Sunday, August 12, 2007

God vs Science - A Forum (3)

This is a continuation of a discussion which began out of readers’ comments, which I’ve copied and pasted to form my posting for today. As you will surmise from the title, what is being discussed are the eternal questions which people throughout history have puzzled over.

The first couple of comments shown below are slightly off topic, but I’ve included them nonetheless for they segue into the main subject.

The first commenter was referring to my stated wish that this site might become the venue of a sort of new Bloomsbury Set:

From Bubba: As I read the content of your recent postings, it occurs to me that you are an intellectual snob. You make references to things which ordinary two-fisted beer-swilling guys like me wouldn't know about, and which you'd surely know we wouldn't know about, like the Bloomsbury Set.

What, pray, is, or was, the Bloomsbury Set?

From Christopher: Hi Bubba – To call me an intellectual snob is an ad hominem attack, and I’ll not stand for it. I could just as easily call you a “redneck”, but I won’t, because it would drag me down to your level. But don’t count on it.

So you just watch it.

Regarding the Bloomsbury Set (or, if you like, Bloomsbury Group), it was a group of writers, poets, artists, and philosophers, who, between 1905 and 1941, met regularly at different houses situated in the Bloomsbury area of London, to discuss philosophy, art, literature, and religion.

The group was centred around Virginia Woolf, and included luminaries like Lytton Strachey, EM Forster, Clive Bell, Duncan Grant, Leonard Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, Vita Sackville West, and Stephen Spender. To be known to belong to this group conveyed prestige, as well as enormous influence in English intellectual and artistic life of that time.

Just think, Bubba, you’ve now the chance you may never have dreamed of, to be a member of a twenty-first century version of the Bloomsbury Set.

Tell this to your two-fisted, beer swilling buddies, and they’ll give you a respect you never had before.

From Professor Mangosutho Wong: As a professor of English, I'm naturally sensitive to infelicities of English usage and style in whatever I read. In this connection I noticed your phrase: "Another egregious example of Karl Popper’s Principle of Non-Falsifiabilty is shown by 9/11 conspiracy theorists......"

The way you've used "egregious" would indicate to the reader that the example of Karl Popper's Principle of Falsifiablity shown by 9/11 conspiracy theorists is egregious, rather than that the reasoning itself was egregious.

But, taking it in the context of all else you wrote, I have a hunch you meant that what was egregious was the reasoning of the 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

Am I right? If so, you should re-write this passage

Also your phrase "....the best and the brightest minds THAT would be the envy of Charlie Rose....." might better have been written ".....the best and the brightest minds WHICH would be the envy of Charlie Rose.....".

From Christopher: Thank you, Professor Wong, for your observations about my infelicious use of the English language.

Unlike you, I never got to go to the University, and so never became educated enough to write English properly. I do try, though, and will be especially attentive to the way I write in the future, knowing that you, a professor of English, will be reading what I write with your expert critical eye.

I am indeed honoured that you would read what I write, and I hope my future writings will meet your exacting grammatical and syntactical standards.

From Bubba: You said in a recent posting, that you were in the middle of reading "The Language of God" by the scientist and believing Christian, Francis S Collins, and that you would comment on it when finished.

Have you now finished, so that we all might learn what you thought of it?

From Christopher: Yes, Bubba, I have now finished reading the Francis S Collins book. But, before I talk about it, I’’ll comment on what was said by a Dr Phil Fernandes, a believing Christian, in a debate with a Dr Michael Martin, an atheist.

You can read what Fernandes said, by clicking here.

I’m making the comments shown below, before reading Martin’s rejoinder to Fernandes, since I wish, only afterwards, to see whether Martin, a learned professor, made any of the points I wish to make.

Fernandes’ main argument for God’s existence is that the universe must have started at some point, so there must have been a First Cause, and that God is that First Cause.

“First Cause” is a nice dry impersonal academic phrase. So no-one can say there was anything before the First Cause, or that there was something that created the First Cause, because the phrase “First Cause” means nothing came before it. I have no problem with this.

But then Fernandes begins to call the First Cause “God”, and to refer to “God” as “Him”, and to give him personal attributes like being loving, and intelligent, and listening to us when we pray, and all of that. God even sits on a throne up on high, judging by Fernandes saying “……..If there is no God who sits enthroned, then Hitler will not be punished for his evil deeds……”.

So it would appear that the First Cause is actually a human-like being, or even a person.

This raises the question: Who created this person, this “God”?

Fernandes can’t have it both ways. He can have either a “First Cause” - an impersonal academic concept which therefore wouldn’t have any human qualities, like being loving, or intelligent, and therefore wouldn’t have a creator. Or he can have a “God”, who by his description, would be a magic-man somewhere out there, and therefore would have to have a creator.

So, who created “God”, this magic-man?

Fernandes tries to show that there’s no such thing as infinity, by using the analogy of infinite points between two fixed points. If there were an infinite number of points between one’s house and the bus stop, no-one would ever arrive at the bus stop. But since people do arrive at bus stops from their homes, there can’t be an infinite number of intervening points. Therefore infinity is impossible. Therefore there cannot be infinite time, and there cannot be infinite space.

But I think the example of points between two fixed points, is a false one if you want to show infinity of time and space to be impossible, since time and space don’t have two fixed points at either end. It doesn’t take too much intelligence to see that for time to stretch back to infinity, and for space to stretch out to infinity is eminently feasible. No matter how far back in time you go, we’ll never reach the beginning, and no matter far you travel in the universe we’ll never reach its boundary. Even most six-year olds would understand this.

Using Occam’s Razor, the obvious answer to how the universe began, is that it never did begin, for it always was, stretching back to infinity. If we accept the notion of the Big Bang, the heavenly bodies of the Universe, because of gravity, will eventually stop moving away from one another, and will reverse course by moving closer to each other, to the point when they will all collide, and there will be a Big Crunch, whereupon they will again move away from each other as they do now. This pattern always was, and always will be. God is completely unnecessary for all this, and will always be.

It’s all quite simple when you stop to think about it.

I think that why most people talk such nonsense about “God” is the word “God” itself. The image attached to it, for most of us, is of an old gentleman in the sky. We cannot escape from this because this was how God was presented to us when we were children.

Also, “God” has always been a “God of the gaps”. If there’s something we don’t understand – a gap in our knowledge – it must have been caused by “God”. Then when a scientific explanation fills the gap, the God-believers find another gap somewhere else, and call it “God”, until that gap, too, is explained, or filled by a scientific discovery.

And so on.

The origin of the universe is the ultimate gap, so it’s understandable that the God-believers have filled this gap with “God”.

There would have been much less confusion if, as in algebra, we could simply have called the gaps in our knowledge, “x” or “y”. Since we don’t associate “x” or “y” with being loving and intelligent, or listening to us when we say our prayers, we would be a lot less confused about things than we are. And, perhaps, we would have had no religion. So all the mass cruelty and oppression and wars and genocides carried out in the name of “God” or religion would never have happened, and we’d accordingly be much better off.

Fernandes, by saying that life with no God would be meaningless, implies that no God means no life after death. This isn’t obvious to me at all. Why can’t there be life after death, but no God?

And when Fernandes uses words like “good” and “evil” and says life must have meaning, he shows he is an anthropomorphist par excellence . Who says that life must have meaning? Why should there be such things as “good” and “evil”? These are just human expressions, and human values.

Since we all create our own experiences, we have the power to create our own meaning in our lives, and in whatever we do. It is purely subjective, having nothing to do with whether what we do is meaningful or not. What we perceive is our reality, however preposterous that reality is.

I’ve gone on long enough, but not long enough not to comment on the idea of a personal “God”, which Fernandes believes in, and which most practicing Christians also believe in. This personal God is all-knowing and all-seeing. He knows everything you are thinking, and he’s watching you all the time. No matter where you go or what you’re doing, you’re never out of his sight.

Despite God spying on you all the time, you must not only love him, but must also constantly sing his praises. Life with such a God must be like living in North Korea, with the difference that a North Korean can always escape North Korea by dying, but the Christian can never escape God, with whom he is joined at the hip for all of eternity.

And we wonder why so many Christians have mental and emotional disorders?

And Now For Something Completely Different: