Friday, 11 February 2011

The Morality of Atheism

It is often argued that the main problem with atheists is their lack of moral guidelines. This is because society in general is currently not used to individuals taking responsibility for their own actions and guidelines, and instead assumes that we all need to be governed by a higher authority. Atheisms break this typical mould because they rely on rationality and reason for their morality. Usually, Atheists will come to similar conclusions about morality when it comes to the value of life and freedom of thought. However, these conclusions often conflict with the beliefs of religious people.

If atheists were a strongly defined group that could adopt a strongly defined, albeit secular, set of morals, perhaps more religious people could be persuaded to drop their supernatural beliefs. Many religious people often question the validity of their beliefs and science continues to strip their credibility, but very few doubt the morals that religion gives them. This is what gives religion its strength.

However, atheism is not a strongly defined group, and therefore can never adopt its own strongly defined set of morals with which to "advertise" itself. This is one reason religious fundamentalists feel so strongly about infidels. Atheists are anarchists, they say. They have no rules for how to live their life.

Many atheists will just look at this statement with contempt, agreeing that they enjoy debauching and sinning, but in reality most atheists will disagree that their lives are lacking any moral guidelines. To go further, some atheists will argue that their moral guidelines are better than that of a religious person. That is because an atheist's morals are derived from reality.

Atheists have no make-believe god or child-molesting priest telling them what is right and wrong. Their minds are not corrupted by guilt or false promises. Eventually atheists will come to the conclusion that harming other people or their property is bad, whereas making people happy and helping others is good. Sound a little similar to religion's moral guidelines? Well it is. With one major difference.

This difference between the morals of religion and atheism is that religion JUDGES first.

Religious people believe so absolutely in the moral guidelines penned by corrupt leaders thousands of years ago in dark and perverted times, that they are therefore better than atheists. But as I've just explained, atheists have many of the same morals. It's just that religious people take it upon themselves to decide who to apply these morals to. If you're a homosexual, or even someone who doesn't believe the same as them, this morality does not apply to you. It is ok to harm you, physically, or by means of taking away your rights. This is where the problems occur.

Atheists tend not to judge. They are more accepting of people with different beliefs. They have no demented certainty to force onto others. The morality is still based on not harming others, and being a good human being. Unlike religious people, they don't reserve this morality for people with the same beliefs.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Evolution of Complexity

Matter Evolution

Since the first particles were set in motion, every action has been part of a chain reaction.

At first, there were the simplest of elementary particles in an empty universe. Hydrogen atoms - single electron entities, were the pinnacle of complexity.

Eventually, a few of them collided, stuck together, and formed more complex atoms, and then molecules. Well, it was a little more complicated than that, but you get the idea. These molecules accumulated until there were so many that gravity and magnetism began to have a significant effect. As the gravity increased, the mass increased, and nuclear fusion commenced. Star systems were born.

The planets continued a sequence of their own. Eventually molecules increased in complexity by way of chemical reactions in order to form amino acids which then combined to create proteins.

These proteins and amino acids increased in complexity until living cells emerged from a random chemical process. I realise this step is a big debate, but it does seem to follow the natural flow of this theory.

Life started simple - with single cell organisms converting oxygen into energy.

Like everything before it, life increased in complexity as its requirement for survival drove it to trial different solutions to the problems it faced. Solving any problem always creates new, more complex problems. When the first animal came onto the land to find food, it had to develop solutions to deal with this new environment. So because of legs, lungs had to be developed. (Or vice versa?) Because of cars, roads and the Department of Motor Vehicles had to be developed.

Consciousness Evolution

After an unfathomably long time, something incredible happened. Life increased complexity so much that a brain able to comprehend its own existence was formed. This brain not only solved problems, as brains before it did, but it built upon ideas. It developed the same skills as nature itself, evolving ideas that increased the complexity of the universe. *These self acknowledging brains loosely described this phenomenon as consciousness, and these complexity-increasing ideas as technology.

Consciousness is a feedback to nature. For the first time in history, nature is no longer the main driver of complexity, the complexity itself is driving further evolution.

Now I'm not talking about transhumanism or notions of driving our own evolution to become more than human. I'm talking about the ability to create ideas. Ideas drive evolution. Like nature before it, the function of ideas developed by consciousness is to increase complexity. This evolves the course of the universe itself.

Ideas are created by combining previously existing concepts to solve a problem. These ideas then create new problems that need to be solved and so new ideas always add to the ever increasing complexity.

Evolution = increasing complexity, using ideas as the mechanism.

Evolution began as hydrogen atoms evolving into complex molecules. It is not restricted to the evolution of plants and animals. Charles Darwin's identification of the evolution of the species was just a very small part of a much bigger picture.

It's important to remember that this is still part of that original chain reaction. Evolution is the function of the universe itself.

I'll say that again. Evolution is the function of the universe itself. To appreciate this, you just have to acknowledge that the true definition of evolution is to increase complexity. That is all that has ever happened. From the increasing complexity of atoms to the development of life, the improvement of life and then the development of consciousness, the universe is just a complexity factory. That's what it does.

Our Purpose

What is profound about this is realising where we fit it into it all. We've often wondered what is the reason for living, and when you look at the big picture like this, it becomes obvious.

We are just here to continue the evolution of complexity.

Of course this is both empowering and humbling. It turns out that human beings could be pivotal to the evolution of the universe. Looking back at how the universe has evolved we can predict that we, (or another version of consciousness that will emerge if we create our own extinction), will contribute to the emergent complexity of the universe. Our ideas will evolve the complexity and will take the universe to the next level. Yet at the same time, we realise that we are simply a result of what the universe was doing anyway. We are not the 'pinnacle' of evolution, we are just 'where it's at now'. There is much more to come, and perhaps we are just an insignificant speck in the development of something much grander.

What if the development of consciousness is just an embryo of a super-brain and concepts such as individuality are simply mechanisms in its development? Kinda makes the humbling from Darwin and Copernicus seem like a mild slap. The ego of humanity takes yet another beating...

But even if this is the case, there's no need to feel down. Now we know our purpose, we know what to focus on. We have meaning and direction. We are here to drive complexity, by creating ideas which are solutions to problems.

Society Evolution

And there is more. Since we first started integrating concepts and evolving ideas, we have been part of something even more complex than our minds: Society. The hive-mind of ants or bees is one thing, but the hive mind of an entire planet of concscious, problem solving, dextrous human beings is quite another. Society adds yet another level of complexity to the evolution of the universe.

Society has only existed in any sort of complex form for a few thousand years, but until the birth of the internet, it was fragmented and relatively simple. Now, people have the potential to connect to any of seven billion others. Cultures merge. Belief systems collapse and form in seconds. Values shift and perceptions alter. More possibilities present themselves. When the internet exploded, our day-to-day functioning as a society hit the knee of an exponential curve in terms of complexity.

This is not to be feared. This is the destiny of evolution, the destiny of the universe. Yes, we will create ideas to temporarily simplify many concepts. But this is just so that we can then use this simplification as a step up to further complexity. Like a fractal. For example, Google simplified searching the internet, but in doing so empowered people to solve more complex problems than ever before, due to the ease of access to new concept-combinations.

It's no doubt that these are exciting times. Technology is advancing at a similar rate, enabling all sorts of new opportunities, problems and the ideas required to solve them. The more technology, the more ideas. The more ideas, the more complex society becomes. Even the power of our own brains is on the verge of improvement, adding to our ability to drive further complexity.

So immerse yourself. Ride the wave of nature and accept our destiny - the perpetuation of complexity.