Saturday, May 29, 2010

Science, God, Atheism, Creationism--finally the answer

I've heard that about 2/3 of American scientists call themselves religious, but that the more stellar the scientist, the less likely it is that he or she is religious.

In contrast, at least 85% of the American public describe themselves as religious, and if I recall right only a few percent call themselves atheist.

Logically, though, it's impossible to be both a scientist and an atheist--or even an agnostic for that matter.

...because, if you ask an atheist "Do you believe in God?" the atheist says "No," while an agnostic says "I don't know."

But a logically consistent scientist would say "Sorry, there's a word in that sentence I don't understand. What's a 'god'?"

The word "god" is scientifically undefinable, since science deals with phenomena in the natural world whose behavior can be described empirically or at least mathematically. Which makes scientists empiricists. No more, no less.

This is where lay people really don't get scientists--at least those whose personal beliefs are consistent with their scientific ones--who don't compartmentalize their minds, in other words.

Such scientists aren't "skeptical" about religious belief. They don't "doubt" or "deny" it. It's just irrelevant to them.

Religious people define those who aren't religious by their non-religiosity. They call them "secularists" or "unchurched" or "unbelievers" or "infidels" or "heretics" or "atheists."

Every one of these terms define the non-religious in terms of their non-religion, which makes as much sense as calling a blonde a non-redhead, or a college student a non-fish. These definitions may be true but they fail to say what someone is--just one of the many things they aren't.

And of course empiricism is utterly inconsistent with any sort of belief in any sort of supernatural agency.

However, at the same time, no scientist can say "there is no God" any more than he or she could say "there is no Bleckn." (don't lunge for your dictionary--I made the word up to make my point). The word "god" isn't empirically describable, and thus lies outside the realm of science.

And the only scientists who are religious are those who leave part of their minds outside science. Which many admittedly do.

The irony in all of this is that creationists are atheists.

Here's how. If you're religious, the Universe is God's Universe, created by God, operating under His rules--right?

Well, from that POV (point of view), science is merely the discipline of discovering God's rules--to see how God has organized this universe, absent Him showing up on golden clouds to explain it all in person.

Now what if someone denies the rules the universe runs by? That someone denies God, and is, therefore, an atheist.

Creationists deny God's rules--they continually flout scientific reasoning and conclusions, which simply make experimentally and/or observationally verifiable claims (plus, out at the edges, mathematically verifiable ones).

That's the same as denying that this is God's universe.

Therefore creationists are atheists. They're set themselves up as gods, since they believe their beliefs supersede those based on how God's universe actually operate.

So when someone tells you they're a creationist--ask them when they turned their back on God, and was that hard at first, and do they think they'll ever decide to accept God again?

That'll get 'em going.


L Allen said...

There's another option: God the Cosmic Sorcerer. The laws of natures are out of a God Magic playbook that can be adapted at will to fit the prevailing situation. The task of the Creationist is to make the rest of us see that the Universe is a stage where God appears as the top sorcerer and what he says, goes. Scientific laws are simply not relevant. Scientists are free to explore them, but they should know the laws are subject to magical interpretation or reinterpretation at any time.

But God's magic powers are relevant and all encompassing, and it behooves all of us to follow The Rules or go to the magic place called Hell where it is possible to burn our magic and pathetic but juicy little souls in magical Forever. Or, follow all the rules as arbitrarily interpreted by the ordained Sorcerer’s Apprentices, and hope that our juicy little souls pass some magical muster into a magical Heaven where we will be rewarded with angelic music in magical and very pleasant Forever.

See, it’s magic. Rules, laws and any shred of logic simply don’t matter. They are not atheists; they’re just victims, err. . I mean . . . adherents of magic. Which of course they outlawed way back when and burned thousands of witches in very real, hot, deadly fires.

Hmmmm. Maybe they should take another look at that Hell thing and the reason witches were burned. Hmmm. Wasn’t it because witches engaged in magic? Hmmmm? Now who are the witches again . . .?

Sean said...

Ehkzu, You've demonstrated that from a purely scientific standpoint (as you defined it) the definition of God is somewhat like NaN. You're also right to point out that creationists are both stubborn and illogical when trying to use science to prove a faith belief. However, especially under the context of a logical argument, it seems that logic and scientific reasoning get so revered as to almost invalidate the conclusion. Logic (which is dependent on assumptions and computer-like right/wrong outcomes) is ultimately a really bad way to judge organic beings. Spoiler alert: all humans will ultimately fail a logic test. Even so, perhaps it's the best-possible method, since I'm not sure if there's a viable alternative.

So here's what I see every time I come across a logical argument against some sort of faith belief:

1) "Get ready for my assault on religion/some_religious_beleif using logic - resistance is futile. Premise: religious people are stupid because their beliefs are illogical" Me: "Congratulations, you've just proved that the wildly unpredictable and quintessential non-logical homo sapien is, in fact, not logical."

2) "....blah, blah... therefore, religious people are wrong" (often times, deficient to the point of being inferior. Me: "Once again, congratulations, using your own organic, non-discrete, 100% unique brain, you've decided that logically, some other organism is deficient in logic."

When it's all said and done, perhaps we can label human religion as something of a paradox? Isn't that the default way to admit that something that should be logical isn't logical?

Indeed, logic is useful and very relevant to our world, but I think often times it's the wrong tool to judge people by. There are many other human behaviors that fail the logic test, and belief in an all-powerful God is only one of them.

Ehkzu said...

Sean, my central point wasn't to diss religion so much as to point out that scientific method has no way of either affirming OR denying any kind of supernatural agency.

That's not to say that science can't study religion, of course. Just that it can't address the supernatural directly, since it's not approachable empirically.

The 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume, in his "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion," was the first the demonstrate that the only possible basis for religion is faith, not logic.

As for the limits of logic itself--we're continually refining logic itself, since that includes all of mathematics, really. Therefore at any given moment we're using a flawed tool.

Still, using logic against logic produces an infinite regress (looking at yourself in a mirror looking at yourself in another mirror, with reflections of those reflections appearing to ricochet off each other into the distance).

An empiricist always starts like this:

Here I am. I seem to be some kind of entity, located just behind my eyes, connected to and extending to the limits of my body, to the tips of my hands and feet.

What's around me? I seem to have a set of senses that let me probe what appears to be reality, starting with the fact that certain actions cause me pain, others pleasure.

Hm. More of the latter, less of the former. Only I also seem to be aware of something I'll call time, and this awareness lets me realize that doing some things that aren't pleasurable now can lead me to more pleasure later, and since I'll probably be around at that later time, I'm guessing that a certain amount of deferred gratification makes sense.

What makes things happen? If I hold a raw egg and let go of it, it will proceed toward the center of the Earth until its progress is stopped by hitting something, like the ground. Hmmm. Must be some sort of force making it do that, since the egg lasts the ability to move itself. I'll call that "gravity," even though I have no idea what causes this force to be, or how it acts in circumstances that I can't test myself.

Though I can extrapolate from what I can test myself out to stuff I can observe, and wait, and observe again, to see if what I think will happen...happens.

Thus I construct my understanding of reality, bit by bit, experiment by experiment, theory by theory, observation by observation.

It all starts by me standing here wondering what the heck? It ends that way too, only I know infinitessimally more than I knew at the start--including knowing how everything I think I know could turn out to be wrong. But I just have to live with that.


Ehkzu said...

Dang, I can't edit my own comments. I meant to say that eggs lack the ability to move themselves.