August 19, 2012

Theist or Atheist: My dilemma while using the Dawkins Scale

I wanted to find out where I stand on the scale of 1 to 7 in what I call the Dawkins scale of belief. While thinking about this scale I realized I have some serious issues with this scale. These issues arise because this scale does not account for pantheism (or the Advaita school of thought as it is known in India).

Spectrum of Theistic Probablity 

The details of this scale are as follows. The following is an excerpt from the wiki page titled "Spectrum of theistic probability" that details out the scale used by Richard Dawkins to quantify the degree of theism/atheism.
  1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: "I do not believe, I know."
  2. De facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. "I don't know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there."
  3. Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. "I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God."
  4. Completely impartial. Exactly 50 per cent. "God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable."
  5. Leaning towards atheism. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. "I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be skeptical."
  6. De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. "I don't know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there."
  7. Strong atheist. "I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one."
Pantheism vs Abrahamical Religions. 

I was curious as to where I stood on this scale; however, I faced a problem as I could not fit myself anywhere in this scale. This scale is perfectly suitable for the concept of God according to the Abrahamical religions.  People following such faiths can use this scale to quantify their beliefs.

Statue of Spinoza in Amsterdam. I had not heard about
Spinoza before my trip to Holland. For some creepy reason 
I was drawn to this statue and decided to take its picture.
I then read about this person after my trip. This had a domino
effect on my view of the world.
For me, the biggest hurdle in using this scale was the absence of Monism and Pantheism. Specifically, the forms of faith where there is no difference between the so called creator and the created. This problem is not new and is largely captured in various debates between the dvaita and advaita schools of thought in Hinduism. In the context of this scale, Dawkins tends to equate Monism (and also Pantheism) with not only Monotheism but also Atheism. This, in my opinion, is misleading and to a large extent wrong. Dawkins in his various books disagrees with such concepts and believes that pantheism is "sexed-up atheism." The essence of Dawkins beliefs is true. Indeed, the all forgiving Abrahamical God is completely different from the Brahman described by Adi Shankara and Nature described by Spinoza. Pantheism, however, is inherently different from atheism on many issues; the most important difference is creation, the bone of contention amongst all forms of beliefs. Despite these differences, I strongly believe that pantheism is more closer to atheism and has very little in common with monotheism.

From a Line to a Triangle (and Pyramid)

To address my dilemma I thought of drawing my thoughts on the various forms of belief and faiths I had come across. I am not confident of being able to capture all forms of faith in a planar graph, however the ones I have come across tend to fit in the following triangle. I must confess that at times I think of this as a top view of a pyramid with Agnostic at the top (and not bottom thanks to some atheistic arrogance).


I realize that I have navigated over the surface of this triangle (or moved within this pyramid) over the years. When I was young, I was on the line joining Monism to Monotheism, somewhere between Monism and Polytheism. With times, thanks to reading comics of Madhavacharya and Shankaracharya,  watching my great-grand mother worship Raghavendra Swami, and living with people from all over the world, my view of the world has changed. Currently I am slowly moving to the centre of the triangle having Agnostic, Pantheism, and Atheism as its vertices. At times, to save some time on useless discussions, I call my self atheist and an agnostic.

Position Fluidity 

I do not know where my beliefs shall converge before my last heart beat. I also do not know if this figure shall a) burst out to more dimensions with time, or b) converge to a simple straight line like Dawkins. I personally would have loved to have the clarity of people like Dawkins to simplify all the beliefs on a straight line.

I am certain that beliefs evolve with time for most of us. The sad things is that some people tend to retrace their steps and become born again believers of certain faiths. I wish and strongly believe that I shall not end up as one of them (whom at times, due my atheistic arrogance, I tend to call morons thanks to their weird questions).

Despite the differences in our beliefs I wish that each one comes out from the adolescence of blind faith and starts to think rationally and critically. Such rational and critical thinking is essential to shed light and be open minded on these issues. For starters I would recommend videos from QualiaSoup; I have embedded one such video that I found useful in becoming more open-minded.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hi ashwin,
agnosticism is absent in the absence of atheism...how the linear diagram starting from monism to monotheism include agnosticism.And dont judge ME from any perspective. I am skeptical in my own way.