Saturday, September 22, 2007

Science vs. Religion; Reason vs. Confusion

Dawkins and Krauss on Religion and Science

Scientific American ran a bit on a debate between Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss, who debated the question of science and religion's compatibility. In effect they both argued from the same basic perspective, but argued mostly on approach and style rather than on substance of belief. In both cases they viewed Religion as "wrong", though Dawkins has a book entitled The God Delusion while Krauss is more content to allow for religion as an expression of our humanity. He, however, urges education as a means to combat the irrational responses to science.

While I can now understand and even somewhat appreciate Dawkin's hard-line approach, the idea that we must eradicate the concept of God and religion is not only too severe for my taste, but is predicated on the idea that there is no God and that religion is totally false. In the absence of evidence proving the non-existence of God (impossible) and full documentation that all the tenants of religion are not only contrary to reason but have been empirically proven false, we must allow room for belief in the unknown. Science is all about speculation of the unknown in order to better understand the universe and to uncover previously unknown truth.

Science - unlike religion - is interested mostly with testable and falsifiable claims. So, the postulation "God exists" (or the antithesis, "God does not exist") is not testable nor falsifiable. There is no way for us to fully investigate the infinite span of the time/space continuum nor to peer past the theoretical 11th dimension to search other universes for evidence of the existence of a divine creature. Due to our limitations and the impossibility of instant and complete knowledge (without in fact becoming or being god) we simply can not know if there is or is not a God. Science, then, should have no interest in the question.

Unfortunately, however, science is too willing to suggest that since the question can not be tested it is therefore false. That is, since we can not test for God therefore he does not exist. This is a fallacy. On the other hand, religion is too eager to suggest that since the question can not be falsified therefore God exists is equally fallacious. The only honest question is a gentle agnosticism that allows both for the possibility of existence and non-existence, and is gentle to both those who cannot believe and those who must. The gentle agnostic allows operational room for both the man who chooses to believe as a result of Pascal's wager and the one who courageously presses forward in search of evidence and a full understanding of the universe. Both have made an honest choice and over the course of their life journey, both are likely to adjust or even totally reverse their position. Evidence and experience both will either reinforce their belief or change their perspectives.

Unfortunately prior belief has the effect of influencing or filtering events and facts. That two miles of ice has been drilled from cores in Greenland means something completely different to the Bible literalist and the scientists. The scientist views the core as a wealth of historical and statistical data for weather research while the literalist believer sees the great depth of the ice as evidence for the mountains of water laid down during Noah's flood. Yet when more data about the cores reveals more than superficial depth of the ice the Biblical literalist may well come to understand that there is more to the ice depth than water from the flood. The total absence of mud and other sedimentation throughout the ice beyond the dust we would expect from normal weather activity or volcanoes raises questions as to the accuracy of the Christian explanation of the ice presence. If the water and resulting ice were from the flood, and if the massively deep sedimentation in other parts of the world are explained as effects from the flood causation, then why is the ice so clean? Is it reasonable to expect that the water carried massive amounts of sedimentation in other parts of the world, but that only clean and clear water was present and circulating in and around Greenland? Further, what of the ice in Antarctica, on mountain ranges and in other parts of the world? If the age of the ice can be no more than some 6,000 years and if a world-wide flood occurred, would we not see extremely muddy layers in the ice? Further, would any ice pre-dating the flood exist since it would have been washed away and melted by the flood?

From this we can see that even though the prior belief of a person has the effect of initially skewing the interpretation of data by the Biblical literalist, as more information about the ice is understood the honest and gentle believer is forced to acknowledge the difficulties with his position. It is precisely at this point that the person stands at a crossroads of thought and is forced to choose. Will he adjust his prior belief given the new knowledge or will he struggle to force the new knowledge into his current belief system. In the former case he must ultimately do some violence to his belief system; in the latter he must do violence to the data and his reason. His choice and his resulting behavior will effect all of his future activities and influence his very way of and ability to think. If he is honest with the data and allows it to correctly influence and mold his model of the world and of history he will continue to be able to properly think and analyze data. However if he ignores any number of facts that refute his position and continues to dogmatically assert his previous position (against the data) he will begin to lose his ability to think. The practice of denying reality and of continuing to view the world through the model and lens of his faith will destroy his ability to honestly and fully understand reality.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Loss of hope, loss of joy?

The recurring theme that my family tosses my way is "What has your new belief done for you? Has it made you any happier?" The truth is, it has not. Where ignorance is bliss, it just might indeed be folly to be wise. In fact, the question that pops into my head especially while I'm sitting in my beautiful backyard in the evenings is, "So this is it?" The question has more profundity now that there is no hope of a glorious hereafter.

Previously, whenever I'd have one of those weeks and would wonder if there was more to life than the rhythmic echos of a mundane existence I would console myself in the knowledge that but for a time we suffered but had heaven to look forward to. True, this life sucks but the next will be be filled with perfection, love, and joy. The very fabric of heaven and the universe will be woven in harmony and laced with the sensation of ultimate belonging and acceptance only that being with God can achieve...

If only. Bummer to realize that it is all the stuff of poets and dreamers. Would have been nice. I guess the insightful philosopher was correct: "Life sucks, and then you die." Bummer.

It's not all that, of course. There is much to be happy about and to enjoy. In fact there are many times that I'm filled with laughter and just plain having a grand time. It doesn't last. A story about suffering in other parts of the world or just the normal miasma oozing from the zealot determined to suck you back into the Matrix.

But I guess it's always been that way. There are those who have set themselves to live life here and now, and those destined to ignore this life in hopes of spinning a better number in the next. Yet for my part I enjoyed the idea that the worst that this world could roll my way paled in comparison to the matchless charms that awaited us of faith.

If only. Bummer.