There is no attribute of God which is not either borrowed from the passions and powers of the mind, or which is not a negation. Omniscience, Omnipotence, Omnipresence, Infinity, Immutability, Incomprehensibility, and Immateriality, are all words that designate properties and powers peculiar to organised beings, with the addition of negations, by which the idea of limitation is excluded.
An oft-quoted reason for assuming a God is repeated by Morgan Freeman’s character Carter in the movie “The Bucket List” when he suggests that 95% of people believe in a creator. In the film, Jack Nicolson’s character Edward is given the role of cynic and his answer is that, in his experience, 95 percent of people are typically wrong. Something along the lines of Oscar Wilde’s “everything that is popular is wrong” (for a great modern-day interpretation, read this).
This brings to my less-than-perfect mind the question of whether the large percentage application and idea is telling us something about ourselves?
Let’s firstly deal with the issue of the underlying assumption… The argument assumes that of the world’s human population of between 6.692 billion and 6.803 billion there would be 5 percent non-believers, which would amount to something like 334 million to 340 million human beings. Considering the data generally available on religious adherence, this seems a bit understated. Given that around one fifth of the populations human beings live in China where the figure for ‘irreligious percentage’ is shown as over 90%, it seems that yet again Western hegemonic thought processes are getting in the way of any clear thinking capabilities (feel free to argue the percentage or result-bias. You could view it from an adherents point of view but methinks the 95% is still overstated. As a further aside, and to back-up the whole “statistics and lies” argument, my early morning mathematics initially came up with a figure of 334,000 – does this point to a need to do more thinking in the middle of the day?).
Ok. Let’s concede that the percentage is merely a token statement of a broad generalisation as it is used by the Great Unwashed. Is there validity in the idea that something considered ‘truth‘ by more than half of the human population (again, conceding the numerical argument in a haphazard way) is actually true? Without drawing trivial examples of the fallibility of the human mind, perhaps the depth of feeling that ‘there’s something behind all of this’ would indicate a germ of origin or cause?
Here are a few quick thoughts on underlying causes:
There is a Supreme Being (let’s dispense with the Western concept of a ‘God’ and utilise a more inclusive term, which i will shorten to ‘SB’), and that SB has put it into our subconscious infrastructure the truth that He/She/It/They exist.
The personal need to be important is satisfied at the most primordial level if we accept this one simple thought. Something along the lines of an ‘He/She/It/They care enough to create little me’ type comfort. The psychological benefits of being included in a social grouping of like-minded individuals helps boost that impression of self-importance. Especially if that social grouping works on the us/them principle (the Big 3 religions excel in this area).
The primitive need to explain natural phenomena carried over to the slowly urbanising world, where it was build upon and taken advantage of by power-seeking individuals or classes as a means to further their own worldly aims and objectives.
A laziness of interpretation of potential sources for personal thought?
But what if all of these are absolutely not the underlying cause?
What if the cause is something more tangled and mysterious? How about the idea that the SB is the ever elusive “i”? Who or what, is me? Could that very strong, primitive and immensely powerful call to believe be the outward expression of response to that faintly sensed cry in the wilderness of our own minds, as the self seeks to project its presence into the forefront of consciousness?
We could ponder those religions and philosophies that conclude that ‘i am God’ but real-world trivia precludes this just now.
We may have to just let those guys on our shoulders argue that one out for a while, as we go through the day-to-day.
p.s. For those whose minds become strained when presented with Academic laxity, the quote at the beginning of the post is from Percy Bysshe Shelley, from the newsletter “A Refutation of Deism” for which he was apparently booted out of Oxford. The perils of independent thinking. Actually, i believe that Shelley was merely (even if eloquently) reflecting the character of independent thinkers of his time, as a proponent to the Enlightenment ‘progressive social advance’ concept. Strange as it may seem, this is not an argument that i find all that compelling… but perhaps more on that another day).
p.p.s For those who have noticed my twisting of Voltaire’s oft-quoted words, well done!
Here is an email doing the rounds at the moment. It’s very well written and well worth a read…
GOD vs. Science
A science professor begins his school year with a lecture to the students, ‘Let me explain the problem science has with religion.’ The atheist professor of philosophy pauses before his class and then asks one of his new students to stand.
‘You’re a Christian, aren’t you, son?’ ‘Yes sir,’ the student says.
‘So you believe in God?’ ‘Absolutely.’
‘Is God good?’ ‘Sure! God’s good.’
‘Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?’ ‘Yes.’
‘Are you good or evil?’ ‘The Bible says I’m evil.’
The professor grins knowingly. ‘Aha! The Bible!’ He considers for a moment. ‘Here’s one for you. Let’s say there’s a sick person over here and you can cure him. You can do it. Would you help him? Would you try?’
‘Yes sir, I would’
‘So you’re good….!’ ‘I wouldn’t say that.’
‘But why not say that? You’d help a sick and maimed person if you could. Most of us would if we could. But God doesn’t.’
The student does not answer, so the professor continues. ‘He doesn’t, does he? My brother was a Christian who died of cancer, even though he prayed to Jesus to heal him. How is this Jesus good? Hmmm? Can you answer that one?’
The student remains silent.
‘No, you can’t, can you?’ the professor says. He takes a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax.
‘Let’s start again, young fella. Is God good?’ ‘Er…yes,’ the student says.
‘Is Satan good?’
The student doesn’t hesitate on this one. ‘No.’
‘Then where does Satan come from?’ The student falters. ‘From God’
‘That’s right. God made Satan, didn’t he? Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?’ ‘Yes, sir.’
‘Evil’s everywhere, isn’t it? And God did make everything, correct?’
‘So who created evil?’ The professor continued, ‘If God created everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to the principle that our works define who we are, then God is evil.’
Again, the student has no answer. ‘Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things, do they exist in this world?’
The student squirms on his feet. ‘Yes.’
‘So who created them?’
The student does not answer again, so the professor repeats his question. ‘Who created them?’ There is still no answer. Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace in front of the classroom. The class is mesmerized. ‘Tell me,’ he continues onto another student. ‘Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?’
The student’s voice betrays him and cracks. ‘Yes, professor, I do.’
The old man stops pacing. ‘Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen Jesus?’
‘No sir. I’ve never seen Him.’
‘Then tell us if you’ve ever heard your Jesus?’
‘No, sir, I have not.’
‘Have you ever felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelled your Jesus? Have you ever had any sensory perception of Jesus Christ, or God for that matter?’
‘No, sir, I’m afraid I haven’t.’
‘Yet you still believe in him?’
‘According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?’
‘Nothing,’ the student replies. ‘I only have my faith.’
‘Yes, faith,’ the professor repeats. ‘And that is the problem science has with God. There is no evidence, only faith.’
At the back of the room another student stands quietly for a moment before asking a question of His own. ‘Professor, is there such thing as heat?’
‘Yes,’ the professor replies. ‘There’s heat.’
‘And is there such a thing as cold?’
‘Yes, son, there’s cold too.’
‘No sir, there isn’t.’
The professor turns to face the student, obviously interested. The room suddenly becomes very quiet. The student begins to explain. ‘You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, unlimited heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat, but we don’t have anything called ‘cold’. We can hit up to 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold; otherwise we would be able to go colder than the lowest -458 degrees’
‘Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy Absolute zero (-458 F) is the total absence of heat. You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat we can measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.’
Silence across the room. A pen drops somewhere in the class room, sounding like a hammer.
‘What about darkness, professor. Is there such a thing as darkness?’
‘Yes,’ the professor replies without hesitation. ‘What is night if it isn’t darkness?’
‘You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something; it is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light, but if you have no light constantly you have nothing and it’s called darkness, isn’t it? That’s the meaning we use to define the word.’
‘In reality, darkness isn’t. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?’
The professor begins to smile at the student in front of him. This will be a good semester. ‘So what point are you making, young man?’
‘Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with, and so your conclusion must also be flawed.’
The professor’s face cannot hide his surprise this time. ‘Flawed? Can you explain how?’
‘You are working on the premise of duality,’ the student explains. ‘You argue that there is life and then there’s death; a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science can’t even explain a thought.’
‘It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life, just the absence of it.’
‘Now tell me, professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?’
‘If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes, of course I do.’
‘Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?’
The professor begins to shake his head, still smiling, as he realizes where the argument is going. A very good semester, indeed.
‘Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you now not a scientist, but a preacher? ‘
The class is in uproar. The student remains silent until the commotion has subsided.
‘To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, let me give you an example of what I mean.’
The student looks around the room. ‘Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor’s brain?’ The class breaks out into laughter.
‘Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor’s brain, felt the professor’s brain, touched or smelled the professor’s brain? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science says that you have no brain, with all due respect, sir.’
‘So if science says you have no brain, how can we trust your lectures, sir?’
Now the room is silent. The professor just stares at the student, his face unreadable.
Finally, after what seems an eternity, the old man answers. ‘I guess you’ll ha ve to take them on faith.’
‘Now, you accept that there is faith, and, in fact, faith exists with life,’ the student continues. ‘Now, sir, is there such a thing as evil?’
Now uncertain, the professor responds, ‘Of course, there is.. We see it everyday. It is in the daily example of man’s inhumanity to man.. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.’
To this the student replied, ‘Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself..
Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart. It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.’
The professor sat down.
If you read it all the way through and had a smile on your face when you finished, mail to your friends and family with the title: God vs. Science.
So, that is the email… i would bet that it would make most people pause to think a little bit after reading it. As i said, it is very well written.
This email drives to the heart of much discussion on issues surrounding religion/belief and attempts at rational thought around these. It is a very clever attempt to use writing style as a methodology to drive a particular line of thought.
To my way of thinking, this is exactly the type of thinking that creates the problems surrounding religion and faith. The email even covers part of the issue – the idea of duality. At least, the idea of limited outcomes, and the use of that to frame discussion, and hence drive thought processes. Where is the problem, you ask?
Firstly, it is the title – “God vs. Science”. Why is there a perception of a competition? Why is there a need to align oneself to either side? How about “God and Science”?
Secondly, even though the title is a good description of the text, it does not make the text a good example of the title. The science teacher was wrong to tackle theology in a science class. It was wrong to attempt to ridicule the thought processes/beliefs of a student in the classroom. Teachers need to make use of examples and debate to encourage learning but there is no need to impinge belief systems to achieve that end. If a teacher wants to tackle some aspect of limited-thinking that may be driven by a religious outlook on the part of their students then they need merely identify the specific area of blockage and work on that. Religion is a discourse for a Theology or Philosophy class, not a science class.
Thirdly, and (to your relief) lastly, i have many, many issues with the overall text and the misuse of logic and argument to achieve questionable outcomes.
Here are my quick thoughts sent to a friend on the text in that email…
i especially like the logic that places where bad things happen are simply places where God hasn’t visited yet.
It begs the question of why a Supreme Being needs a place to “exist”. It suggests that anywhere there is the potential for bad things to happen is a place where no God exists (“the absence of God”). That is not a particularly comforting thought for the believers of the world, as it would confine God to the immediate surroundings of the proportion of humans that follow Judeo Christian faith systems. In other words, God becomes an incidental deity committed to looking after a specific group of individuals… Great if you are one of those individuals but not a very compelling argument for the immutability of God.
The basic fallibility of the Big 3 religions (Christianity/ Judaism/ Islam) is the inability to explain the presence of an interventionist God without falling into one conundrum or another. It would be far simpler to argue for the existence of a completely disinterested Supreme Being. And far harder to argue against.
Here’s my (very quick) take on the logic used by the student…
There is a Being who has absolute powers
So supreme that we humans have no capacity to identify of understand that Being
Completely beyond our understanding and yet all religions ask us to accept lifestyle or cultural restrictions to benefit from the radiance of this Being.
This Being is focused diligently on the happenings of a small exoplanet (my attempt at a perspective joke) of many planets orbiting our Sun, being one of many billions of stars held within our galaxy, which is one of billions of galaxies that make up the observable universe.
If we follow the logic of a Supreme Being then keeping a handle on all of your handiwork doesn’t require any level of “interest” or “thought” or “work”, as the simple existence of the Supreme Being assumes infinite capacity.
Again, a Supreme Being would do this as a matter of course – but…
It suggests that the Supreme Being “is” everywhere – in which case you cannot have an “absence” as to achieve this, the being would need to have a “presence” which is perceptible in some way.
That Being is prepared to sacrifice any of those “other” species, resources or environments to ensure that this one species is free to act towards any outcome that may result from the random actions of the billions of individuals that make up Homo Sapiens.
The arrogance of this chills me to the bone.
That Being is prepared to allow non-believers to act in any way they wish, even if it impacts negatively on the most fervent followers of that Being.
That Being is prepared to torture billions of individuals for eternity, simply because it was too busy/disinterested/arrogant/ignorant to disclose its presence to those people.
That Being is prepared to allow the most horrific outcomes for both believers and non-believers and somehow has the audacity to ask for understanding of its need to “act in mysterious ways”
To me, the entire logic is that which would apply to a video-gamer-deity who has a random interest in isolated issues that face humans on this earth. Faith in that context is a rather insipid sponge of wants and demands on the part of the deity, and a lax interpretation of cultural traditions on the part of the faithful.
If the standard Big 3 interpretation of “God” is correct then i for one am completely comfortable to acknowledge that God’s power, ability and existence. Nothing however, would lead me to want to pay homage to such a faulted and primitive Being. In fact, any Being that possessed such powers and chose to act in the way described by the Big 3 is to me far less worthy of worship than a humble “good” human.
Frankly, I’d rather worship the Sun.
I’ve begun to come to the belief that the rigors of philosophical and scientific argument are simply not suitable for discourse on issues of faith. The need for finality of outcome and a valid/invalid result allows individuals to use argument to achieve false ends. In my less-than-humble opinion, the world we create for ourselves on this planet is not so simple that it can be reduced to a single formula. Discussion along these lines leads to further discussion that leads to an element of doubt, which can be exploited to achieve any outcome the more persuasive debater wishes to achieve. It eventually condenses down to who is the better “debater”. And that then introduces the standard human weaknesses such as perceived authority, physical presence, physical or emotional intimidation… personal experiences, mental and cognitive ability, communication skills and interpretation accuracy – all in the plane of entrenched (by definition) hegemonic influences and misunderstood cultural impacts.
My comments above are the initial output after reading the text. Not particularly inspiring if you are into logical argument, and quite pointed if you fall into the category of a faithful believer in the full extent of one of the Big 3 religions.
One of the problems, of course, is that any Supreme Being that is empowered with the abilities of the Big 3’s “God” is also powerful enough to be able to fight its own battles. It wouldn’t need there to be a debate, as its existence is a matter of course. Therefore, the title “God vs. Science” is even more inappropriate. If an interventionist God exists then it will have no need to fight science – by definition, it IS science. The idea that there exists an argument between God and Science is a rather low-brow concept. Serious thinkers within the theological community have no real problems aligning God with science. Just consider the extremely sophisticated scientific enterprises conducted at the behest of the Vatican, such as its astronomical studies. Similarly, serious scientists would have little problem reconciling faith with their studies.
It is only when we move to a literal translation of religious texts that trouble forms between science and belief. At that stage, the inaccuracies, culturally outdated practices, internal contradictions, revisions and translation issues all become very real stumbling blocks to allowing science and belief to co-exist.
From the scientific “side”, we need less of the people who want to push science as an alternative to religion. That is an outdated Enlightenment-based concept that simply does not stand up to an analysis based on its own scientific rigour principles. Science is based on empirical evidence, formula and hypothesis – with these changing as better evidence or better analysis updates assumptions and results. Such an approach is going to achieve little to provide solace to an individual trying to cope with the loss of a loved one or the randomness of Fortune. That requires more emotion and less logic – hardly the realm of science.
Just trying to work through the bigger issues, while living through the smaller ones.