Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: God

Is there a God?

This is a question about which I've been curious but not sufficiently anxious to find a firm answer – given the huge amount of work involved and the low probability that mankind will ever be able to say something sensible on this matter that everyone can agree with. So I've kept this question open  – whether there s a God or not, whether there is one God or many, whether there is a 'devil' or 'rakshsa', or even whether we are all part of 'God' (advaita). This question is, to me, work in progress. I politely listen to everyone, then move on, unconvinced. It is very hard, in my view, to scientifically prove or disprove the existence of God.

However, on matters on which evidence is clear – the harm that organised religion has caused – I do have a firm view. I firmly oppose organised religion. See my 1982 article in the Caravan magazine – a view that I've continued to hold. To me there are evidence-based costs and benefits of the God belief, and that's what really matters. And all roads lead to tolerance and religious freedom, a prototype classical liberal view. 

Yesterday I accidentally chanced upon Victor Stenger's book : "God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist", and am currently browsing through it. From what little I've read let me say I'm thoroughly impressed with it, and will purchase one for my personal library. In particular, certain scientific facts that have not been as clear to me as they should have now become clear. It is always good to find a good book that teaches new things.

Have a read of the book yourself and tell me what you think.

Here's a presentation (here or here) in which Stenger summarises his book. And here's a short article by Stenger on this topic. Below, is a Youtube video where Stenger debates with a God believer: Stenger also has a number of other Youtube videos.


Before you get swept away, here are some contrarian views (and I'm sure many others)

Victor Stenger Imposes a "Convention" on Science

Conservation of Information?

Does the Theory of Evolution Make Predictions?

Victor Stenger's Science

Victor Stenger’s Puzzle

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charvaka

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The costs and benefits of God

I've been musing on this issue (God, not God, what kind of God, where God, why God, etc.) since childhood, like everyone else, and even now haven't come to any firm conclusion. In DOF I've got a fairly extensive discussion on my current views on God and religion, views that are essentially work in progress.

In a future book, after I've finished doing the governance reform stuff which is most important to me, I'll discuss some of these things in more detail.

But I believe that the issue is not merely an empirical or logical one, it is also a practical one amenable to cost-benefit analysis just like any other economic or social policy issue. That I am proposing such a test doesn't mean this should inform state policy. Just a matter between us as private citizens. [Btw, I'm sure many others must have thought likewise about such cost-benefit analysis in the past – I simply haven't had the time to research this thought further at this moment.]

Benefits of God

A modest level of (tolerant) belief in God seems to provide at least some benefits:

a) Couples become more faithful.

b) Those with depression recover faster.

c) Those with alcohol addition recover quicker.

d) Cancer patients live longer with prayer and possibly die happier.

Costs of God

Excessive (fanatical) belief in God imposes severe costs on society. Such belief makes us want to kill those who differ from our conception of society and God.

We have seen examples in Hitler the Protestant Christian who killed millions of Jews. We have seen how Catholic Christians killed Protestants on St. Bartholomew's Day and at Beziers. We have seen how fanatic Osama Bin Laden killed Western Christians (at least that was his goal). And we have seen how Baba Ramdev would (if he could) kill 80% of the world's population because it eats beef. And so on.

The costs of God (or, rather, organised religion) become high when people become intolerant of other's beliefs and modes of living. Then religion's costs can significantly exceed its benefits. God (or, rather, organised religion) can potentially impose severe negative externalities. We just want an optimal amount of God, neither too little nor too much.

Recommendation

There is an optimal level of belief in God when maximum net benefits are obtained. That point is reached very quickly (starting from the border of agnosticism) and requires some level of fuzziness and modest level of belief (or not too much disbelief), just a tinge beyond agnosticism. 

After that point, we tend to want to impose our views on others, forgetting that God (if He exists) is competent enough to take care of Himself and doesn't need our help to kill people. He can do so Himself!

Thus, Baba Ramdev forgets that he need not worry about trying to kill 80% of the world's population as their punishment for eating beef. God can pretty much kill all those people Himself (if He desires). That He does not seem to be interested in killing people for beef-eating probably means He doesn't really care about this petty issue (of course that doesn't mean we use such a fuzzy test while evaluating the fate of murderers!).

In any event, it would appear empirically that a modest level of belief is perhaps prophylactic and curative (within reason). Atheism does not seem to offer either logical or other benefits. No one can prove that God doesn't exist, so it seems to be an intellectual, emotional and spiritual dead-end. A wasteland. Agnosticism and a modest level of belief both deliver at least some benefits, with optimal benefits achieved with modestbelief.

Then, at the other extreme are those with fervent and fanatic belief in particular forms or shapes of God. Such excessive belief (being blind confidence in our imagination) is likely to be unwarranted, and its overall impacts on humanity are likely to be negative. 

So the recommendation is: Don't go overboard in your confidence that you and God have a special relationship that authorises you to kill other people. Let God do His own killings Himself. There is no need to become God's helper in such things. Be His helper in doing good. I'm sure He'll be more pleased.

ADDENDUM (Notes for possible further work on this topic)

http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/11/marketplace-of-the-gods.html

Happiness: http://news.discovery.com/human/religion-happiness-social-bonds.html

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