Tag Archives: Philosophy

Spontaneous creation or God?

NASA StarChild image of Stephen Hawking.

Image via Wikipedia

Recently (3rd Sept. 2010) Stephen Hawking declared that it was not necessary to invoke the hand of God in the creation of the universe, that the powerful force of gravity could accomplish the fabrication of the vast and wonderful cosmos in an act of self-creation.[1] He was almost immediately rebutted by John Lennox (a professor of mathematics from Oxford University), who said that “As a scientist I’m certain Stephen Hawking is wrong. You can’t explain the universe without God.”[2] He then proceeds to offer rather flimsy examples of how objects need to be designed by an exterior mind, which I believe is deceitfully misleading and over-simplifies Hawking’s argument. He also makes utterly nonsensical statements like “…the Christian faith actually makes perfect scientific sense”, and “But support for the existence of God moves far beyond the realm of science. Within the Christian faith, there is also the powerful evidence that God revealed himself to mankind through Jesus Christ two millennia ago. This is well-documented not just in the scriptures and other testimony but also in a wealth of archaeological findings”. The first statement is utterly wrong, unless the science to which he is referring is the psychological study of mass hysteria, superstition, enforced tradition, cruelty, and genocide. The second statement is dishonest; the evidence offered for the existence of God comes from ‘within the Christian faith’, which makes it faith, not evidence. The ‘well-documented scriptures’ are delightfully corrupt texts, there is no non-Christian ‘other testimony’, and there is no, I repeat, no archaeological evidence for the Christian god, or Christ himself. Lennox even says that “The existence of a common pool of moral values points to the existence of transcendent force beyond mere scientific laws. Indeed, the message of atheism has always been a curiously depressing one, portraying us as selfish creatures bent on nothing more than survival and self-gratification”. Both of these statements are fallacious, morality has nothing to do with faith, and atheism is hardly depressing, and in fact encourages community over selfishness because it does not believe that a myth will save humanity from destroying itself.

Lennox does have a vaguely defensible point though; he believes that there must have been a being to set things in motion, an unmoved mover, a first cause which, at the very least, created gravity, which in turn created the universe. This is the crux of the debate, as it has always been, and probably always will be. Every time science deduces a rational answer for the existence of the universe, and all that lies within it, faith takes one step back. When it was found that the earth was not at the centre of the solar system, religion said it was still the centre of the universe. When it was realised that we evolved from chemicals, religion declares it was a development guided by the ‘hand of God’. The Big Bang must have been seen as a wonderful theory by the established faiths; it provides a point in time, a creation event to which they could attach the label ‘God did it’, even though this was not what science had sought to achieve. And then science pushed back further, but still ‘god’ must be the first cause.

The simple fact of the matter is that science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of ‘god’ (yet). And a true scientist, a skeptic to the core, must accept that there is a possibility, however remote, removed from reason, or absurd, that there is a supernatural force that impelled the universe into being. It must be made clear that this ‘god’ is a very different to the ‘god’ of religion. This hypothetical unmoved mover would be far removed from human discourse, a detached entity existing outside the universe. Arguing that this ‘god’ has anything to do with Christianity, as Lennox does, is intellectually misleading. The revelation of ‘god’ to desert nomads, a carpenter’s son, or faith healers might provide many people with some notion of comfort, but it should not be accepted as the basis for society, morality, laws, or educational practices, which, sadly, it is. His arguments grant credence to oppressive religions, allowing them to argue that there is scientific evidence for ‘god’, and, consequently, all of their incumbent traditions and bizarre beliefs and practices. The ‘god’ of faith is an irrational creature, prone to violence and jealousy, and the religions based on the deranged visions of so-called prophets and messiahs are uncritical of their own practices and beliefs, cling to tradition, and deflated dogma.[3] They can hardly claim to have any scientific basis or any grounds as historical fact.

Whether ‘god’ exists or not is an opinion, not a fact which can be proved or disproved. Hawking believes the weight of the evidence suggests that the universe came into being through the agent of gravity, and Lennox holds that ‘god did it’. What can be proved or disproved are the links in the chains of faith, the shackles of religion which fetter the freedom of thought, and of humankind. Everyone should be free to believe what they wish, but they are not. Religion is imposed on society, indoctrinated from birth, and enshrined as the font of all morality. It is not open to criticism, or investigation. Religion is a closed concept, a narrow viewpoint which seeks to eliminate all others, a parasite of the mind. Whether or not ‘god’ exists is not the point; religion does, but it shouldn’t.

Ceterum autem censeo, religionem esse delendam

[1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1308278/Stephen-Hawking-God-did-create-Universe.html.

[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1308599/Stephen-Hawking-wrong-You-explain-universe-God.html. See also, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1308616/Stephen-Hawking-Archbishop-Canterbury-attacks-claim-God-did-NOT-create-Universe.html.

[3] See previous posts, ‘My Problem With Your God 1-5’.

Of Steamworks and Magics Obscure.

The religious sometimes declare that atheism is just another new faith, which is completely illogical and wrong. There is, I would argue, wired_science_religiona new religion. If we examine the structures of religion we can find remarkable similarities between it and a thoroughly modern phenomenon which claims to be the alternative.
There are two kinds of faith in any religion; the faith of the internal elite, that is to say, the clergy and hierarchy, and the faith of the common people unto which the elite preach. The former, having invested wholly in the doctrines of their chosen brand of faith, would have a deeper and more complete understanding of the intricacies of their chosen dogma. The latter, who support the former economically by fulfilling the practical necessities of society, possess less comprehensive knowledge of their religion simply due to the fact that they have other things to do with their time. This is one of the reasons why a priesthood would have evolved in the first place; most people simply don’t have the time to appease the gods, so they employ someone else to do it for them. As time went by, the common people became increasingly removed from their gods, the actions and incantations of the priesthood became more arcane, preserving traditions and rites utter in strange, long dead languages that the hoi polloi rarely understood. These masters of the mysterious separated themselves from society, built large establishments to suit their own purposes, into which the public might only grudgingly be allowed, and dressed in strange clothes so the masses could better identify them as being in a position of authority. They continued their studies, becoming ever more obscure and remote from the comprehension of the public they served such that the common people had a very slim grasp of what their priesthood actually did.

Essentially the same is true of science.
Do I hear you scoff? Have you raised a contentious eyebrow? Let me explain.
Science fulfils the role of religion in the modern world in several respects. Science is undoubtedly superior to religion and faith in that it provides tangible, repeatable, comprehensible results and answers. This, sadly, does not matter. When science first came to prominence it was heresy, fundamentally because it was new and unproven to the common man, and due to the fact that it challenged the established order. It gained credence over time as it proved to be far more reliable in producing answers, healing the sick, improving lives, and, regrettably, killing. We have reached a point where children can conduct experiments and learn about rudimentary science in school. Most people never progress beyond these basics, simply because they do not need to. The vast majority of people will never use algebra ever again, they will never contemplate the consequences of special relativity, and they will never need to recall the atomic numbers of elements from the periodic table. This is not due to any inability or lack of intelligence on their part; it is simply not useful information. Science has moved beyond these easily demonstrated facts, and on to far more complicated things. Science has become the purview of an elite, a dedicated cabal of researchers who have become removed from society. This was not by design on behalf of either party, but rather a consequence of necessity. Everyone cannot know everything. Specialist fields grow from the mainstream into obscurity.

The average person may own one or all of the following; a mobile phone, portable electronic music device, personal computer, television, car, or games console. The combustion engine is a concept that is fairly easy to grasp; the quantum mechanics used in the memory of the other electronic devices listed is not. Does anyone really know how each element in a plasma screen TV actually works? No. Nor do they care. This information is not necessary to use the device. A person will flick a switch and simply assume that a light will erupt from the ceiling of a room, not because they grasp the intricacies of the electromagnetic force, but rather due to the fact that they have paid their bills on time. They could care less if incandescent light appeared due to a consequence of electromagnetic resistance, the will of God, or constructive gremlins. It simply works, that is sufficient. The extremes of physics are barely plausible to the uninitiated; quantum mechanics, which allows electrons to pass through solid objects, is often counter-intuitive, and string theory sounds like magic. Religion ‘worked’ for a time where people’s needs were more simple, science works now. Most people don’t care why.

You might think I am being too broad or extreme in my comparison of science with religion. However, this lack of comprehension is increasingly visible. Alternative medicines and pseudo-religious lifestyles frequently claim to work on quantum principles or electromagnetism. Someone who has read and researched physics would sneer at such preposterous nonsense, and the cretins who peddle such wares. But people are convinced, and there seem to be more of them every day. The terminology of science has been set free in the world, and it is used by fraudsters to convince the credulous, who accept what they are told because the required knowledge is unavailable to them, is too complex to be understood without serious research, or is inconvenient. People place their faith in science to answer questions, just as they have in religion. They see scientists either as cartoon villains bent on destroying the world and God, or as disengaged academics who don’t know how the real world actually works. The backlash against of the ever-increasing complexity of science has led people either back into the arms of organised religion, or pseudo-scientific, naturalistic mumbo-jumbo.

We live in a world of escalating complexity. Science will become more and more removed from the understanding of the public at large. This would not really be an issue if we lived in world inhabited solely by rational people. The religious elite will argue with the educated echelons of the scientific community hoping to win over the masses to their respective cause. Science will argue accuracy, results, and material products, while religion will proclaim truth, revelation, and spiritual salvation. Most people will not care so long as their cars keep working, the lights remain on, and daemons do not walk the Earth. They expect science to find cures for diseases, reverse global warming, and make their lives more comfortable. They do not care how, they simply have faith that it will. If anyone believed that religion could achieve any of these goals better than science they would defend it. If magic did the trick, if it cured cancer, most people would be happy at that, and not require any further explanation. Science has become a new faith, an ill understood and obscure branch of learning with its own highly educated, and often detached, adherents who exist in a world not readily accessible to a confused and easily misled public. They ponder the meaning of life and the complexities of reality, the question the nature of the universe and our position in it. Which is not unlike what theologians have done for centuries, it’s just that scientists are better at it. Not that anyone really cares, they are too busy celebrating the cults of film and pop idols, joining fashionable sects of sports or online communities, and stimulating the economy by purchasing every spiritual or material fad that is revealed to us by the market as if it were the next messiah. Science makes no claim to be a faith, it does not desire to be bound by the dogma of religion, yet the reality is that, in the minds of masses, it may have essentially become tantamount to that which it opposes.

My Problem with Your God 1 – Divinity

Who is this ‘God’ fellow anyway?God

When I say ‘God’ I confine myself specifically to the monotheistic deity of the Abrahamic faiths, as, for reasons upon which I shall elucidate presently, the other faiths of the world, which are either polytheistic or spiritual, do not arouse my philosophical ire to such a high degree, as their humble gods do not lay claim to the vast theological estates as the supercilious, capitalised God does.

So, what is this ‘God’ thing? It, though often described as ‘He’, is the creator of everything “seen and unseen”, the supreme ruler of the universe. It is described as being all-powerful, all-seeing, ever-present, unknowable, and as a being of infinite mercy, wisdom, love and compassion. It is also wrathful, angry, vengeful, destructive, silent, and judgemental. I have no issue with a god having some or any of these traits, but God cannot. It can be either one, or the other; it is either infinite or finite. The polytheistic gods were divine, but limited. They could, and often did, die. They have human traits and failings because they are reflections of the people who invented them. The monotheistic God is granted the supreme prejudice of being omnipotent. This is a coherent deity-concept only if you accept the full implications of its construction; it is entirely unknowable, such that no fragile human mind could grasp the extremes of reality that such a being would inhabit. Which is fine, but then people attach human notions to this supreme being. It is ‘good’, ‘merciful’, etc., petty human conceits, which would be entirely alien to such a being. This is due not to a lack of imagination on behalf of the faithful, but either an impossibility of imagination or purposeful obfuscation by the keepers of the ‘Word’. By attaching human characteristics to this thing people hope to grasp it in some fashion, but it was never designed to be held in the mind. It doesn’t even have a name; ‘God’ is its title.

It might be said that this God is infinite and the human attributes attached to it would be present in any self-aware being capable of reason, just taken to an infinite extreme. This might lead one to the Epicurean dilemma,[1] but I am more concerned with the clear folly of this idea. An infinite and supreme being would just as equally have no understanding of finite and pathetic creatures, such as us, as we would of it. It, I’m told, lives forever and is beyond time, we do not and are not. Pick any attribute of this peculiar deity and it will fulfil this formula. Death, which defines us, means nothing to it; how could it comprehend us if it cannot even share in this most crucial aspect of our being? It could be said that because of its supreme nature it can understand us while maintaining its own ineffability. To understand something it would have to be that something. I cannot understand what it is to be a bat, unless I were a bat. But seeing as we are dealing with the divine, let us allow it this latitude of understanding. Would it not now then be moved by its infinite compassion to help? But that again leads us to Epicurus.God-Python If it understood us, all of us and everything, then it would be, at least in part, us and everything. This is pantheist, and heresy. Aside from the thing itself, what is attributed to it is farcical. It lives in a kingdom in heaven, it has a throne, a son (depending on the faith), and vast armies of loyal soldiers. This is clearly a monarch, a king, a human invention.

Choose then that your God is either finite, knowable, comprehensible to the human mind and is prone to the same failures and weaknesses, or infinite and beyond understanding. The former is clearly the God of Abraham and all his descendants, while the latter is what is often professed by the faithful in their less than infinite wisdom. Pick the petty God and live in fear of his (gender might be applicable to this incarnation) wrath or in hope of the eternal reward he will provide in his kingdom. This God is not worthy of worship, and, more importantly, is not real. Pick the infinite God, and abandon religion and those who claim to interpret this being’s truth for they lie. While there is no good reason to believe that such a being as ‘God’ does exist there is a chance, however unlikely, that it might. If it did, it would be the infinite God, and so far beyond the intellectual capacity of humans as to be not worth even thinking about.

So, even if God exists, it doesn’t matter.

Ceterum autem censeo, religionem esse delendam

[1] “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”

Epicurus – Greek philosopher, BC 341-270