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Atheism

History and Analysis of Atheism
Offensive Atheism
Defensive Atheism
The Inadequacy of Atheism
Cosmological Argument
Quotes Against Evolutionism and about Atheism
Appearances of God in history

Atheism (.jpg picture)

People in this age eat their food without washing beforehand. Monks break their vows of celibacy. Cows are kept alive only for their milk. Water is scarce. Many people watch the skies, praying for rain. No rain comes. The fields become barren. Suffering from famine and poverty, many attempt to migrate to countries where food is more readily available. People are without joy and pleasure. Many commit suicide. Men of small intelligence are influenced by atheistic doctrines. Family, clan and caste are all meaningless. Men are without virtues, purity or decency. (Visnu Purana 6.1)

jito dharmo hy adharmeNa satyaM caiva anRtena ca
jitAz coraiz ca rAjAnaH strIbhiz ca puruSAH kalau
sIdanti ca agni hotrANi guru pUjA praNazyati
kumAryaz ca prasUyante asmin kali yuge sadA

Religion has been overthrown by irreligion and truth indeed by that which is false, kings have been overpowered by thieves, males have been subdued by females, the worship of fire is dying out, respect to superiors is being destroyed and maidens are becoming mothers - this is what always happens in the age of Kali. (Parasara smriti 1.30-31)

These are examples of many Vedic descriptions of our current age. Among its many symptoms is always mentioned the prevalence of atheism (anisvara, BG 16.8). Why? Because atheism is the root cause of the pitiful condition of this age. If the knowledge of higher reality is lacking, there is no question of life in harmony with the universal order (dharma). And dharma being neglected, all the above (as well as other) symptoms of decline appear as a reaction.

History and Analysis of Atheism

Monier Monier-Williams dictionary:
[ Astika ]1[ Astika ] mf ( [ I ] ) n. ( fr. [ asti ] , ` there is or exists ' cf. Pa?. 4-2 , 60 ) , one who believes in the existence ( of God , of another world , &c. )
---> believing , pious , faithful cf. MBh. cf. Yajn. cf. Sur.
---> m. = [ AstIka ] , q. v.

[ Astikya ]2[ Astikya ] n. ( fr. [ Astika ] ) , belief in God , piety , faithfulness
---> a believing nature or disposition cf. MBh. cf. Bhag. cf. BhP.

[ nAstika ]3[ n^astika ] mf ( [ I ] ) n. atheistical , infidel
---> m. an atheist or unbeliever ( opp. to [ ^astika ] , q. v. ) cf. Mn. cf. MBh. &c.
---> [ -tA ] f. ( cf. MW. ) , [ -tva ] n. ( cf. W. ) disbelief , atheism
---> [ kya ] n. id. ( with [ karmaNAm ] , denying the consequence of works ) cf. Mn. iii , 65
---> [ -mata ] n. an atheistical opinion cf. MW.
---> [ -vRtti ] mfn. leading the life of an atheist or receiving sustenance from an atheist cf. Vi??

Atheism is known since the Vedic times when its main proponent was philosopher Carvaka. His lokayata philosophy (hinted on in BGAII 2.26 p.), analogous to Greek hedonism, is a version of buddhism - everything is void but let's enjoy it! In recent times it was propounded e.g. by Rajneesh Osho.

Carvaka's writings survived only in quotations of his opponents. One of them, Vatsyayana, in his Kama sutra (1.2) says:

"Objection 2

The Lokayatikas say: Religious ordinances should not be observed, for they bear a future fruit, and at the same time it is also doubtful whether they will bear any fruit at all. What foolish person will give away that which is in his own hands into the hands of another? Moreover, it is better to have a pigeon today than a peacock tomorrow; and a copper coin which we have the certainty of obtaining, is better than a gold coin, the possession of which is doubtful.

Answer
It is not so. 1st. Holy Writ, which ordains the practice of Dharma, does not admit of a doubt.

2nd. Sacrifices such as those made for the destruction of enemies, or for the fall of rain, are seen to bear fruit.

3rd. The sun, moon, stars, planets and other heavenly bodies appear to work intentionally for the good of the world.

4th. the existence of this world is effected by the observance of the rules respecting the four classes of men and their four stages of life.

5th. We see that seed is thrown into the ground with the hope of future crops.

Vatsyayana is therefore of opinion that the ordinances of religion must be obeyed."

Also later Buddhist philosophies are atheistic. Buddhism represents vikalpa, rejection of the world and materialism propounded by Carvaka represents sankalpa, enjoyment of the world. These are simply dualities of the mind lacking any substance. The various Vedic philosophies start beyond this point.

The first of six Vedic philosophical systems, Nyaya (logic), offers three proofs of the existence of God:

1. existence of order in nature and man (teleological argument)

It establishes intelligent design but it is not clear how many beings were involved in creating the order and if they were supreme or not.

2. existence of different conditions for different living beings (different karma of individuals must come from higher intelligence)

This argument is used for example by King Prthu in SB 4.21.27: 'My dear respectable ladies and gentlemen, according to the authoritative statements of sastra, there must be a supreme authority who is able to award the respective benefits of our present activities. Otherwise, why should there be persons who are unusually beautiful and powerful both in this life and in the life after death?'

3. existence of revealed scriptures which basically speak about the same topics and one God

The scriptures say that the existence of God can be inferred neither from sense perception (pratyaksa) nor from logic (anumana) but it can be understood from the revealed scriptures (sabda): 'Supreme Truth is neither established nor refuted by logical argument.' (Vedanta-sutra 2.1.11 paraphrased)

Vedanta-sutra refutes various atheistic and semi-theistic philosophies and establishes the supremacy of Brahman. Brahman is understood either as impersonal brahmajyoti in schools of Advaita Vedanta, person Bhagavan Visnu/Krsna in Dvaita Vedanta, or both in Acintya-bhedabheda-tattva philosophy of Gaudiya Vaisnava Vedanta.

Vedanta-sutra also mentions teleological argument: 'Within the effect (world) the cause (Brahman) can be seen just as cobweb makes one [intelligent person] think of a spider.' (Vedanta-sutra 2.2.15 paraphrased)

Also according to Vedanta-sutra 2.2.1,2,8 matter cannot cause creation because it cannot be shown how and why the passive dead matter started to act. The real evidence is however present on the countless pages of Vedic scriptures.

In the Western philosophy there are atheistic doctrines known since the Greek civilization. Atomist and hedonistic philosophy of Democritus, Epicurus and Lucretius is their typical example.

Christianity from its beginning formed a strong opposition to atheistic philosophies.

St. Anselm claimed that existence of God is better than His non-existence; better to be just and happy than unjust and unhappy. Counterargument comes from Gaunilon in his 'Lost Island': His existence is logically possible but still can be doubted. St Anselm refutes it saying that real existence is unlimited; there is eternal omnipresence (God). His ontological argument: God is that which no greater can be thought of; God can't be thought not to exist - mind is limited.

St. Thomas Aquinas offered several arguments: 1. argument from motion (cosmological argument): Everything moving needs to be put in motion; primary mover (or efficient cause) is God. 2. argument of possibility and necessity: Everything existing began to exist only through something already existing; if at one time nothing existed, even now nothing could exist (ex nihilo nihil fit, nothing comes out of nothing). Every necessary thing has its necessity caused by other(s) so there must exist a thing having its own necessity an causing necessity of others (God). 3. argument of gradation: Things are compared to ideal or maximum; cause of perfection is God.

St. Thomas Aquinas and William Paley formulated teleological argument (design argument): Things in nature 'act for an end' designedly, by will and power of God (example of watch and watchmaker).

David Hume disagrees with teleological argument on the basis of existence of evil. He lists four circumstances of evil: 1. existence of sukha/duhkha (happiness/distress). God is not benevolent. 2. duhkha comes from the laws of nature - human attempts to control them materially (karma) brings more duhkha... If God needs rules He is not perfect. 3. great frugality of powers/faculties distribution to jivas. God is not magnanimous. 4. 'defects' in natural phenomena (dualities as drought/flood, heat/cold etc.) suggest lack of higher supervision. God is imperfect.

Three responses to the problem of evil:

St Augustine: presence of evil is not a limitation of God but a result of man's fall (objection by F. Schleiermacher: if perfect creation goes wrong it is God's fault)

Irenaeus: in this imperfect world there is a gradual creation of perfected humanity

Theodicy (or 'process theology'): theo - God, dike - (Greek) righteous God is either not all-good or not all-powerful because He is unable to stop the evil - Himself is subjected to natural laws. Universe is uncreated, it involves God. (Objection: this view doesn't mitigate the suffering). Good is impossible without evil; finally it prevails.

The problem of evil does not arise in the Vedic (and other Eastern) philosophies because it is related to the linear 'one creation, one life' paradigm introduced by Judeo-Christian tradition.

One variety of atheism is called anthropomorphism. Hrdayananda das Goswami in his article 'State and Society in ancient India' (ISKCON Communications Journal, June 1995, page 61) refutes it:

'We may note here that mere resemblance between God and men proves nothing since one could just as easily claim, as Bible does, that men are made in the image of God, or the gods. The resemblance then 'proves' the opposite point. If one argues, along with Xenophanes, that people seem to depict their gods with features similar to their own, and that all of these various views of the divinity cannot be simultaneously accurate, the following can be said in reply: due to CONDITIONED, INDIVIDUAL PERCEPTION, people tend to see many real, objective items in various ways. For example various artists may depict the same mountain in a variety of styles, or even colors, but the mountain is one. Similarly, perception varies, NOT THAT THE OBJECT OF DIFFERING PERCEPTIONS DOES NOT EXIST.

In fact, although philosophers argue, that it proves nothing to say that billions of people through the history have claimed some sort of awareness of divine reality, these same philosophers do not hesitate to claim that we are justified in believing in an objective physical world since so many people believe it to be there [this is a logical fallacy called an argumentum ad numeram: it consists of asserting that the more people who support or believe a proposition, the more likely it is that that proposition is correct]. But this is not the place for an extended discussion of meta-epistemology. Suffice it to say, that Rau is dreaming if he thinks that he is being 'rational' or 'scholarly' when he simply declares that 'the gods are everywhere made in the image of men.''

If, say, in the field of biology, one affirms or denies the claim of a biologist, then one thereby claims to have a knowledge of biology. Similarly, to affirm or deny the claim of a historian is to claim knowledge of history, and one's own right, thereby, to evaluate historical assertions. Exactly in the same way, TO AFFIRM OR DENY RELIGIOUS CLAIMS IS TO CLAIM FOR ONESELF A KNOWLEDGE OF RELIGIOUS MATTERS (...). If one doesn't know even this material universe, how can he claim there is no God inside/outside of it?

Viable philosophy must include theory (sambandha), practice (abhidheya) and goal (prayojana) which is eternal happiness. Vedanta-sutra describes sambandha in its first two chapters, abhidheya in third chapter and prayojana in fourth. Contemporary philosophies and religions usually lack two latter items. Another criteria is evaluation of the source and goal of philosophy. If we are to analyze the outcome ('judge by the results') we can say that:

1. The nature of atheism is degrading: it's practice leads to bondage and suffering (duhkha) because of an attachment to matter which degrades (entropy). Matter cannot be a source of anything higher - order, development, or life (which cannot appear by chance).

2. Happiness through atheism is impossible as it is not in harmony with the nature of person, society, universe, and God (dharma).

Still, people choose to become atheists as much as they choose to become theists. And no matter how strenuously some may try to deny it, atheism is a belief system. It requires faith that God does not exist. All atheists are not alike. They argue differently depending on what it is that grounds their unbelief. Here are two ways in which atheists attempt to explain and defend their atheism. They can be called 'offensive atheism' and 'defensive atheism'. (The rest of this article has a form of hypothetical debate with Western atheist. Therefore only argument of pratyaksa and anumana type are used.)

Offensive Atheism

In a debate concerning the question, Does God exist? atheists frequently assert that the entire burden of proof rests on theists. This, however, is a false assertion. As philosopher William Lane Craig has stated, when an interrogative such as Does God exist? is debated each side must shoulder the burden of proof and provide support for what they consider to be the correct answer. This is unlike debating a proposition such as God does exist, where the burden of proof rests entirely with the affirmative side.

It follows then that when debating the question of God's existence, both the theist and the atheist are obligated to provide support for their position. The theist should insist that the atheist provide proof as to God's alleged nonexistence. This, however, leads to a logical bind for the atheist.

By definition, atheism is the world-view that denies the existence of God. To be more specific, traditional atheism (or offensive atheism) positively affirms that there never was, is not now, and never will be a God in or beyond the world. But can this dogmatic claim be verified?

The atheist cannot logically prove God's nonexistence. And here's why: to know that a transcendent God does not exist would require a perfect knowledge of all things (omniscience). To attain this knowledge would require simultaneous access to all parts of the world and beyond (omnipresence). Therefore, to be certain of the atheist's claim one would have to possess godlike characteristics. Obviously, mankind's limited nature precludes these special abilities. The offensive atheist's dogmatic claim is therefore unjustifiable. As logician Mortimer Adler has pointed out, the atheist's attempt to prove a universal negative is a self-defeating proposition. The theist should therefore emphasize that the offensive atheist is unable to provide a logical disproof of God's existence.

This point can be forcefully emphasized by asking the atheist if he has ever visited the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The library presently contains over 70 million items (books, magazines, journals, etc.). Hundreds of thousands of these were written by scholars and specialists in the various academic fields. Then ask the following question: 'What percentage of the collective knowledge recorded in the volumes in this library would you say are within your own pool of knowledge and experience?' The atheist will likely respond, 'I don't know. I guess a fraction of one percent.' You can then ask: 'Do you think it is logically possible that God may exist in the 99.9 percent that is outside your pool of knowledge and experience?' Even if the atheist refuses to admit the possibility, you have made your point and he knows it.

'I don't believe in God because there is so much evil in the world.'

Many atheists consider the problem of evil an airtight proof that God does not exist. They often say something like: 'I know there is no God because if He existed, He never would have allow all those atrocities in history to happen.'

A good approach to an argument like this is to say something to this effect: 'Since you brought up this issue, the burden lies on you to prove that evil actually exists in the world. So let me ask you: by what criteria do you judge some things to be evil and other things not to be evil? By what process do you distinguish evil from good?' The atheist may hedge and say: 'I just know that some things are evil. It's obvious.' Don't accept such an evasive answer. Insist that he tells you how he knows that some things are evil. This way he is forced to face the illogical foundation of his belief system.

Then point out to him that it is impossible to distinguish evil from good unless one has an infinite reference point which is absolutely good. Otherwise one is like a boat at sea on a cloudy night without a compass (i.e., there would be no way to distinguish north from south without the absolute reference point of the compass needle).

The infinite reference point for distinguishing good from evil can only be found in the person of God, for God alone can exhaust the definition of 'absolutely good.' If God does not exist, then there are no moral absolutes by which one can judge something (or someone) as being evil. More specifically, if God does not exist, there is no ultimate basis to judge the crimes. Seen in this light, the reality of evil actually requires the existence of God, rather than disproving it.

At this point, the atheist may raise the objection that if God does in fact exist, then why hasn't He dealt with the problem of evil in the world. You can disarm this objection by pointing out that God is dealing with the problem of evil, but in a progressive way. The false assumption on the part of the atheist is that God's only choice is to deal with evil all at once in a single act. God, however, is dealing with the problem of evil through His justice system (dharma-karma-samsara).

If the atheist responds that it shouldn't take such long time for an omnipotent God to solve the problem of evil, you might respond by saying: 'Ok. Hypothetically speaking, let's say that at this very moment, God declared that all evil in the world will now simply cease to exist. Practically every human being on the planet would simply vanish into oblivion. Would this solution be preferable to you?'

The atheist may argue that a better solution must surely be available. He may even suggest that God could have created man in such a way that man would avoid evil altogether. This idea can be countered by pointing out that such a scenario would mean that he would no longer have the capacity to make choices, free will. This scenario would require that God create robots who act only in programmed ways.

If the atheist persists and says there must be a better solution to the problem of evil, suggest a simple test. Give him about five minutes to formulate a solution to the problem of evil that (1) does not destroy human freedom, or (2) cause God to violate His nature (e.g., His attributes of absolute holiness, justice, and mercy) in some way. Don't expect much of an answer.

Defensive Atheism

Many sophisticated atheists today are fully aware of the philosophical pitfalls connected to offensive or dogmatic atheism. Prominent atheists such as Gordon Stein and Carl Sagan have admitted that God's existence cannot be disproved. This has led such atheists to advocate skeptical 'defensive atheism'. Defensive atheism asserts that while God's existence cannot be logically or empirically disproved, it is nevertheless unproven.

Atheists of this variety have actually redefined atheism to mean 'an absence of belief in God' rather than 'a denial of God's existence'. For this more moderate type of atheism, the concept of 'God' is like that of a unicorn, leprechaun, or elf. While they cannot be disproved, they remain unproven. Defensive atheism's unbelief is grounded in the rejection of the proofs for God's existence, and/or the belief that the concept of God lacks logical consistency.

An appropriate rejoinder at this point is that defensive atheism is using a stipulative or nonstandard definition for the word atheism. Paul Edwards, a prominent atheist and editor of The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, defines an atheist as 'a person who maintains that there is no God'. Atheism therefore implies a denial of God's existence, not just an absence of belief. It should also be stated that defensive atheism's absence of belief sounds very similar to agnosticism (which professes inability to determine whether God exists). The theist should ask the defensive atheist to show just how his (or her) atheism differs from agnosticism. Does he know or not know that there is no God?

The Inadequacy of Atheism

Whether offensive or defensive, there are a number of reasons why atheism is inadequate as a rational world-view. First, atheism cannot adequately explain the existence of the world. Like all things, the world in which we live cries out for an explanation. The atheist, however, is unable to provide a consistent one. If he argues that the world is eternal, then he is going against modern science which states that the universe had a beginning and is gradually running down. If the atheist affirms that the universe had a beginning, then he must account for what caused it (which of the remaining tattvas - jiva, prakriti, kala or karma?). Either way, the atheist cannot adequately explain the world.

Second, the atheistic world-view is irrational and cannot provide an adequate basis for intelligible experience. An atheistic world is ultimately random, disorderly, transitive, and volatile. It is therefore incapable of providing the necessary preconditions to account for the laws of science, the universal laws of logic, and the human need for absolute moral standards. In short, it cannot account for the meaningful realities we encounter in life.

The theistic world-view, however, can explain these transcendental aspects of life. The uniformity of nature stems from God's orderly design of the universe. The laws of logic are a reflection of the way God Himself thinks, and would have us to think as well.

Let us now examine a way in which the theist can offer evidence for God's existence, thus illustrating the rationality of theism.

Cosmological Argument

Nearly everyone, at least in their more reflective moments, has asked some simple but deep-seated questions such as: Where did the world come from? Why is there something rather than nothing? How did the world come into existence? The asking of these elementary but profound questions has led to the formulation of a popular argument for God's existence known as the 'cosmological argument'. It derives its name from the word kosmos, the Greek word for world. While there are several variations of the argument, the basic point is that God is the only adequate explanation for the world's existence. This argument was first formulated by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Its most famous presentation was given by the medieval Christian philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas.

Just how do we account for the universe? How do we explain the existence of the world? Logically speaking, there are only a few options and only one of them is rationally acceptable.

Our starting point in discussing the world is to assume that a real world of time and space does in fact exist. There are some who would dispute this assumption, arguing rather that the universe is simply an illusion. However, most atheists, being materialists who believe that all reality is ultimately matter and energy, will be willing to accept this starting point. (If the world was an illusion, there would be no good reason to believe that we would all perceive the world even remotely the same way. But we do, generally speaking, experience the world the same way and can even make accurate predictions [science].)

How do we account for this real world? The first option is that the world somehow caused or created itself. This, however, is an irrational conclusion. For something to create itself, it would have to exist before it was created, and that is completely absurd. Something cannot both exist and not exist at the same time and in the same way. Concluding that the world created or caused itself is simply not a rationally acceptable alternative.

A second suggested explanation is that the universe came from nothing by nothing. Some atheists do, in fact, argue this way. This, however, is also irrational because something cannot be derived from nothingness. An effect cannot be greater than its cause - and in this case the cause would be nothing. One of the basic laws of physics is expressed by the Latin phrase ex nihilo, nihil fit, 'from nothing, nothing comes'. It's a tremendous leap of faith to believe that the world emerged from nothing. Remind the atheist that he is not supposed to have any faith.

Our third option is that the universe is simply eternal. It has just always been here. This alternative, however, is also doomed to failure. First, the world that we live in shows signs that it is contingent (dependent for its continued existence on something outside itself, ultimately something uncaused and absolute). The fact is, no single element in the universe contains the explanation for its existence. Therefore this chain of contingencies we call the world necessitates the existence of a noncontingent or absolute ground of being.

Further, the concept of an eternal universe directly contradicts the prevailing view of contemporary science which teaches that the universe had a specific beginning (Big Bang) a finite period of time ago. Worse still, it contradicts the scientific fact that the world is gradually running out of available energy (Second Law of Thermodynamics). If the universe was always in existence (i.e., eternal), it would have already run down. Additionally, if the universe was eternal, then it would have an infinite past (i.e., an infinite number of days, weeks, months, years, etc.). This, however, leads to a logical contradiction. By definition one can never reach the end of an infinite period of time; nevertheless, we have arrived at today, which completes or traverses the so-called infinite past. These points make an eternal universe theory scientifically and philosophically untenable.

Seeing that these other alternatives have failed, the only truly rational alternative is that the universe was caused by an entity outside space and time that is by definition uncaused and ultimate. And, because this Being created other beings who possess personality, He must also be a person (the effect cannot be greater than the cause).

This argument brings the atheist to the idea of a deity with many theistic attributes. It does illustrate that theism is rational and in this case the only rational alternative in explaining the universe.

Quotes Against Evolutionism and about Atheism

Spontaneous generation of a living cell is as improbable as a tornado building a Boeing 747. (Sir Fred Hoyle)

Through the use and abuse of hidden postulates, of bold, often ill-founded extrapolations, a pseudoscience has been created. It is taking root in the very heart of biology and is leading astray many biochemists and biologists who sincerely believe that the accuracy of fundamental concepts has been demonstrated which is not the case. (Pierre Grasse, 'The Evolution of Living Organisms')

Paleontology is now looking at what it actually finds, not what it is told that it is supposed to find. As is now well known, most fossil species appear instantaneously in the record, persist for some millions of years virtually unchanged, only to disappear abruptly... Instead of finding the gradual unfolding of life, what geologists of Darwin's time and geologists of the present day actually find is a highly uneven or jerky record; that is, species appear in the sequence very suddenly, show little or no change during their existence in the record, then abruptly go out of the record. (T. Kemp, curator of the University Museum, Oxford)

Ultimately the Darwinian theory of evolution is no more nor less than the great cosmological myth of the 20th century. Like the Genesis-based cosmology which it replaced, and like the creation myths of ancient man, it satisfies the same deep psychological need for an all-embracing explanation for the origin of the world... (Michael Denton, biologist and physician, 'Evolution: A Theory in Crisis')

A large number of well-trained scientists outside of evolutionary biology and paleontology have unfortunately gotten the idea that the fossil record is far more Darwinian than it is. This probably comes from the oversimplification inevitable in secondary sources: low-level textbooks, semi-popular articles and so on. Also there is probably some wishful thinking involved. In the years after Darwin, his advocates hoped to find predictable progressions. In general, these have not been found - yet the optimism has died hard and some pure fantasy has crept into textbooks. (David Raup, paleontologist)

Not one of the scientists quoted above, is a creationist or advocate of the Genesis theory or, so far as known, even religious. But evolution is a myth. This myth is pushed off on the public in popular articles and textbooks as if it were scientific fact.

To say that a man is made up of certain chemical elements is a satisfactory description only for those who intend to use him as fertilizer. (Herbert Muller)

An atheist is a man who believes himself an accident. (Francis Thompson)

Among the repulsions of atheism for me has been its drastic uninterestingness as an intellectual position. Where was the ingenuity, the ambiguity, the humanity (in the Harvard sense) of saying that the universe just happened to happen and that when were dead were dead? (John Updike)

We find the most terrible form of atheism, not in the militant and passionate struggle against the idea of God himself, but in the practical atheism of everyday living, in indifference and torpor. We often encounter these forms of atheism among those who are formally Christians. (Nicolai A. Berdyaev)

A dead atheist is someone who's all dressed up with no place to go. (James Duffecy, NY Times 21 Aug 1964)

...sometimes critics of some established notion of divinity should be understood as not denying God or the divine as such but merely a particular, faulty conception of God. I agree. Socrates, for instance, was accused of atheism. But his "atheism" was really a symptom of his higher realization of God. People sometimes mistakenly think even of themselves as atheists when at heart they are not. People have told me "I don't believe in God", and when they explained to me what they meant by "God", I could truthfully say to them "Well, I don't believe in the same God you don't believe in."
Nietzsche, the great evangelist of the dead God, was not, in my understanding, a true atheist. For he once remarked "I should be able to believe in a God who could dance". As a believer in Krishna, who is known as Nataraja, the great dancer, I see that Nietzsche's faith was unfulfilled and frustrated by the idea of divinity available to him. But unfulfilled faith is not atheism. (dr. William Deadwyler/Ravindra Svarupa dasa, Synthesis of Science and Religion, Critical Essays and Dialogues, Papers presented at the World Congress for the Synthesis of Science and Religion, Jan. 9-12, 1986, Bombay, (c)1987 Bhaktivedanta Institute, section seven, essay three, p. 398)

vairanubandha etavan
amrtyor iha dehinam
ajnana-prabhavo manyur
aham-manopabrmhitah

Hiranyakasipu's anger against Lord Visnu persisted until his death. Other people in the bodily concept of life maintain anger only because of false ego and the great influence of ignorance. (SB 8.19.13)

"Those who preach ignorance pass through darkness. Those who are false witnesses, liars and deceitful obtain death unconsciously, just as those who abuse the Vedas." (Garuda Purana 2.2.50-51)

Appearances of God in history

All spiritual traditions, from nature worship to monotheism, mention appearances of higher beings including God and there is a pattern which fits the Vedic system (see Connections among spiritual traditions). Examples when God appeared "in public":

- accounts in Vedic scriptures

- accounts in Bible

An interesting Biblical account appears in the Second Book of Maccabees: God appeared as a rider (Kalki?) and two young beautiful boys (Krishna/Balarama?), punishing Heliodorus sent to loot the Jerusalem temple. See Heliodorus and Vaishnava-Jewish connection

- as Nrsimha, protecting Adi Shankaracharya while killing a Kali worshiper who wanted to sacrifice him (see biographies of Adi Shankaracharya). There are many similar accounts of Nrsimhadeva since He appears to protect His devotees.

- as Jagannatha, esp. in Puri and Mayapur (Rajapur), recorded in stories from ancient to present times collected by Pankajanghri dasa ("Pastimes and History of Lord Jagannatha in Rajapur").

- as Shiva (from the Vaishnava point of view he is a special expansion of God, not God Himself), saving Colonel Martin during a battle in Afghanistan due to prayers of his wife, Lady Martin. There are many other accounts from lives of devotees (like Shiva and Devi appearing to Ramanujacharya).

- Other devas appear even more frequently, esp. Devi in her many forms like Durga, Mother Mary, etc, while many witnesses describe the same form and related phenomena.
How God talks to us:
- guru
- sastra
- sadhus
- heart-waking state (conscience, inner voice)
- heart-dreaming state (easily memorable clear dreams with a specific topic)
- other people - nonvaisnavas
- bodily signs (nimitta) - indirect signs from God thru devas like sneezing or twitching

Related:
Argue for God
Atheism and the Vaishnava Response
Skeptics and their agenda
Was CSICOP ever scientific and is CSI truly sceptical?
CSICOP and the Skeptics: An Overview
Wikipedia has been hijacked by 'guerrilla skeptics'!

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