A fair portion of my life has been exposed to the western religion. I went to Catholic schools from K to 8 while growing up in Hong Kong and it was mandatory to take religion class every year without ever failing those courses for it would mean failing the entire school year. Luckily I never failed any of those religion classes but I did in mathematics so I still failed the entire school year twice, nothing to boast about here. I found the contents within those religion courses very dominating and controlling through the abusive use of authority. I still remember vividly of how the teachers would exercise the use of threats if we chose not to believe in Jesus or follow the words of God by reminding us about ending up in “Hell” rather than in ” Heaven”. We were taught the world began just over a few thousand years ago with humans created in our current form ( Adam and Eve) and believing in Jesus would promise us an Everlasting life. I was brainwashed for many years through their authoritative power while preaching about meanings and purposes God has planted in all of us and we are here to serve Him, fulfilling His wishes and to worship Him. I found it to be so arrogant but I dared not to question about their preaching because we were not supposed to but only follow the Rules. It was almost like a form of child abuse but at that time it was unheard of. I was constantly being threatened if I ever turned against the words of God or adapting some other forms of non- western religion. The use of authority in the western religion was abusive where they introduced codes of behaviors and we must obey the codes or we would end up going to “Hell” as a form of punishment. How awful is it as a child being threatened like this on a daily basis and this is precisely how I remember the way western religion was exposed as a form of power and control which was very damaging to me. These days the abusive and arrogance nature of western religion remain the same, only I have stepped away from it and no longer bounded by those rules and as I get more familiar with natural science, I have become a person without any religion and I consider myself a naturalist meaning I believe natural science can offer explanations to everything in the universe without having to invoke divine intervention. This is a system of belief so called ” Naturalism”.
When I was about the age of 13, I sort of figured out what I really wanted to do for a living, and that is to investigate everything there is about the universe . As a kid growing up under the Catholic environment, I was confused about the conflict between what the science book was telling me about the age of the universe ( approximately 14 billion years old) vs what the Bible was saying ( a few thousand years old). The Bible doesn’t talk about evolution but we learned about it in our science class. I could not fall asleep at nights because there were way too many mysterious questions I had about the universe . Who created it and why, how big is it, and what is beyond the universe? Those questions really bothered me and while keeping me up all night long, I often dreamed about being that scientist searching for the answers to all the mysteries about the universe. Today I have been doing just that for the past 15 years studying and updating on information in cosmology includes attending conferences, participating in researches and giving presentations. We are living in a very chaotic world and our lives are not perfect but we try to make the best of it every way we can. We don’t share the same quality of life but we do share the same laws of physics regardless. We also share the same responsibilities to make the world better for everyone without speculating about all those unnecessary reasons for everything that happened. We are here to create our own purposes and meanings about life and live it to the fullest rather than being dictated by some supreme being as to how we should live. The universe is unbiased, unemotional and unforgiven. Human are subject to all sorts of biases. We tend to be wishful thinkers and practice false hopes, but the laws of nature do not operate on the same level. The reality is that the world is chaotic, lives are unpredictable and we are all part of this natural process living in this world. This is precisely what ” Naturalism” is about. The way I see it is that” Naturalism” is the best explanation about the universe based upon observations and data that we gathered. All evidence is pointing to” Naturalism” as the way to describing this chaotic and yet a wonderful universe. Our life span is extremely short compare to the age of the universe which makes it even more precious and we need to cherish as much as we can while we are still here. We have to grant our own meanings and purposes to fulfill our living and not for someone else. As a naturalist, I believe ” Naturalism” which is based upon the progress of natural science, is providing the best resources for the ” truth” behind this universe.” Naturalism” is the default worldview of natural science where explanations have to be grounded in empirical evidence and that we can come closer and closer about ” the truth” through observations, experimentations and verifications.
A system of belief which is completely contradictory to” Naturalism” is known as” Theism.” It is a position in which more traditional believers worship a god who intervenes in their daily affairs. These so called theists believe in a god who answers prayers, who cares deeply for the well-being of all, and causes things to happen for the benefits of someone or something,, perform miracles, establishes judgements through the use of rewards or punishments. Theists have a close personal relationship with their god and believe adamantly in an afterlife. I view those theists as religious fanatics and the Bible ( which I call holy fiction) makes many claims about the natural world. This holy fiction stated that a great flood destroyed everything on earth, that the sun stood still, that Jesus was born of a virgin mother, and that the dead came back to life. Although the religious fanatics argue that some of these statements can be understood metaphorically, but it is clearly that many of it are meant to be taken literally. I suppose” Naturalism” isn’t for everyone because the false hope of an eternal afterlife is at the core of those religious fanatics consciousness and the demand for scientific evidence will stand in the way of their reasoning. My perspective is that if a theologian wants to interpret scientific data as something that is divine, it is a right that he or she can do so. But when they deny empirical truth such as evolution, or claim that humans were created more or less their current form just a few thousand years ago, that would bring religion into conflict with science. This is why creationism as well as intelligent design cannot be taught in a public school science classroom which the supreme court ruled over it back in 2005. This is a victory for science over religion in the court system and the way I look at it, the two subjects cannot be mingled together. The nature of science is to provide us with an open mind and ready to be challenged at all times. We question, cast doubt and trained to be a skeptic in science until sufficient evidence provide us with all the support of a theory through experimentations to become factual. It is no wonder why evolution is so important for it can change the way we think about ourselves and the world around us. We would still believe that everything including the sun revolve around the earth if not for the scientific method and data carried out by Galileo along with others like Copernicus and Kepler which otherwise would be very damaging indeed to our understanding of the world we live in. Under” Theism “if we assume it is an acceptable worldview, the world should exhibit uniformity, one form of religion, unity among everyone, no suffering, wars, hatred, and above all, equality of the entire human species. On the contrary, this world is chaotic, filled with hatred, discrimination among different human race, various forms of religion leading to wars, destructions and a very divided world without unity among humans. We do not share the same quality of lives. While some of us are very fortunate, many others are suffering from rare diseases, catastrophic events and become victims of crimes and natural disasters. All of these common experience we go through in our daily lives are pointing to” Naturalism” rather than” Theism.” How could a god who is supposed to be so loving and caring would leave the world like this? Of course these religious fanatics will defend “Theism” by saying that god has a plan for everyone and there is a reason for everything that happened which I find so absurd and it is just plain stupidity. After all,, humans are too biased and those fairy tales from the holy fiction provide them with the opportunity to practice false hopes and wishful thinking.
Tragic events are inevitable in the real world and we all experience those events sometimes within our life time . Maybe the loss of a very close friend or a family member, the loss of a home due to some unforeseen disasters such as wildfire or an earthquake, or knowing that you have contracted a serious form of illness. The degree of suffering varies from person to person depending on how serious those events are impacting us . Tragedies are tools for humans to gain wisdom. Do we really get any wiser after dealing with those tragic events? While it might be true for some of us, but the majority of people don’t. Tragedy seems to be an inherent part of nature and of evolution. A greater understanding of tragedy in the natural world can help us deal with tragedies in our own lives. The themes of evolution: ( struggle for existence”, ” survival of the fittest”, “competition of resources” all pointing to explain part of the suffering in this world, but in fact, tragedy doesn’t serve any purposes or offer any justifications because unfit traits and behaviors are common parts of our lives and tragedy will not clear the way for individuals with greater fitness. Happy normal family died of freak accidents during their road trips on vacation, young fit adults died of sudden heart failure, and innocent bystanders died from drive by shootings being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tragedy is far more random and senseless than we presume while suffering is an inevitable consequence of evolution. As a naturalist, I see tragedy as an outgrowth of natural processes that have been occurring throughout history from multicellular organism to human species such as infant mortality, infection, starvation, catastrophe, bacterial parasitism and species extinction. Do all of these suffering serve higher purposes or are they simply a way to remind us that suffering is part of existence? ” To me, ” purpose” isn’t a good word to be used for it implies there is a grand designer planting the seeds of ” purposes” into our living and expecting us to live and behave in certain ways in order to reward us or punish us if we don’t. As a scientist looking at the most fundamental level, there are no purposes at all. Life is accidental based upon having the right ingredients for it to arise inevitably on this planet and most likely very abundance elsewhere in the universe. We view our lives as being very precious because it isn’t everlasting, is unpredictable and as far as we know to the best of our knowledge, we only live once. I will focus on the after life aspect of Naturalism later in the blog. In science, we don’t use the word ” purpose” but instead we look at it as a humanistic creative mind having the power to make choices based on what we want for ourselves and execute the action to get there, but more importantly, be responsible for our own actions at the end. Creative is not the same as creation for creativity is often misperceived as something that has been designed or intended. Most religious fanatics have no desire to be creative and they believe if they follow a set of rules and guidelines depicted in the holy fiction ( Bible), they will be able to claim a successful life, perhaps even an everlasting life. I truly believe they would have achieved just a fleeting taste and moment of success. But many of us certainly come to know lots of creative minded musicians, artists, poets and innovative scientists. Those creative mind accomplished something by rejecting traditional elements, hell bent on overturning standard practices and at the end, they achieved and something unique emerged. So getting back to ” purpose”, it is self created ( creative) and whatever it is, we have to make it worthwhile for us to live the limited life the best we can. If life is really eternal, then it isn’t precious anymore. We need to accept the world as it is and live our lives to the fullest. This is much better than “purposes” handed down by a grand designer, dictating us how to live with a set of expectations and judgements. At further level of deepness, there is no ” right” or ” wrong” in the universe, only a set of laws of physics operating the universe in such unpredictable manners randomly. The rules and codes of ethics and our value of morality are emerged through the increase of sophistication in our cultures and they certainly did not exist back in the days when this planet was dominated by dinosaurs and the very first primates roaming on earth. Evolution plays a big role for the emergence of morality. Tragedy occurred since life began and by understanding tragedy, it will provide a sense of empathy for other people’s tragedies because there is no way to gain empathy for the pain of others than to acknowledge life’s painful experiences as they have affected you. In Western religions, the central metaphor for tragedy is sin. God is perfect but not humans. God gave us free will and therefore we must exert the free will to do good despite being inherently sinful so we can gain entry to Heaven and an everlasting life somewhere in paradise. Humans deserved to be punished by God even if they are not made as perfect as God and this serves as fear that they need to believe in Jesus in order to be granted an eternal after life. How twisted can that be? Western religion have not emphasized empathy and it is prescriptive in which they impose codes of conduct based on injunction from supreme authority but not from the give and take of human interactions. As an example of which I have personally gone through as a child while being brainwashed, that is I was supposed to behave like the saints or Jesus if I want to be admitted to heaven or a member of the Christian community. These codes of conduct emerged from the supernatural power and are not to be questioned by mere mortals, leaving no rooms for learning from mistakes to become better person and be appreciative. These prescriptive codes of behavior do not permit us to be more open minded to accepting other people’s experiences as equally valid to our own. Empathy provides a solid foundation for strong personal relationships as well as a productive society which western religion lacks. Life is best viewed as series of experiences through tragedies. I will not say that tragedies need not cause despair for they do, but they can also remind us about the realities of the natural world in which we are all a part of. Charles Darwin wrote on the death of his ten year old daughter by the name of Annie in the year 1851: ” We have lost the joy of the Household, and the solace of our old age.”
According to the holy fiction, it was God who created mankind, but in reality it was mankind who created God; in fact, many different gods having their own doctrines in which they each claim is better than all others leading to conflicts and religious wars well documented in history.” Theism” is definitely not at work here in this world. ” Faith” is the word theists use but science does not operate on ” faith”. Scientists use the word ” confident” which is based on solid empirical evidence in order to support an idea with no ambiguity. The source of all religions is connected to fear of death. Will there be more suffering in an after life if you made lots of mistakes or not believing in Jesus during your lifetime? What do you become after you died? Is there a soul in each of us which can survive death? Are there such things called ghosts that can return and haunt people? Will there be a meaningful afterlife? Many religions dwell on what happen after we die. Hinduism believes in reincarnation and Christianity believes in heaven and hell in which your actions while on earth will determine where your soul is going after you die. Good actions will take you to heaven where you can unite with God living in paradise while bad actions will take you to hell where you will be constantly burned in flames. God is the one who will be the judge in deciding your fate after you die, ” A Heavenly Dictator”. What a brainwashing mechanism they used on me when I was a kid growing up in the Christianity environment, but that’s the way they tried to make you believe in all of those fairy tales written in the holy fiction; in fact, it was a form of mental child abuse. The worldview of” Naturalism” sees no prospect of life after death.” Quantum Field Theory” which is the leading theory in today’s world for it has surpassed every single test there is over the last 100 years and it is the most accurate theory ever constructed by humans of which all the current technologies in the world originated from, show no evidence to support the idea that people have immaterial transcendental souls or any form of extra energy that can survive death. The only possible thing that can be transferred from one organism to another is information in the form of DNA and other biological molecules or cultural traditions, artifacts and documents. As a kid, I used to think that there were things that is capable of separating from the physical body of that organism including a soul which can survive death. All of the ghost stories kept me up in the middle of the night when I was too scared to close my eyes and often had bad dreams. As I get older and become more familiar with the process of natural science, I no longer believe in any spirits roaming around to haunt people or to establish communications with the living. However, I do think that the spirits of the dead will live on in a different way which is from the kind of work they did or whatever they contributed to this world so other people will remember them through the memories they built together. Musicians like Mozart, Beethoven and Bach where their spirits live on in the music they composed. Scientists like Galileo, Newton, Einstein , Bohr and their spirits will live on for a long time as each of their work on the development of physics are being used every day in the world. The spirits that live on isn’t a soul that can be detached from their physical bodies but resided within the knowledge they were able to share with all of us. I definitely do not believe in life after death but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about what happens after I die. If I have a family then I would be concerned about whether they will be financially stable and successful after I am long gone, or whether my friends will remember me for the friendships we have established, or whether the world would be a better place due to my contributions as a scientist. I hope whatever that I have done in this life will contribute something good to the society although I will never know if this ambition is fulfilled. I deeply believe that naturalists like myself tend to care more about these things than those religious fanatics for we truly are committed to an ethic which emphasizes the causal effects of our actions while the fanatics are hoping for an everlasting life in heaven or in some supernatural realm. The core of” Naturalism” is that we only live once and that this life is the only one we will ever experience so we need to make the best of it and worthwhile to live. Life is a series of learning experience in which we are supposed to make mistakes and learn from it to be better people for we are not perfect. There is nothing to learn if perfection is natural for everyone and life will not be precious anymore. Life is an act of endless creativity filled with tragedies and occasional catastrophe which we all have to experience and at the deepest level of understanding natural science, there are no reasons for anything that happened. If we can just accept the universe as is and abandon the absurd idea about an intelligent designer created us and expecting us to worship him, we can wake up every day and say ” what’s done is done, it is what it is, and how can we move forward to make things better in the future? ” Life is amazing despite catastrophic tragedies. We don’t win every time but we don’t lose forever either. As a human in this world, I am a participant in the grand design of the universe by natural science and subject to evolutionary history. I have long accepted the universe for the way it is without having to speculate for any reasons behind everything that occurred in this world. I find” Naturalism” fulfilling and it is enough to replace the solace of western religion in the lives of most people where” Theism” simply fail miserably in every way. I am definitely ok with that and ” Naturalism” will remain as my worldview as long as I live. Written by C. Wright Mills : ” The intellectual workman forms his own self as he works toward the perfection of his craft….. You must learn to use your life experience in your intellectual work: continually to examine and interpret it. In this sense craftmanship is the center of yourself and you are personally involved in every intellectual product upon which you may work.”
In conclusion, can “Naturalism” compete with “Theism” in providing a basis for a meaningful life? I know for sure it can. ” Naturalism” isn’t any form of religion and it does not presuppose a world beyond the world that we can experience empirically as most religions do. As a scientist, my job is to give the best description of the universe based on observations but not forcing the universe to bend to our preconception. There is no authority figure in natural science, only a set of laws operating mindlessly in governing the universe in a random fashion and is subject to evolve. An understanding of evolution can offer a basis for coming together as rational beings and reaching to a consensus on the answers to difficult questions about the mysteries of this wonderful universe while the abusive use of authority in western religion will only further divide humanity. As quoted by one of the most influential physicists of all time, Albert Einstein: ” To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself.”