Religion for the Secular


What do you mean Religion for the Secular? How does that make sense?

I am currently reading the story of Ibn Battuta’s travels throughout the Muslim world. A very educated scholar in his own right, the text speaks of his education and the education common to the learned men of his time. Among the subjects that are attributed to his education are law and legal theory, rhetoric, history, art, classical literature and texts, and architecture. In other words, he was primarily trained in fields of study we would collectively term Humanities.

In contrast the modern world, particularly the West, is in courtier of Hellenistic philosophy which values rationalism and objectivity over the non-tangible aforementioned disciplines. Compounding this, over time the Western world has witnessed its culture atrophied away and be replaced with the musical genius of the likes of Justin Bieber. Students are dissuaded from studying liberal arts — and for good reason, considering the unemployment rate of liberal arts students versus the hard sciences.

As the West’s culture erodes, corporations and cultural capitalists fill the with their own engineered and synthetic culture. Just one example is music. Music is no longer an organic expression of the human condition. Instead, it is designed by industry experts, who look for a pretty young face to perform their pre-written and pre-recorded widget-music, sometimes literally auto-tuning the human voice to further mechanize the sound. The objective is to design music for the masses to bring in the highest revenue.

Since culture is an expression of those non-rational components of the self, what’s left is a mind that not only lacks the ability to appreciate its own humanity, but belittles or aggressively attacks those who connect with their inner nature. Poets, genuine musicians, and religious experts are seen as “cute”, dismissed as belonging to a subculture, maligned and called “hippies”.

And in this backdrop do we find the secularist who struggle to understand the religious phenomena. He fails to distinguish between the non-rational and irrational by asking sophomoric questions such as, “Science has brought us progress, what has religion done?”, as if the questions of science are the same as the questions of religion. And to a degree, you cannot blame him. The Western mind is so infected with this strain of thought that even the religious among them beg acceptance from the scientific community by hunting for scientific justifications for miracles or reinterpreting religious texts as hints to scientific phenomena.

The issue is not that the secular mind has just not heard the right arguments to believe in God. It is that the secular mind simply does not have the tools necessary to understand the discipline. For the secular to understand religion, the Western mind needs to change its perspectives. But How? Below are just four examples.

The first is about re-orienting one’s approach to literature. Consider the Bible, an undeniably foundational text in Western civilization. Rather than reading the Bible with the eye of criticism, hunting for the inconsistencies and unhistories, look at the stories as examples of human experiences from which we can take valuable lessons. The Book of Job is not about God’s cruelty towards his prophet, as if there is a flat moral landscape between humanity and God. It is about Job’s unbreakable spirit in the face of extreme adversity. The Sermon on the Mount was told to a people who had immensely suffered under foreign oppression helped them purify their hearts of anger and hopelessness. The secularist can take from these and apply it to his own life. The goal is not to endlessly point to external factors, but to tame one’s inner state.

Another aspect is communication. Have you ever seen a beautiful landscape? Can you perfectly describe how beautiful it is, or objectively measure its brilliance? Sam Harris has the laughable notion that with enough explanation you can. People like him posit these types of absurd ideas because they divorce information from the human element, as if there is no difference between looking into the eyes of you wife and saying “I love you” versus sending the equivalent text message. Instead, recognize the differences, not through mere affirmation but through experience. Spend time with people you ordinarily talk to online, ask about their life, and understand them as human beings.

A third and perhaps most morally bankrupt conclusion of the secular mind is the preference of knowledge over wisdom, resulting in the disregard of the elderly. With time and life experience, people attain a clarity into situations that can never be attained from reading a book. But because this insight is rarely expressable as an absolute rule, it is rejected. This leads to a preference the accumulation of facts, mistaken as knowledge. And because knowledge in the modern world is constantly changing, those who cannot maintain, the elderly, are belittled and disregarded. Their council is not sought, instead they are seen as a financial burden waiting to die. One way for the secular to reconnect with their own humanity is to spend time with those who have accumulated a few more decades of life than you, present them with your problems and take heed of their advice. Take care of them while they are sick, be patient when they become angry or irrational and hope to be lucky enough to witness someone dying before you — it is not easy, but it works wonders. Over time, you will come to realize that some wisdoms, what the Sufis call Asrar (secrets), cannot be written on paper.

In my opinion, the most powerful skills that the secular need to develop is the ability to spend periods of time in silence and solitude. The modern world assaults the individual with constant sensoral stimulation in the form of TV, radio, music, sexualized imagery, etc. As a result, the individual’s focus is exclusively on the outward, caught up in distractions, and never on his own inner state. He never, for example, goes for a solitary walk in a park or spends a night alone without a computer or cell phone. At best, if he witnesses a sunset, he feels the compulsive need to take a cell phone picture and modify it with Instagram. When he cuts out the distractions and spends time alone, he forces himself to confront his inner-self, his humanity, focus on it and see what awakenings occur.

There are countless other examples of the modern erosion of one’s humanity. Other examples include the disregarding of food as material substances rather than recognizing it as an immense blessing, perceiving oneself as an individual free from obligations or humility towards his parents, the constructed convolution of gender differences to create an intellectual framework for denying what you are, recognizing clothes as genuine self-expression and not purely to chase forever changing trends, the nihilism of modern stories that are more about interesting events and never about morals, and much more.

I hope that through these exercises, the secular mind can grow to reconnect with his inner self, affirm his own non-rational humanity and use this as a bridge to either connect with God, or at the least understand the phenomena of religion.

Thoughts?

Describing Sight to the Blind


A blind man once asked a friend to describe sight to him. Endowed with the four remaining senses, he asked for a parallel by which he could understand what sight is like.

“Please explain it to me, is sight like touching? Is it soft or hard, rough or smooth? Please explain,” the blind man asked.

Not sure what to say, the friend responded, “No, its something else. Its not at all feeling something”

“Then does it smell or taste sweet”, the blind man asked, “Or bitter? Maybe its bland?”

“No, you cannot describe it like that either. Its something completely unique”

Growing frustrated, the blind man asked, “Then what does it sound like? Is it deep or hitched? Is it loud or quiet?”

Sending the frustration, the friend did not know how else to reply. “It has no sound. Its something completely different.”

“So, this ‘vision’ you speak of has no sound, texture, smell or taste. Its comparable to none of the known senses. How do I know you are not just making it up? I have no reason to believe that it is real, and every reason to believe that you are delusional with this so-called ‘vision’.”

This is the state of the atheist. He does not experience what the believers experience. But rather than humble himself to accept the possibility that there is a reality in the perceptions of the believers, he arrogantly denies their experiences as mere delusion. I feel the following verses of the Qur’an are most apt.

  1. Indeed, those who disbelieve – it is all the same for them whether you warn them or do not warn them – they will not believe.
  2. Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing, and over their vision is a veil. And for them is a great punishment.
  3. And of the people are some who say, “We believe in Allah and the Last Day,” but they are not believers.
  4. They [think to] deceive Allah and those who believe, but they deceive not except themselves and perceive [it] not.
  5. In their hearts is disease, so Allah has increased their disease; and for them is a painful punishment because they [habitually] used to lie.
  6. And when it is said to them, “Do not cause corruption on the earth,” they say, “We are but reformers.”
  7. Unquestionably, it is they who are the corrupters, but they perceive [it] not.
  8. And when it is said to them, “Believe as the people have believed,” they say, “Should we believe as the foolish have believed?” Unquestionably, it is they who are the foolish, but they know [it] not.
  9. And when they meet those who believe, they say, “We believe”; but when they are alone with their evil ones, they say, “Indeed, we are with you; we were only mockers.”
  10. [But] Allah mocks them and prolongs them in their transgression [while] they wander blindly.
  11. Those are the ones who have purchased error [in exchange] for guidance, so their transaction has brought no profit, nor were they guided.
  12. Their example is that of one who kindled a fire, but when it illuminated what was around him, Allah took away their light and left them in darkness [so] they could not see.
  13. Deaf, dumb and blind – so they will not return [to the right path].

– Qur’an, Chapter 2, Verses 6-18

Your thoughts?

Examining my Disbelief


Often, believers in God or a religion reach a state where they begin to develop doubts in what they previously held. This is a frequent occurrence and not unique to any particular cult or creed. As is the trend in our modern times, believers dwell on their doubts and this eventually leads to disbelief, either in the form of apathy or atheism. I can honestly say that I have been through the early stages of a similar, painful experience where I have, and continue to, doubt my faith. But, few who go through this ponder over the legitimacy of their own disbelief or its trigger. What caused their disbelief now, whereas they previously disbelief? This question is seldom asked. Instead, they rationalize their doubts through distractive arguments, which serve merely to back-fill their new positions, instead of arriving at them independently.

In this entry, I hope to self-analyze my own doubts, expose its illegitimacy, expound on its temporarily solution, and lament over my inability to find a makhraj (way out) – except with the help of God, for which I hope and pray.

When I am not in a perturbous state, I find myself imbued with the presence of God in all things I do. This attitude is healthy and productive. But when I am made uneasy by the pains of life and am alone with my thoughts for an extended period of time, I develop a feeling of restlessless, despair, and depression. Since I believe that God is capable of doing all things, the complains and petitions go to Allah for relief. But invariably, those prayers are not answered (According to Islamic theology, all prayers are answered, but not necessarily in the way the person desires). At this point, the proper approach is to recognize the wisdom in God’s decision and submit to it. I can personally attest to recognizing profound wisdoms in not having my prayers answered as I wanted, but it took see that. As Allah says in the Qur’an.

وَعَسَىٰ أَن تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ ۖ وَعَسَىٰ أَن تُحِبُّوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ شَرٌّ لَّكُمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

…but perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.
– Surah al-Baqarah, Verse 216

But recognizing a wisdom requires submission and breaking yourself. Its not easy to do. Not only that, it can seem absurd. Our Western culture chases material glory and does not create a space for spiritual growth through pain. Absent of being able to recognize that wisdom, the believer experiences frustration and anger with God. Why did God do this? He should not have! Allah says in the Qur’an:

لَا يُسْأَلُ عَمَّا يَفْعَلُ وَهُمْ يُسْأَلُونَ

He is not questioned about what He does, but they will be questioned.
– Surah Al-Anbiya’, Verse 23 

Frustration and anger of all kinds weaken a person’s rationale and relegate him to emotionalism. Trapped in this state, he may choose to take revenge on God, so he actively disobeys what he previously obeyed, comes to hate God, and ultimately makes the concious decision to disbelieve in Him. In an interview, Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan explains this as a deep psychological disorder:

After the person makes his decision, the arguments for atheism become increasingly appealing. The disbeliever uses the arguments as a cover for the real reason he left his faith, not as the primary reason. After all, if his reason was purely intellectual, why did he do so only after a traumatic experience? And why didn’t those same arguments appeal to him earlier? He might read the books of contemporary atheists, or repeat witty atheist mantras without contemplation. But even if this person was intellectually defeated, he would not leave atheism. Reason and arguments have little to do with atheism, just as they have little to do with faith. And because their disbelief is primarily rooted in pain, a common characteristic is to appeal to the pain of others around the world, such as orphans, the destitute, or other disadvantaged people.

I have, and continue to go through a similar experience. In short, a traumatic experience, coupled with seemingly sustained silence from the Heavens has left me bitter, frustrated, angry, and in despair. I don’t know know what to think anymore. Where is God when I call upon him? Perhaps he’s not even there, does not exist! I never outwardly said “I am not longer a Muslim”, but I know I had no reality of faith in my heart, suddenly arguments against faith made sense. As I write this, if there is a God, it is by his divine Mercy that I am a Muslim. I also recognize the profound wisdom in why what happened happened, but it took many years to get to that point.

But this type of disbelief won’t bear to critical examination. It is rooted in an inability to accept the traumatic event, to recognize its wisdom, to recognize that a wisdom does exist. It is buttressed by the spiritual impotence that thrives in a cultural backdrop that urges satisfying one’s every desire and refuses to teach him to deal with deprivation. Thus, the life experiences of the poor and disadvantaged condition them for the pains of life, and force them to rely on God, unlike the rich and privileged who feel self-sufficient and not in need of God.

The next question is, what does someone do who recognizes that his disbelief is primarily the disbelief of pain? This process is very hard, and to this day, I do not have the final solution. However, I can provide some temporary medicines to help you keep your faith afloat:

  • Make a conscious effort to maintain a positive attitude. This means refusing to allow yourself to wallow in depression or despair. You cannot control when it strikes you, but you can change your attitude of dealing of with it. This is the hardest part of the entire process.
  • One of the mental tortures is to dwell on the future consequences of the traumatic event. Don’t do that. You have to change what you are thinking about. Don’t make “plans” or create absurd mental scenarios. This is especially difficult late at night, and I don’t have a cure for that time.
  • Reflect on the negative of what would have happened had the traumatic event not happened.
  • Reflect on the positive things around you. Most people who can read this have infinitely more blessings than problems. But, they just fail to think about them. Your food, your eyesight, your computer, all of these things are tremendous blessings. But few people think about them, most are stuck in the inability to see beyond their limited problems.

My thoughts, please share with me yours…

The Atheist and the Mureed


A city bus carries a diverse array of individuals. Crowded and weathered, it just so happened that on this particular day the bus carried an mureed, deeply immersed in his faith, and an atheist, very much in the belligerent tradition of Dawkins.

The atheist had recently returned from a skeptics meeting, where they purported to champion reason and science over dogmatic superstitions. As he sat there, looking around on the bus, his eye was caught by the Mureed. Sitting there with his unusual black headcovering, loose clothing, and prayer beads, he was chanting something under his breathe, just barely audible.

The Mureed’s whispered chanting continued through the ride, and the atheist grew more and more angry. This person is practicing a backwards, archaic, antiquated faith that should be destroyed in the light of reason. In an instant, the bus passed over a pothill, shook the bus, and the mureed’s chanting was heard for a split second. “il Allah…” he said, and then his voice went back to normal.

At this, the atheist had enough. “Who are you talking to? There’s no one on this bus who can hear you, but you keep mouthing off.”

The Mureed looked up. “I was reciting a dhikr…an incantations. Its a prayer. Sorry, was I disturbing you?”

“Prayer? To who? God? There is no God. You know that, right? You’re wasting your time and youthful life. Enjoy what you have in this one life, because there is nothing after it.” This grabbed the attention of the entire bus. Some were Christians who felt sympathetic to the mureed, others were apathetic, and a few more agreed with the atheist.

“There is a God, I believe in him”, responded the mureed. The atheist smiled. He knew the line of reason he would take the mureed upon to get him to admit his lack of proof, lack of evidence – mere blind faith. He had done this before, and no one had ever stood up to him.

“You believe in God? Show me proof. I demand you give me evidence, verifiable, demonstrable evidence. Prove to me that your God exists.”

At this, the Mureed smiled. He closed his eyes, placed one hand in his pocket, and recited an incanation. A moment passed as everyone waited for his response. Eyes still closed, he removed his hand from his pocket to produce a brown string of prayer-beads, demarked with a silver bead at regular intervals and a long ending, scrunched up in his hand.

He then spoke. “Pretend for a moment that I am blind. Pretend that I have never experienced sight in my entire life. Describe to me what this object in my hand looks like.”

The atheist was confused. This was certainly not the answer he expected. But he decided to humor the mureed. “It looks like small pieces of lint, some are different colors, with a black string connecting them. It also has a few shiny silver beads” Was that sufficient?

The mureed immediately responded, almost interrupting the atheist. Still with his eyes closed, he said “You described this object as black, brown, shiny. These are all terms a blind person has no understanding of. What does color mean to a person who has no experience with it?”

The atheist thought for a moment. “Then I would describe it in physical terms. Brown is a frequency of visible light that bounces off of the object. Shiny means light complete reflects off of the object. Its describable in scientific terms.” What would the mureed say to a scientific answer, he thought.

The mureed immediately responded, “I asked to describe what it looked like, not to describe it in physical terms. Wavelength helps me conceptualize it, but does not help me experience what it look like. How do I know sight is real? Describe it to me.”

The atheist was somewhat annoyed. This was not the direction he anticipated the conversation to go. “Well, obviously the experience of sight cannot be communicated to someone who has never seen before. He has no frame of reference. But, that doesn’t mean sight does not exist, we can all see, unlike your God who has no proof.”

“We all know light exists. But the experience of sight cannot be described in scientific terms, its something each individual has to experience himself. Then we come to recognize what it is and believe in it based on our experience of it.” He stopped for a moment, a pause. What does this have to do with God, the atheist retorted, protesting he asked about God, not colors.

“Because God is not a mere intellectual proposition. He isn’t something you study through measurement and describe in physical terms. God reveals himself to us, and we taste that experience, just as you see or hear or feel. It is not something I can describe to you, other than to say its real. I’ve experienced it.”

The atheist did not know what to say. This mureed was speaking a language he was not used to. Then the atheist borrowed a line from Dawkins. “Your God is just a delusion you’re inducing on yourself.”

The mureed smiled. “Your sight is a delusion you’re experiencing. Prove otherwise to a blind person.” The bus gasped and the atheist was dumb-founded…

God is not something only the intellectual elite can examine. Sometimes, the mind can even get in the way. God is something to be experienced, specifically, by reflecting on his signs in natural beauty, reciting his divine words and excessive worship.

Scientific Models are not Reality


I’ve been studying electronics lately – you know volts, amps and all that – and it reminded me of something I heard a few years ago, but never fully realized: Scientific models are not necessarily reality.

What do I mean by that?

When we first started to learn about electricity, scientists thought electricity flowed from positive to negative. This is called Conventional Current. All of our equations and gizmos and gadgets on this model. And it works just as we predict it to! The conventional current model has a powerful ability to predict outcomes, which is one of the greatest hallmarks of Science.

But there’s a problem: Its not correct!

In reality, electricity flows from negative to positive. This is called Electron Flow.

Just because a model is useful at predicting an outcome does not mean it is necessarily correct. The same can be said about any branch of science. Ultimately, we have only been able to determine that certain causes are correlated with certain outcomes, we used them to construct models to describe reality, but ultimately we do not know reality.

Predictability does not imply truth.

Secularizing Religion


When we think of a religion in the modern sense, we tend to break it down to a set of dogmatic beliefs and occasional rituals that emanate from a holy scripture. While this is correct, this embodies only the lowest common denominator of what any religion entails. This definition relegates religion to merely a set of enumerable creedal statements that are actualized maybe once a week. Traditionally, this was not what a religion was. Religions were a complete way of life that touched upon all aspects of the human conditions. But in modern times, most religions are shells of their former selves, having been secularized by the backdrop of western culture and internal movements within the faith.

Most religions provide mean to life. Meaning permeates all actions, stories, texts and beliefs of the faith. And since most religions claim to be complete ways of living, they in turn provide meanings to all aspects of life. For example in traditional Judaism every Hebraic letter has a sacred value. Hindu pundits wear markings on their foreheads during holy occasions. In Islam, the way you greet a person might be different if the person if of your faith. And collectively, because these subtleties touch on all aspects of life, everything an adherent does holds significance, from the way he eats, slepts, interacts with a person of the opposite gender or even uses the bathroom. While the doctrinal beliefs are important, people did not learn them in such an explicitly spelled out manor. They were just another part of the system of life the religion entailed, to be absorbed and experienced, not taught in a classroom on a chalk-board.

The spread of western culture has proven corrosive to religious traditions. Sacred clothes, languages, law and poetry have been replaced with a suit and tie, English, democracy and sitcoms, respectively. Religions are not conveyed in the traditional manor of an unbroken chain from teacher to student, but are studied in exactly the same fashion as any empirical science, such as in a classroom or through independent self-study. By its nature, this approach not only negates the possibility of guided personal experience of the transcendent, it rigidifies a religion from a lifestyle to a dry list of beliefs and practices. And most distasteful to the layman, minor discrepancies or disagreements are not overlooked in the backdrop of the overwhelming concurrence, but become battle grounds that fuel religious conflict and creates divisions.

What about the dogmatic beliefs? Have they too been compromised? Yes and no. While pure acceptance has been replaced with skepticism and condescension by their own adherents, of all aspects of religion this one has proven the most resilient. Even people who are completely immersed in a secular lifestyle have managed to maintain a token attachment to their creed. One possible reason is that immaterial beliefs that have no practical application in one’s daily life can remain dormant and thus unchallenged. This contrasts with, say, wearing a tefillin which is conspicuous and subject to question.

In the realm of philosophy, all philosophies are ultimately based on untested axioms upon which the rules of logic are applied to arrive at conclusions. Traditionally, the religious philosophers held their own axioms to be true. For example, one of the names of God, Haqq, is the root-word for the Arabic word for reality. The implication is that if God is not the central axiom of your view of the world, your understanding of reality is delusional. But, secular thought replaced this axiom and ones like it with a purely materialistic view of the world, which presupposes that there is no such thing as the supernatural. Even those who believe in God but who were born in such a culture articulate axioms that are antithetical to their own beliefs.

What is causing this shift towards the secularization of religion? It is a combination of both internal and external forces. First is the aforementioned spread of western secular culture. Its vanguard is the New Atheist movement that aggressively challenges the last vestiges of dormant, un-actualized belief. External factors are self-evident. But internal factors require a bit more elaboration.

Nearly all major religions form factions in unbalanced archetypal manors, with one emphasizing mysticism and spirituality (experience-based) and the other focusing on theology and law (text-based). Those upon the spiritual path are less willing to adapt to pervasive western secular culture. But their opposites are more willing to package the religion in the clothes of westernization for the sake of a perceived greater good. This leads to a flashy and attractive manifestation of the religion, which can be more easily conveyed in a “class-room” environment. Therefore, the theological and legal focusing archetype gains prominence amongst the common adherent. By its nature, it focuses on actions and outward manifestations of the religion, while de-emphasizing experience and meaning. Religion becomes dry beliefs and dry actions. Hence the secularization.

Examples in the Abrahamic faiths include modern Jews, who emphasize the Halakha (Jewish law) or their racial identity, but de-emphasize Kabbalah (mysticism). Some even rationalize their atheism by arguing that their disbelief in God does not violate the first commandment because rejecting God is not taking a false god. Protestant Christianity is the secularized version of Catholicism. It rids itself of Catholic tradition and history, replacing it with a scripture-only approach, Sola Scriptura. Islam’s Salafi movement de-emphasizes 1400 years of Islamic tradition, and reduces Islam to simplistic interpretations of the Qur’an and prophetic traditions. In my opinion, all of these are shells of their former selves, yet are able to capture the masses by appealing to what they want: unquestioned support for the state of Israel, theatric mega-church services, and beautiful recitations of the Qur’an and religious poetry on Jihad.

So, what does this all mean? Interpret it as you wish, but here’s what I take:

From the perspective of the believers, this has happened so gradually that what they perceive to be the normative manifestation of their faith is but a shell of its former self, masquerading as the same faith that was revealed to the original holy recipient. Feeling threatened, the adherents intensify their religious zeal, strongly clinging to what remains of the outward. But what they cling to is a secularized version of the faith. Their emphasis on merely dry actions leads to religiosity, which in turn causes them to be rejected by the masses and provides fuel for the New Atheists.

“Faith wears out in the heart of any one of you just as clothes wear out, so ask God to renew the faith in your hearts.”

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence


“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”

This quote was popularized by Carl Sagan, the astronomer, educator, physicist and skeptical philosopher. His quote is used by many atheists to reject the belief in God. They argue that the claim of the existence of God is so grand that any evidence to support this claim must be equally grand. In this short essay, I will explain why this statement is not only grossly subjective, but in reality the claim that there is no God is more difficult to prove than the claim that there is one.

What is an extraordinary claim?

Really, how do you define what that means? What one defines as extraordinary another might define as ordinary, and vice versa.

For example, I personally know people who consider it common-place to see visions holy men of the past. Not only do they experience these visions on a regular basis, their fellow community members also experience these apparitions. (And for the record, these are sane, educated and coherent people). For me, their experiences are extraordinary, but to them they are common-place and not even worth discussing. Conversely, I heard a story of my grandmother seeing a TV for the first time and being completely perplexed about how a man could fit inside a small box. To her, that was an extraordinary occurrence. And most some see the idea of God as well within the realm of normality.

What is an extraordinary claim, by the definition Sagan intended, is subjective from person to person.

Whose claim is more extraordinary?

The only objective way to measure whether a claim is extraordinary is by the amount of evidence required to make the claim. What the evidence consists of is inconsequential, as previously explained. Based on this objective standard, the atheist claim that there is no God requires more evidence and is therefore more extraordinary than the claim that God exists.

To understand why, consider a sample population of one million people. To make the claim that amongst them is a redheaded person, you would only need to produce a single redheaded person out of the million. This one person would be sufficient to support your claim. Conversely, if you wanted to say that there was not a single redheaded person amongst the population, the only way to verify this claim would be to check every single person amongst the million. Even a single exception would violate the claim, so one’s examination would have to be absolute.

The positive claim that a redhead exists in the population requires only a single piece of evidence. But, the negative claim that not a single redhead exists requires an examination of every single person in the population- one million pieces of evidence. Therefore, the statement “no redhead exists amongst the population” is an extraordinary claim that requires more evidence.

Now compare this to the belief in God. A believer must bring forth only a single piece of evidence for his belief in God. However, the atheist must examine every corner of the universe and personal experience claiming that God exists and conclude that they are mistaken. This is complicated by the fact that Jewish and Muslim theologians argue that God’s existence is outside of time and space, and we are incapable of examining outside of time and space. The claim of the atheist requires more evidence and is therefore the extraordinary claim.

While Sagan and other atheists used this quote to reject God, in reality, its reality goes against them.