Friday, January 5, 2007

Am I Delusional?

by Tika

What is the difference between science and religion? Are they compatible with one another? Personally, people, both scientists and religious people get confused when I say to them: yes I am a Muslim but I am also a student of science and evolution. Some people get hostile when I mention that I study Darwin's theory of evolution. I remember receiving death threats because of this link to evolution. Mind you, the threats that I got were not from strictly religious fundamentalists (I have no connection to these people), but from scientifically educated people of my own religion and nationality.

Dr. Richard Dawkins, in his book "The God Delusion", also a senior student in my laboratory along with my mentor, say that it is not possible for me to be both. Dawkins goes further by implying that you can only be an atheist if you are a scientist.

So whom should I appease? Dawkins, my professor, my mom, the guy who sat next to me in the bus, who? Dawkins say that I have to make up my mind or then I am just a hypocrite. But of course he suggests that it is up to me to decide and that I should not base my life philosophy on trying to appease everybody. Incidentally, his book implies that he prefers my admission as an atheist or else I do not deserve to be a scientist or an intelligent human being. Oh my. What would Da Vinci say?

I am sure that in reality, most people are as ambivalent as me about their life philosophy and it changes all the time. But I think, most people just don't think too much of it because it is just too hard. So they just go about appeasing people just to get away from trouble. A catholic man might in his heart question the thought of being an atheist, but he probably still goes to this priest for counsel if there is some problem he cannot handle. He does this just because he was brought up that way. Is he a bad person? Is he delusional?

I say this is reality. Reality is that many people don't go around about their lives with the philosophy "I am an atheist" and "I am an devout Muslim" all the time, though most of us try to think we should pick only one of this overarching identity because it just seem better idealistically. Do you think that you are a devout Muslim when you have pain in your tummy telling you that you have to run and do your daily routine in the bathroom toilet? I don't think so. You don't really think of anything, your tummy just was hurting, you must do something about it, you act as a biological animal.

I agree with Dawkins that if you are a scientist you have to be an atheist. But I go further by saying, only if you are doing science. Other than that, the question is open to debate. So since people get confused when I say that I am both a Muslim and a Science student studying evolution, I will change my statement to: I am both a Muslim and sometimes an atheist according to the situation I am in.

If I am waiting for a biological experiment to give me results, I don't think that some supernatural power, unexplained, is the cause of what I get from my experiment. I have to be an atheist when I am doing this or I will just not be able to talk about my results. If I am a Muslim when I do this, every time I get a result, I can only bow down to pray and say, "God is Great". This is not practical if you want to make some scientific statement about a problem.

But when I have some problem and am alone in the dark, with no data to guide me so that I can make some rational statement about my problem, I turn to Allah, since this is what my mother taught me to do. So I am a Muslim, not an atheist during these times.

Sometimes, a problem requires me to use all the many aspects of my identities. Not just as a scientist/atheist, a devout Muslim, I am also a mother, a biological entity, a student, a teacher, a sister, an aunt, and this list goes on. I don't believe in an overarching identity based on some abstract philosophy that guides you through life. You have to take on your multiple identities that probably became part of you as you wander through life, and just see how they intermingle with one another inside of you to make you. You are different from the guy who sat next to you on the bus, from your mom and sisters not only because of your genes, but also because of your experiences that result from the intermingling and the generation of new identities. You are even different from yourself one second from the next.

For me life is process, things change. You can be an atheist scientist one second in your life, a Muslim the next second and a mother in another. This is what life is all about. The immovable atheist or Muslim or mother might criticize me for being ambivalent, or in harsher terms, hypocritical. But my only answer to them is: this is reality. Many people think the ambivalent state of life is a problem that must be "solved". I used to think that way also, but now I just say that it is part of the reality of living your life. Some Muslims such as myself may term this as the true "Jihad" in becoming a true human being.

15 comments:

johnorford said...

It's part of human nature to be delusional now and again, i agree with you that ppl are temporally inconsistant, and that is natural too.

I suppose what infuriates Dawkins (myself included) is when the religious are /obstinately/ delusional. They will argue black is white (another group may even argue white is black!) if that's what their sect believes, no matter what you say. Moreover, often this obstinate delusion is actively spread and promoted as a good thing.

I think the ironic thing about science is that a certain amount of faith is always necessary. Eg. I don't have the time and energy to scientifically prove evolution, although I am truly enthralled by it.

(OT: Btw, do you have any idea how the process of evolution itself evolved? Or where I could read up on it?)

Tika said...

I think though that being obstinately delusional is not a special case just for the religious. It is anoying whoever does it :D.

Certainly faith is a big part of science, especially most of the time our experiments just dont work ;(!

I don't really understand what you meang by the evolution of evolution? Do you mean the theory itself or the phenomena?

Books by Ernst Mayr are always good just on the subject of evolution itself and the history of how the theory of evolution developed.

But if you are asking on how evolution as a phenomena 'evolved', I don't know how to answer. Because evolution just came to be the process living things 'use' to propagate itself as a population following the origin of the first life form/first common ancestor. I don't think the process ever 'evolved' from its inception to now.

johnorford said...

"obstinately delusional is not a special case just for the religious"

well, maybe i should point my ire at dogma instead of religion. religious ppl certainly don't have a monopoly over dogma...

"obstinately delusional is not a special case just for the religious"

i mean the phenomena and how it works. for example, you have simple forms of life which reproduce asexually, then more complex forms which reproduce sexually (and some forms of fish and reptiles which can do both).

it seems to me that evolution itself has evolved, am sure there have been smaller more subtle changes in evolution over the years also (less obvious to a non biologist).

Tika said...

"well, maybe i should point my ire at dogma instead of religion. religious ppl certainly don't have a monopoly over dogma..."

My problem with Dawkins in this book is the way he simplifies a person's religion/spiritualism. Simply labeling if a person is an atheist, a pantheist, an agnostic etc. is too superficial. He does not even bother to look at current scholarly literature on the history and social aspect of religion and their relation to the individual to make his claim more rounded. I know that he does it to systematize his arguments for popular read, but I just think this oversimplifies everything and makes his arguments sort of shallow. Though this way of arguing makes a big impact, especially if you are trying to make people buy your book.

Tika said...

"i mean the phenomena and how it works. for example, you have simple forms of life which reproduce asexually, then more complex forms which reproduce sexually (and some forms of fish and reptiles which can do both)."

I think you might be refering to the evolution of complexity in living things. Evolution that we know today is a mechanism that governs how variations in living things are propagated through populations. I think that once there was a population of replicating entities to make these variations (not to differentiate between sexual or asexual since this is a distantly forthcomming innovation since the origin of life), the evolutionary rules that play are the same as what we see today:
1. existance of genetic variations in populations
2. selection and drift acting on these variations.

But what we don't know today is the mechanics behind how the generation of variations contribute to the complexity of life. Certainly, this is the place where evolution could have evolved as you say. Or as I say, historical innovation of 'complex variations' selection and drift act upon.

There are two books of interest in this area, "The Plausibility of Life" by Kirschner and Gerhart and "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" by Sean Carroll. Carroll is the most authoratative figure for biologists on this topic, Kirshner and Gerhart show a more theoretical aspect of this problem, relating findings from recent molecular and developmenatl biology to "complexity science" theories in general to make a case of this "missing" aspect in evolutionary theory.

johnorford said...

"current scholarly literature on the history and social aspect of religion and their relation to the individual to make his claim more rounded"

what does this current literature claim then? i suppose religion isn't all bad - and dawkins does i think admit that.

maybe his arguments are blunt, but i think his message is that ppl should at least try to think more critically and rigorously.

interestingly for example, in my mind there is incredibly little dialogue in organised religion. monologues rule...

[will ans you biology comment later, need to really concentrate for all that biology speak :)]

johnorford said...

Biology comment: hmhmhmm.

i think i'll have to check out those two references :)

a stab in the dark: once you have variable replication, then living things will get more and more complex as they adapt better to specific niches in their environment. as the other beings around them are doing the same, you get increasing complexity - a kind of feedback.

(don't take that too seriously, i only have a bit of knowledge about genetic algorithms to fall back on :))

Arya said...

Tika,

Welcome to the blog world. Been hoping to pick an Indonesian evolutionary biologist's brain (as well as getting good titles on evolution ;-))

I haven't read Dawkins's latest so can't really comment on the book. However, but I find the separation that you (and, I think, Gould) proposed troublesome.

Perhaps it's just me, but I prefer consistency. The separation that you proposed require a certain skill I do not possess -- it's difficult to lead a life where arbitrary lines are drawn between things "rational" and things "spiritual".

Can one really make clear distinction between the two when one seeks to interpret any phenomenon that one observes? [E.g., An accident: God's will or poor policy? Can't really be both, since if it's the former, the latter doesn't matter, and vice versa.]

Now, it's difficult, but possible, to organize one's personal life in such a dualism. It's awfully difficult, if not impossible, to organize a well-functioning society with such a dualism.

johnorford said...

arya,

ironing out ones life can be tricky, maybe impossible.

i reckon tika is right and ppl are naturally inconsistant, or perhaps better to say, flexible - they adapt to their context...

for example, i suspect few ppl wouldn't pray to god when caught on a sinking ship -- even atheists!

"irrationality" / spirituality could be v advantageous for survival in such perceived hopeless situations.

Dewi Susanti said...

Tika, salam kenal and thanks for putting a link to one of my blogs. I don't understand why you can't be both scientist and moslem at the same time? I'm sure there are many scientists who are religious. Why choose the line?

Tika said...

"Now, it's difficult, but possible, to organize one's personal life in such a dualism. It's awfully difficult, if not impossible, to organize a well-functioning society with such a dualism."

Hullo Arya. I think, when humans try to cope with inconsistencies, it is most natural deal with it by compartmentalizing things. But then humans want to synchronize them because we don't like to be confused. Only when one can find some way to relate the inconsistencies into a general pattern one can understand, yes I think it is difficult personally.

So for me, I deal with such inconsistencies by being pragmatic about things. For me philosophy is there for you to use, if it is not used, then you can just ignore it. Because if I have to think of it in an abstract way (ie. as Dawkins suggest to ask "is it true?"), I will have a mental breakdown. I am still religious because I was brought up that way and because every now and then I have to deal with people in my home country who are religous. It serves no purpose and is disadvantagous to my fitness if I deal with this by tagging people as 'delusional' or not. So I am still religous, but because it is practical not because it is the truth as defined by Dawkins. I believe in God because it is practical. Perhaps Dawkins can just remove religion from his world, or some Indonesian can remove atheism from her world, but since I have to deal with two different societies, I have to keep the two to survive. Maybe when I move back to Indonesia, I religiousity will dominate me more. Yes, this fits well with my understanding of evolution :).

As a society, we can use america as our empirical data. America is definitely a well functioning society that deals with pluralism by compartmentalizing the idea of the individual with society (ie. seperation of church and state). We can see that it is one of the most well functioning society when it comes to dealing with pluralism in society while still preserving the state of the individual.

Arya said...

John,
Not sure if an atheist would pray in a sinking Titanic -- won't know to whom to pray to.

Tika,
I think that position is problematic. Doesn't such a pragmatism mean people simply define what God is -- in which case, He/She/It is nothing but a figment of one's imaginations and prejudices? Isn't this delusion?

Personally, I don't think the pragmatic position is tenable. Besides, can't one still keep the cultural practices, norms, and ethics -- all the good pragmatic parts of a religious belief or religious beliefs -- without keeping the faith?

Tika said...

Arya: "I think that position is problematic. Doesn't such a pragmatism mean people simply define what God is -- in which case, He/She/It is nothing but a figment of one's imaginations and prejudices? Isn't this delusion?"

No, for me, pragmatism is belief based on both empirical data and utility, not imagination. Being delusional is not being able to accept that one may be wrong and insisting that other people accept this as true. For delusional people, truth is not about utility; it is what one thinks as true despite what the majority accepts as the overwhelming truth or reality, despite its possible lack of utility. Importantly, the basis for being delusional is not lack of scientific congruence as Dawkins suggest, but lack of consensus with most people's belief of the truth. If the society that one lives accepts God as the absolute truth, one who does not believe in God, and persist this disbelief as the absolute truth, is regarded as delusional. Delusional is a negative connotation since it is an aberrant act within the 'norm' of society. Being delusional is a psychosis since it can be detrimental to the psychology and the day-to-day existence of the individual.

Of course, since the scientific revolution, being delusional is defined as some aberrant view of the universe that does not correspond to scientific logic. This is because we, most of 'modern' society, believe that scientific logic leads to the absolute truth about our universe.

My pragmatism does not deal with debates about the absolute truth of the universe. I consider the debate of absolute truth as irrelevant and only consider reality and truths in the context my own survival as an individual living in particular ecologies. My truth is based on the functionality of my beliefs to the particular ecology that I live in, thus I accept that I maybe wrong. The functionality of my truth is based on actual experiences and they can be regarded as empirical data, far from being a figment of one's imagination. The greater the functionality of my truth, the greater is the statistical accuracy of my truth. I am not delusional since my truth is always functional to my existence, not detrimental.

Arya: "Personally, I don't think the pragmatic position is tenable. Besides, can't one still keep the cultural practices, norms, and ethics -- all the good pragmatic parts of a religious belief or religious beliefs -- without keeping the faith?"

Sure. You can do whatever you want. This does not negate my pragmatic position at all.

Though to tell you the truth, I have a lot of background reading about what pragmatism is. Surely, it is a well-developed "science". So I have to say that my claim here is purely my own take on pragmatism.

Tika said...

Arya: "Not sure if an atheist would pray in a sinking Titanic -- won't know to whom to pray to."

Well, she would or would not pray. It is up to her. She might pray to Jesus, something she remembered learning about in childhood, if she sudenlly thought when the ship sank that it would benefit her in some way.

If the atheist was my advisor, who never had any exposure to any type of God, he will probably not pray to anything. But he must have some way to console himself without the God.

johnorford said...

arya,

my point was bascially similar to tika's (i think).

if delusion can help ppl live through tough completely hopeless situations, then it makes some sense that "delusion" would be advantageous in their survival, and people would have evolved some delusional "abilities".

think about people who have lived through holocausts for example - i suspect religion and delusion helped them survive - not rationality!

-- maybe some form of "delusion" is common amongst other animals too.