Friday, January 2, 2009

Madness, Retardation and God

There is a significant difference between what could be, and what absolutely cannot be.

That is, at first blush, a statement about as profound as "the sky is blue." Perhaps a better statement would be that there is a significant difference between what probably isn't and what absolutely isn't.

Regardless, it's a statement that has always kept me away from being an atheist.

"My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose," is a quote that's been attributed to many but was, as far as I can tell, first said by the British-Indian geneticist J.B.S. Haldane.*

In a world where we've proved that things like black holes and quantum physics exist, the idea of some kind of being, even a transcendant being that defies "sensibility" is something that I cannot discount. It is something that could be, even if the evidence seems to be thus far against it.

Sam noted that my objection to a "transcendant, supernatural being who created the universe in 7 days" as being "fucking retarded" was primarily an objection to fundamentalism. Fair enough. I hold to science and sensibility over fundamentalism because science has proved that many of the beliefs held to strongly by fundamentalists (of every religion) simply cannot be. The sun absolutely does not revolve around the earth. The Earth was absolutely not created in 7, 24-hour days a few thousand years ago (though it's definitely possible to get into a more nuanced discussion about what place a creator could have in the process of evolution and the creation of the universe.)

This, in and of itself, is not an argument against the supernatural. Fundamentalists hold so strongly to these ideas because they've painted themselves into a corner by claiming that their various religious books contain no errors. Therefore, for them, proving that any part of their book is wrong really does defeat their religion.* For those with a more nuanced and mature view of faith, no such problem presents itself.

I still resist what Sam refers to as the "spooky stuff" though, because science and sensibility provides a much more satisfying explanation of my universe. I see no evidence of the spooky that cannot be explained by the mundane.

Humanity is destined to religiosity by a combination of madness and retardation. We developed intelligence that was significant enough that we were able to understand our own mortality, and we were forced (to avoid madness) to come up with a system of belief to defeat the crushing realization of our own impending deaths. Because, at the time, we were not advanced in our development (retarded if you will) we hit on the supernatural.

Again, do I believe that there is absolutely no place or possibility for a supernatural, transcendent being in our universe? No. This is something that could be, or at least has not been proved impossible. At the same time, however, my science and sensibility has slowly and steadily turned things that could be into things that absolutely cannot be.


There are two other categories of supernatural that you never seem to defend. Ghosts and other people's gods. My science defeats them too (though I, once again, can't say for sure they don't exist), and yet I see no impassioned defense. Could it be because you have no stake in spectres or Zeus?

* Amusingly, though not relevantly, Haldane has also been quoted as saying that the only thing one could deduce about the mind of God from looking at creation was that the creator had an "inordinate fondness for beetles."
**Though, interestingly, most of those who fight so strongly against the idea of evolution seem to let the whole heliocentric thing slide. Not to mention the flat earth.


samrocha said...

Bravo, Adam! I will be back, must go play some jazz...

brogonzo said...

It's that old tricky thing about proving a negative, which is impossible.

So, okay, there may be people in the world who believe in leprechauns. I can't definitively prove they don't exist. But I certainly don't have to act as if they actually might -- their existence is improbable enough that I might as well go about my life under the assumption that they don't. I'm not going to tell people who do believe in leprechauns that they're not allowed to do so, but I'm going to be cautious about taking their viewpoints seriously.

So too goes God. The worldview available through science works well enough without him, and "evidence" supporting his existence comes in the form of bronze-age books (which are heavily edited) and hearsay from hysterical, credulous loonies. As far as I'm concerned, the whole thing works very well without the creator-God assumption, and certainly without the tenant mental gymnastics required to make it make sense. I'll be happy to change my mind should some clear evidence present itself, but until then, no thanks.