I am honoured that my good friend Roland calls me his friend, in “Roland’s Mustard“. He has so many friends who are more important. He hints that my thoughts fit tipsy late puberty. This is the nicest thing that anybody has said about me for ages! Unfortunately, after squash or even tennis I don’t feel so youthful. I admire Roland’s energy and breadth of interest. I wish I could match his entertaining style and speed of writing about everything under the sun, but I guess I am just too serious. And yes, I do hope that people will think that I am clever, (since it is a bit late for them to find me sexy). At least my latest fortune cookie says that I am interesting and attractive!
He should not be surprised that my main philosophy piece has often been clicked. I bully all my friends and many acquaintances into reading it. Also it is fairly long, so some people probably stop in the middle and resume later. I even like to think that it is a little more original and interesting for younger people, than the standard stuff about greedy bankers, populist politicians, German virtues, and nostalgia about Siemens in the old days. The God question may no longer matter much in Germany, but it is still important to most people in the world. I recently heard a long radio program about recent pogroms against Mohammedans and Christians in India. And there will be trouble for a long time along the border between Orthodox Christians and Islam. Richard Dawkins wrote excellent books about how genetic evolution has worked, but I am sure “The God Delusion” has raised more interest and sold more copies.
Atheists in Europe are rather in the position of homosexuals at the time of the Christopher Street rebellion. We are only now daring to “out”. There is little chance of converting most Mohammedans and Hindus to Christianity or Judaism, so we can expect religious conflicts to continue until we all realise that there is no serious reason to believe in any God.
I did not want to write much about the non-existence of God. I thought Dawkins had written enough. But my new friend Prof. Gertrud Nunner-Winkler is a convinced agnostic, so I had to find some arguments against this. She also believes in free-will, so I had to differentiate my arguments against this too. What I really wanted was to set ethics and morals on a basis firmer than the current shaky short-sighted way it is evolving. We need intelligent design of ethics. Of course I realise that I have a negligible chance of changing anything, but at least I can sort out my own ideas.
Atheism is clearly the only religion with X=0 Gods. There is only one empty set. Agnostics have X as an unknown. (I use X rather than N, since demi-gods have also been postulated). Of course X is unknown in an absolute sense, but I believe that we should presume X=0 in order to make progress. A real agnostic not only does not decide whether Gods exist, but says that in any case, we cannot say anything about them. Atheists can be divided into sects, according to their ethical views. Thus a real humanist would say that biodiversity is good only as far as humans need it, and would regard a take-over of our planet by other intelligent beings as absolutely bad.
I think Roland hints that I should be more tolerant towards believers. I have started to espouse my views more than most believers do. But this is only counteracting the strong propaganda of professional believers. As well as preaching to believers and their children at places of worship, they spread their propaganda via radio and TV. I was particularly saddened by three TV meetings between Prof. Lesch and theologians. He occasionally showed some doubts about what they were saying, but to an unprejudiced listener it probably sounded as if he was sad about his own ignorance. One Catholic theologian explained that there are good and bad angels. Lesch looked slightly sceptical, but did not argue against this nonsense.
I saw Dawkins on a German chat show with two theologians and two Christian politicians. Why was there not more balance? Of the Germans, only Heiner Geisler made some sense. Some of Dawkins translated remarks showed that the translation was going wrong in both directions. A good translation requires understanding of the material, so it was hardly possible in the case of the theologians.
Intolerance is not the only evil in the world. There are other things we should not be tolerant about, for instance abuse of children, including for instance smoking when pregnant. Dawkins pointed out that it is also child abuse that very many children are forced into a religion before they are old enough to form an opinion. In some cases this is relatively harmless, but the death penalty may apply for a child born into Islam who later chooses another religion. I was heartened by a recent plebiscite in Berlin. It decided not to accept religion as an alternative to ethics, as a compulsory course in schools. I expected all the different believers would vote in favour, and the rest would not bother.
Roland’s views about “God is a Delusion” and “The Enlightenment” reject my statement “Modern philosophy begins with Darwin”, without answering my arguments. His views seem common among Germans of our generation. Wikipedia defines “The Enlightenment” as a cultural and philosophical movement of the 18th century. Many German-speaking amateur and professional philosophers seem to be trapped in the time of Kant, seeing humans and their reasoning as all that matters under Heaven. I explained that civilisation has moved on, particularly due to Darwin..
What was so marvellous about the “Enlightenment”? Perhaps it looks like a golden age to Germans, because Kant was then tops in philosophy. To me, the old Greeks, and Jesus, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and Darwin seem more significant. I hope our present age will also be, but it is too early to say. Perhaps I have a more global view, through my international marriage, and living abroad (not to mention the influence of the British Empire).
The questions that move Roland move me too. But if we get the fundamentals wrong, getting some details right will not help much. G.W.Bush was fairly harmless, until he got religious. Then he started to steer scientific research according to his warped-Christian principles, led the world towards financial and climate catastrophe, and invaded Irak. Very few Americans would consider an atheist for President, (although the Founding Fathers were not very religious).
I have just read “Warum der Mensch glaubt” by Martin Urban (“Why People Believe”). It shocked me with new information about the spread of superstition in the world. It tilted my opinion back to a belief in the eventual triumph of superstition and stupidity on Earth. I read today that the main Zimbabwe football ground needs completely new turf, because so many lucky charms have been buried there, and that last year 1464 billion US-dollars were spent on weapons. That the book was written in 2005, before Obama, gives me a little hope.
A new Religion?
We seem to need a new religious atheism. People must meet fairly often for singing, (e.g. “Imagine” and other Lennon songs), light exercise, (standing, kneeling, bending, etc.), and inspiring talks about morals. It must appeal to young and old. Perhaps the Anglican Church can be persuaded to drop their beliefs in God and resurrection. They have the most admirable living man of God, Desmond Tutu. They are already prepared to accept church weddings of homosexuals.
The new religion must be tolerant, but be prepared to defend itself against the attacks of other ideas, as well as physical persecution. It must avoid the selfishness of Scientology. It must work to restrict growth of the human population, in the interest of biodiversity. Biodiversity is good, not only for the benefit of mankind.
This sounds almost like a political party, particularly the Greens. Perhaps one could persuade the Greens to recognise the dangers of existing religions, and to emphasise morals. But in Germany it would probably be better to start a new religion. This could be loosely linked to the Greens, as the CDU and CSU are linked to the Churches.
There is a big flaw in the Pascal argument. So Roland need worry less about going to Hell!
The least improbable Godess that I do not believe in is extremely clever and good. She would not be silly and nasty enough to burn people in Hell for not believing in her. She might gently reprove people for being cowardly and dishonest enough to profess belief for Pascal’s reason. So, in the highly unlikely case that I meet her, she will be nice to me.
Another God that I do not believe in is mad, and sends people to Hell if they believe in him.
Another God that I do not believe in experiments further only with atheists because the rest are too boring.
Nassim Nikolaus Taleb
What I read in internet about Taleb, does not sound very original. If it comes as a surprise in the finance world, that explains why they have got into such a mess. Half of it can be summed up as “shit happens”! Studying evolution gives very good insight into what can go wrong (or right). The continued existence of life on Earth may give rise to over-optimism. Perhaps we shall soon find signs that life has been exterminated elsewhere. Life on Earth has come near to extermination 6 or 7 times. The last one was when most dinosaurs disappeared, but mass-extinction of species has recently started again. Very primitive life is more resilient than multi-cellular beings, but a nearby gamma-ray burst or falling into a black hole would exterminate that too.
“Börse Aktuell” people made a living mainly recommending investment in companies whose shares had risen for ten years. Of course such investments would tend to make the shares keep rising for a while. But the day comes when things go wrong, and the crash is then worse if people have kept following the crowd. Everything fails in the end. The annual change in value of a company can be anything between minus100% and a very large number. However often it has been positive, it only needs to be minus100% once!
My bank calculated the average return on some investment by taking the arithmetic mean of the percentage rise for each year. This is only correct if one assumes that the amount invested remains constant. I.e. money would be taken out after a good year, but after a bad year the loss would be paid back in. That is roughly the reverse of what tends to happen. More realistic would be to assume that a sum of money is invested and left there for a rainy day or retirement. In this case, the result of +50% and -50% is -25%. So the correct average return is about minus 13.4% per year, not zero!
I recently read that shares make 8% p.a. after correcting for inflation. I suspect that when one includes tax and calculates correctly the real profit shrinks to zero. (Probably, to achieve this, one must switch to new shares when a new Company comes into the index).