Thursday, August 28, 2008

I don't know. And neither do you. Pt 3

In this post I will address the matter of handling the unknown by looking at the glaring disparity between science and religion in advancing human knowledge. This is just me sticking to what I know and am comfortable with, having been educated as a physicist. What does this have to do with atheism? Admittedly, an atheist is not necessarily a scientist, and there are, in this world, functional scientists who are moderate theists, but what the large bulk of atheists have in common with scientists is that they are empiricists, and I feel that nothing quite captures the power of empiricism as well as looking at the achievements of science.

When I was young, I was quick to realise that science has given us every material thing we attribute to modern society. Digital watches? Science. Personal computers? Science, again. Mobile phones, polymers, toilets that flush? Science, science, science. The physical laws involved in the construction of these things was astounding. It seemed as though there wasn't any limit of things to learn. A huge and exciting universe, and so very much to explore!

Of course, I'd encountered religion early in life, but it seemed so... shallow! Even more so when I was first aware of the Evolution vs Creation "debate". On one side, the systematic formulation of hypotheses and collection of evidence, culminating in a theory explaining the history and diversity of life on Earth. And on the other, "God did it". Just like that. More and more evidence supporting evolution piled up, and creationists (the sane ones, anyway) gave more and more ground, offering nothing more compelling than to fill the gaps in the evolutionist's knowledge with "God did it".

More and more conflicts between science and religion caught my attention. Geologists unvieling the age of the Earth. Galileo and Copernicus with heliocentricity. Neuroscientists dispelling the ghost in the machine. More and more it seemed to me that organized religion was behaving like an arrogant schoolboy being shown, one question at a time, how every answer he gave in his exam was utterly wrong.

So here we are today, after thousands of years of religious oppression of thought, God is backed into a corner, like a mangy cur clinging to a scrap of leftovers, he defends himself in the furthest reaches of what has yet to be revealed by human intellect. Abiogenesis? God wills it. The universe before the Big Bang? God wills it. Of course. Just like Creation, geocentricity, a 6,000 year-old Earth, the immortal soul and a circle with a circumference thrice the diameter, eh?

To delve into the unknown with neither fear nor preconceptions. This is what Science does for Humanity. This is how we learn. What happened before the Big Bang*? How did the first replicators appear on Earth? I don't know. And neither do you. And given their track record, I don't fancy the scriptures can offer any meaningful answers.

It's a big universe and Science will not stop searching for answers. It's time for Religion to just get out of the way.

10-q to NotKieran for the pic!

* I have to say, I loathe the term Big Bang. When you consider the scale of an explosion that births a universe containing millions of galaxies, each of which contains billions of stars, each of which is thousands of times the volume of Earth, the word 'Big' is something of an understatement and 'Bang' feels somewhat inadequate.

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