Friday, September 12, 2008

The God particle..

An open letter to my Christian evangelical readers. My aim is not to offend or cause controversy (I have great respect for your faith ultimately - for instance, the hymns and cathedrals it offered into the world are profoundly moving expressions of the yearning of the human spirit). Its more to ask you the questions I long ago asked myself, to see what you say in response.

Which argument for the existence of god do you prefer? The cosmological, the ontological, or the argument from design (the three main forms)? None of them stand up to serious argument. I wonder if you also like to think that humans came from Adam and Eve, rather than through millions of years of evolution... The latter is pretty close to as scientific a 'truth' as you can find. Its hard to see how it could be falsified. Refusing to believe it puts you in the category of the child (on this issue), believing all kinds of stories..

The only thing left for you to do is to accept that your faith has no proof. In which case, you might as well believe that we came from creatures made of green jelly from another galaxy... there is no proof for that either. Sorry to be the bearer of such bad news.

Many people died on the cross alongside Jesus, assuming he existed (perhaps he did, perhaps he didn't. Perhaps he was very different to how we might think today). It was the way the Romans executed people they didn't like. The book you worship, the Bible, was written by men, not angels. There were big disagreements at the time (the first centuries Anno Domini) about what should go in it, and what should be left out (they ended up being the 'Apocrypha'). There have been egregious mistranslations along the way. We now know that the idea of Mary being a virgin was one such mistranslation (she was simply a young woman), as was the idea of Jesus being born in a 'stable'. Again, there are two Bethlehems in Israel - scholars disagree on which one is 'the' Bethlehem. In Jerusalem, there are competing Golgothas. Chinese whispers across the centuries, proliferating myths amongst the fragments of historical truth.

Perhaps we will get closer to an ultimate 'answer' if those clever people at Cern in Switzerland find the mysterious Higgs Boson particle in their super-collider any day soon.

Even if they do find this most evanescent of all evanescent entities, often referred to as the 'God particle', it will have no feelings for 'us'. It will simply help to unify quantum mechanics and relativity and perhaps start to explain that mysterious force, gravity. That of course, would be a magnificent achievement in itself.

The ultimate truth for we humans is existential and initially quite depressing: there is no meaning in the universe. We are probably genetically wired to believe that there is (most probably for evolutionary reasons - it helps to survive and stay healthy if you have 'faith'). We are also neurologically bound to see patterns in chaos, just like we imagine faces in the clouds..

The idea of a universe without god can be very frightening, if you stare the prospect fully in the face. We have to be brave and admit it. We are born, we die. We don't survive this process. Mankind cannot take too much reality, but its not impossible to absorb this chunk of it. It does have an incredibly positive side to it: this ultimate truth of ours. It is up to us, to create the world, to sustain it, to make it as full of love and wonder as possible. The ground of all being is emptiness. It us up to us to fill the void with all the goodness we can muster.

We therefore should not look to the concept of a 'god' to ground our ethics. Its up to us to work out what is right and what wrong. If we construct our ethical beliefs by way of faith, we end up not being able to engage with others whose contrasting ethics are derived from other faiths. There would be no way of negotiating between the two systems, and entrenched fundamentalisms are in danger of emerging.

The best achievement we've collectively come up with is the idea of human rights and democracy and associated concepts. We now have most of the basic ideas for a universalist ethics and a generic politics in this fashion. Implementing them and sustaining them has always been the problem..

The core reason faith thrives so abundantly in places like Nigeria is because its so damn hard for most people to live here: no light, no money, no voice. It was the same for much of Europe in the 19th century under the dirt and stress of industrialisation. The place was chock full of churches. If ever Nigeria became a more equitable society, a lot of this 'faith' would evaporate.

At present, many evangelical Nigerians believe in irrational things which give them hope but don't actually help them practically improve their lives. This I find rather sad. Don't you?

46 comments:

aronke,  1:27 am  

http://www.y-jesus.com/

This works for me.

Lost at the Other End of the World 3:02 am  

It's all sad and symptomatic and sad. Powers of darkness, Olokun, Sani Abacha, principalities and powers, ogbanjes, the likes of lucky igbinedion, all the castables and all the bindables. It's too much to take take in, so we are all utterly confused, lost, blind. It's a mind-fuck out there. But, I have a dream that one day the praying-fasting-allnighting Nigerian will wake up and realize that waking up in the morning is not a miracle. It is the norm in places where there are half-way decent hospitals, good roads, clean water, and enough food. Until then, I rest my case.

yemisi ogbe 7:01 am  

You say we are neurologically bound to see patterns in chaos. I don't agree that we are bound. I see no patterns whatsoever in chaos, and I know that most people in their most profound moments of truth would admit to you that there is no logic to what happens or does not happen to people. On one channel is a man fishing on a boat on a beautiful day with his son, and on the other, people are fighting like dogs to get a bowl of food in Haiti. Where is the pattern Jeremy? Who can find it?

"The best achievement we've collectively come up with is the idea of human rights and democracy and associated concepts. We now have most of the basic ideas for a universalist ethics and a generic politics in this fashion. Implementing them and sustaining them has always been the problem.." Well you've said it all haven't you. My Masters' dissertation was based on implementing universal maritime codes of conduct (yawn), exactly because you cannot enforce them, they are decorative, possibly eventually useless, maybe one day they will move from being jurisprudential hopefuls to really doing something. How much have these human rights and democracy really achieved so far, especially on the scale that you suggest that one should define them as the best achievement...? or one should compare them to singular acts of kindness/coherence that happen all over the world and cannot in any way be codified or recognised...

...human rights and democracy? over a woman spending her life taking care of a drooling unresponsive child or some person instinctively jumping in front of a bullet to save someone else's life?

I think the most commendable things about humankind go unrecognised. Foolishly so...I'll give you the obvious ones...how though farming is one of the fundamentals of our present existence, farmers are downright disregarded...how one has to force the world to make favorable policies to produce the food we eat...Does this give you confidence in man's ability to define what is right and wrong? Or man's ability to reason out everything that has to do with everything. Everyday, I am amazed at how little I know, and how little the people around me know. And worse, how small the average man's world really is, in terms of thoroughly understanding or being interested in so so and so number of issues, or having the capacity of thinking of so so and so number of people's good, or being intuitive enough to see through even three, four people in one day. We are so very limited as human beings and this must be the first premise of our approach to the idea of the existence or non-existence of God.

Believe me, I have all kinds of issues with God. The first time I felt comfortable in church, the pastor said that the bible is proof of God admitting that he has disappointed us. This was last year. This was the most coherent sermon ever preached to me in my life. It was one sentence. But that was it. I wasn't given any explanations for all the tragedies that I had encountered in life, or told that because I was righteous, I wouldn't walk in front of a car the next day. The pastor said that we would never make sense of everything 'here'. Man hasn't been given that grace...so what does one do...As you can imagine Jeremy, his church was near empty. People don't want open ended sermons like these.

I think that the greatest tragedy of religion especially Pentecostalism is that it is attempting to force patterns out of chaos...telling people such idiotic things like...if they pay their tithes, they won't get robbed, their children won't die etc. It demeans the people that get robbed and whose children do die. It pushes these people out of a community that is supposed to protect and comfort them. And it creates pockets of idiotic narrow-minded people unwilling to exercise their minds. This is the tragedy of organized religion. It is completely forcing the issues and that is no way to present God or to endear him as a favorable place to put one's trust.

Let anyone who finds God unpalatable leave him well alone, but I am unwilling to put my confidence in men as the better option.

Goy 8:28 am  

You like trouble, sha!

nneoma 8:56 am  

just checked my blog reader today after sometime...i knew this was coming...the oh-you-crazy-religious-folk...i've-got-it-all-figured-out post....yeah, pretty much expected it....its pretty easy to get frustrated with what's going on in nigeria and blame it on God. I, mean, we Christians do it all the time, blame it on the devil, or the existence of evil (as a spirit or within man, or what have you.)

Yep, the solution to Nigeria's problems would be to 'miraculously' overturn the religious and cultural beliefs systems of all 140 million+ of us built over centuries, convert us to some "universalist" ethical system supposedly held by all 6billion+ inhabitants of this planet and subsequently bask in the resulting "love and wonder" we create for ourselves. I'm sure that once this faith thing in begins to evaporate, Nigerians will find themselves on the path to enjoying all that "goodness" Westerners have "mustered" over the years in their enlightened state of godlessness...you know the kind of goodness birthed by some hypothetical "god particle..."

Kiibaati 12:16 pm  

Making sense out of an arguement becomes difficult when we start with "irrefutable" assumptions. Both theism and atheism share this sin. Theism, that God exists and Atheism, that he (don't ask me about she) does not.

I like this qoute from Alex Tabarrok, posted on Marginal Revolution.

"Suppose that you find a watch in the forest. If you know there is no watchmaker then the theory of evolution is a brilliant and compelling explanation for the presence of complexity without design. But suppose that you know a watchmaker exists then surely the simplest and most compelling explanation is that the watchmaker made the watch. Any other explanation, particularly one so improbable as evolution would seem to be preposterous and beside the point.

Thus for someone who knows, really knows, that god(s) exists (and there are many people who claim to know that god(s) exists) then some form of creationism ( follows as a rational deduction from the premises. It's no point telling these people that creationism is unscientific because given the premise that god(s) exists creationism is scientific. If god(s) exists then evolution is almost certainly false, if not in every particular then surely in the grand claims of a undesigned nature. "


http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2005/06/theism_versus_e.html

Anonymous,  1:16 pm  

there is no meaning in the universe

nevertheless we (universe at big bang) started with 50% of matter and 50% of antimatter and we ended up with a slight asymmetry towards matter (i.e. life). Is there any bias towards life in the scientific mechanisms of universe? I don't know really.

Anonymous,  1:36 pm  

I can't dismiss this out of hand, because there are some valid points raised. (It will take too long to go through each one and discuss them).

However, to set about proving the existence of God to a non-believer will more than likely not convince the non-believer and goes against God's teaching (in the bible, about not putting the Lord God to the test, not sure what the slant is on that for other religions). Those who want to believe will and those who don't wont - it's as simple as.

Jeremy who did you send this to? What was their response? Nothing wrong with questioning things. Though I can imagine that religious leaders won't take too kindly to being questioned on what they take for granted. Good on you!!

Red Eyes 1:42 pm  

This is a serious and very thoughtful argument which deserves a serious reply; a very serious argument which you have been principled and even courageous in making with such clarity and care. But several questions give me pause and I'm yet to see any serious reply. Could all the strength there is in your argument just not drag some of your readers down, torturing them with regret?

Anonymous,  2:30 pm  

Of course its balderdash to think we started out as Adam & Eve, as the first thing that comes to mind is incest! The point is that in a hopeless place like Nigeria, you need some sort of fabric that binds people together, and that is religion. As the level of prosperity increases, more people would use their brains, they would actually read real books, not the self-help tosh that is peddled here. Their minds would be opened up to rational thought and logic, and there is still room for religion in all of this. By this stage we would also strengthen our moral values and develop a new set of values and interests that are much more refined but unique to who we are. In contrast, please remember that it is very rare to find a Nigeria who is more than 3 generations away from the land, which does not mean that we are not civilised, it simply suggests that our thoughts, ideas and actions require a lot more in terms of effort. Now I have gone full circle, this is why at present Nigerians do not, cannot plan. Simple! When someone else plans, we can implement; witness how we perform well in UK, US, etc, where someone else thinks ahead, learns from experience and seeks to know more and do more. Our roles in these places are to join in and we do a damn good job, but do not put us in charge. That's why most of the decent things in abuja are run by foreigners, and its nothing to do with cost, its just a little of planning and application. Enough said....sorry if I rambled a bit.

Anonymous,  4:45 pm  

I love Jesus. Life is simple. The overintelligent question God's existence and want to counter this via scientific means. The simple accept Him simply.
Let the smarty pants prove His non existence, will that stop blood from flowing in their veins? No. If people want to believe that a 'BANG' happened to us all, then why can't they just leave 'it' to keep happening to us all.
Just like food doesn't cook itself, just like clothes don't wear or make themselves is the same way life cannot just happen. If a 'BANG' did it then the 'bang' is GOD or whatever we perceive him to be. Whatever is responsible for our existence be it evolution or a kind of force, then we deem it GOD because our existence although might be witout reason, but it is still with reason even if it all happened with a very trivial BIG BANG.

Lost at the Other End of the World 5:11 pm  

All too often we hastily reduce conversations about religion and the secularization of society to the question of God's existence.

It's also simplistic to create a natural link between democracy, national progress, and the death of all churches.

But let's move beyond the God question. The problem with the new Pentecostalism taking Nigeria by storm is not that it is theistic but that it weakens the potential of the Nigerian masses as a civil entity. It dulls peoples political and social edge. Their government has failed them, true. Instead of creatively engaging their predicament, they are moving more and more inward away from the civil sphere into a spiritual realm where they can block out the clattering sounds of their disintegrating world.

What we need is a civil society made up of citizens because as far as I'm concerned Nigerians are not citizens. We need a state, a government. And we need both society and state to stop pretending that they can go on living separate lives forever.

Considering the social power that churches are amassing for themselves, I have a strong feeling that anyone who wants to initiate any form of civil revolution would have to coopt them. Which is why I don't think they are utterly useless.

Jeremy 5:38 pm  

LATOEOTW: you write, "All too often we hastily reduce conversations about religion and the secularization of society to the question of God's existence.

It's also simplistic to create a natural link between democracy, national progress, and the death of all churches."

Why is it simplistic? The bigger picture about the development of modern European thought from the renaissance to the so-called 'Enlightenment' is that the questioning of the existence of God and the weakening of the power of the Vatican absolutely went hand in hand with the birth of what we now refer to rights discourse.

From Descartes' questioning of everything it is possible to question in his Meditations, to Thomas Paine's Rights of Man, philosophers continually attacked the idea that belief in god is natural, and placed humans at the centre of thought and ethics.

The extent to which we outsource to god the questions of 'what should we do?' and 'how should we live' is the extent to which we disempower ourselves as agents of transformation in the world.

God may well be the Higgs Boson - the scientific explanation that unites relativity with quantum mechanics and ensures that physics is once again a unified set of explanations for all that happens in the universe. The disappointment for theists is that at the core, there is no spiritual force hard-wired into the cosmos that we could refer to as God in the conventional sense - well meaning, all powerful, omniscient etc etc.

The slightly odd thing is is that I am in fact not a hard materialist, and have a critical take on 'hard science' as the origin of all possible explanations. However, when faced with those who simply express their deep desire to project god into the world without any intellectual or theoretical framework, I end up sounding like one!

It may well be, that although we are on the verge of discovering most of the major source codes that structure the universe and existence (the genome, a unified understanding of the fundamental forces via the Higgs Boson etc.) there is in fact still a strong role for spirituality yet available.

Its another discussion about how this might be possible (and would get us involved in quite heavy philosophy). In simple terms, spirit is generated out of the ontological reality that there is not a hard and fast distinction to be made between 'subjects' and 'objects' - that being alive in the world, being embodied, being conscious etc are all things that are precious and magical and retain their own intrinsic value...

In which case, our understanding of matter would become less reductionist, as we see that materiality itself is highly complex, and involves perception, sensation, action-at-a-distance and ultimately, the depth experience of being-in-the-world.

In all this, we can't extract the centrality of our human experience, no matter what theoretical apparatus the scientists tell us we ultimately live within, and no matter what operating systems enable the universe to remain in becoming..

Anonymous,  7:57 pm  

I see a lot of unfounded arguments and assumptions cloaked in false intellectualism. The truth is that one cannot have an argument about spiritual things and the study of science: two different realms. Science is still subject to the limits of the human mind and you cannot investigate the existence of a power that is supposed to operate in a realm superior to and unattainable by humans. I do not subscribe to some evidence provided by science because, as history has shown, it has its limits. This especially pertains to theoretical science, like that of evolution, which by the very definition of scientific fact (tested and proven) should not be seen as such and untestable, purely mathematical assumptions about our universe.

Anonymous,  11:49 pm  

It always amazes me when I see individuals who say they are Atheist. I normally wonder whether they understand the depth and implications of what they are saying and normally on conversations with them they do not. After, conversations they now try to qualify their atheism but in qualifying their atheism, they begin to form another religion. Now, I am not a bible basher and I cannot remember the last time I went to church, but what I do know is that God exists. This, I do so logically. People that call themselves atheists are currently benefiting from religion. Society is the way it is because of religion and not the other way round. Check out the atheist test …

If you are atheist then you MUST believe in efficiency. You MUST believe that resources should not be wasted on things that yield no benefit. This includes human resources. Thus in this respect, you must believe that everyone who is serving life in jail should be killed – after all there is no need wasting money on individuals whose upkeep is a drain on resources. It goes further to babies. If you are atheist then you MUST believe that when babies are born they should be examined by a crack team of experts and if the analysis confirms that the baby’s benefit to society would be less than its cost, then it should be killed – after all there is no need to waste resources on something that would not be positively beneficial to society. It now extends to old age pensioners. If it has been assessed that you have reached the age where your benefit to society is less than your cost, then you have to face the same fate – after all there is no need to waste resources on these individuals. Resources would be better off spent on something that would benefit society. These are the type laws and belief system that atheist MUST have.
If an individual calls him/herself an atheist and DOES NOT believe in the above then I am afraid that atheist is a fraud and does not understand the impact and depth of his/her claim of being an atheist. So Jeremy do you believe that society should be like this?
Imagine a society like that? I have always maintained that the belief in atheism is a foundation for a baseless, lawless, ruthless and uncivilised society.

Kody 7:41 am  

It is debates like these that can go on for ever and achieve absolutely nothing with people quoting passages, citing references to quotes from 'intellectuals', doing experiments....

People, whilst Jeremy muses on the 'God Particle', best go to church, mosque, synagogue today OR stay home and watch tv, go jogging, eat, read, cook, ....whatever catches your fancy.

You ain't going to know the truth till you are DEAD. Its in caps because that will be the big bang that will give you the answers.

Till then, am off to church. Yes, i'm a very intelligent person who thinks for herself and I most certainly am not one of these people you all describe in broad statements about how attending religious services dulls minds.

In my view, only dull minds make generalisations.

Red Eyes 1:10 pm  

Although I should ask whether anyone did learn that the chUrch may have now offered an apology to darwin? The same church that sold the story of the son of God, Christ, to Africa and the price of evalasting hell fire for those who fail to believe. If that same church asserts that their is no God, would you believe? Then in another 1000years another story all in the name of power and control of mans destiny.

If everyone fought for what they believed in the world would be a much more safer and better place. I think this question on God is a personal one.

If you were born deaf, blind and mute, which of the the following three would you accept? (1) that we live in a world without a God, (2) a world with many Gods or (3) a world with one God?

Anonymous,  2:33 pm  

Jeremy,

Your posting tells us more about your current state of mind than evangeliscism (?), Christianinty or evolution.

What is happening Jeremy,old boy? Why do you feel the need to 'prove' christians 'wrong'?

You do not have a definitive, provable alternative. What you have is some very persuasive and logical science. But you know as we all do that no one KNOWS the truth.

We are all left to engage/indulge in educated guesswork, according to our culture, education, choice.

This banging on about christians and their mis-guided beliefs is like the homo-phobe who takes it upon himself to fight poofs.

Is he hiding a secret? Is he running away from some unpalatable dark secret?

So Jeremy, what is your problem with belief in God? What are you afraid of?

You can tell us, Jerry-boy, we are all family on this blog, you know.

Modibbo

Lost at The End 3:13 pm  

It is probably common knowledge that atheists are more obsessed with God than anybody else. Which is why I do not make my experience of the world contingent on the absence or presence of God. There is something uninteresting about the absolutism of atheism and theism. What’s also sad is that both systems of thought are simply different sides of the same coin. That is why getting bogged down, especially, within the context of Nigeria’s modern cosmology, with questions about the existence of God is to strongheadedly close out any possibility for conversation.

@ Jeremy.
Insightful comments!
“The bigger picture about the development of modern European thought from the renaissance to the so-called 'Enlightenment' is that the questioning of the existence of God and the weakening of the power of the Vatican absolutely went hand in hand with the birth of what we now refer to rights discourse.”

Sound so much like H. G. Wells. It’s funny how the Enlightenment has become the DNA blueprint for modernity and progress. Mbembe does a good job of inviting us to think about things a bit differently. You forget also that Enlightenment ideals were symptomatic of larger social/historical contexts.

“The disappointment for theists is that at the core, there is no spiritual force hard-wired into the cosmos that we could refer to as God in the conventional sense - well meaning, all powerful, omniscient etc.”

Hard-wired or not, it is this same “spiritual force” that propelled the massacres of the Crusades. The same “spiritual force” that gave moral grounding for colonialism and slavery. The same “spiritual force” that made MR. NDDC burn 270 million Naira in a grave yard, and that is keeping Nigerians from exploring their civic potentials.

You can already see where I’m going with this. It is not about whether there is God or no God but how “God” functions. We would understand what is going in Nigeria better if we moved away from God as obsession to God as function. Besides, if you look closely, “God” is always being used for something or is symptomatic of something. “God” hardly ever functions in and of itself. Meaning that as much as it looms largely over our imagination and experience, “God” is always after the fact. This is why the God vs. No God argument is reductive. Because God “isn’t.” (Which is what he has always wanted to be: “I am that I am”). No matter how originary and immanent he wants to be, he is still no different from his African animist counterparts who, as Achebe says, can be destroyed for the simple reason that they were created.

Asking Nigerians to reenact the Enlightenment by questioning the existence and power of God is pointless. For the simple reason that Nigerians, deep down, do not believe in God! You honestly think that these pastors and their followers believe in God? God is just one of the many manifestations of the hypostasis, Survival. “God,” like three square meals, JAMB, American Visa, and Shell job is one of the many vocabularies Nigerians use to articulate their Will to Survival.
That is why there is no “natural” link between national progress and the death of all churches.

Churches will die a natural death that will also be symptomatic.

Lost at The End 3:27 pm  

@ Kody.

"You ain't going to know the truth till you are DEAD. Its in caps because that will be the big bang that will give you the answers."

LOL!!!!

Mike,  6:28 pm  

A little girl asked her father: "How did the human race appear?"
The father answered, "God made Adam and Eve; they had children; and so was all mankind made."
Two days later the girl asked her mother the same question. The mother answered,
"Many years ago there were monkeys from which the human race evolved."
The confused girl returned to her father and said, "Dad, how is it possible that you told me the human race was created by God, and Mom said they developed from monkeys?" The father answered,
"Well, Dear, it is very simple. I told you about my side of the family, and your mother told you about hers."

Dotun 7:46 pm  

I was thinking of replying this post, perhaps get some quotes from Timothy Keller's 'The Reaason for God: belief in an age oif Scepticism' or write some of CS Lewis' classic.........but then I stopped. Stopped because I reaaly dont need to. And I still respect Jeremy's position, while I disagree with.
BTW, how are you doing? long time no see......ive been away from the blogosphere.

SolShine7 7:52 pm  

In actuality, scientists know so little about our galaxy, our universe, our existence. What person has seen Saturn first-hand? What person has traveled to every inch of our galaxy? Last time I checked, no one. That's why I don't depend on what humans can explain, even the most intellectual ones.

There is a mystery to God and Jesus and I like that. I wouldn't want to worship a God who's on the same level of knowledge that humans are on. I believe that our life on this planet is but one small act in the grand story of eternity.

I like how the song "Conversations" by Sara Groves puts it. Here's the link to the lyrics:

http://artists.letssingit.com/sara-groves-lyrics-conversations-x5klk7h

Lost at The End 10:13 pm  

It is probably common knowledge that atheists are more obsessed with God than anybody else. Which is why I do not make my experience of the world contingent on the absence or presence of God. There is something uninteresting about the absolutism of atheism and theism. What’s also sad is that both systems of thought are simply different sides of the same coin. That is why getting bogged down, especially, within the context of Nigeria’s modern cosmology, with questions about the existence of God is to strongheadedly close out any possibility for conversation.

@ Jeremy.
Insightful comments!
“The bigger picture about the development of modern European thought from the renaissance to the so-called 'Enlightenment' is that the questioning of the existence of God and the weakening of the power of the Vatican absolutely went hand in hand with the birth of what we now refer to rights discourse.”

Sound so much like H. G. Wells. It’s funny how the Enlightenment has become the DNA blueprint for modernity and progress. Mbembe does a good job of inviting us to think about things a bit differently. You forget also that Enlightenment ideals were symptomatic of larger social/historical contexts.

“The disappointment for theists is that at the core, there is no spiritual force hard-wired into the cosmos that we could refer to as God in the conventional sense - well meaning, all powerful, omniscient etc.”

Hard-wired or not, it is this same “spiritual force” that propelled the massacres of the Crusades. The same “spiritual force” that gave moral grounding for colonialism and slavery. The same “spiritual force” that made MR. NDDC burn 270 million Naira in a grave yard, and that is keeping Nigerians from exploring their civic potentials.

You can already see where I’m going with this. It is not about whether there is God or no God but how “God” functions. We would understand what is going in Nigeria better if we moved away from God as obsession to God as function. Besides, if you look closely, “God” is always being used for something or is symptomatic of something. “God” hardly ever functions in and of itself. Meaning that as much as it looms largely over our imagination and experience, “God” is always after the fact. This is why the God vs. No God argument is reductive. Because God “isn’t.” (Which is what he has always wanted to be: “I am that I am”). No matter how originary and immanent he wants to be, he is still no different from his African animist counterparts who, as Achebe says, can be destroyed for the simple reason that they were created.

Asking Nigerians to reenact the Enlightenment by questioning the existence and power of God is pointless. For the simple reason that Nigerians, deep down, do not believe in God! You honestly think that these pastors and their followers believe in God? God is just one of the many manifestations of the hypostasis, Survival. “God,” like three square meals, JAMB, American Visa, and Shell job is one of the many vocabularies Nigerians use to articulate their Will to Survival.
That is why there is no “natural” link between national progress and the death of all churches.

Churches will die a natural death that will also be symptomatic.

Anonymous,  9:30 am  

Lost at the end - you've hit the nail right on the head. It does not matter what we say about God. God, JAMB, USDV, Shell job....all the same - brilliant!!

What Jeremy is doing is the classic failure of all well-meaning 'development' interventionists. They begin from the stand-point that the Western development model is the best, and proceed to impose their history, experience and values on us in the developing (or not) world.

The western industrial development model is a failure. Whether in terms of its impact on the environment, the extremems of wealth and poverty it has created, or the wars it continues to generate (Iraq will not be the last).

China is taking over the world by rejecting the Wests panacea for development - democracy. They are achieveing historically unknown economic development by creating their own model. They have their own notions of God and the meaning of life.

So Jeremy, do yourself a favour, as a development intervener. Lead less and follow more. Teach less and learn more. Talk less and listen more.

What if belief in God is part of Nija's formula for success. And here you are killing it, to make us more 'Enlightened'?

Modibbo

Anonymous,  9:33 am  

I have to agree with Modibbo. This is certainly more about what's messing with Jeremy's mind at this time. There is a certain urgency to prove to himself his own belief, just like religious people are always paranoid to prove their faith.

So Jeremy says:

"The ultimate truth for we humans is existential and initially quite depressing: there is no meaning in the universe. We are probably genetically wired to believe that there is"

There is a certainty in this statement that grates in its arrogant 'i have it all figured out and you dont'-ness but more importantly it defeats the entire premise of Atheism.

You are well within logical rights to say that you dont believe in God, and his existence is unprovable and even disproved. But to say that the universe has no meaning?

Jeremy, no amount of knowledge or engagement gives anyone the right to make such a grand declaration about such a subjective existential quiestion. YOUR universe might have no meaning, but dont speak that for another's

In saying for certain that 'the universe hadsno meaning' you are as dogmatic and unreasonable as those who say 'God created the universe and that's final'.

I neither respect their sense of misguided superiority, nor yours.

Mike,  9:51 am  

@solshine7
I think you need to re-read what you have written as you kind of contracdict yourself. Scientists actually know a lot about the universe and a lot of that knowledge is factual and can be proven. You then go on to say that you like the idea of the mysteries of God and Jesus. Last time I cheked no-one has met either and there is no evidence of the former and very little of the latter.

The lack of some spiritual entity (God) doesn't make the world a less interesting place. In fact it becomes much more fascinating as one can only be awe struck at the wonders of nature.

A God who is on the same level of knowledge as us is unlikely to be a God - surely?

Kush 12:44 pm  

"At present, many evangelical Nigerians believe in irrational things which give them hope but don't actually help them practically improve their lives. This I find rather sad. Don't you?"

Nope I don't I'm afraid. Religious principles are behind the founding of the most successful countries in the world. The founding fathers of the old US of A, choose to inscribe "In God we Trust" on the back of the US dollar. The Church of England is for all practical purposes the national church with its history being closely intertwined with the nation and also having the Queen as its Governor General.

Nigeria and the issue of religion is more an issue of sincerity. I wonder how many of the so called devout christians are really practicing the principles advocated by christ? I strongly believe that if only 50 percent of those who advocated such principle really practiced them it severely transform the country and indeed the individuals...

Sandrine 2:34 pm  

These are my two cents:
I do not believe in God, just like Jeremy. I had my fair share of "you will go to hell"comments.What it comes down to is either you believe or you don't.There is no convincing me, it's just not in me. Not believing in God is a path that is lot harder than believing in God. All of us yearn for that unconditional love and for the believers, they find it with God. My path is lonely, nobody will love me no matter what, I am sole responsible of my actions and I am not looking to be forgiven at the end.There are a lot more believers than non-believers whatever you might think.Everybody I know in Miami, is a believer.Most people I know go to church. My seven years old was already told by a classmate that she will go to hell.
What I teach my children, is that nobody knows for sure and that God could exist or not.I teach them to be tolerant of the opinions of others and to not worry about what they will say to them.I also tell them that they might change their mind one day and believe and that I will respect their choice.
What I think Jeremy was trying to say is some churches prevent people to be independent thinkers and make their own choices. I also think that some believers are not as tolerant of others as the bible might be. I respect people who believe in God and their belief but I do not accept brain washing and lack of compassion.

Anonymous,  3:27 pm  

religious people don't need 'proof'. thats what 'faith' is. its the unwavering belief insomething that cannot be proved.

or as other people know it ... superstition.

naijalines 4:23 pm  

Well done Jeremy. Excellent write-up.

'Faith' is sucking life out of Nigeria. It is blinding and brainwashing a whole generation of otherwise intelligent people. Unfortunately, many Nigerians cannot see it...refuse to see it.

Don't know if you've read my 'hate free zone' post on a related theme about religiousity and ignorance.

Keep doing what you do. Love reading your blog.

Anonymous,  6:59 pm  

Very irritating post. Something terribly intolerant about it, but at the same time, it sounds like you're trying to convince yourself that your way is the right way. As has been repeated here over and over, no one KNOWS for sure, but i'd rather take my chances with a (according to you) non-existent God than with man's whims and caprices, thank you very much.

Red Eyes 7:18 pm  

Firstly, @sandrine
"...What it comes down to is either you believe or you don't.There is no convincing me, it's just not in me. Not believing in God is a path that is lot harder than believing in God..."

Ok, I don't intend to count the angels as they dance but I really think that belief and disbelief are not mutually exclusive opposites. They are 2 sides of the same coin. What about the middle path in this matter?

Secondly, @naijablog
I still have a question for those of us who may have relatives who have come to this world deaf, blind and mute. Which of the the following three would they believe in? (1) that we live in a world with one God?; or (2) with many Gods? or; (3) without a God?

Lost at The End 8:41 pm  

@ Red Eyes

"I still have a question for those of us who may have relatives who have come to this world deaf, blind and mute. Which of the the following three would they believe in? (1) that we live in a world with one God?; or (2) with many Gods? or; (3) without a God?"

First of all, let me just say that it's a trick question. The complications attending the scenario goes far beyond the God question. Someone who is born blind, deaf, mute? Would such a person even have consciousness? Without language and history and other such ideological tools? Hmmm.....

But, If I had to take a wild guess: they will experience the same essential and existential fears and anxieties that we all try to articulate through a belief or non-belief in God. However, the exploration of these existential angsts might take different forms.

Red Eyes 9:37 pm  

@lost

"...The complications attending the scenario goes far beyond the God question. Someone who is born blind, deaf, mute? Would such a person even have consciousness?..."

Considering that today we have schools for deaf and blind kids. According to a paper by A. R. Luria in her "The Child and his Behavior",

I quote:

"...As he gains experience, the child learns how to offset his natural shortcomings. Against a background of deficient natural behavior certain cultural devices and skills begin to cover, or compensate the defect, and enable the child to handle impossible tasks in new, different ways. Deficient behavior begins to accumulate compensatory cultural behavior, leading to the creation of a “defect culture”, whereby the disabled child acquires certain positive characteristics, in addition to his negative ones."

Now, how can one put forward to these children that the idea of God is TRUE? I think it says somewhere in the bible that everybody will be given a chance to hear the gospel? How will those innocent children hear it? How can they profess faith? How can they?

Don't get me wrong please, I am not saying the idea of God is false.

Anonymous,  10:15 pm  

yaaaaaawwwwwwwnnnnnn

Lost at The End 3:05 am  

@ Anon 10:15

"yaaaaaawwwwwwwnnnnnn"

Who does this? Keeps recurring. One day I go catch you and bulala your yansh.

If you're bored, chop kpekere and stop boring us with your boredom.

Anonymous,  8:34 am  

YAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWNNNNNNN!!!!!!

COME AND BULALA IT NA! YAAAAWWWWWWWNNNN!!! TEHEHEHEHEH

Red Eyes 10:52 am  

@lost & anon
you guys made me laugh - I almost choked...whats with the bulala and the way anon says "na" for now. Very original

maitumbi,  11:35 pm  

I see the argument is now tending towards faith versus science. My problem with faith is that that there are six billion religions on planet earth; each individual finds it easy to create god in his own image, to create a world view that explains “everything”. Just like the blind men around the elephant.

Yes, science is not complete. But science is not a religion. Indeed, if god exists, as our knowledge increases, one day I expect we should be able to prove god. The purpose of science is to evaluate and document knowledge in a manner that can stand the test of objectivity. Hardly anybody doubts that the earth is not the centre of the world, that it is round and that it orbits the sun (and not the other way round). That is what science does. It proves what we know, and when we know better, it rewrites it self. Although it is not a faith per se, it is more logical to rely on the knowledge we have until we know better.

As for Adam and Eve and the origin of man, I would put that tale on the same pedestal as the Yoruba creation story of a man with a chicken, some grains of corn and a handful of sand starting the world at its centre, in Ile-Ife. It is a myth, at best intended to pass a message, but certainly not expected to be reasoned literally.

Does god exist? I think that is the wrong question to start with. I ask the faithful, will your mores change for worse if there is no god and hell and fire and brimstone? The sad fact is many people will answer "yes" to the last rhetorical question. And that is why our religion is hypocrisy. If god existed, he should be ashamed to have such followers. If all religion teaches us is moronic fatalism, to the point that we have to pray for electricity (as per Obasanjo’s advice), then we are of god’s creation, the most pathetic. I don’t know if god exists or not for sure. But I have a strong hunch it does not make a difference to our well being on this earth.

Waffarian 11:02 am  

"As for Adam and Eve and the origin of man, I would put that tale on the same pedestal as the Yoruba creation story of a man with a chicken, some grains of corn and a handful of sand starting the world at its centre, in Ile-Ife. It is a myth, at best intended to pass a message, but certainly not expected to be reasoned literally".

Hehehehehehe,I was "expelled" from yoruba language class in secondary school for laughing out loud when I heard that story. Needless to say, our yoruba teacher did not find that funny at all.That is why until today, I can not speak yoruba. I blame the chicken!

I really have to write about that incident...its quite a story.

And I hope on that note, the debate has ended. It was all very interesting.

tobenna 6:46 pm  

Praise JESUS!
We have a lost soul in here that needs deliverance!
Oya! Everybody, bring out your annointing oil. This kind can only be healed by binding & casting and FIREEEEE!!

not so mutually exclusive, not so intertwined,  12:39 am  

I thought I'd add my own tuppence, being: 1. A person who knows the incomparable love of Jesus and wishes others did too (which makes me an evangelical christian) 2. A scientist who has no problems accepting that the big bang or evolution took place and 3. A Nigerian.

I don't think that the existence of God is a scientific question at all. If anything, it is a philosophical question. I personally do not believe that anyone could prove the existence of God - and science depends on empiricism, it depends on things that you can observe and measure, it depends on doing experiments. Theories are a way of explaining those material phenomena, but accepting a theory as truth without evidence is bad science.

I think that people are religious by nature, in general we like to hold on to ideas we don't quite understand just because they are dogma, because it saves us the bother of thinking things through for ourselves. This is true even in science, which many people have made their religion - it's true with any form of ideology. So for example theories of racialism were concocted in the past, using ill conceived experiments and based on the racist values of the time - theories that are still quite pervasive in the world's culture.

So. We all have our blind spots. You say that religion thrives in Nigeria because of the poor quality of life, but I think it may also be due to the African appreciation of the spiritual dimension - something that has been lost with the materialist worldview of the West. Just because you can't see or measure something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. How do you define love? The Bible says that God is love. (By the way, Christians do not worship the Bible, and we don't believe it was written by angels - it was written by flawed humans like you and me, who were inspired by God - and we read it to understand the relationship that God has had with people over the ages - and see what values he wishes us to live our lives by).

As for me, I am a Christian because as I said earlier I have known the incomparable love of Jesus in my life. And the more I look at the world, the more I see that human nature is flawed, and that even our best efforts leave us in a deplorable state. I also believe that there is a different, better way for us to live. Jesus spoke a lot against the hypocrisy of religion. You should read the gospels, you might be surprised at the messages of social justice that you find there. But Jesus wasn't just a political revolutionary - he healed the sick, he cared for the hungry, he associated with the despised of society, he never rejected anyone who came to him - I believe that Jesus was -is- God, that God actually chose to come to live with us, share our lives, accept us in our deplorable state as his children, and transform us, making us more like him each day - if we would only choose to turn to him.

I once read a quote that says 'the religion that is afraid of science dishonours God'. The person who said it was an atheist, but I agree with his sentiments - we have no need to fear science, in fact it should be embraced in helping us better understand the world and making it more habitable. From a scientific point of view I think bad science should be criticised, because it can have very dangerous consequences, and from a human point of view I think the misapplication of science - Social Darwinism, for example - is dangerous. Everything has its limits. Except God, who is eternal, and can't be put in a box!

Naapali 8:26 pm  

I feel I can bet on leaving a comment that simply says; I agree with lostatheotherendoftheworld and be better understood than trying to express myself any other way.

Anonymous,  4:36 pm  

For all your intelligence Jeremy this is a really dumb post.
I'm off to get a blog ID so I can return with an identity.
After spending considerable time reading your other interesting and informed posts I am at a loss as to how you fell off the mark with this one.
Being critical of people's religious beliefs is not your place.

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