Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Throwing Out the Baby with the Bathwater

There are many questions I get asked when I reveal that I'm a heathen.  The most common one is possibly "what happened?"  There are many posts in this blog that already address this question.  Of course, I am more than happy to answer those who ask out of genuine curiosity and not to be patronizing.  So it goes without saying, those who come to wish me a "refu'ah sheleimah" (speedy recovery), you know where to find the exit.

The question I would like to address today is "what do you believe in?"  Rest assured, I am not eating dead babies and pouring their blood as a libation to Molokh.  But mainly, when I deny God, they want to know if I don't believe at all.  This discussion is one that's long and involved (and may require more than one post).  Since I am on a library computer, and I am working within a time limit,

I inevitably will have to cut this post short.  So bear with me while I put the pieces together.

On Science.

Yeah science!  Almost all of us card-carrying skeptics first turn to science to find the answers that religion has not satisfactorily answered.

Of course, science cannot answer everything either.  Some of those questions are better left toward metaphysics.  And many times, the answers provided there are no more satisfying than the ones furnished by religion.

The best baseline I've found for science are the ones set by Karl Popper.  For a question to be scientific, it has to be a) testable, and b) falsifiable.  A question like "is there a God?" is not scientifically testable.  There are no tests that can be set up using the scientific method and reproduced in a lab with (nearly) identical results.  It is not falsifiable either.  Ask most religious people if there's any way you can get them to stop believing, they will say no.  There is no way to empirically prove/disprove that God exists.  Therefore, it is not in the scope of science to answer that question.

Next, one can glimpse into the realm of logic.  Sure, there are plenty of logical proofs that assert God exists.  But in my experience, those proofs do not hold water when scrutinized.  One could use similar logic to prove "black is really white" (cf. Douglas Adams).  I may devote later posts to this.

 But using logic, one can most certainly prove that belief in God is valid, but not that it's sound.

In order for those arguments to be sound, we enter the realm of faith.  And this is where it all becomes murky....

In essence, trying to prove the existence of God is as fruitless as the “Babel Fish Argument” from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  In the end, proof denies faith, and without faith, God is nothing (hyperbole intended, you fools!)

Which brings me to the question, what is my take on science?

There are many blogs better devoted to an in-depth scientific view on the universe.  I am no expert on science.  I love science.  I love reading about it.  But my knowledge of mathematical axioms and scientific realities are unfortunately very limited.  As such, I cannot parse the intricacies of General (or Special) Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Thermodynamics, or even Epigenetics, Macroevolution, the Biochemistry behind the Krebs Cycle, Photosynthesis, or even something as simple as “how do birds fly?” 

But does that mean I cannot put my faith in science?  Absolutely not.  Everyone puts their faith in something sometimes.  How many readers here have ever driven a car?  Now, how many of us actually can explain how a car works?   One doesn’t have to understand how a car works to drive it.  I don’t have to be able to explain how the combustion of fuel drives the various pistons and components of the motor.  I can use GPS without knowing the physics of it.  This internet connection I’m using right now, I only  have a rudimentary understanding of how the Internet works; and yet I am an avid Information Superhighway Surfer. 

Why put my faith in science but not God?
I propose the following solution:

Constant Conjunction.

This is not a very strong argument.  But it is the simplest one I can think of on the spot.  And thus, I will use it for now.

For those unfamiliar, constant conjunction is a term used by David Hume to describe how we can empirically know that causality exists.  For example, How do I know that next time I drop a pencil, it will fall to the ground?  Maybe next time, the laws of gravity will defy themselves.  In my living memory, every time I’ve dropped a pencil, it has fallen.  Constant conjunction.  And then, we have Newton et al explaining how this gravity behaves. 

And now, to apply it to science vs god.

Science is not perfect.  It is a work in progress.  Scientists are always updating their views.  A biology textbook from 10 years ago might have some of the same basics as one printed today.  But if one were studying more advanced biology, there would be differences.  A physics textbook  printed before 1915 would not have any mention of General Relativity.  But after 1915 (I’m not sure how soon after), once General Relativity made a splash, it would soon be ubiquitous. 

Theology, in its nature, is more static than science.  The scientific method is one that is set up such that any one datum can raise questions to even established knowledge, and once said datum is scrutinized, reviewed, and further tested, a new theory can be made to supersede our old theory.  Yes, a scientist should not live his life thinking arrogantly that his way is the only way. 

Theology, on the other hand, relies more on dogma.  Even when it does use logic, the logic of the theologian tends to be much more pedantic.  How many clergymen have seriously scrutinized their own beliefs?  I’m not going to say zero; I know for a fact that many have gone through periods where they questioned everything.  But by and large, when talking to a person about faith, they do not utilize the same level of scrutiny to their faith as they would to a scientific principle.  Yes, I’m talking about educated people too. 

Back to Popper’s Laws:  Many religious claims are not testable or falsifiable.  Therefore, I am more partial to science than I am to religion.  Religion, to me, is like asking which hand it is better to masturbate with.  We can argue about that until the cows come home, but I would think that most of us have better things to do with our time.  That’s the same way I feel about religious claims in general.

Is there a higher power?  Maybe.  But why waste my time worrying about it?

 So, what do you believe in?

If I may be coy for a second, I believe in me.  As John Lennon (quoted by Ferris Beuller) said, "I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me..."

But unlike your standard run-of-the-mill narcissist, I also believe in others.  I do not know what makes my mind separate from others.  I cannot tell you where my mind ends and where others' begin.  I especially cannot tell you what makes me conscious, everyone around me conscious, but I am only personally aware of my own consciousness.  I believe in me.  I believe in others.  But I can't understand what mechanism separates me from others.

In my formative years, I might have believed in an eternal mind.  Perhaps, like Atman, there is a collective consciousness.  Sometimes, when deep in the throes of an orgasm, I feel a slight out of body/mind experience ephemerally.   If there is a higher intelligence, why is it so hard for us to reach it?  Or is it all in my head?

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