Joel Pinheiro

Exclusive: an Interview with Daniel Darkins

In Interview on February 2, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Scientist, philosopher and atheist extraordinaire, Daniel Darkins is the leading proponent of science and atheism in the raging science-religion debate. His new book, ‘The Triumph of Science’, is among the most fulminating attacks on faith ever published. Mr. Darkins argues that belief in God is the greatest threat to the continued existence of mankind. The solution he proposes is simple: uncompromising atheism. He has been kind enough to offer The Metaphysical Inquirer an interview, which we now publish for the readers’ benefit. Whatever your stand on this great debate of our times, it is important to hear what both sides have to say.

Metaphysical Inquirer: Mr. Darkins, many believers think your book is disrespectful and intolerant. What do you say to them?

Daniel Darkins: They have entirely missed my point. My book is a plea for tolerance. You see, I have nothing against religious people. Some of my best friends are religious, not to mention family members who have my deep admiration. I think religion itself has noble traits and is a fine product of the human mind. What I write against, what I attack with the full force of my arguments, is fanaticism. Fanaticism is to uphold irrational dogma and impose your beliefs on others. That is the perfect opposite of the scientific attitude, which is to believe only what the evidence permits and convince others with rational arguments.

MI: Cannot atheism itself become a kind of fanaticism?

DD: How could it? Atheism is not a system of beliefs that can be imposed on others; it doesn’t even add any knowledge to the mind. It is simply a lack of belief in any god, a withholding of judgment. How could a mere absence be imposed on anyone?

MI: In chapter 02 [“Atoms and Phantoms”] you explain that religion and science spring from two fundamentally opposed world-views. Could you elaborate on that?

DD: It’s a very simple difference. To the scientist, the universe is an ordered system, bound by objective laws that admit of no exception. There is cause and effect, action and reaction, whether we like it or not. We discover these laws by observing, by experimenting, by using our minds. If you jump off a cliff and hope to fly, there’s the law of gravity, and you fall. Religion basically asks us to deny that and take a leap of faith. To the religious world-view, reality is the whim of an all-powerful deity that performs miracles. Instead of reason, you have faith, feelings and traditions. The distinguishing mark of religion is belief in God, or at least in a spiritual realm; this is its essence. And if your life is centered on heaven, then the earth doesn’t matter much. Therefore, it is only natural that the ones concerned with making life better here in the real world are the scientists, the atheists – I use the words almost interchangeably – while religious people dream about the afterlife. If this is not intellectually and morally bankrupt, what is? It is time someone got the courage to ask it.

MI: Can there be morality without religion?

DD: Can there be morality without atheism? Following orders just to escape punishment is not particularly virtuous in my opinion. Secular humanist ethics provides the only moral code which does not depend on threats of damnation or the expectation of a heavenly reward, but on true love for mankind. A free love for free people living in this world; doing the right thing because it is right; that’s what atheism is all about.

MI: Still, when we contemplate the universe, or even the face of a loved one, we feel an awe that tells us reality is too complex and beautiful to be meaningless. Religion captures this feeling of the sublime. How does an atheist relate to that?

DD: Atheism only enhances this feeling. When I look at the Milky Way, with all its stars and planets, I’m filled with awe. Things are wonderful in themselves, without any reference to a god. And anyway, how could an invisible being be awe-inspiring if we never saw it? Look at man: is there anything more wondrous than the human body? Our brain, our heart, our digestive tract: how digested food goes down our intestines while our body absorbs its water, until the last remains come gushing out of the rectum – for me, that’s sublime. I also love poetry, music, architecture, gastronomy. Culture and the arts elevate the human spirit and provide meaning better than any religion.

MI: Some religious leaders have deemed your book profoundly offensive and have advised their faithful not to read it. What is your reaction to that?

DD: Honestly, I didn’t expect anything else. That’s the same kind of fanaticism that got Galileo burned at the stake for believing the Earth was round. Muslims burn embassies over offensive cartoons. Christian authorities would love to have my book banned and put me in prison, if not worse; and all I ask of believers is that they keep an open mind. Religion and freedom of thought just do not go well together. The Inquisition, witch burnings, the Crusades, the Index of Forbidden Books, the jihad; that’s what I call offensive; all done in the name of religion.

MI: Isn’t this reading of history a little one-sided? What about all the good things religion promoted throughout the ages?

DD: What about the good works of science? Computers, airplanes, cars. Surely, there are some beautiful temples and churches, and some nice religious music. But you can’t fill your belly with art, can you? With science and technology we now live longer and better lives than ever before. As I argue in chapter 9 [“Judging the Judge”], let’s suppose, for the sake of the argument, that Jesus did magically multiply bread at one time. Even in that case, science would still be far superior, for it multiplied not only bread, but all necessities of life, more than a thousand times. So, who’s the real redeemer of mankind?

MI: Still, there have been many atrocities committed by atheist regimes and rulers, especially in the 20th century. Stalin comes to mind.

DD: Yes, Stalin – believers think they can pin him down as an atheist. They conveniently forget Hitler, who was a devout Christian – and the Pope’s ally – doing what the Bible had commanded all along. As for Stalin, he might have been superficially atheist, but his fanaticism was religious; his ideology was a religion; without God or spirituality, it’s true, but a religion in all essential traits. That’s why I class the Soviet Union among religious nations when calculating the death toll of religion in chapter 03 [“Some Simple Facts”]. That’s what happens when reason gives way to faith.

MI: If religion is intellectually, morally and historically indefensible, how do you explain the fact that most people have a religion of some kind?

DD: Human psychology. Religion offers people something they long for. A god who cares; life after death; a meaning for existence; peace of mind; a simple reason to be nice to your neighbor. It paints a fluffy pink world of happiness and love that produces a warm feeling inside. What man wouldn’t want it? The mind is very easily misled. Atheism gives you the world as it really is: a harsh uncaring universe, each man for himself, no forgiveness coming from above to pat you on the head. It requires much mental strength.

MI: Would you agree, then, that religion may have psychological benefits for believers?

DD: Not at all. You see, I grew up in a traditional Roman Catholic family. My parents were very devout, strict believers, so I speak from personal experience. We had it all: God, Jesus, the Virgin Mary; attended Mass every single Easter; the whole package. At first I went along with it; but as I became more mature and started thinking deeply about these issues, I realized that religion was nothing more than mind torture. There is this relentless guilt and fear of Hell. Love and peace were a thin cover for the obsession over sin. After carefully considering all possibilities, I finally decided to abandon faith and embrace atheism, and only then – I was almost thirteen years old – did I find peace of mind.

MI: Some defenders of religion claim that faith and reason are not mutually exclusive. They try to prove the existence of God rationally, often bringing up the five ways of Thomas Aquinas. What is your answer to these arguments?

DD: The five ways of Aquinas, the First Cause and all other similar arguments may have carried some weight in the distant past, but today we have enough scientific knowledge to see how flawed their premises were. They all depended on outdated metaphysical notions such as cause and effect and an objective reality, whereas physicists and philosophers have already proved that cause and effect do not exist; the alleged order of the universe is but a casual statistical correlation of events. So-called objective reality depends as much on the observer as on any law. The naïve faith in an ordered universe is now meaningless.

MI: What about our moral conscience, our sense of right and wrong? Doesn’t this point to God?

DD: If you want to prove God using morality, you have to prove morality without using God. It can’t be done. As science clearly shows, all our drives are determined by genes. All your thoughts and actions boil down to genes trying to propagate themselves; morality was the crafty device of some genes to replicate better than others. Like all art and culture, it is just a meaningless secretion of the brain. Man is a vessel for selfish genes; there is no room for morality in the real world of physical bodies. Give up: the truth of atheism has been positively demonstrated in every possible way.

MI: Well then, what are your arguments for proving that God doesn’t exist?

DD: This is the 21st century, do you still need arguments? Look, we divided the atom; mammals came from reptiles; children die; of course God doesn’t exist.

MI: In the final and most controversial chapter of your book, ‘For a Free Society’, you argue that religious teaching should be banned from all schools, public and private. Doesn’t this violate the parents’ right to educate their own children?

DD: There is no right to brainwash and abuse innocent children. Would you allow a school to teach, as if it were true, the myth of the tooth fairy? And what if the tooth fairy were a sadistic tyrant keen on torturing people for eternity? That’s Christianity. Look at the Bible: so much violence, so much obscenity; any other book or film like it would be banned for kids under eighteen. I’m only asking that all publications be treated equally. We must protect our children from the infectious God meme. That’s what religion is: a meme, a virus of the mind. Vaccination is mandatory for many diseases, why not for this one? Have no illusions: every single believer is a latent suicide bomber just waiting the command of his god to blow us all up in the air. None can be trusted; I know from personal experience.

MI: Does evolution do away with the necessity of God?

DD: Of course; it’s a needless concept, an unnecessary explanatory entity. No intelligent designer had to create all the diversity of life we observe; natural selection explains it. I even worked with a team of computer programmers to prove it. We designed a program which simulated the conditions of a simple universe. Once you define the rules, set the parameters and add a few entities, they develop and change on their own. No need for God anywhere.

MI: So, how did life come into being?

DD: Well, that’s something scientists are still researching. We don’t yet know how the first unicellular being appeared on Earth, but I lean towards the asteroid hypothesis: an asteroid carrying very primitive life-forms crashed on our planet.

MI: And who, or what, created the life-forms on the asteroid?

DD: Highly advanced aliens.

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