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Philosophy of Science: Part the fifth.

November 12th, 2010 · No Comments · Philosophy of Science

Science is the Poetry of Reality, or so the man said”
– Samantha Callaghan

If Science is the Poetry of Reality, who then wrote the Poem? Buggered if I’d know but here’s an article about faith, science and the importance of not taunting the man with the sacrificial knife.Is there no room for God?

Is there no room for God?

So, Stephen Hawking’s latest book seems to refute the existence of God – and of course that’s provoked quite a beat up between those familiar sparring partners, Religion vs Science. Even though a closer look at the excerpts from Hawking’s book indicate that he’s refuting the existence of a personal God (meaning one that can be related to as a person, not an individual notion of God) rather than the idea of God altogether, it’s still a good enough reason to take a look at the interesting historical relationship between religion and science.

Also, I kind of look like Jesus and have an over inflated ego, making me the perfect person to discuss this subject.

Historically, there has always been tension between religion and science. Fundamentally this is because science tends to explain away the exact unexplainable thing that religion was utilising as proof of its higher power. There is nothing more embarrassing than when you’re High Priest with your latest sacrificial victim’s heart beating away in your hand and suddenly Mr Smartarse shows up to explain that it’s not a daily gift of blood and gold that brings the sun each day but rather the rotation of the planet. This often leads to sudden demands from the Sun God for nerdy blood and a quick burning of any blasphemous documents lying around.

Yet, for all of this tension, some of the world’s leading scientists were deeply religious. When Copernicus first determined that the Earth rotated around the Sun he saw it as an example of God’s perfect design – the Sun being the fixed centre of creation, providing life-giving light to the Universe. Isaac Newton warned against viewing the Universe as a godless machine, noting “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion.” Einstein was a notorious fence sitter, really, but did point out that science and religion were not mutually exclusive: “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”

Of course, along with the ranks of religious scientists are the hordes of secular scientists, similarly ranging from cautiously agnostic through to aggressively atheistic. Richard Dawkins is a prominent example of the later; “Just because science so far has failed to explain something, such as consciousness, to say it follows that the facile, pathetic explanations which religion has produced somehow by default must win the argument is really quite ridiculous.”

Hawkings seems to fit into the more moderate type of secular scientist category, willing to accept the possibility of a God but claiming, “There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, and science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.”

Lets move onto a simple question, then: does science uphold the idea that there is a God?

Well no, under the induction/deduction model of scientific development. While it is perfectly possible to come up with the theory that some supreme being created everything (induction) it is pretty much impossible to test that theory (deduction) because any test can be counted by the statement “God moves in mysterious ways.” These mysterious ways apparently include burying a bunch of huge reptile bones for some reason – but hey, maybe God has an interesting sense of humour. So since the theory that “God did it” cannot be falsified it is therefore invalid under scientific theory. Of course this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist; it’s just that there are more robust and valid explanations for a lot of stuff that we used to blame on God.

“In the beginning, man created God.

A contentious statement, but through the prism of science a perfectly valid one. Anthropological studies have demonstrated the tendency for human communities to develop a system of beliefs (religion) in powers outside of that which we can call physical experience (God). Every major human society has had some form of religion in their social make-up, from the monotheism of western society, the polytheism of the east and the spirituality of Africa – each with their own flavour and basis but united in the commonality of human belief.

There are two major theories about why human societies develop religion. The first is that religion is a demonstration of evolutionary adaptation. Religion encourages people to work together and cooperation; communities with Gods prospered by uniting and beating the crap out of the atheists next door.

The second theory is that as humans developed awareness about themselves, other people and mortality, they needed constructs to answer questions like “what happened to cousin Ugh-Ugh after that cat with the huge teeth ate her?” It’s much nicer to say she went to a beautiful place full of peace and sunshine rather than the other – more prosaic – description of where you’ll now find her, lying around in Wormtown.

So anyway – the basic scientific fact is that humans develop gods, regardless of whether or not gods also developed humans (mind blast!). Whether this is because of evolutionary processes or as a simple by-product of developing sentience doesn’t matter. What does matter is if that man created God, does this mean that God does not exist?

“In the beginning, God created man.”

OK not an exact transliteration from the Bible (from memory it actually starts off with some other stuff like “God created the heavens and the earth, blah blah blah then man, then once he got the prototype out of the way God created woman”) but you get the idea. What is important is that nothing in all the previous part about Man creating God actually disproves that there wasn’t a God there already.

Sure, humans create gods but just because we’ve created something doesn’t mean it didn’t already exist in the first place. Just like the fact we’ve also dreamed up Unicorns and Satan Claws doesn’t automatically mean that they don’t exist either. It’s just that both have been falsified to hell and back (i.e. Satan Claws bursting into flames due to the speeds he would have to go at to deliver gifts to all the children of the world in one night) and reasonably speaking, they most probably don’t.

When all is said and done, despite the more placatory comments of some pundits, I back Hawkings when he says “There is a fundamental difference between religion…  and science.”  Science and Religion do not need to work in harmony.

Because while they are two totally different ways of looking at the world, Humans are so wildly flexible in their thinking that both approaches are perfectly acceptable, if not totally compatible. We can accept that there are rules and laws like gravity, yet question why they are there in the first place. In the great and mysterious movements of the cosmos there is always room at the edge of the curve for doubt, and perhaps a bit of faith.


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