Sunday, October 01, 2006

Theism: irrational ghost story?

Theological debates are a feature of UU blogs, (more so, it seems, than of UU churches), and a Jim-Dandy is going on over at Philocrites, here and here . Fausto, if you’re reading this, your post was truly awesome!

One repeating feature of such debates, indeed the central issue of all of them at the end of the day, is the claim that the belief in a clockwork universe that denies the possibility of the supernatural is the only rational position. Rational people don’t believe in ghost stories; if you can’t detect it on the multitester from Radio Shack, it doesn’t exist... in the words of the Humanist Manifesto, “We are convinced that the time has passed for theism, deism, modernism, and the several varieties of "new thought".”, and “We assume that humanism will take the path of social and mental hygiene and discourage sentimental and unreal hopes and wishful thinking.”. In other words, faith is a form of mental illness, even though literally billions of people claim to have felt the presence of the Divine, and/or had a personal transcendental experience (including Rev. Sinkford). One poster once told me that if a billion people catch cold, that does not make having a cold a natural or healthy state.

Pondering that thought, I wrote the following in my own personal Book of Shadows around 3:00 one insomniac morning; I plan on cleaning it up for inclusion in a book later. It proves nothing, except that there is room to doubt the clockwork universe.

Too many compartmentalize their religion- they think religion does not respond to reason, so that part of their lives they will simply not think about too deeply. This is true of many faiths; it is not a pagan phenomenon. They are afraid that material science and mystical religion are incompatible and cannot coexist, so to avoid following that logic to its natural conclusion and becoming atheistic, they consciously avoid the subject altogether.
Well, they shouldn’t! It’s a false choice, one they are led to by faulty logic in their internal debate.

Most people use either-or logic: it is, or it isn’t; it’s A or it’s B. More advanced thinkers use multi-value logic: it’s A or it’s B or it’s C (for as many choices as they list). This isn’t really much better than the two value logic- you still have the kind of absolute statements that lead people to say that material science refutes the possibility of the Divine. I say that better than multi-value logic is something I call “X value logic”: it’s A, or it’s B, or it’s X- the thing you haven’t thought of yet!

Let me demonstrate. Some say that Cosmology has refuted the possibility of the existence of God/dess. The Big Bang was the origin of not only the universe, but even space and time itself- there was no “before” the Big Bang because time did not exist. Time, after all, is the interval between two events- and there was no other event. We pretty much know the mechanics of the Universe after it’s creation, and if there was no before, then that leaves God/dess out altogether. Either you believe in the Big Bang- which all our math and science call for- or you believe in God… it’s A or B. Or is it? Perhaps I can show you the “X”… that maybe the two concepts are not incompatible after all.

To do this, we need to first address several seemingly unrelated lesser questions, the first of which is the nature of the mind. I’m not speaking of the brain- that is a physical organ, and it’s no more your mind than your computer’s chips are the programs. The only things that are granted you genetically are capacity- the equivalent of chips and hard drive- and a few simple instincts, the equivalent of the simple machine logic on the mother board that allows for keyboard input. You spend the first couple years of life inputting an operating system, just like the computer booting up- the process starts in the womb with the first sensory inputs, and continues after birth as you absorb everything said and done around you. All that you consciously are- your personality, your thoughts and memories, are all formed long after conception, and stored in your brain as they are in a computer, as electrical potentials... that which is “you”, and not just your physical body, is a complex system of electrical interactions.

The second question is how this developmental system began; the origin of sentience in humans and higher animals. How did simple chemical tropisms- reflexes like seeking or avoiding the sun- become the complex life cycles that even the simplest of animals such as worms have? How did the robotically clever behavior of the lowest animals become the cunning of the higher animals, the first glimmering of self awareness? Even more importantly, how did the simple self awareness of dogs and cats become the higher intelligence of man? We don’t know how that happened, either, but many speculate that once the brain became sufficiently complex it happened more or less automatically; it’s a question of how many billions of connections in the neural net. Assume for the sake of argument that this is so. Now add the factor that life forms generate electrical fields and respond to outside electrical fields- birds and insects navigating their migrations by using the Earth’s magnetic fields like living compasses, for example. Some can detect the electrical fields of other animals; some sharks, for example, can even hunt by tracking the electrical fields of their prey. Consider also the possibility that living tissue can detect or generate fields in spectra other than the electrical spectrum, spectra that we know exist, but our instruments detect poorly or not at all- gravity waves, neutrinos, weak atomic forces, dark energy, etc.

Ok... now let’s return to that Big Bang. In that first split second, all that we know was formed- Galaxies upon Galaxies, matter and energy exploding and recombining and expanding- infinite complexity in an infinitely small space bursting into a Universe. Surely if a few billion field interactions within your skull can produce a sentient persona, isn’t it conceivable that trillions upon trillions upon trillions of new and unknown energies bursting into existence all at once in a space so small that they must interact- a Universe in a teacup- could produce a sentient system? If thought and intelligence are the result of immensely complex energy interactions, then surely the Big Bang could have produced just such an intelligence. No matter how vast the odds against this happening, the possibilities are greater still- they are infinite.

This intelligence would be part of space/time itself... would have been integral with creation itself... and would be of infinite complexity. Do you know a better definition of Divine? A scientist would say that this is mere speculation, and that it is only philosophy, as it’s not testable... but neither does it violate the laws of physics as we know them! It is an explanation of the origin of God that does not offend logic or rationality. Is it the only explanation? No, of course not- there’s still “X”, the thing that I haven’t thought of. But it could explain a great many things.

Consider the field of physics called Quantum Mechanics. This is the world of the infinitely small- not merely subatomic, but smaller even than the particles Atoms are made of, the warp and woof of the fabric of space/time. How small? In the branch called String Theory, they estimate that if an electron were the size of the Solar system, then strings would be the size of a tree! In the quantum world, there are probabilities only, no certainties- where you are, your energy state, even your very existence is uncertain. You might spontaneously pop out of existence, and reappear in another part of the Universe- anything is possible.

Although universally accepted today, Albert Einstein could not accept a world without certainties; “God does not play at dice with the Universe,” he said in a letter to a colleague. Perhaps Albert was closer in that statement than he realized... What if the quantum world is where God operates? What if the very reason for that uncertainty was that it was being manipulated? It seems only natural that the closer you get to the basic nature of existence itself, the closer you come to the Divine, and the less able you are to understand or predict it.

If the Divine exists in the quantum world, what does that imply? Such a divinity would not be creating natural disasters to punish, nor save you from a natural disaster as a reward; such things are not part of the quantum world, even the laws of nature are different... but... suppose the Divine were to manipulate a single electron, just one particle of one atom among the billions of atoms existing in your body? Remember what I said about the nature of the mind? Our thoughts are electrical impulses; changing the energy state of an electron could alter the way we think... do it enough times, and entirely new thoughts, beliefs, experiences could be generated... quite literally, God talking to you!

Such a Divine could explain the existence of life itself. Science still does not have an explanation for life, only presumptions of what “must” have happened. They have mixed primordial chemicals, zapped them with artificial lightning, and only produced foul-smelling soup... at our current state of knowledge, it is still true that “life comes only from life”; we cannot show a mechanism that will animate inanimate matter. Suppose that what was necessary to turn amino acids into living proteins was to make that odd electron turn left instead of right as it “should” have done? Such a Divinity could have even influenced the course of evolution by influencing desires, by making some ugly bug think this ugly bug is sexier than that ugly bug. It would be the only explanation for some marriages I’ve seen.

So is all of this true? Well, it does fit the rules of logic laid down by Sir William of Occam: it explains the existence and nature of God without violating Cosmology as we know it; it explains why bad things happen to good people, (the “bad” things are not of Her world); it demonstrates how She could speak to us; it even explains the origins of life. In the end, it is still, after all, only speculation- but it is proof that a belief in the “supernatural” does not have to conflict with logic and rational science. It proves that your “rational” mind does not have to be ashamed of what your soul knows to be true. Stop compartmentalizing and wear your faith proudly; it is as rational and logical as anything in this world can be!

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