12 April, 2012

“science answers the HOW questions and religion, the WHY”...really now?

my friend sent me this article: DOES SCIENCE MAKE BELIEF IN GOD OBSOLETE? by Peter Harrison (http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/04/11/3475004.htm) and said, quoting partially from the article, that, ‎’The predominance of scientists among those preaching the new gospel of atheism might lead to the assumption that science has somehow rendered religious belief unintelligible.’ Kedar I guess synchronicity is not an act of god. :) I liked the comment in the original post: ‘every time we think we have an answer, we only open up at least three more questions. When, where, why?’ While the article doesn't go on to explore the deep spiritual nature of many a scientists it does state: ‘While there is no doubt that science can offer powerful explanations in its own sphere, it seems premature to insist that the only questions worth posing are ones that science can answer.’ i wrote this in response

if i can ask it, it deserves an answer!
the widely held (by believer apologists) belief that any question that can be put in correct english (or any language) is a valid question has been shown to be false time and again. for example: “when was the flying spaghetti monster born?” “where do tooth fairies live?” and “why are pink unicorns hollow?”, just to start with the ‘when, where and why’ statement. to be able to formulate something that seems profound prima facie but on deeper inspection turns out to be nonsense is the hallmark of all religious beliefs

o oracle of mountain view, tell me...
i have myself tried my hand at such jugglery. check this out: “you cannot play chess with yourself”, “a tailor who begins with the tape must end with a scissor” “the stars are far, but some stars are further” “he who speaks to a child, speaks to a child” "where do the trees go when they die?" "why cannot photographers put life into inert bodies?". i can give you another 100 of these verbatim because one just makes them up. each of these statements sounds profound but is basically a load of cowdung. it is all right to impress simpler folks, but trying to pass these off as philosophies of life and a guide to living can make me look an idiot and people who follow this look like a brain-dead mob

haven't they heard about the mayan calender?
however, consider the following statements: “The son of God died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” “To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: When He decreeth a matter, He saith to it: ‘Be,’ and it is” “Things are not what they appear to be: nor are they otherwise.” in the case of these statements, it is considered perfectly sane to think them extremely profound and spend one’s life dissecting them and trying to find parallels in the latest scientific discovery that somehow, in a convoluted manner, proves some small part of some such saying and then tom-toming that the ‘ancients’ already knew much more than us!

prof.alan sokal
i have heard this line of argument from almost every person who considers himself religious, philosophical or artistic in nature. in fact, i am sure you have heard of the sokal hoax that was played as recently as 1996 (read more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair) where profound sounding nonsense was sent for publication by prof.alan sokal to test whether a journal (in this case, the Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies) would: publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if it (a) sounded good and (b) flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions. and guess what? they were right!

in conclusion: it is not difficult to make things up that sound profound at first sight but, when exposed to even slight probing, fall like a pack of cards. and hence, just because one can construct a grammatically correct sentence in english beginning with the words when, where or why, it does not automatically qualify these questions as intelligible or worth answering or spending any time considering

as for synchronicity, i feel it is just confirmation bias arising out of the prejudices of the thinker that makes events appear connected on the level of ‘meaning’. to begin with, i do not ascribe meaning or purpose to events. they are just events. secondly, to create inferences and connections post ipso facto is a mug’s game and anyone can do it with as much chance of success as failure. our brains are wired to see patterns. these are necessary for us to survive and we further reinforce these parts of the brain by using pattern-matching as our primary means of learning during the first few years of our childhood. that is the reason that a lot of pseudo-science happens and is easily believed

the devil in 9/11
examples: i am told that something bad will happen to me on wednesday and i realise that it actually did, or that i am told that red is an unlucky colour for me and i realise it really is, or that if i were to add an extra ‘e’ to my name or change the direction of the way i sit on my pot in the loo, i may become more prosperous and i realise that this is indeed right. however, all the time what my brain is doing subconsciously is pattern matching. it seeks out something bad (which happens to us very regularly) and connects with wednesday, it seeks out something wrong (which is quite a few things around us) and connects it with a red shirt/cap/underwear/car/umbrella etc that i happen to have in my possession, it seeks out positive things (which too happen to us all the time, just like negative things) and connects it with the extra ‘e’. and then, the gullible fall for it. they start seeing things where there are only coincidences and random events and then connect them and call it fate. this is, of course, normal people. philosophers, being what they are, prefer a ‘deeper’ word like synchronicity

at the end of the day it is just sub-conscious pattern matching that the brain seeks to fit a result that has already occurred in time

literally flat, not like friedman has us believe
now, to the article in question (especially the part where living and dead scientists who have said something or the other about their personal beliefs in god or religion are paraded as proof of the existence of god or the righteousness of religion): yes, i agree that once you get into celebrity endorsements, both sides have big guns and it matters little to the actual debate. honestly, i wouldn’t care a whit if NO ONE believed in gravity or DNA or that god is a figment of the human imagination. it would still not change the facts a teeny bit. there was a time when NO ONE believed that the earth went around the sun or that it was roundish in shape. even very intelligent, very civilised, very learned men believed that one could travel to the end of the earth and then fall off. did that mean that the earth was flat in those days? i cannot understand the logic behind pulling numbers

the question of the possibility of the existence of god and/or the necessity for postulating this hypothesis is not going to be decided by majority vote!

what is the point one tries to make when one parades scientists who believe or clergy who don’t? you will always find enough examples of both, and all of it would still be irrelevant to the question of the possibility of existence of a supernatural being

and about science rendering religious belief unintelligible, i once again beg to differ. religious belief was ALWAYS unintelligible. with science, it is only more so, nothing else!

and let us now turn to the issue of scientists from the past, the so-called ‘founding fathers’ of science, though how someone can be called a ‘founding’ father of science regardless of how you define ‘science’ escapes me, to be honest. the people like newton or keppler or copernicus were seemingly religious because it was the default setting to the social position at the time they lived. they probably also believed in slavery and chattelhood for women and that black people are lesser humans. we might correctly assume that they believed that there is a man on the moon too, or that god produced the world in 6 days or and it is only 6,000 years old. it is quite likely that they believed that they can turn iron into gold (newton did) by alchemy (to chemistry what astrology is to astronomy) or that matter and energy are not interchangeable

i am sure they believed in most default settings at the time of their lives. the point is not that they believed that the laws of physics show the beauty of god’s creation, but that they realised that the physical world is governed by rules that are within the purview of human intellect and can be so accurately measured or calculated that future events may be predicted based on these rules. this was the beauty that must have shocked them for an explanation and the only one they had at that time was god. from here, it is but a short step into believing that if god is not interfering with gravity, then that is one less thing for god to worry about. as we find these so-called rules to the universe, we are slowly taking away more and more work that god was supposed to do. eventually, we end up with nothing for god to do! the same argument holds for darwin

regardless of all the mysticism and spirituality and profundity surrounding dogmatic, irrational and superstitious beliefs; despite the conciliatory gesture that ‘god and science can co-exist’; despite the redefinitions of ‘science’, ‘religion’ and ‘god’ to make sure that each is as vague and as universally harmless as possible; despite the parading of scientists who believe(d) in a god or digging up quotable quotes attributed to scientists and then twisting the meaning ; despite all the arguments, the truth is that we do not need god. god needs us. god did not make us. we made god. and like everything that has outlived its usefulness, it must be discarded

i understand that there might be emotional attatchment (i took years to discard my security blanket). i understand that there may be resistance from community. i understand that there will be denial of the truth as a last ditch effort to hold on to this comforting notion. i understand it will take time…but, it must go. for our own good. for the sake of our children and the future of this world. we must stop believing that someone made this world as it is. that s/he listens to our thoughts. that s/he manipulates physical laws as s/he deems fit (changing them or altering them on a whim or a prayer). that the afterlife is more important than this one. that when we hurt people who do not agree with us, we are doing work that is sanctioned by an authority above all. that we need this to be good.

there is so much pressure from neo-theists to save the last shred of the notion of god by scrambling to defend the ‘concept’ of god by claiming that they have rid themselves of all the dogma attatched to religion and superstitious beliefs and rituals and are now talking of a ‘pure energy’ that affects us all. they claim that if it is the ‘big bang’ we rationalists ‘believe’ in, then that is the god these neo-theists are referring to. if it is evolution we ‘believe’ in, then for us, that can be equivalent to god. some go so far as to state that science itself is a belief system akin to religion. i shall tackle this issue in another post

please let us keep something for god!
but as of now, let me respond to something very important that the writer says, ‘While there is no doubt that science can offer powerful explanations in its own sphere, it seems premature to insist that the only questions worth posing are ones that science can answer.’ now, why does this sound like a last-ditch stand of the neo-theists who are asking rationalists, quite pitifully methinks, that at least agree that there is SOMETHING beyond a rational explanation. something? anything? please leave us something that we can talk with deep sounding words and look as if we have found something that mere mortals cannot imagine achieving? else, we’ll really look like fools. please, please, kind sir, would you allow us the privilege of some face saving move? come on, have a heart. pretty please?