Letters to Young Rationalists
Morally committed to data and evidence based search for knowledge as opposed to mere faith and belief
Bertrand Russell has been the foremost Rationalist of modern times. For more than fifty years, in nearly two hundred books and articles he attacked dogmatic authority as an obstacle to human advancement, with wit, brilliance and lucidity.
Sri Lanka Rationalist Association declared May 18, his Birthday as ‘Rationalist Day’. A few excerpts from his writings:-
‘Men who allow their love of power to give them a distorted view of the world are to be found in every asylum: one man will think he is the Governor of the Bank of England, another will think he is the King, and yet another will think he is God. Highly similar delusions, if expressed by educated men in obscure language, lead to professorships of philosophy; and if expressed by emotional men in eloquent language, lead to dictatorships’.
(Power : A New Social Analyses -1938)
‘In the immense majority of children, there is the raw material of a good citizen, and also the raw material of a criminal. Scientific psychology shows that flogging on weekdays and sermons on Sundays do not constitute the ideal technique for the production of virtue’.
We are constantly reminded that a large proportion among our poor has not had an education even up to Ordinary Level. Even among those who do, a majority have failed in Science, Mathematics and English. To add to the melee, we have the ‘educated’ and scientifically trained sowing irrational views. This concoction is conducive to the strengthening of mysterious, nonsensical beliefs and customs with the concomitant erosion of morals and values.
The aim of these letters is to encourage our youth to think in a rational / humanist manner with respect for human rights and the environment. They are designed to be read as a series.
Superficially it may seem that the letters are simply anti- religious (all religions are anti other religions anyway!) Science and technology, however, unite different peoples.
Hence the task is to encourage and instill in our youth the ability and the beauty to qu estion and comprehend scientific realism on the basis of data and evidence as opposed to blind faith and belief.
Therein lies the way forward for our country.
The sigh of the hard pressed creature
The heart of a heartless world
The soul of soulless circumstance
The opiate of the people”
‘’You reject what you call ‘religious blind faith and beliefs’ and claim to search for knowledge based on data and evidence. But we are taught that religion is the source of morality. So, how do you define good and bad and what is moral and where does it come from?”, we are often asked.
Herewith an explanation by Dharmapala Senarathne (He was the President of Sri Lanka Rationalist Association until his death on December 25, 2011)
Where do moral values come from?
Human civilisation existed long before all known religions of today. We see pockets of such societies at present as well, like Veddahs of Sri Lanka, Maoris in New Zealand, Aborigines in Australia, Pygmies in Congo, etc. No civilisation can exist without a binding code of conduct by way of morals and ethics. All that goes to prove that religion, as we understand it today, is not a prerequisite for the existence of organized, civilised society.
The founders of religions only codified the already existing morals by way of Ten Commandments, Five Precepts, etc. They did so having the well being of the contemporary society at heart and to suit the natural and geographical environment in which they lived.
Thus, Prophet Mohamed, for instance, living in an isolated, vast, sandy desert with hardly any vegetation or flora, preached the killing of animals for food.
How far this is a valid proposition in the modern day global village, where enormous resources are wasted and grave environmental problems, including speedy rise of global temperature are created as a result of large scale animal farming is another matter. On the other hand, the Buddha, living in a vast sub-continent with abundant green vegetation that could provide human food with all the necessary nutrients, derided all kinds of killing for whatever purpose.
Human moral values are innate and inherent in their very nature. That is to say, such values are biological, instinctual and embedded in their very genetic scheme. Some of those instincts are common with those in the animal kingdom. Team sense, group instinct, maternal affection, brotherly care are some such examples. Yet they do not belong to any religion, haven’t been to Sunday school etc., which goes to show that we acquired these values from animals through the process of evolution.
There is also a code of law among all animals living in collective groups. It naturally entails an enforcing mechanism as well, even in non-human societies in order to punish the miscreants. Needless to say, man’s code of law is much more complicated than those in the animal kingdom.
Thus, my moral values are totally independent of any religion.
Basically, I am guided by my own conscience, which is instinctual. Maybe, fear of punishment plays a role, too. And I hold that what is true of me should be true of other men and women as well. (For a fuller scientific explanation, read Prof. Richard Dawkings’ book ‘The God Delusion’)
Charles Darwin was born in 1809 at Shrewsbury, England. His father was a well known medical practitioner. His ambition was to make Charles a more qualified doctor. But Charles had no such interest. He preferred to watch animals, collect insects and go on fishing and hunting rather than engage in school work.
Due to the pressures exerted by his father, Charles got admitted to the famous University of Edinburgh to study medicine. Yet his reluctance and dislike of medical studies made him give it up half way and he entered the University of Cambridge to study theology. Even that he realised to be useless. Darwin was able to join an expedition with the encouragement and guidance of Henslowe, who was the Professor of Botany at the University. He was on this ship named Beagle for over five years travelling from place to place. During this period he studied and collected different kinds of plants, insects, birds, reptiles and fossils.
One of the best places he went during this voyage was the isolated island of Galapagos, off the coast of Peru in South America. After a detailed study of the large reptiles and the finch birds there, he formulated some ideas.
After returning to England in 1859, Charles Darwin published the book “The Origin of the Species” explaining the theory of evolution. In this seminal publication, among many other things, he explained the evolution of organisms, difference between organisms, struggle for existence, extinction of the species due to non adaptation and how those adopted to the environment become successful.
The theory presented by Charles Darwin was a revolutionary idea. He explained that man was not created by someone, but evolved from the ape family. He had to face immense abuses, insults and threats. He was nicknamed as a “baby monkey” and” grandson of the monkey.” Newspapers at that time published cartoons depicting him as a monkey.
Charles Darwin died on April 19, 1882. Although ridiculed by many at that time, Evolution is accepted as fact by the whole world today.
“Everything in Nature, every blade of grass, is the creation of the Almighty God”,
(Saying of ‘Believers’)
“If it can be proven that any one thing in nature is not a product of evolution (but was created), my entire theory will be rendered invalid.”
(Saying of Charles Darwin)
Compiled by R.Fernando