Wednesday, March 02, 2005

My Pet Pink Dragon

A coworker suggested a really terrific BBC podcast to me a while back called "In Our Time" (feed available here; the show also plays on NPR). It's a show that covers a lot of philosophically oriented topics, and this week's show was about alchemy.

One guy that was really into alchemy in his day was Newton, which I thought was interesting since when you think of Newton, you tend to associate him with the laws of motion and gravity and therefore some notion of rationality as well. But Newton was always a man who was concerned with the absence of spirituality in physics... a lot like Albert Einstein would be long after him.

This had me thinking about the old problem of science vs. religion.. both look for laws, but in different ways. The whole problem with religion, of course, is that the theories and laws are not testable, and therefore don't have a whole lot of logical value. To borrow an example from Carl Sagan, I could claim that there is an invisible, incorporeal pink dragon that lives in my apartment and demand that you feed it. Absurd? Prove me wrong. The fact that the notion is untestable makes it useless... whether it is "true" or not ceases to have any meaning.

There is a tendency among atheists (among whom I count myself) to become that which they despise because there is an elitist attitude that comes with the territory of being an intellectual minority: many become convinced on a fundamental level that there is no God, and that those who do believe in God are, by definition, rationally handicapped in some way.

I would argue that a fundamental disbelief in God is no better or worse than a fundamental faith in God. Newton and Einstein alone provide pretty compelling evidence that a belief in God's existence need not preclude you from possessing a rational mind. It can, however, occasionally interfere (as it did with Einstein and his erroneous opposition to quantum mechanics based in large part on the idea that God would never be so random or disorganized).

In the end, I don't find the notion of God's existence to be testable, just like my pet pink dragon. To me, the universe simply makes a lot more sense without Him/Her/It, and hence my identification as an "atheist". But to the vast majority the opposite is true, which is okay by me. Just don't cut my head off over it, and we'll get along fine.

5 comments:

Elmar said...

Hi Yeager,

I think, it depends on how you define "God". I personally think it is irrational to not believe in a higher existance, a higher logic that created and manages all the rules and the universe around us.

As in buddhism (which is by definition not really a religion) you learn that we are all part of God but God is still more than just the sum of all humans and animals on earth. They even say that there is no self, no seperate existance. That is pure logic. There is a continious flow (air, food, water, family, friends, your own body) that keeps you alive but nothing seperate from that flow in yourself. There is nothing that you can really call "yourself".

All that is more and more beeing backed up by science. First they discovered Molecules than Atoms and every month they find a smaller substance.

We are part of a big interactive system of cause and effect. You are free to call it God, Buddha or Ghaia.

It is just the nature of our modern life and the overestimation of our seperate self which causes a lot of pain and ignorance in the world.

This is all testable and the evidence is in your daily live. Even Science and christanity compliment each other if you strip all the dogmas from it and take into consideration that the Bible was created by humans for humans that needed close borders and had very a different view on the world than we have today.

It is no club, no abo so go on and create you own religion but don´t be so numb and call yourself an atheist ;-))

All the best,
Elmar

Dan Cross said...

"God" is a nearly meaningless term. If it's irrational to doubt the existence of a "higher logic", is it not rational to suppose that this supernatural manager cares not one bit for us lowly humans? Can it be said with certainty that this thing isn't an evil demon? And if it is not to be anthropomorphized, what shall we say of this Ground of Being? Can we say anything?

Buddhism is a religion, just not a theistic one. Then again, I guess it depends on how one defines "religion". Some forms of Buddhism are nontheistic, but that fact does not preclude belief in a supernatural realm.

Dan Ford said...

Well, Yeager, you and I have never directly gone back and forth on this, but I think you know where I stand, what with giving up booze for Lent (the horror!) and occasionally showing up at Mass. I'm even surprised that communion doesn't turn to ashes in my mouth and choke me...but that aside, there's really no point to me commenting here because we _have_ had this discussion before, only it was about poetry, and I was all on about first principles and solid foundations, and you were talking about building something out of nothing (very second-stanza of 'Kubla Khan' of you) and we never really got anywhere. And I suppose I should wrap this up with some pithy and insightful linkage of poetry and god (or the lack thereof) but I've been awake for over 24 hours because you should never, ever drink a coffee drink called "the Depth Charge" whether you believe in god or not.

robustyoungsoul said...

Now those are words of wisdom everyone can live by.

Elmar said...

>"God" is a nearly meaningless term.

... for you.

>If it's irrational to doubt the existence of a "higher logic", is it not rational to suppose that this supernatural manager cares not one bit for us lowly humans?

No, that is not rational. I am afraid, but you didn´t get my position. We are all part of the eco-system called god. Different religion or philosphies mostly just talk about different aspects of the same thing. The supernatural Manager is not separated from us but we are part of it. The essence of your answer is exactly what I meant with "overestimation of our seperate self". You still live in the illusion of you beeing separate Existance. That can be proofen wrong by science very easily. All the atoms that you currently (now...no...now.. ;-) call yourself are exchanged at least every 5 years. So there is nothing like a manager there and you plus the rest of humanity on the other side.

>Can it be said with certainty that this thing isn't an evil demon? And if it is not to be anthropomorphized, what shall we say of this Ground of Being? Can we say anything?

I certainly think so. Just look at the results instead of trying to see/understand god itself. There a lot of rules applied to our universe and to life that keep it running and balancend. Every bit in it is created with such a great way of perfection and love for detail. See, how you (in case you are a father) gave live to your sons and/or daughters. Such a perfection in the hole process.

Sure there are tragedies that we don´tunderstand but overall it is a self-controlled superbalanced system that has a natural tendency for beauty and pleasure.

And we are part of that. Every living thing on this earth has just two basic needs. Gain pleasure, avoid pain. It is just the way these goals are sometimes tried to be reached that cause "evil"-effects.

I totally agree that there is no punishing or rewarding God. I just want to point out, that it is really easy to prove a prductive higher logic in everyday life.

>Buddhism is a religion, just not a theistic one. Then again, I guess it depends on how one defines "religion".

True

> Some forms of Buddhism are nontheistic, but that fact does not preclude belief in a supernatural realm.

Again, that depends ;). Nirwana as taught by Buddha is not a supernatural realm but just the end to the concept of rebirth cycle. Nothing more. What alters Buddhism from other religions is that you are "officialy" free to doubt every word from Buddha you don´t agree with. It also is the only religion (I know) that is still conform with science. Again, that might depend on who you ask.

Sorry for my vague english. That kind of conversations are hard to do in a foreign language.

Bye,
Elmar