Sunday, January 31, 2010

In Delusion we trust

This article is my preliminary response to one of the longest lasting debate of mankind: Existence of God or rather the proof of Existence of God. I am certainly not that arrogant to suggest that I have the answer, but I do think I have a different take on this whole affair. Recently I have been commenting on some of the blogs regarding others peoples response to Dawkins God’s delusion; although I haven’t read the book but I have seen his 2 hr long documentary on BBC on the same topic. I have also recently seen Bil Maher’s “Religulous” and found it rather amusing and interesting. Although I am a believer, if not a great one, I do find the atheistic argument against “proof” of existence of God rather compelling. Having said that, it is one thing to suggest that Atheistic counter attack on religious “proofs” are logical and quite another to be an atheist.

My all time favourite book on this debate is of course Bertrand Russell’s Why I am not a Christian. It actually talks about the debate between Copleston ( a Jesuit priest) and Bertrand Russell on the topic of God. From what I have read and seen so far, the theist have broadly three proofs of God and in all cases the agnostics or atheist, in my belief, have successfully shown that they are illogical. The important term is “illogical” not false. I don’t wish to use the term true or false, since it is my belief that they are most overrated and more importantly often misinterpreted. In this post I will succinctly try to discuss the debate as it stands now. I will summarise here, in short, the so called “Gods” debate by first stating the theistic logic followed by atheistic counter logic .

1) First Cause: This idea, I think, came from Leibniz. The basic concept is that since everything has a cause and since cause precedes effect then in theory one could move backward and identify the first cause. One might say the first cause was big bang but no that was an effect, the first mover or the first cause was God who initiated the creation of the universe.

Now the fallacy of the argument lies in its metaphysical nature and arbitrariness. For one thing we don’t and probably cannot know what happened before the creation of the universe and hence it is purely metaphysical or rather conjectural and not a proof as such. Second to suggest God was first mover is rather arbitrary, from the “strict sense of logic” as one could end the chain of causal inference at the big bang and suggest it came out of nothing or go a step back and ask the question “who created God”. Now if you say how dare you ask such question its blasphemy then to be honest you are presupposing God’s existence, then it’s no longer a proof but trying to discover God.

2) The law giver: This is similar to the 3rd idea of intelligent design but slightly more abstract, I believe. In a sense the idea is that we see universe follows laws: gravitational, electromagnetic, quantum mechanical etc. All these elegant laws are precisely obeyed by nature from microscopic world of quarks to the galaxies. Hence there must have been someone who developed those laws or rather there must be one Law Giver. You can also include moral law , biological law or other laws that you might think of but physical laws are much more precise and universal, it seems.

This proof although very intuitively appealing actually stems from a faulty analogy. We human see laws in court where a judge gives the final decision. The statutes or bills that are passed in parliament have MPs or representatives who come up with these laws. Hence we assume that since the universe has laws it must be  such, that there is a Law giver behind it, a judge so to speak. But herein lies the problem, the laws of nature and the laws that we create are different. We human beings are pattern recognizer, we try to find pattern wherever we can because it is helpful. If you can find a pattern then you have to remember less, all you need is the pattern recognizer.

Hence the physical laws are our “map” of the universe; they are essentially a parsimonious pattern recognizing tool to interpret and remember the myriads of facts that surrounds us. As we see in Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific revolution, the idea of Objective truth in science is probably inappropriate. The teleological belief that we are moving closer and closer to those objective laws are probably misguided. Scientific progress depends on the way we view the world. This idea has a far reaching consequence. Current Idea (I will devote a separate post on this hopefully) in quantum theory suggest that in a way our view of the past or the big bang is actually creating it. So we might be creating our own past in some sense. Thus the idea is there is no law, or anything like the once we see in the court system, it is our projection on the universe.

3) Intelligent Design: The basic idea is, we see so many beautiful designs around us and so unbelievably complex, that to think that they are product of chance or natural process seems nothing short of rank foolery. There must have been someone who created all these. The statistical likelihood that all these flora and fauna, mountains and galaxies came about “per chance” is pretty slim. If we look at the physical constants like Plank, Boltzmann and 20 other odd constants that we know of, we find that even if they were slightly changed life on this planet or probably anywhere else would have been untenable.

Now this does seem to be one of the strongest arguments in favour of Gods argument. But if we look at the number of particles in the universe and the time horizon (billions of years), the statistical likelihood that such complex system like humans or other life forms came in to existence is not that unlikely. In quantum tunnelling effect, particles cross the energy barrier even without sufficient energy simply because of quantum uncertainty and since there are so many particles out there it becomes a regular statistical event. There are billions of stars like our sun in Milky Way and each of those stars have planets around them. Then there are billions of galaxies out there and the universe is billions of years old. So with that backdrop, statistics has a lot of room and time to work its magic. Once life starts, evolutionary system takes over (I will devote a separate post on Evolutionary system).

As for the precise constants, well multiverse theory suggests that there are many different universes each with different constants and where life probably does not exist. Hence we live in this universe precisely because the constants are such that it supports life. So the constants were not created to suit us but rather we happen to exists because we suit the constant, rather humbling an effect.

I believe I will take the next 1-2 post to elaborate on this issue and state my position in all this.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Much Ado about Nothing

That is essentially my view of life or at least that is what I think is going on. We make such a fuss about our life that there are times when we come to the conclusion that "this is it" "there is no turning back" "I must be at the lowest point" "How can I survive this" etc. I believe this has something to do with the spirit of our age and hence the name "Zeitgeist" on guard. I think we overestimate our importance, don’t get me wrong, I am all for individual freedom and humanism but I think our glorification of human beings is now creating issues. You see, we have created a world where human beings or rather a single individual is essentially at the center of the universe. We are probably more anthropocentric than Ptolemaic science ever was; well at least they were humanity centered with their geocentric view.

Our glorification of the individual has created a somewhat solipsistic world, where we tend to overestimate our importance or rather of things we do. It is a make belief world of equals that we live in. Although poverty is dramatically going down thanks to rapid growth of India and China but inequality continues to rise. The difference between rich and poor countries has gone up from 10 fold to 70 fold in the last hundred years. We may think we are more equal than before, but data is not so confident about that claim.

Technology has greatly facilitated communication and as a result international trade has gone up substantially. But what about families and people keeping in touch? Well social networks like facebook, myspace blogging etc are indeed bringing people closer but the pertinent question is how strong these ties are, can they compensate for the weakening family and community ties which surely is taking place. Even more interesting is why people would choose to connect with people outside their domain in the first place. I think we human beings are fighting two conflicting force, one cultural and one evolutionary. On a cultural side our world is forcing us to become more individualistic and go getter, while on an evolutionary side we human beings are social by nature and hence ultimately we try to seek a balance. Friendship over the internet is the best you can hope under the circumstance, it gives you that feeling of belonging and friendship without impinging on any of your "sacred individual freedom".

I dont think being individualistic is in any way negative but what I do feel is creating a problem is our fixation with ourselves and our world, which in all honesty in majority of the cases is a very narrow view of life. Does that mean we should consider ourselves to be unimportant or that we have no impact on the world, a rather fatalistic pessimistic view one might say? First of all there is nothing like "either this or that" in real life; life is much more granular, mosaic like and grey than it is purported to be by any moralist and others alike. There is no definite answer but I think to acknowledge that there is no such answer is a big step forward. We are too ignorant to be definite about anything, let alone what is right and wrong.

I believe it is also important for us to think about World issues, like poverty, is there a God, can we ever know the truth, how did the universe start etc. I think Bertrand Russell once pointed  out that it is not necessarily the answers to these questions that are important but the thinking itself. When we think about such larger than life universal ideas, our mind broadens. It becomes evident how insignificant we are and in time of distress I think it can be a great solace. I often think there have been times in my younger days when I was really muddled up and tensed but now as I look at those issues they look all so insignificant. If your past problems look so insignificant now, then it is very likely that your current problem will look much the same way in the near future. If that is the case then why bother. After all as Wilde said Life is too important to be taken seriously.