Hence trying to question “Why do innocent children suffer” is like taking the consequent of an implication and trying to find the antecedent when the problem is that the entire implication (that a child is innocent and sinless and hence should not suffer) is itself undefined in the natural order of things (because “innocence” and “sinless” are human concepts)

  25. “But what about night and day? What about the rains? What caused that? The Unknown.God. That the Unknown was totally beyond human control and understanding was a rather disquieting idea. So causalities were created—if man did something, God would respond to that action. Which is why God needed to be kept happy through gifts and obeisance (in the same way humans become happy).”

    Arnab

    Heres where your argument is flawed and self-defeating. You quite clearly say that religions are human constructs. Where you go wrong is when you use a construct of your own to disprove or invalidate the alleged construct of religion. By saying the above (in quotes), you make assumptions and provide your own explanations for why religion is a construct, but you use your own construct either unknowingly or conveniently

    So at the end of the day, if I’m believing you or your human construct, I’m believing your construct over any other religion, which makes me (by the extension of your own argument) just a construct believer. So you’re no different. You’re providing an explanation, a purely human explanation that is exclusive – for your construct to be true, other constructs have to be false. So your explanation is not different.

    Thats just one obvious flaw in your argument. On a different note, you haven’t even covered the question of pain and suffering extensively in your argument. If you would, please read the christian explanation of it.

  26. “Many of the things which we think are bad are perfectly fine in nature.”
    Can you please give some examples?

  27. No, rather you failed to understand my point. Yes, Nature is full of cruelty. So what? You say what we consider bad is “fine” in nature : but who ever said that the definition of “good” should necessarily include whatever happens in “Nature”? Or that the distinction between “good” and “bad” should be viewed as conspicuously manifest in what we consider “Natural phenomena”? I suggest you are confusing some modern Swamis/eco-spirituo-liberals with other forms of religion, say traditional religion.
    Had you said “Looking at Nature, there is no reason to believe that words like good and bad can be considered meaningful”, that would be a valid statement. Had you said “We don’t have evidence for non-human origin of concepts like good and bad”, that would be valid. But saying “One cannot escape fact that” these are human constructs, is stretching it too far.

  28. The only question worth asking is “What we, as human beings can do about the suffering of our fellow humans?”  That is only what lies in our hands.

    Couldn’t agree more.

  29. Another question worth asking:
    Why does the GREAT-bong choose an autobiograhical book by a right-wing politician, which barely answers the high-sounding (and, admittedly, un-answerable) questions it raises?
    Do we see this as that long-anticipated first step to BJP membership :D?

  30. GB says:
    “I am yet to see overwhelming evidence that disproves God. I am yet to see overwhelming evidence that proves it.”

    The scientific case for God, to put it mildly, is extremely weak. The arguments for its existence have been very efficiently dismantled by new age atheists like Richard Dawkins. I will just repeat one here.

    When someone claims that something not accessible to human senses exists, then the onus of proof must lie on the person making the claim, because it can never be shown with complete certainty (except perhaps in the well-ordered world of Mathematics and even there, it is sometimes fiendishly difficult ) that something does not exist. The world is just too big for any human being to be able to confirm non-existence for everyone’s flights of fancy. There is no “overwhelming evidence” that disproves that there are fairies at the bottom of the ocean, but reasonable people do not believe there is. Why? Because the concept of fairies is clearly an arbitrary human construct (with no visible proof) so there is no reason that this concept has any truth value. If someone argues the opposite then they must provide strong evidence. God is an equally arbitrary human concept. May be science can someday conclusively prove that God does not exist in the solar system. The believers would still argue that God exists on Alpha Centauri. And if science somehow shows that the God does not exist there as well then the believers will hide their God in some other corner of the universe where science can not probe. What would science do then? It is up to the believers to provide scientific proof and so far in a few thousand years they have failed (though not for lack of trying) which itself should be taken as very strong evidence (if not “overwhelming” evidence) that God does not exist.

  31. Religion is ok as long as it is a matter of faith – but when used as an instrument of upmanship it is more incendiary than any bomb.

    I was an atheist – it is difficult to believe when the family priest’s response to any problem is organize a pooja where he makes a bundle!!
    But when I became a father, I was gob-smacked as I marveled at the many many wonders of nature that are involved in pregnancy, genetics, childbirth and childhood – I developed a faith in a being up there!! But it is a personal faith – i mostly am thankful for being so blessed. But I don’t think the “being up there” (who somehow I feel is female) is sitting with a katha doing double entry bookkeeping of all our acts of commission and omission. (Any talk of acts of commission in India takes on a wholly different meaning!).

    Most of management is concerned with turning variables into constants – and since life in India is subject to so many variables, hence it is not surprising religions find it a fertile place to breed. I would have thought with increase in education levels the superstitions and blind faith that goes with religions would decrease but it is not so. Modern puja or jagrans have more upmasnhip (bhala uski aawaaj meri aawaj se jyada kaise) with very little of faith.

  32. think about newton’s third law of ‘equal and opposite’ reaction.
    Einstein’s E=MC2.

    ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are defined by nature and not by humans.The definition is arbitrary and is determined by the infinite wisdom.

    let me explain through an analogy:
    if you believe in karmic theory at all,and the karmic theory wants that those crappy politicians/terrorists in this birth be disease stricken children in their next,would you label it as wrong? didn’t kasab have a thing called ‘choice’ in this birth before he went on that blind massacre? will you feel sorry for him if nature sends him as a cripple in his next birth? imagine osama having kasab as his son in the next birth,carrying the curse of thousands.
    sadistic contemplation or a great thought?
    nature cannot be random.Some invisible force prevails even though the punishment for misdeeds comes a tad late.
    god has his government up there-religions have all messed it up here.

  33. @greatbong
    You have written that you are yet to see overwhelming evidence that disproves God. But surely sir you will be familiar with Russell’s teapot. The burden of proof lies with the one who makes the claim. Science can’t prove a negative. Your views ?

  34. @Pao

    Your reasoning seems sensible.We sometimes can and many times cannot prove things through science. Even science has the concept called fuzzy logic for stuff that it fails to explain or finds contradictory.Science cannot explain what happens after death.Not all answers are with science.

  35. so why is mister god supposed to be only bestowing blessings and good things? both pain and pleasure are part of the deal.arey..sukh mein than you god and dukh mein ,wtf lord?
    the world is shivasya vatika.he created the garden -now you play your games.and you better pray to the railway clerk than the priest.atleast one of them will surely listen

  36. Well written with sound reasoning. Though science seeks to answer questions about nature, it has been unable to satisfactorily answer ‘why’ things happen. I feel till it finds all the answers, rejecting the existence of a super sentient being (God) can not be considered scientific.

  37. Arnab great piece! I am a recent fan of urs and quite an ardent one at that….
    the biggest myth that God busts in the Mahabharatha is that “HE doesn’t control everything”…..HE has no right over our (allow me to use the word) “karma”…..sadly for an action to be judged bad, somebody has to suffer…and hence the oppressor and the oppressed come to life…”What we, as human beings can do about the suffering of our fellow humans?”….is exactly how HE expects us to react (Source: Preachings across most religious texts) !!! God loves to outsource his work to the Abu Ben Adhems of this world, i say!!!

  38. Arnab great piece! I am a recent fan of urs and quite an ardent one at that….
    the biggest myth that God busts in the Mahabharatha is that “HE controls everything”…..we are responsible for all actions and HE has no right over our (allow me to use the word) “karma”…..sadly for an action to be judged bad, somebody has to suffer…and hence the oppressor and the oppressed come to life…”What we, as human beings can do about the suffering of our fellow humans?”….is exactly how HE expects us to react (Source: Preachings across most religious texts) !!! God loves to outsource his work to the Abu Ben Adhems of this world, i say!!!

  39. What you have written holds true for animals because they live in an amoral world where self-perpetuation is the sole purpose of their existence. You are implying “survival of the fittest” is the most fundamental law governing all of existence (not just animals) and all your arguments that are trying to refute law of karma are based on that. This is a false premise. The day survival became my only/most important goal it would not be worth living anymore. If it were true for you then you could be one of the most immoral persons in the world, which clearly you are not based on the story of the girl you opened with. The men who ravaged her certainly are.
    Nature is not God. All the men of religion tell you to conquer nature not obey it. They tell you to control lust, greed, anger, desire etc. All “natural/Godly” things by your definition. The trouble then is that you think you understand what God is and then you find examples that contradict its existence.
    Religion is not something you can understand by watching Ramayan and Mahabharat on TV and listening to Baba Ramdev on Aastha channel (or whatever equivalent there is for other religions). You need to study it before you can start making sound arguments. The trouble is that this endeavor is not an easy one and only those who are dedicated to its goals (which are quite different from survival of the fittest) undertake it. Everybody else should keep quiet because they don’t know what they are talking about.
    Btw, this is not an attempt to defend law of karma, religion or God. I just feel your arguments were weak because they lacked understanding.

  40. There’s a quip about fairness in the world: “Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are good is like expecting the bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian.” It’s tongue-in-cheek but it’s true.

    Well, yes, the suffering of children is inexplicable, but I can’t reconcile myself to the suffering of animals either. The bleating of goats tethered for slaughter outside a butcher’s haunts me.

  41. If both happiness and sorrow are proofs of god, then nothing you can say or do will prove that he does not exist. It’s a dead wall.

  42. Religion lessens suffering. Its full of wisdom and experience and protects us most of times.

    why the girl was on road ?

    May be her father was alcohol addict who could not get out of poverty. If her parents were religious they might have been saved.

    The local administration was corrupt and did not take the girl’s custody. A person becomes corrupt becoz he has no control over his senses. Religion teaches us control over senses.

    Every religion provides some support system for poor needy guys. Like sikhs have langar system for food. Some Jains have subsidised food for poor and old. May be the girl belonged to a religion where such system is not there.

    People are getting less religious and they dont donate like before. And they dont have any system to fall back on. Like some leftist Bengalis.

  43. Exactly my thoughts, Arnab. I’d like to add that we as humans perhaps are too conceited to accept the fact that when we die we simply are no more. We think we are superior and hence something must linger on (atma/spirit/ghosts) after we die. And therefore we constructed this whole concept of atma and then parmatama.

    Also we love to be in denial. As the concrete world overwhelms us with its complexities, we’d rather think its maya (illusion) and think of some other world that no one has seen as “real”.

    We then proceed to stretch both these concepts further and give more weightage to atma/spirit (immortal) than body (mati-ka-khilona/mortal).

  44. .. the last great public ‘intellectual’
    LOL.
    How coloured are the glasses!
    I am a proud and practising Hindu. No agnostic or jignostic..

    The argument is not about that.
    Just that it is strange how Mr.Shourie is publicly complicit and justifies in one way or the other his brethren cutting open a pregnant mother’s belly and the life inside it (for no fault of theirs).
    Whereas his own kin get some health disorders (for no fault of theirs), and the philosophical questioning begins.
    These are signs not of an ‘intellectual’ but a dishonest fraud.

    My sympathies though to his son and wife. May god give them the strength to endure the difficulties.

  45. This is one of the best explanations of why God allows pain and suffering that I have seen…

    A man went to a barbershop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed.
    As the barber began to work, they began to have a good conversation.
    They talked about so many things and various subjects.
    When they eventually touched on the subject of God, the barber said:
    “I don’t believe that God exists.”

    “Why do you say that?” asked the customer. “Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn’t exist.
    Tell me, if God exists, would there be so many sick people?
    Would there be abandoned children?

    If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain.
    I can’t imagine a loving God who would allow all of these things.”
    The customer thought for a moment, but didn’t respond because he didn’t want to start an argument.
    The barber finished his job and the customer left the shop.

    Just after he left the barbershop, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard.
    He looked dirty and unkempt. The customer turned back and entered the barber shop again and he said to the barber:
    “You know what? Barbers do not exist.”
    “How can you say that?” asked the surprised barber.
    “I am here, and I am a barber. And I just worked on you!”
    “No!” the customer exclaimed. “Barbers don’t exist because
    if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that man outside.”

    “Ah, but barbers DO exist! That’s what happens when people do not come to me.”
    “Exactly!” affirmed the customer. “That’s the point! God, too, DOES exist!
    That’s what happens when people do not go to Him and don’t look to Him for help.
    That’s why there’s so much pain and suffering in the world.”

  46. Okay I donot have all the answers I say that in the beginning..but I do think that a loving God has no other option but give people a certain degree (which I might add a very high degree) of freewill to go about on their own stuffs without being chided all the time..As bad as it may sound that is why most of human on human sufferings take place…But I do believe that true idealistic morality comes from God while rudimentary morality comes from Evolution…But I hope Arnab or some other poster here can beautifully explain the relationship between Evolution and morality……As few other posters here have said Arnab and others who are cynically atheist and agnostic please give Swami Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi a chance…you will not regret After that the possibilities are endless Ram Krishna, Swami Vivekananda, Jesus Christ, Loknath Baba ,Gautama Buddha…you will discover a veritable treasure trove ..But again this apsect of your life which you call religious/ spiritual will need your time and dedication and supreme self-control (which I find difficult from time to time) and you will see the answers one by one and will feel connected to God and how He wills things to make you happy and content…..I am hoping other regular posters like Rishi Khujur and Bengal Voice will chip in

  47. Agnosticism is a slippery slope ……. so on the spectrum of theistic probability- made popular by Dawkins- where do you place yourself? i.e are you a completely impartial agnostic- treating God’s existence and non-existence as equi-probable? or is there a skew….

  48. Ravi,

    Let me say it’s a question I do not concern myself with because I believe that the pursuit of it is irrelevant for my life since God, should He exist, will by definition not be in our observational or even our sensory world.

  49. Revati, your story does not prove anything. If you can’t see the gaping holes in it, well what can I say! Pritam, when I became a father I was gob-smacked too but marvelled at evolution (a term which lifesorchestra has clearly never heard of). Happyuser, VivekGupa and Junaid, I fully agree with your views — well said.

  50. Revati- You’ve got to be kidding…that’s your explanation for why there is suffering in the world….you mean bad things happen to only disbelievers???

  51. I agree that the idea of suffering being part of a grand plan is an idea best left behind us. It is high time we evolved out of this crap.

    Having said that, while I agree with you that no one can prove that god doesn’t exist, being an agnostic seems to imply to me that you consider the likelihood of god’s existence at 50%. That I cannot bring myself to believe. If anyone insists that there is a god, the onus is on them to prove that he exists, and not on us to prove that he doesn’t.

    I consider myself an atheist because I see overwhelming evidence that a personal god doesn’t exist. No logical person would commit to saying 100% that god doesn’t exist. So maybe 99% is good enough for me. In any case, if god does exist, it is clear that either he has no master plan, or it doesn’t involve taking care of every one of his children, so I saw screw him.

  52. @Anonymous who wrote: “Just that it is strange how Mr.Shourie is publicly complicit and justifies in one way or the other his brethren cutting open a pregnant mother’s belly and the life inside it (for no fault of theirs).

    A lie repeated a hundred times does NOT become the truth. Do learn from the example of Teesta Setalvad. She is guilty of perjury and her agenda stands exposed after the SIT proved that she had fabricated the story of a pregnant woman’s belly being cut open.

    Kindly educate yourself: http://www.sandeepweb.com/2009/04/14/teesta-it-hit-your-face/

    Another “truth-proponent”, Angana Chatterji, is now in the dock for accepting ISI money from Ghulam Nabi Fai (who was arrested last week by the FBI). Please learn from these recent news reports

  53. Do you think the Yeti might exist because there is no conclusive proof that he does or doesn’t? What about the Loch Ness Monster, or Kraken? Where does the burden of proof lie – on the believer of the non-believer?

  54. Prasun,

    You are again making the mistake of taking things that should be observable (Yeti, Lochness Monster) and comparing it to something that by definition cannot be observed. It is a common mistake made by atheists in their dogmatism which is as illogical as religionists. Think of a world where all you could perceive was 2D. Now if a third dimension did exist (up), there could be a world there you would never be able to observe. Does not mean it doesnt exist. Does not mean it effects you in any way in your 2D world. God, should He exist, might be in a higher dimension which I will never “see”. Note the word “might”. He might not exist and he might. Note the ambiguity.
    An atheist would say it is more probable that he does not exist to the fact that there are higher dimensions.Unfortunately, there is no empirical evidence that supports that assertion (that one of them is likelier than the other).

  55. There is no reason to believe that something that cannot be observed, directly or indirectly, exists. For example, the idea of time as a fourth dimension is non-intuitive and hard to “see”. But it has been observed (I am not a physicist so cut me some slack here) by physicists.

    I can go ahead and claim anything and say “Oh you cannot see this because you do not believe in whatever outrageous claim I am making”. But that does not mean I get a right to tell you how you should live you life etc.

    The Higgs-Boson particle has been postulated but not been observed. If experiments fail to confirm it’s existence, then there is good reason to believe that it does not exist. Scientist would then look for an alternate theory to explain whatever the Higgs-Boson particle is supposed to explain. Do you think that people would give any credit to a scientist who says “Oh it exists but you cannot observe it”?

  56. The question isnt “Oh it exists but you cannot observe it”. It is “Observation is by definition impossible because quantity is undefined.” Like division by zero. Experiments to disprove God have yet to be conducted because such experiments cannot be devised.

  57. I respond only to clarify the definition of atheism you provide (I agree with the article completely, great work).. Atheism is not dogmatic as you say, it merely treats the origin of life (as you would say, what god created) as a scientific question, which needs proof and a complete application of the scientific method.. It does not merely accept the existence of god.. It is not religious in its anti-religious stand..

    The reason I mention this is that, when as an agnostic you take the stand that there “might” be a god (I am sure you mean it in the most abstract form of the word, as Einstein did in the phrase “god does not play dice”), however this abstract usage comes at the cost of great human suffering (in the form of wars and other atrocities done in the name of this god, religious or not) as naive people turn abstraction into absolute.. Therefore I simply implore all Agnostics to stop using the exact word “god” and use something like “the event which spawned the universe”..

  58. Nature prefers randomness. Randomness or chaos always has higher probability than order. That is why ice tends to melt and water tends to evaporate….”entropy” governs everything. Unfortunately, we often correlate “order” with so-called “good”, that is ultimately unsustainable as per the laws of thermodyamics.

  59. This is the exact rationale that is dealt in the book called “When bad things happen to good people”. Notice the “when” – I highly recommend you read it. It is one of my favorite books and lot of my questions were answered directly or indirectly.

  60. Rohan,

    Here is some atheist fundamentalism for your perusal :
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalin#Religion
    You are just like being those who say “True followers of my religion don’t do that”. Only, you are doing that with atheism. If you say “It is communism not atheism” I too can give “secular” labels to religious fanatic movements.

  61. @GB i am assuming you do not attribute the unexplained (origin of the universe, feeding the idea into humans that survival of the fittest is but a natural extension of “common sense”, affinity to humans …) to a god and you suggesting that there is a limit to our understanding and hence a limit to our “unexplaineds” and a god may be a part of the same unexplained. am i correct here? I believed myself to be an agnostic as well and hence the query.

    @Bengal Voice an unreasonable request i presume but i would have liked to have your take on this premise that god is an unproven quantity and so are, by extension, all organised religions.

  62. Can’t put in words how much I agree with what you wrote, Arnab. I used to call myself an agnostic, but have since chosen the label of ‘apatheist’ (apathy + theism). Don’t really care for anything that any or all religion has to say, specially if someone says that a certain practice of a religion has to apply to me. There are self-evident rules to any civil society (like murder and stealing are crimes and hence liable to punishment), which all basically protects an individual from harm or cause of disadvantage from another individual or group. Religion, in the name of God, puts on the extra veneer of moralistic rules on top of the civil ones (do not eat certain kind of food, homosexuality is a ‘crime’, if you do not pray everyday you’ll go to hell etc) which has no place in an ideally practical world. No two people should have to live by the same moralistic rules, as long as no one is hurting (physically/mentally or any other kind) or taking advantage of one another.

    Looking for, thinking and debating about God is akin to speculating life on another planet. Of course it might exist, but until there is irrevocable and conclusive proof about them, how does it matter to me, to anyone?

  63. And if I may add I would say God is like imaginary number. Does not exist in real world, and yet the concept of it helps solve a lots of problems ….

  64. @anirban who wrote: “i would have liked to have your take on this premise that god is an unproven quantity and so are, by extension, all organised religions.”

    We are neither the first nor the last to ponder over such questions. Personally, I am quite intrigued by the S?nkhya philosophy – which is one of the six Darshanas (Systems of Vedic Philosophy).

    Founded by Rishi Kapila, S?nkhya denies the existence of Ishvara (God) or any other exterior influence. S?nkhya philosophy explains that Universe consists of two realities viz. Purusha (Consciousness, which is “masculine”) and Prakriti (Nature, which is “feminine”).

    It is amazing to see such clarity of thought emerging from our ancestors (including Junaid’s ancestors) in the Indian sub-continent some millennia ago. Please read up S?nkhya and you will like it.

  65. GB says:

    “The question isnt “Oh it exists but you cannot observe it”. It is “Observation is by definition impossible because quantity is undefined.” Like division by zero.”

    GB, you are unnecessarily tying yourself up in symentic knots. If observation is by definition impossible then it implies that a human being can not observe it. So, in practical terms, you and Prasun made the same statement.

    Now, let me explain my disagreement with you and try to convince you of the soundness of Atheistic position. My first argument is on moral grounds. If you say that, by definition, God can not be observed by mortal human beings then you are unknowingly giving an opening to religious apologists. You are conceding to them that yes, God exists but because of my limitations ( I live in 2D, the world is 3D) I am unable to observe Him. They will say, of course, God can not be observed by you because you are a mere mortal. You live in 2D. God presents himself only to the “enlightened” Gurus, Saints, Jesuses, Mohammads who can transcend the mortal existence to meet God in a higher dimension. Since they alone have reached a higher plane of human existence therefore the rest of us should follow them because they can show us the path. This is a dangerous opening given to merchants of religion.

    Second objection is more scientific. Just because we live in lower dimensions does not mean that Science can not devise ways to observe higher dimensions should they exist. Think about 2D vs 3D. If you and me are destined to live in 2D whereas the world is 3D, the phenomemon in the 3D world will still impact the 2D world. Suppose there is an intelligent species that lives in a 2D paper world. If a rain drop falls from the sky of the larger 3D world to a 2D sheet of paper, the 2D paper world would turn upside down. A sufficiently intelligent species in the 2D world will sooner or later figure out that there are higher dimensions which are profoundly impacting their little 2D world with rain drops, winds, fire, and assortments of other calamities. The human physicists after all did discover the fourth dimension of time eventually. The Physicists of 4D world are working hard to unearth still higher dimensions but so far these dimensions have proved to be unearthable lending credence to the hypothesis that no higher dimensions exist.

    Third, Science teaches us to apply occum’s razor in explaining natural phenomena. Occum’s razor principle say that all else equal, the simplest explanation is the right one. Now, tell me what is the simpler explanation. That God does not exist or that a superpowerful God created this world, created human beings, gave them power to seek Him but chose to live in hidden dimensions where He can never be observed. Even if such a God exists, how do we explain His existence? Who created this God? A supra God? You may say its an unknowable question and I say a balooney (not to mention complicated) explanation. The simpler explanation is that there is no God.

  66. Vivek Gupta : please read up a scientific treatment of Occam’s razor (FYI, it is not Occum’s razor) – something serious enough to involve turing machine related formalisms, such as <a href="this one, before using it pseudo-scientifically to claim that there is no God. You can use Occam’s razor to say there is no evidence leading us to posit a God, and that explanations of scientific phenomena should not involve a God (since it just “pads the code length”), but your statement that “The simpler explanation is that there is no God.” doesn’t fit into Occam’s razor.
    Secondly, I hope you also keep in mind that Occam’s razor would suggest the same attitude to free will as to God. Every now and then I see some atheist using free will to argue against religious morality.

  67. Vivek Gupta,

    There are limits to knowledge like for instance like what the Halting Problem postulates. So not every knowledge question is as you have framed—we havent solved it yet but we will solve it some day. BTW Occam himself was a theist. So evidently he did not apply his razor to God. And of course also to Anil Kapoor.

    As to me leaving wriggle room for people who believe in God, that’s exactly my point. Being an agnostic, I know there is wriggle room for people who believe in God. If I knew there was none, I would be an atheist.

  68. Funny how GB keeps insisting that he is an ‘agnostic’ and not an ‘atheist’, despite the excellent link provided by What (@ 6pm, 24-7-11). Does this insistence have anything to do with the ‘agnosticsm’ of the protagonist in ‘The 3 mistakes of my life’ by Chetan Bhagat (who is, of course, GB’s favourite writer :D)?
    I liked Krishanu’s ‘apatheism’ though – sounds new enough to be cool, at least for the time being!
    For those who ignored What’s link:
    A good deal of people consider themselves to be ‘agnostics’. By this they mean to identify themselves as doubters on the question of a ‘god’s’ existence. They usually hold to this position of doubt because reason compels them to doubt the existence of any ‘god’, yet they resist calling themselves atheists because they also want to hold to their disbelief tentatively. Their expressed reason for this is clear: while their reason leads them to doubt the claims of theism, reason also demands that they keep an open mind on the question of ‘god’. If you are one such person then it might interest you to know that your doubt actually makes you an atheist, not an agnostic. Why is this so? Because the word ‘theism’ simply implies a belief in a god. Therefore, if you find yourself identifying yourself primarily as a doubter of the existence of a ‘god’, then you are an a-theist… someone who does not hold to a belief in a ‘god’, someone who does not accept the claims of theists. That’s all the term means – a position of non acceptance, a position of non belief.
    It is the fallback position, the position one holds to when a claim is unsupported or unproven. Yet, you might feel that the word ‘atheist’ still implies more than what you actually hold to. A common response to hearing that one is an ‘atheist’ is to say: “But I don’t disbelieve, I just don’t believe!” But take a look at those words carefully: if you literally “don’t disbelieve” – then, by double negation, you’d believe! Not disbelieving is believing. But you are not identifying yourself as a theist with doubts, right? You’re identifying yourself as a doubter… period. That is atheism.
    But you still seek some sort of middle ground, right? Something between theism and rejection of theism. Well relax, because the atheism IS your middle ground. “A-theism”‘ implies everything that a rational doubter means when he declares himself an ‘agnostic’, for while it’s a common misperception that atheism implies a denial or rejection or active disbelief in the very possibility of a god, this is not so. In fact, we require a special term for those those who hold to such beliefs: “Strong Atheism”. The rest of us doubters simply don’t hold the belief… we’re all atheists, whether we are doubters or outright rejectors of theism. So the missing ‘middle ground’ that you are looking for, rational tentativeness, is already included within the term ‘atheism’.
    So what does the word “agnostic” actually mean and how ought we use it? Notice the ‘a’ in front. ‘Agnosticism’ is a position counter to gnosticism. And what is gnosticism? It’s the belief that a human being can possess knowledge about a god. It’s an epistemological term – about the possibility of knowledge in regard to ‘god’ claims – and not a statement about matters of belief. ‘Agnostics’ hold to the epistemological position that human beings can’t actually know anything about something beyond nature, something theists call ‘supernatural’. So they believe that there’s no way for a human to know anything about a ‘god’. But there are many theists who agree!
    Theists can be be agnostics! In fact, many theists say that they hold to their god belief on faith because they agree that we humans can’t know things about the supernatural, or ‘god’. Some very famous theologians have agreed that man is limited and that this means that man cannot have ‘god knowledge”. The list of theologians would include people like Martin Luther or Soren Kierkegaard. So when one says that they are an ‘agnostic’ and they mean a ‘doubter’, they are really saying that they are agnostic atheists. So if you find that this describes your own ‘agnosticism’, welcome to atheism!

  69. FrogintheWall:
    Thanks for the link. It is interesting. As for your position, I think you are again just arguing about semantics. You say there is no need for God hypothesis because explanations without God are “simpler” (or should I say more parsimonious in a formal language ) and I take it a step further by saying there is most likely no God. Of course, I could be wrong and there may be a God hidden in the 13th dimension somewhere, enjoying gleefully the arguments we mortals are having about his existence. May be that is His (Her?) idea of entertainment. However, given that no successful scientific theory has required existence of a supreme powerful being, no credible experiment has ever turned up evidence in favor of God , I am willing to take a completely atheistic position and say there is no God. I think this position is less likely to be wrong than theistic position. The agnostic position (such as GB’s) is akin to a 50% chance for both existence and non-existence which to my mind, given the data, is vast overestimation.

    GB:
    Yes, there are unknowable questions (or should I say un-provable assertions) even in the most formal of sciences Mathematics, but you can not assume a priori that a question is unknowable. If you assume it is, you still have to present evidence that it is an unknowable question. Assuming a priori that a question is unknowable will not get as anywhere. I don’t believe that God question is unknowable. I think it is well within the purview of science. If you claim it is, I demand scientific evidence.

    As for Occam being a theist, I think given the state of scientific knowledge in the 14th century being a theist was the most reasonable position ( not to mention good for your social well being). Newton was a rabid Christian and so were many of the most brilliant scientific minds of those times. Before Darwin and others developed theory of Evolution, I don’t see how a learned free-thinking man could believe that there was no God. You just had to look around you and there was so much amazing complexity of life which seemed to scream in favor of a grand designer. In fact, some religious apologists still take refuge in the wonderful complexity of life as evidence for God, oblivious of or willfully ignoring the evidence of Evolution. Of course, more open minds now know better and for some of us, evidence is close to conclusive.

    Sorry for these long rants, but the question of religion and existence of God is close to my heart. I think GB is an influential, if unconventional, intellectual capable of shaping opinions of thousands of well-educated Indians, so his opinion is important. I really want him to see the logic in the atheistic position and not dismiss atheism as another dogmatic cult. True Atheists reach their position through careful argumentation and not by the word of a priest. There is no Atheist equivalent of a bible or Quoran. I think a careful rational analysis will lead any reasonable mind to conclude that God hypothesis is unnecessary (perhaps even dangerous) and most likely simply wrong.

  70. Vivek,

    “I really want him to see the logic in the atheistic position and not dismiss atheism as another dogmatic cult.”

    See this is what I meant the dogmatic anti-dogmatism. Replace the word “atheistic” with “Islamic”, “Hindu” and “Christian” and you have words dangerously close to that of a proselytizer, one who wants me to see the logic in his position.

    “I think a careful rational analysis will lead any reasonable mind to conclude that God hypothesis is unnecessary (perhaps even dangerous) and most likely simply wrong.”

    Which means anyone who is not an atheist is not rational and if you are not atheist, you are simply wrong. Again the language of the proselytizer—“if you cannot come round to my point of view, after careful thought, you are wrong.”

    Note not in one comment or in the main piece, have I ever asked anyone else to subscribe to my agnosticism. I do not think anyone who believes in God is wrong. I do not think anyone who does not believe in God to be wrong.

    I am honored you think my opinion is influential (I wish it was) but one of the most pernicious things about dogma (and religion) is that people who believe in it want to convince others of it (especially if the person be considered to be influential—incidentally I do not think I am influential in any way once again) and I have seen that trait in atheists almost as strong as it is in the “Christ will save your soul” types. In passing, my main beef with organized religion has been this desire to convince others of the “Truth” (with everyone having their own version of it) and I do not need to explain how that has been one of the root causes of suffering throughout human history.

    By the way, the notion of “simplest assumption” is a double-edged sword. The “simplest assumption” is that there is an invisible nice bearded guy who created everything and who has an invisibility cloak like Harry Potter. It is so simple and easy to understand that all three-year olds believe it. So if the simplest explanation is always true, we might consider to consider that to be more likely to be the truth. [My point here is what you, as an atheist, believe is the simplest explanation, is the most “complex” for the religious. And vice versa.] Incidentally Occam’s Razor is not considered as universally true or as wikipedia says “irrefutable principle of logic, and certainly not a scientific result”.

  71. Hindu Darshanas, have probably the most extant literature on the existence, non-existence/ attributes , non-attributes of “God”, in his/her/its form or formlessness, that developed over the past 5000 years, followed closely by Christian theology.

    What Arnab is asking today has been asked by laity millennias back, and will be asked millennia ahead.

    1) The Hetu-centric (rationalist schools) of Hindu Dharma, ie, Ny?ya, Vai?esika , S?nkya -Yoga hve done amazingly detailed work on this, covering almost every aspect of intellectual query. It is amazing especially because it was done more than 2000 years back.

    2) The strotriya literature in Advaita Vendanta however, is just the most comprehensive and logically foolproof on this topic.

    Specifically, the doctrine of HINDU Theology or Isvaravic?ra??stra discusses and debates several aspects dealing with the existence of God/gods as well as the role of God/gods if thus affirmed
    * Knowledge of the existence / non-existence of God as a function of the various pram?nas (proof)
    * Questions as to the Proctorship to the Karmic Process
    * Interfering versus non-interfering notions
    * Justice versus compassion as to a primary feature to God.
    * The status of God in the Ontic Triad within the Ved?ntic Traditions à GOD-SOULS-MATTER
    * Manner of Manifestation of God
    * Question of God as the ultimate granter of salvation
    Myself and Rishi Khujur (who used to write here) did a presentation at a conference of Vedic scholars. If people are interested, feel free to contact rishi_khujur @rediffmail.com

    I would not want to fill Arnab’s blogspace with a 200 page discussion.

  72. reminds me of a woody allen line,i paraphrase: “the worst thing we can say about god is not that he doesnt exist, but that he is an underachiever”

  73. @ GB,

    ‘I have seen that trait in atheists almost as strong as it is in the “Christ will save your soul” types’

    So your ‘main beef’ is with aggressive atheism, not with atheism (which seems to be basically not much different fro agnosticsm!) per se?
    Or are you generalising and saying that all atheists are aggressive?

  74. GB, on the atheist-agnostic question. Are you equally an agnostic in Harry Potter? In Scientology’s Xenu? There is no evidence they don’t exist, right?

    The default position is that unless there is evidence that something exists (Harry Potter, Xenu, honest politicians) it’s not assumed to be an existing entity. If somebody claims that there exists an old bearded man who created the universe, that somebody needs to provide evidence for it. Religious claims in this sense differ very little from superstitious claims, as they have little or no evidence and are expected to be taken on faith alone.

    I can’t prove that black cats don’t bring bad luck, but the default position is that unless somebody can provide some evidence that they bring bad luck, it is assumed they don’t.

  75. What if I claim that Santa Claus exists but observation is undefined. Or that you are controlled by thetans, or that there are blue unicorns but observation is undefined. Or that I can walk on water provided I am not under observation.

    As far as dogma is concerned, I am perfectly willingly to see that God (Santa Claus/ thetans/ blue unicorns) exists as long as there is evidence.

    “The “simplest assumption” is that there is an invisible nice bearded guy who created everything and who has an invisibility cloak like Harry Potter ”

    Believing in evidence is not dogma. Believing in unproven hypothesis is.

    This is exactly the theory of creation in many religions. Except for the physical appearance. Actually that sounds a lot like Morgan Freeman.

    There are, of course, things that we cannot know – therefore I believe only in what is known until there is evidence that requires me to change my mind.

  76. You kids talking about me?

    Do you really think I care two hoots about you all?

    Of all of my creations on this planet you were the highest, the best. With the technology that you have now, You could have devoted the last 100 years to eradicating poverty, making life better for your kind. I had such high hopes from your species.
    Instead all you have been doing all these while is being busy finding differences.

    All of you.

    Do you even know how small and insignificant you are in my grand scheme?

    Let me remind you of another species whom I made powerful to observe how they behave. You kids call them dinosaurs. I gave them power over land, water and the sky. All they did was eat and shit and Kill till there came a time, 65 million years ago in your time reference when I just dropped a meteor to just start over again.

    I HAVE HALF A MIND TO DO THAT AGAIN.

    Instead of wasting your time with more intellectual masturbation here I want you all to just go and feed one hungry person today.

    I will tell you all a secret.
    God is a verb.

  77. @God: Why do you keep the man hungry and leave it to us fellowmen to feed him? You make us and then test us?

    Xian theology: God sacrificed himself to save the people he created from his own wrath 🙂

  78. @Deep3rdMan
    What’s the point if I have to do everything? Is it really that hard to understand?

    Also since I spoke with you will you claim you are the prophet now? Start another religion… like the ones before you did?

  79. The problem is with us humans. We want a shorcut , a universal theory which will answer all the questions. We are never happy with the fact that zero, nithingness exists. Some people said that science haven’t proved what happens after death. but the question is a bad one. What happnens after death to whom ? To the body of the person, to the environment around the person, to the “soul”(which is not properly defined) of the person ?

    To prove something we need a system of logic which will use a coherent set of axioms. you can create a system of logic and coherent set of axioms to prove that god exists if your set of axioms and system of logic is correct. And you can also prove that God does not exist if you construct a suitable coherent set of axioms and system of logic. The question is not what is the proof, or whether god exists or not. the question is what can you do in your personal reality with this knowledge ?

    for example, the celbarted and often critized axiom of choice of mathematics :
    you can include this axiom in set of axioms and use binary set theoretic logic and you can prove Fermat’s last theorem of non existence of something. This axiom is really intuitive and that is the reason people wanted it. most of the modern math assumes axiom of choice. And then from the proof we can get good algo’s for different problems , i can use it to solve the math problem in my personal reality.
    On the other hand if you assume axiom of choice you get Banach-Tarski paradox, which roughly says that you can cut an orange in a prescribed way and glue them up in different way to get something which is as big as sun. This is completely counter intuitive. but this sort of paradoxes are really small in number and does not effect our personal reality in any way. So we still think that Axiom of choice is good axiom to start with. but probably one day I might face a problem of explicitly constructing choices of elements from an uncountable family of sets then I might run in trouble and probably i will change my axioms a bit to make it workable for my problem.

  80. GB says:
    “Replace the word “atheistic” with “Islamic”, “Hindu” and “Christian” and you have words dangerously close to that of a proselytizer, one who wants me to see the logic in his position.”

    Vivek says:
    I don’t think there is a complete equivalence between a passionate religious person and a passionate atheist. Let me explain.

    First of all, I don’t think proselytizing about a cause or belief you feel strongly about is wrong. Even if it is a religious cause. If you believe something is right and worth championing for then that is a perfectly reasonable way to spend your life arguing for it. And you would certainly want influential people to believe in your cause because that is how you would gain traction for it.
    The problem comes when arguing for one’s cause one refuse to hear counterarguments. If you blindly assume even in the face of most damning evidence that your beliefs are right and anybody who says otherwise is wrong then you may still be a passionate champion of your cause, but you are also close to being deluded. This is where the equivalence between a passionate atheist and a passionate religious head , that GB is alluding to, breaks down. A religious head will never come around to an atheist’s view or another religious head’s view because he cannot be convinced by reason alone. An atheist on the other hand ( at least the kind I know) will come around to your view if you can provide a strong argument supported by reason and evidence.

  81. GB says:
    “Which means anyone who is not an atheist is not rational and if you are not atheist, you are simply wrong. Again the language of the proselytizer—”if you cannot come round to my point of view, after careful thought, you are wrong.” ”

    Vivek says:
    I stick by my statement that careful dispassionate rational analysis should lead people to believe that God most likely does not exist. However, The key operative words here are “careful dispassionate rational analysis”. This is easier to state than to achieve. People are not always rational or careful and certainly not dispassionate. Many rational, smart people I know agree that a rational attitude will probably lead them to discard the God hypothesis. However, they stick to God and their religion because of a comfort and structure it provides them in living their life. This is a perfectly reasonable explanation for living your life with God. I believe rationality is not the only way to live your life. Most people are only selectively rational in some aspects of their lives and in some aspects they follows their passions or instincts. We are, after all, not automatons. If an idea provides happiness in life, then it may be an idea worth pursuing, but it still does not mean that the idea is right from a rational point of view.

  82. GB says:
    “The “simplest assumption” is that there is an invisible nice bearded guy who created everything and who has an invisibility cloak like Harry Potter”

    Vivek says:
    I don’t think the example you give of the bearded guy in heaven is “simple”. It may be simple to state or understand but it is not the simplest explanation consistent with previously known facts. There are a lot of gaping holes in the bearded guy in the heaven example which can be picked apart at leisure. The Occam’s razor principle states that when there are multiple competing theories vying for a consistent, contradiction-free explanation of a set of facts, then the theory with least number of assumptions should be preferred . This is simply a matter of convenience because a theory with smaller set of assumptions is easier to handle and has potentially more explanatory power. It obviously is not a law of nature but simply a rule which has worked very well in practice. I appeal to Occam’s razor principle in my arguments because even though God hypothesis may be simple to state and understand, it is not “simple” in the sense of Occam’s razor. There are thousands of questions that God hypothesis raises and fails to answer them satisfactorily. Moreover, the hypothesis does not allow scientific scrutiny. All of which makes a scientific mind to abandon God hypothesis is a serious discussion.

  83. They say ‘God proposes, man disposes.’ (whoever ‘they’ are).
    Most problems (like the suffering girl in your example) can be solved if the people around her stop and help her. Clearly, God’s creations are not the most efficient ones, but isn’t ‘man’ a Work-In-Progress anyway – hence the continuous need for evolution?

  84. Arnab,

    Good article. I am an agnostic too. “Someone/thing created the universe” is how I explain to myself, since there HAS to be cause and effect. I call that someone God (what caused God?). But it’s a non-interfering God. The universe was created with the laws of cause and effect, but God will not punish you if you kill/rape/murder/steal etc. God will also not reward you if you stayed on the straight and narrow. This is all enforced by society/laws.

    That said, if nature’s laws determine only the strong shall survive, why should anyone help that woman or a child, or anyone else? Do you see animals helping other animals? It’s only because we are a society of interdependent creatures. In helping someone else, we help ourselves. Is there really an altruistic act in this world?

  85. Vivek, your reply to GB about “simplest explanation” shows you did not read the link I gave before. Also, you have misinterpreted my comment : all I said is “The simpler explanation is that there is no God” doesn’t follow from Occam’s razor. Whether the “no God” position is reasonable or not is beside the point.
    So much for your hearing arguments. Anyway contra your claim, violence doesn’t come from not hearing others; human brain is irrational in most of its functioning anyway – even if you have the most rational position on the question of God, you cannot help being irrational on most issues. Rather, violence comes from the belief that those who hold differing beliefs are dangerous for the society. Like Stalin’s atheistic fundamentalism, and the resulting gruesome mass murders.

  86. my two cents….
    Dr. Christian Bernard… remember reading his experiences..”Man doesn’t improve because he has suffered but because he experienced suffering.”. Yudhistra answers to the Yaksha ” The best dharma to be followed is not to cause the same pain you experienced to anyone”. I believe evolution happens in two ways, physical and psychological, if the girl’s sufferings has caused us to feel the pain and made us move away from such heinous acts(atleast one of the perpetrators..), it makes for a better society…. why was she picked? the answer is not easy, why is not everyone an einstein? why did Galois die so young? may be we should give importance to what is being depicted on the stage … She was long gone from the scene, you had her etched in her mind and now, made sure we remember her for ever…. i am sure, you would have remembered many times in your life, when you had a choice between good and bad…

  87. beautifully written piece.. thanks for sharing

    agree that god is invented to describe what we dont understand.. also that the rules are needed for us to fucntion as a society..

    there is a third aspect to it that you started to touch upon but didnt dive deep.. it is a philosophical discussion so nothing is wrong or right but “nihilism” strikes a chord with me..

    there is no objective of human life.. there is no grand design.. our existence is a random occurrence that try as we might to understand by logical means, we will never be able to do so.. so now that we are here, we need to while away our time in a manner that doesnt cause pain to others, else we will annihilate ourselves (or that increases pleasures for most)..

    thinking from this perspective gives us the answer of all the constructs that we have: religions, societies, rituals, families, relationships, anything that is termed as progress, money and all other man made constructs.. none of them have any objective reality but we are programmed to follow them and in some case asks some questions, debate and then go back following them

    this is a bleak view of mankind and undermines all that people love to tomtom as achievements.. but something that i think explains most of what goes around us..

  88. You are certain that you are agnostic. That’s good.
    I am agnostic that I am certain. That’s dicey.
    That is, even when I am certain, I deliberate.
    Indeed I am, by both training and nature, rather probablistically driven.
    Unknowable questions, including existence of God, are too complex for me.
    On knowable ones, I do deliberate on the ‘why’ precisely to derive the ‘what’.
    If I can take a bunch of individual why’s, I can (as can most statisticians and economists) often reconstruct a phenomenon.
    If the phenomenon is undesirable, I propose (or merely seek) a counter-phenomenon probably at a policy-level that puts in place a built-in safeguard.
    That delivers the what (we can do) which minimizes (just minimizes) the chances of recurrence of the undesirable phenomenon.
    In other words, the why probabilistically leads to the what.
    As long as the why is asked objectively and not confounded with complex unkowables (certainly not for the purpose of articulating fascinating theories of free will, etc.), it is (again, probabilistically) rather doable.

  89. I think God is all that is good within us, and the unrealised potential for goodness too. I’d like to believe most of us, go through life, trying to do justice to that potential. But despite that, when the truism of ‘As flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods’ hits us in the face, we doubt Him, rather we start questioning, ‘I have never wronged anyone; why did this happen to me?’ At least, that’s what my biggest challenge is.

    I just wish that at some point I can truly ‘accept’ what you write in the last lines, accept it with a faith so unshakeable that I do not have to question the fairness or unfairness of any tragedy that befalls me.

    This is the best one from among your recent posts.

  90. what kind of sick sick bas…d would rape a mentally challenged girl…dont know about god but there may be a devil…or does that prove god????

    used to be an atheist for all the above reasons but recently one day got down on my knees and prayed to god…maybe vivekanandas view of the world is the closest i can find to sanity

  91. Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing?
    Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing?
    Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing?
    Then why call him God
    -Epicurus

  92. To paraphrase Terry Pratchett, ‘We begin believing the small lies like the tooth fairy, or Santa Claus, so that we can graduate onto the bigger ones, like truth, justice, mercy.’ What we call natural justice is anything but. To use a target tracking term, what we have is a ‘divergent model’, which we are replacing with a better model derived from a newer type of rituals, like the ones performed at CERN and written up in blackboards explaining particle physics around the world.

  93. @Revathi
    You did a wrong thing by putting up that anecdote. Coz there are lots, who take up a fancy to calling themselves ‘atheist’ or ‘agnostic’ just coz they don’t have the patience to find out by themselves. In front of them, a simple anecdote would look like a misfit in an “intellectual discussion”!

  94. I cannot speak for muslims or christians, as I dont have much knowledge of them and neither do I have a good opinion of them. But speaking as a hindu, I got to a temple every week, and I see the people there…ordinary people – women, young and old, children with mothers, fathers, families…..all praying to God in silence. That sight gives me great pleasure and I feel happy.

  95. …I feel happy that everything is good and well with the world and with my people. I see hope for a better future and gratefulness for the present. It really is a good feeling to watch people pray – rich and poor, young and old.

    Be atheist, be agnostic, be whatever you want to be – but always remain a hindu. Because it is only as long as people of India are mostly hindu, that India will continue to exist. Else we will all be like Somalians or Haitians, living in several tiny lawless countries, fighting each other.

  96. GB,

    As an agnostic as well, I enjoyed reading your perpective on the age-old question. However when you say

    “Think of a world where all you could perceive was 2D. Now if a third dimension did exist (up), there could be a world there you would never be able to observe. Does not mean it doesnt exist. Does not mean it effects you in any way in your 2D world.”

    Your last line is technically incorrect. While it is obvious that in the case of 2d world perception, the 3rd dimension would be unobservable, perhaps even inconceivabe to us, events in it could have enormous effects on the two perceptible dimensions. For example, if we are stick drawings on paper able to see/feel only length and width, an entity from another dimension, or one encompassing all three can affect the other two, as perhaps a pin piercing through the paper, though I admit I agree when you say “Let me say it’s a question I do not concern myself with because I believe that the pursuit of it is irrelevant for my life since God, should He exist, will by definition not be in our observational or even our sensory world.”

  97. Long time reader, first time poster.
    Firstly, a very good post, and couldn’t agree more with your conclusion.

    Secondly, I think the critical thing to do in this atheistic/agnostic/theistic argument is exactly state what is the definition of God? The Vedanta has 3 different so-called categories, and there are 3 words describing that in all Indian languages. The direct translation is the ‘deva’, by which is meant the office-bearers of swarga viz. Indra, Varuna etc. etc. These are the so-called demi-gods and there are several stories to prove that these gods are ‘replaceable’, prone to human inadequacies and in general are only slightly more powerful than ordinary humans.

    Second category is the Ishwara – Ishwara is the principle which is responsible for the Karma-phala or for ensuring the consequences of one’s actions bear fruit according to them. In a way, if you know of Newton’s third law and think that there is an entity ensuring this law, then that is Ishwara. This is similar to the ‘Gods’ in almost all Semitic religions except for that fact that Ishwara is still Impersonal, i.e. has no personality which is not true about Allah or Christian God.

    Third category is the Paramatman, Atman or the Soul. The Atman is the ‘curtain’ on which all the transience of the world plays out. It is the inertial frame of reference, where there is no space, time and causation. Physics can call it the Infinity where these concepts break down. It is this Atman which has fascinated the Indian philosophy for millenia and what Vedanta declares as the ultimate truth.

    So when someone says one is agnostic or atheistic or theistic, one needs to specify what they mean by the term God. For a Christian may be the God is just one entity who said ‘Let there be light’, but that is not so for other, mainly non-Semitic, religions. I believe specifying this can get rid of several unnecessary arguments here and elsewhere.

  98. All,

    God is an idea. The idea probably had its origin in many of the reasons Arnab states in the post. Rather than looking for scientific evidence for the existence of God, look at historical evidence. Human beings across space and time have emotionally clung to the idea of God, have needed it desperately when all else have failed and have derived benefit from the idea. Human beings also formed organizations around the idea of God called religion and have used the organization for political conquests and to control human beings. God men have collobarated with State in various capacities (read European history) for mutual benefit.

    Being a Believer or Non believer comes into the picture only if you are born into a religious organization or contemplating joining a religious organization.

    Being a free spirit, following some moral values for the benefit of all things (living and non living) and trying to understand the all pervading Nature in all its forms holds is appealing for myself.

    Religious organizations are very limiting and do not permit free enquiry. Free enquiry is essential part of human nature and the passion for free enquiry is forcibly suppressed by belonging to religious organizations.

  99. Pingback: Time to question religion… « Daily World Watch

  100. Hi,
    On a lighter note, can you please cover the physical changes Shane Warne has undergone after hooking up with Elizabeth Hurley. Its to be seen to be believed. Besides a face lift apparently he has also started applying makeup. Check dailymail for news on this. Everytime I see the new Shane warne I just burst out laughing.

  101. You don’t HAVE to be a dogmatic Atheist with Richard Dawkins as your “Prophet”. You can be an easy going atheist. Atheism simply means you don’t believe God exists.Are you agnostic about Santa Claus or Yeti or Unicorns? If not, then why God?
    You may have heard this before – Everyone is Atheist about the God of other religions. Atheists just believe in one less God.
    You may have heard this before too – Atheism is a Religion, like off is a TV channel.

  102. @ Bhavani,

    You ended your remark with this question:
    “Is there really an altruistic act in this world?”

    I guess one truly altruistic act would be to give up breathing altogether (because every breath that one takes means that much less oxygen for one’s neighbours :D)!

  103. I am yet to see overwhelming evidence that disproves Santa Claus. I am yet to see overwhelming evidence that proves Santa Claus.

  104. well put…i dont know what iam in terms of god…i think it is irrelevant …its existence or nonexistence has no bearing on my life and my action…screw god and his divine will, what the fuck are u going to do abt it?

    now thats a question i wish people ask…

    but my mother recently said this when i raised this with her. Her point was that ur answer to that question will be the result of the teachings which u r shunning now…kindness, goodness, etc are taught responses…

    so maybe the time is ripe for giving this god a break, like we wud do with parents and take what we have learned and applying it , instead of being a mothers child…

    my answer was that it wasnt about shunning anything, its about not wanting to pass the buck , to be finally ready to move out of the house…taking with them all that matters really to us…

    maybe then, someone will stop , when they hear a crying child..

  105. Your explanation is beautiful.I once summed this up (and still believe) that ” I do believe in God, because I feel that is something that propels me to do good, whose fear stops me from doing bad, and something on which my hope rests in a time of crisis”

    Having said that, the first part is extremely sad to hear. I did not read the story as yet, but it surely points to 2 important things:

    (i) . People don’t care. As they don’t after a bomb blast unless they lose someone dear to them
    (ii). A lost belief in the system. I am sure a lot of passers by would not do anything for the girl because “Police case hoga”, “Jhanjhat hai”, “Kaiko lafde mein padneka “. I don’t know if you could blame the system or the people or both, but I do not accept that the system is so screwed up that you can’t even call a govt agency (eg police) to come and take a look at what’s going on.

    The sadder part is of course that the same people who would not even cared to check what happened would have picked up swords if they realised that the girl was of their religion and the people who raped them were of the opposite
    😦 .

  106. Very succinct and well thought through. My question to you is, why do you expect God (if he exists) to be fair? The notion of good (say: donating books to a child)and bad (the little girl being allowed to die) are our mental constructs. Why ask God – Why? The question is simply irrelevant.

  107. We keep going back to the girl but not the rapists. What sick perverted guys could do this? Now a hypothetical scenario:
    If they in their next birth or the same birth were lying on a heap of garbage, mentally challenged, raped, bleeding and dying would you still say God is unfair?

    If this karmic theory is correct then either this was even-stevens or the girl will get even some time. Which means someone has suffered very badly in the past or will suffer in future. And again all of us take off in unison condemning a cruel God.

    I read somewhere that a man killed his old mother so that he could usurp the property. His wife helped in the crime. Instead of supporting his mother in old age he killed her. I will not share the gory details of the murder.
    Now if this man was born and orphaned in his next birth (as human or animal) would you still say life was unfair?

    The heated exchange between most of you reminds of me of the childhood story of 5 blind men and an elephant. If all of you had given your real 2 cents instead of hypothetical 2 cents enough money could have been raised for any other girl in distress.

    If, any of you can find the time, please read these books. Will take some time but may be worth the effort. This is the English translation of Kabir’s poem Anurag Sagar with commentary. This will answer a lot of questions for a lot of people. It is available in PDF form at:
    http://www.spiritualawakeningradio.com/anurag.html
    [Books 1 to 3 are relevant, you can skip book 4]

    Another treat that I discovered on the site while I was trying the link was Kabir’s songs translated by none other ther than Gurudev. All Bengalis can now go ahead and read. 😉
    http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/sok/sok002.htm

    I will leave your with a quote from Guru Granth Sahib page 443
    http://www.srigranth.org/servlet/gurbani.gurbani?Action=Page&g=1&h=1&r=1&t=1&p=0&k=0&Param=433

    ?a?ai ?os na ?e?? kisai ?os karamm? ?p?i??.
    Dadda: Do not blame anyone else; blame instead your own actions.

    Jo mai k??? so mai p??i?? ?os na ??jai avar jan?. ||21||
    Whatever I did, for that I have suffered; I do not blame anyone else. ||21||

    Happy Reading!

  108. Arnab,

    I am an agnostic myself.

    I have been reading gita recently and specifically karma yoga (desireless action) for educational purposes.

    I remember a line which said : God does not help the indolent, men have to act and help themselves and keep working (doing their dharma).

    So you are correct, in this scenario there is no point in looking at the entity for an answer. There is no answer.

    It seems like none of the passers by made it their dharma to help this poor unfortunate child.

    This is a colossal failure of empathy in humans.

    Humans have to own up on this one.

  109. @Mantal Bwoy

    If they in their next birth or the same birth were lying on a heap of garbage, mentally challenged, raped, bleeding and dying would you still say God is unfair?

    The operative word is “IF”. Nobody actually knows what these people will be in their next birth, or even if there is a next birth at all. In their next birth these rapists could be the happiest, healthiest and wealthiest men in the world!

    But let’s see the implications of your argument anyway. If we suppose that these men in their next birth will be in the same state in their next life, it makes sense to believe that on similar lines, the girl whom they raped was in her previous life a man who committed this (or a similar) crime against a woman.

    The trouble is, this girl has no memory of her previous life. She doesn’t know what she did, so she can’t repent or correct her mistakes. If we postulate that this karma is designed into the system, we must also accept that this phenomenon of forgetting the previous life’s mistakes is also designed into the system by the same designer. In other words, the inability to learn from mistakes and correct them, and thereby possibly repeat the same mistakes is also deliberately designed by the same designer.

    The designer could have designed the system so people keep their memories, and so get the opportunity to learn faster and correct themselves, design it to make sure that suffering is kept to the bare minimum required to make people learn, but he chose not to. He chose the option that maximises suffering and pain.

    If karma is a system designed by god, not only would that god be unfair, god would also be the most perverted sadist imaginable, one who would make the torturers of Nazi Germany and the gulags look as benign as Alok Nath.

  110. Just came across this piece “Expecting the world to treat good people fairly is like expecting man-eating tigers not to attack vegetarians.” Most suffering is just random isn’t it? Faith probably just helps make things digestible for followers and keeps them on the straight and narrow. Useful when most religions were founded. Although lately, the lack of understanding (/greed/hatred/ you name it) of leaders has turned it against the very purpose for which religions were founded.

  111. I quite adore believers. i think they can be blind when they want to and when they need it. Infact i think that works miracles for them as they always have someone to push their troubles on, and dont need friends or loved ones who “need to understand” their situation. There is always GOD who can take away all their problems. And ofcourse we have convenient quotes “god helps those who help themselves” to get away with ‘why he didnt show up when kids were dying in afghanistan.’

    what I dont like is when they start forcing their beliefs on me and the rest of the world. Half the war and angst in this world begins and ends with religion. How the europeans thought the rest of the world was barbarian and had to force their religion on the lesser mortals of Asia, africa, americas and australia. How the jihad is doing wonders to this world, blasting the population away, and how Hindu moralists are beating their own people because they wear jeans and drink whiskey and not choli and lehenga and drink madira… oh! the pain…

    Religion and belief by itself has nothing wrong with it, The problem with it is the triviality of it. How not eating will please god and make him find a groom for you… that doesnt make sense… neither does little children being killed in the name of god…

  112. God, should he exist, does not “care” for us or of our expectations from him.
    ——————-

    Exactly my conviction as well. Well put.

  113. @Chiron,

    Good questions and comments.

    First a disclaimer: I have no personal experience of anything that I wrote or will write. It is through reading all kinds of texts including this post that I have a few thoughts to share.

    Now let me try and answer you.

    “The operative word is “IF”. Nobody actually ….. ”

    True. That is why I said “IF”. See how our perspective can change if you add or remove a few conditions. That was my point.

    “But let’s ……. it makes sense to believe that on similar lines [Not clear to me], the girl whom they raped …… crime against a woman.”

    Maybe. Also, mine was a simplistic statement. I am not sure how things should/do work. Should a brutal rape and slow death be avenged by a brutal rape and slow death or should it be equal amount of pain administered in any way. Larger questions… not exactly relevant at this stage.

    “The trouble is, this girl has no memory of her previous life. ….”

    Correct her mistake! How? What is repenting? You know the mistakes you made in this life. How many have you repented for? How do you repent after raping someone? How do you repent after killing someone? By saying sorry? Repenting is a concept invented by the clergy to make money. A Raja and Kalmadi can also repent. Will you let them go?

    “…… we must also accept that this phenomenon of forgetting the previous life’s mistakes is also designed into the system….”

    Yes, true. So it seems.

    “In other words, the inability to learn from mistakes and correct them, …… deliberately designed by the same designer.”

    MAY not be true. This does not flow from the previous line. This one is very difficult to explain and as I said can not be proven in a scientific way. If you read the books I had linked it may help…

    “…… He chose the option that maximises suffering and pain.”

    Not sure, if this is a logical conclusion. Particularly if the point above is answered to some degree of satisfaction.

    “If karma is a system designed by god, not only would that god be unfair, god would also be the most perverted sadist imaginable, one who would make the torturers of Nazi Germany and the gulags look as benign as Alok Nath.”

    You can call God whatever you wish to but please do not use Alok Nath in this sentence. GB uses Alok Nath to deadly effect. All of us do not have the skill 🙂

  114. GB –

    Your father has posted a pretty neat article on God and Theism/Atheism/Agnosticism – in the Deccan Herald yesterday.

    A nice coincidence it is, coming so close to your article…

    Were these articles triggered by some family discussion on this topic?

  115. Mantal Bwoy,
    If I take Raja and rapists and the ilk to be people having just a single life, then yes they cannot repent. However, if I look at it from the perspective of somebody designing a system to be populated by Raja and co, why would I create a system having the scope for people to be like Raja, without at the same time giving these Rajas an opportunity to correct themselves? Why would I design such a system, knowing fully well that while Raja might face a punishment in his next life, countless others will face misery in their current lives due to his actions and those of his ilk? Why would I not design a system where other people could see what Raja’s path leads to, and learn not to take that path?
    Let me explain the learning part with an analogy. Consider a child who doesn’t have the ability to correlate cause and effect. So he could touch a hot plate and burn himself, not realising the burning is a result of touching the hot plate. Not knowing this, he may end up touching the hot plate repeatedly and continue to burn himself several times.
    The situation of this child is not very different from a person who commits a crime in this life and earns a punishment in the next without realising that the punishment is the result of this crime. Say you have a person Mr A afflicted with polio since childhood. This is due to some crime X he committed in his previous life, but he doesn’t know that. So there is a good chance that he will commit X again in the current life. Not only this, there are many more people (say Mr B and Mr C) who will see that doing X has no negative effects (because they can’t see the effect on the next life) and it does have some positive effects, and commit X themselves. Also, the kind of people who were victims of Mr A’s crimes will continue to be victims though the criminals would change from A to B to C. The suffering continues.
    So this kind of a system fails spectacularly in two areas that any just system would aim not to fail: discouraging new people from making mistakes, and preventing repeat mistakes. On the other hand, it makes mistakes lucrative by allowing the positive effects to be visible while obfuscating the negative effects – exactly the opposite of what a system designed to reduce suffering would do.
    If you do not consider karma to be “intelligently designed”, there is simply no problem in accepting that all these flaws are part of the system. Cruelty is a very common theme in nature even without human beings. So you could just take karma as something that “just is”, making any moral judgments on the system irrelevant, just as there is nothing moral or immoral about the fact that fire burns any human flesh that touches it. This is the line some schools of Hindu philosophy take, and I have no issues with that.
    However, when you do bring in the concept of a creator or a god or an “intelligent designer” having created this system, one must look at the kind of outcome that the system generates, not just for the Raja-type of actors but also their victims and innocent bystanders. And that’s when emerges the picture of a designer who makes crime lucrative by hiding the punishment and thereby increases suffering. So if one postulates an intelligent designer, the design of the system itself shows that the designer is not only intelligent but also malicious.

  116. Well said, Chiron.

    The Hindu/Buddhist idea of suffering being “explained” by karma makes no more sense than the Christian/Muslim hypothesis that all suffering is God/Allah “testing our faith”.

    In either belief, we humans are at the mercy of a cosmic sadist who enjoys inflicting suffering without providing a reason.

    Since there is no evidence that this is really the case, I think its much more economical (and liberating) to simply believe that there is no divine being that takes any interest in our lives.

  117. Bekaarbok, it doesn’t make sense if one assumes that somebody created this system of karma, and that somebody is benevolent. However, any of the below three conjectures are logically consistent with the system as it is claimed to work.

    1. Nobody created the system; it just exists. If it’s cruel, that’s just too bad.
    2. Somebody created the system, and that somebody is a perfect entity, and is malicious and sadistic
    3. Somebody created the system, and that somebody is an imperfect entity

  118. hI. This is an awesome article..

    But, [edited]
    YEah, other religions are in such a way that they can be easily erased from the people’s mind.

  119. Your arguments are well structured and intellectually smart. They make for good essays, righteous anger, emotional turmoil and various arguments but not the realization of Truth.
    Truth however is gained through personal intuition born of ego discipline and inner realization rather than through intellectual reasoning.
    You may continue using your intellect but the real answer to the “Why” wont be found via the intellect.
    Intellect tries to reason about God. It wont find the answer. God can be painted a tyrant, a dictator, or a human creation. That wont provide any answer either.
    Truth is found through personal direct realization — like the Buddha found –through personal realization. Its not instant coffee. Or a band aid either.
    Take care! Hope you find the answer.

  120. I think many people here are so prejudiced against religion or the concept of God that it clouds their opinion..

    @bekaarbokbok “In either belief, we humans are at the mercy of a cosmic sadist who enjoys inflicting suffering without providing a reason.”

    Or, we did not try to find the reason.. and we will shout non-sense against those who tried and explained the various concepts like Buddha and many other spiritual leaders.

    It is very clear that most of the ‘atheist’ commentators go only by the ‘western’ rationalism where everything needed to be ‘proved’ in front of eyes to believe in anything..

    What @Ujwal says is perfectly right when it comes to Spiritualism.. Its more of a self realization than rationalization.. Because the ‘rational’ knowledge is not complete and so is the spiritual knowledge.. what you dub as ‘irrational’ today may be proved scientifically tomorrow. Stephen Hawking himself disproved his own theories 3 times.. Western science is an evolving discipline but the eastern philosophies have been evolved to a greater extent thousands of years before itself..

    “The trouble is, this girl has no memory of her previous life. She doesn’t know what she did, so she can’t repent or correct her mistakes.”

    The concept of soul and rebirth is far more complex than your arguments here.. I’m not an expert in this, but from what I have read, this plane in which the humans and other living beings survive is only one of the many different levels of ‘layers’ (for want of a better word) in which the soul can operate.. The memory that we talk about here is the memory of 1 life among the many that the soul takes in order to achieve the end result which is ‘moksha’ with the divine..

    “In other words, the inability to learn from mistakes and correct them, and thereby possibly repeat the same mistakes is also deliberately designed by the same designer.”

    You are completely wrong here.. the soul is completely capable of learning from the previous life, except that it does not happen in the ‘human’ layer.. This may appear over simplistic, but the idea is the same: When the human or any other living being physically ‘dies’ the soul returns to the higher layer and tries to ‘learn’ from the ended life on what was wrong and right.. what it should have done and what it shouldn’t.. Then the soul tries to approach the next life based on the previous learning…

    “The designer could have designed the system so people keep their memories, and so get the opportunity to learn faster and correct themselves, design it to make sure that suffering is kept to the bare minimum required to make people learn, but he chose not to. He chose the option that maximises suffering and pain”

    How do you say that ‘maximises’ suffering ? Should Hitler be allowed to suffer as minimum as possible because he repents for his mistakes later ? There is no concept of repenting or forgiving in eastern philosophies that will result in getting a lesser punishment for your sins.. Again, the option to learn from mistakes takes place in between the births..

    Those who require the western scientific proofs for such theories will be advised to read about ‘Regression techniques’ commonly used for various depression therapies.. People like Dr. Brian weiss have written extensively about it..

    http://hinduism.about.com/od/reincarnation/fr/weissbook.htm

  121. @VK

    “So when someone says one is agnostic or atheistic or theistic, one needs to specify what they mean by the term God. For a Christian may be the God is just one entity who said ‘Let there be light’, but that is not so for other, mainly non-Semitic, religions. I believe specifying this can get rid of several unnecessary arguments here and elsewhere.”

    Superb.. I’m sure that 99% of the debate revolves around the concept of a ‘Super’ god who killed demons, who saved good people etc.. without getting deep into the concepts of eastern philosophies well enough.. A lot of the westernised ‘Atheists’ don’t even read about them before painting the same picture of the concept of God..

  122. @Raj
    It is very clear that most of the ‘atheist’ commentators go only by the ‘western’ rationalism where everything needed to be ‘proved’ in front of eyes to believe in anything

    I suspect that that ‘western rationalism’ is the same techniue by which you would debunk the idea that black cats cause bad luck. So why should this technique not be used while analysing the idea of a god?

    hat you dub as ‘irrational’ today may be proved scientifically tomorrow

    Unquestionably true, however the fact that something is labeled irrational today does not automatically mean it will be scientifically proven tomorrow. This nuanced distinction is elusive in most of the instances where the quoted argument is made.

    Western science is an evolving discipline but the eastern philosophies have been evolved to a greater extent thousands of years before itself..

    The Islamists claim that their philosophy is not just more evolved, but also the perfect idea, and that all other philosophies are false. I have no evidence to prove either the Islamic philosophy or the Eastern ones. As you derided the requirement of evidence so eloquently please explain how, without evidence, can I conclude which of these two is right?

    this plane in which the humans and other living beings survive is only one of the many different levels of ‘layers’ (for want of a better word) in which the soul can operate.. The memory that we talk about here is the memory of 1 life among the many that the soul takes in order to achieve the end result which is ‘moksha’ with the divine..

    Nice idea. The trouble is that no matter which layer this memory resides in, it is not normally accessible to the vast majority of people. I certainly don’t know who I was in my previous life and what I did, and am quite certain that you do not know about your previous life either. If you can’t recount the mistakes you made in your previous life, how do you know that you’re suffering today due to them, and how do you know to avoid those mistakes in this life?

    About the fact of the soul learning it on death and taking the learnings back to earth, it just doesn’t make sense. If my soul had learnt something after the death of my previous incarnation, I would know what it had learnt.

    How do you say that ‘maximises’ suffering ? Should Hitler be allowed to suffer as minimum as possible because he repents for his mistakes later ? There is no concept of repenting or forgiving in eastern philosophies that will result in getting a lesser punishment for your sins..

    You entiely missed the point. Please do not focus on the suffering of Hitler alone. Ponder on the suffering he caused. I would like him to face a lot of trouble in his next life, however that doesn’t solve the problem. The problem here is the fact that even if he is suffering in his next life, he doesn’t know that this suffering is the result of gassing the Jews and other atrocities. As a result nothing stops his future lives from once again trying to cause the same amount of damage. Nor does it stop thousands of other people who admire him (for reasons only they know) and don’t realise what lies at the end of that road in the next life!

    This maximises suffering – not for Hitler, but for the millions of people who suffer because people like Hitler cannot see that crimes in this life have to be paid for in the next. I don’t care about Hitler’s suffering which at the worst would be a tiny fraction of the suffering he’s piled upon whole generations of people.

    Also, I’m not sure you understand the concept of moksha if you claim that there is no concept of repenting and improving yourself.

    About people like Brian Weiss, if this is true it has the potential to shake the world of science and eventually earn him a Nobel. The only glitch – is the man ready to subject himself to a peer-review process with double blind experiments? I think not. It’s the same problem that every quack in the world faces.

    I’m sure that 99% of the debate revolves around the concept of a ‘Super’ god who killed demons, who saved good people etc

    The idea of a ‘Super’ god who killed demons comes from epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Both of which are important treatises of Hinduism, which also gives us the most prominent of Eastern philosophies. However, even if you do keep aside the ideas of monkey-human hybrids and ten-headed demons, the fact is that of all the entities listed out by VK, there is no evidence for any of them either. I might as well believe that Donald Duck exists!

  123. Why do Man (as a species) suffer. Or living beings suffer.
    Yours is one possible answer.
    However, based on what scriptures say is that
    Every single act (including my typing these letters) is controlled by God.
    We are a dual-soul, dual-mind.
    Our consciousness starts as a blank slate and events are created so that we go through it and happiness and suffering both are scripted already for every soul, so that it gains a better understanding of reality. Slowly we will come to a point of understanding our true nature. (it does not happen in a “heaven”. ) Heaven is right here.
    Then such dualities cease to exist. Such person is a jyanavan or “all-knowing” soul.

    For instance, start tracing where your thoughts come from. Slowly it will lead you to realize that you do not control your thoughts. Follow this line of thinking.

    I am not asking you t accept this point of view. Slowly use Logic as a weapon and dont stop at the level where you stopped. Keep prodding, get to the bottom of things. Good luck !!!
    I am digging too…

  124. Did you not greatbong,hear all this ‘development of religion’ stuff in your class 6?
    Astounding emptiness in your writing man! Looks like a lot of your tifosi come in for simplistic explaining-aways. You have very little to say about Arun Shourie’s situation. For heaven’s sake, Aaj tak covered this better than you have done herE!

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