Monday, May 12, 2014

Science On A Pedestal

If science were a man he would frown very heavily on the pedestal it is placed upon. - White Crane Feather
Now I don't know who "White Crane Feather" is. That is apparently a name used for posting comments on online forums. I saw that quote and it resonated with me.
Science, we are assured, is fluid and always open to revisions as more knowledge is made available. I believe that as well. I personally have no problem whatsoever with the scientific endeavor. However, I do think it's easy to blur the line between actually "doing" science and philosophizing about science. 
So science, we are assured, is superior to theology because it is open to revision. The truth is, theology seems to be open to revision as well (unless you are a religious fundamentalist), and when it does change to accommodate the times, that is supposedly a sign of weakness Go figure.
Therefore I'm quite suspicious when scientists write books which supposedly put the quietus on the God hypothesis using science as the basis. It seems to me they are taking pretty much the same position the theologians they criticize do.
A physicist like Victor Stenger can write a book with the title God the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist; biologist Richard Dawkins writes to assure us there is a condition called The God Delusion and that nature's "watchmaker" is The Blind Watchmaker; mathematician John Allen Paulos brings us Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why The Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up; cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett gets busy Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, to name several examples.
And yet other scientists in all those fields look at the same body of evidence and are unwilling to go as far. 

That to me is the difference between doing science and philosophizing about it, between using it as a tool and placing it upon a pedestal as the final arbiter of truth. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Ex You Can't Get Over

For a long time I've been troubled about the way certain atheist bloggers I regularly read present their case. Several times I wanted to write a post of my own expressing why their expressions not only fail to move me, but in a sense seem to undercut the point they attempt to make. This is speaking especially of those who have been hurt by religion (not something I want to deal lightly with), but use that as a springboard for a desire to see religion done away with; or at the least to be dismissed as something to be pitied in a person (who obviously is less enlightened and rational than they and their cohorts).

Then I read Thomas Well's Why I am Not an Atheist: Better Apathetic Godlessness than Illiberal Scientism. How masterfully he expressed something I have been feeling. Wells does make well the point that the New Atheism is pretty much the counterpart to religious fervency. So if we believers are having trouble discussing our "passion" with nonbelievers, maybe its because of those emotional strings attached.

Then there was something he wrote which I had to borrow for my post title. He wrote:

New Atheism isn't nearly godless enough for me. These atheists seem somewhat obsessed with the quite unremarkable fact that god doesn't exist, like an ex they claim to be over but can't stop talking about.

I don't know if his example there is original, but it isn't mine so I will just point to him as my source of inspiration.

Next he adds this as his main point:

Atheism should not look like another option on a "select your religion" drop-down menu; it should be beyond religion.

But it does. That is exactly what it often looks like when presented by those who have been hurt by religious fundamentalism and/or dogmatism. I read and I appreciate their very real pain. Yet I wonder if deep down they (maybe unconsciously) are swinging from one extreme to the other. It's not for me to say. But I can't help but wonder.

Wells expresses his view of unbelief as apathetic and something that "simply follows from my materialism."

Perhaps then those of us who take seriously the God-hypothesis but are unwilling to be narrow in our thoughts about it should take a cue from Wells and make sure our belief is also somewhat apathetic; in other words, that it is something that naturally follows from our spiritual worldview, and not something grounded solely in our emotional thoughts.

Then either an apathetic believer or nonbeliever would be free to look at the opposing viewpoint without rancor. If we are really "over our ex" we should be able to discuss her somewhat dispassionately, as a fellow human to whom we could only become so attached. If we can't do this, in either case, perhaps it is fair to recall that old saying, "there is a fine line between love and hate."

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Fool. Fool. Fool.

One thing I detest about debate is the tendency to attempt to annihilate the opposition with ridicule. Can we not disagree without resorting to that?
A case in point came from my reading a cyber friend's blog (a believer in the God hypothesis) and a discussion he has been having with one of his readers. This reader is a very outspoken nonbeliever in the God hypothesis. No problem there. But in the unbeliever's latest comment he made this interesting statement:
The ... fact that to date not a single shred of evidence has been produced that can remotely be suggestive of a deity.
Wow. A stronger statement of an alleged fact I can hardly imagine.
Now when a "fact" is stated that way, why, the simpletons who think otherwise could only be fools. Right?
For many of us, the apparent design and fine-tuning of the Cosmos suggests a designer or architect of sorts. That this does present a serious problem for those who disbelieve the God hypothesis is apparent from the efforts to deal with it.
This debate alone, I feel, is sufficient to refute that "not a single shred of evidence" has been produced which could "remotely" point to a Creator, or God.
For example, I have in my library Michael Shermer's very helpful book How We Believe (The Search for God in an Age of Science. He certainly is no friend of belief in God, even though he once was a believer. 
Chapter four of that book is titled Why People Believe In God. Therein is a subsection, "Seeing The Pattern of God" which specifically deals with the human mind's natural inclination to detect order in the universe, and thus reason to a belief in God.
He references on page 62 Bart Kosko and his book Fuzzy Thinking, who suggested that
...belief in God may be something similar to what we see when we look at the pattern in the Kanizsa-square illusion. The experience, Kosko suggests, is not unlike "our vague glimpses of God or his His Shadow or His Handiwork....
Fair enough. Maybe it is all an illusion. Or maybe it is what it seems to be. Either way, there is something to be accounted for and I don't see a slam-dunk either way.

I think neither believers in the God hypothesis nor disbelievers in the God hypothesis are fools. It seems to me that when the contrary is implied we are dealing with rhetoric instead of serious examination.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Onward To The Void!

Every Friday a selection of Cecil Adams' The Straight Dope columns is sent to my e-mailbox. This morning's edition included one devoted to the why of the popularity of Christianity. Cecil ended with this:
Today a few skeptics feel Christianity itself has run out of gas, but I'm not seeing it. Assuming you're not merely going to switch to some other well-established religious tradition, or else take up with the Shirley MacLaine crowd, what else is there? Sure, I know some profess to take solace in science. But who in his final hour rejoices at the thought, onward to the void?
The date for this particular column is 1995, so I believe today there would be many more skeptics convinced that Christianity is indeed running out of gas. I think Islam has experienced some incredible growth since the above was written as well, but Adams was specifically discussing Christianity. The current skeptical claim now, as I understand it, is organized religion overall is in decline, being replaced by "nones" (including the "spiritual but not religious" crowd) and especially the scientific skeptics.
This is supposedly good news. But it brings to me Adams' well turned phrase about the final hour for those who do take solace in science: "onward to the void!"
Yes, there are atheists in foxholes, and no doubt there are and have been atheists who go bravely and quietly into the void. Christopher Hitchins and his brave battle against throat cancer even as he continued to proselytize for atheism springs to mind. But I don't know whether to be impressed by their fortitude or dismayed by their closed-mindedness of even considering the widespread belief in the survival of human personality.
The poet Robert Service, Bard of the Yukon, wrote (in his poem Reptiles and Roses):
So crystal clear it is to me
That when I die I cease to be,
All else seems sheer stupidity.

All promises of Paradise
Are wishful thinking, preacher's lies,
Dogmatic dust flung in our eyes.
But what could be more dogmatic than Service's lines above?
Inasmuch as I don't think hope is a bad thing, I'm not overly moved by those who would chalk up the idea of post-mortem survival solely to wishful thinking. I mean, sure, it is wishful thinking. But is that all it is? Is it possible - I have wondered (but only wondered) - that the spark of desire for immortality might be imprinted into our psyches by God?
There are, I think, some non-stupid reasons for at least considering personal immortality, even as I remain a hopeful agnostic on the subject.
One of these reasons is summed up as succinctly as I can recall seeing in the words attributed to former U. S. president Abraham Lincoln:
Surely God would not have created such a being as man, with an ability to grasp the inifinte, to exist only for a day! No, man was made for immortality.
Humans have sensed or intuited this from time immemorial. Of course this would carry zero weight for those who hold no belief in God; but for those who do it can fit quite nicely.
Perhaps the biggest hope for some of type of human immortality springs from the hypothesis of Nonlocal Consciousness, that is, that consciousness is not strictly material:
We swim in a sea of consciousness, like a fish swims in water. And like a fish that has become oblivious to his aqueous environment, we have become dulled to the ubiquity of consciousness. (From the article Why Consciousness is Not the Brain, in SuperConsciousness magazine's Fall, 2010 issue.)
Naturally such broad thinking is anathema to those who, as Cecil Adams says, "find solace in science." But some of us are not inclined to have "dogmatic dust" flung into our eyes by the "high priests" of modern science, either. We think of science as more open-ended than the believers in scientism do.
For me death is "Onward to the Unknown" rather than "Onward to the Void."