Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bigotry by any other name would smell as rotten

“Hurrah for revolution and more cannon-shot!
A beggar on horseback lashes a beggar on foot.
Hurrah for revolution and cannon come again!
The beggars have changed places, but the lash goes on”

by W.B Yeat, The Great Day

Call it militant atheism or religious fanaticism, they are flip side of the same coin; two groups of self righteous intolerant group of individuals, too sure of themselves to be concerned with opposing views; both selling the same product, intolerance, but with different packaging. Since almost all militant atheist are converted atheist and by definition all converted people are more zealous of their religion, so are these people. Secondly, militant atheism is being spearheaded by atheist scientists and so they have the advantage of excess grey matter on their side. But then again considering their less educated religious counterparts, it doesn’t take much to have this advantage. But these are difference in degrees, mostly superficial, similar to a pageant competition, no offense to the competition.

Dawkins often makes the remark that he wants to convert those who are on the fence of atheist theist divide. Now this is a rational choice for him but one has to understand that all he is offering is another pseudo scientific religious set of beliefs. He is a great scientist without a doubt and so are his buddies in Atheist Alliance International, an organization which in my mind looks more like Catholic Church than anything. The audience mostly comprises of atheists, the speakers are also staunch atheists and the overall apparent purpose of the show is to ridicule religion with science, which they fail in my mind. Now you might think i am one of those religious fundamentalists taking my chances at Atheists, the answer is a resounding no. I am displeased by the action of fundamentalists even more so than those by the atheists. True I believe in God, also that I am a muslim but it pains me to see the so called religious people doing so much harm in the name of God. In case of the atheists like Dawkins, I am more hurt and angry than anything else. If there is one line that can capture my feelings towards them, it is that “You guys are scientists, you could have done better”. I believe in the Darwinian theory of evolution as much as I believe in Newton’s or Einstein’s theory of gravity. Origin of species is a marvellous book to read, although I digress but I must say one should at least read this book for the sake of pleasure.

But look at the speeches of Dawkins, Dennett or Laurence Straus, all they are doing is marketing their product. They cloak their atheism under the framework of science much like communists lured educated students towards it by suggesting it was scientific and hence socialism was inevitable. Recently Hawkins has been added to this same list unfortunately. M Theory or multiverse concept is nothing new but the way it is being packaged is indeed new. The anthropic principle, makes no claim on God, the only thing it can say, rationally speaking, is that if someone wants to justify our existence without assuming there is a god then we can do it. But the fact is we are making the choice of not assuming; just because a self consistent explanation exists doesn’t imply there is no God it simply implies we can explain it without assuming he is there. Now this one might argue makes God superfluous and this is true but that also does not imply he is not there. What is inbuilt in this argument by superfluous existence of god, is the Occam’s law, part of a medieval philosophy that has become ingrained in the scientific community, which basically states “the simplest explanation is usually the correct one”. But that is an assumption , a well worked out principle and nothing more. Also this argument draws on mere 300 years of scientific progress. Is it not presumptuous to be sure of any of our ideas?

Evolutionary speaking our brain hasn’t evolved at all in the last 2000 years or so ergo it is logical to assume that Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy, and other great ancient scientists were probably as intelligent as present day Einstein, in terms of mental capacity. Yet they proposed some of the most outlandish and false ideas that persisted for 1500 years or so. The theories of modern science hasn’t lasted for more than 1/5th of that time; some of them have already become obsolete like ether or phlogiston theory. Lee Smolin talks about how relativity might be revised or even proven to be false. He suggests that, just like speed of light is invariant, so can be length equivalent to Planck constant. Thus when one reaches the size of Planck constant, length becomes invariant to change in frame of reference. This is indeed currently being researched. Then there is a theoretical physicist at Imperial College in UK who is working on the theory that speed of light changes over millions of years and so is locally constant but might vary on such huge time scale. Now these theories might radically alter our perception of present day science. Our current day notion of science is radically different from that of an 18th century scientists. The idea of a deterministic universe with intricate elegant laws which we are trying to discover is as arcane among scientific community as is Lamarckian notion of evolution among biologists.

Historically nobody followed the Baconian notion of scientific progress. If indeed anybody did then it would have been disastrous. It is interesting to note that Copernicus questioned Ptolemy not because Ptolemy was wrong, on the contrary his argument was derived from the perspective of elegance. During that period, physics was considered to be a subject that had practical implications. Hence locomotion dealt with both inanimate and living things like trees etc. Whereas mathematics and astronomy were considered to be abstract science whose inner working was contingent upon the notion of “intellectual beauty”. Thus Copernicus thought he could reconcile the motion of the Earth with the perceived motions of the planets easily, with fewer motions than were necessary in Ptolemaic system current at the time. As a matter of fact initially, even after Galileo, Copernican model was less accurate than Ptolemy’s model. Also Galileo was struck by the beauty of the notion rather than hard proof. It is intriguing too see that even Kepler had tough time accepting Galileo’s views. Galileo’s telescopes were highly inaccurate and to use them as convincing proof of Copernican system is indeed great suspect. If he was put up against the current scientific community, surely his notion would have been outright rejected.

Even look at Einstein’s specially theory of relativity, he was so sure of it that when asked about the evidence he was least bothered. Now obviously one could argue that if he didn’t get any proof surely he would have changed his view or the theory wouldn’t have survived. But what is interesting to note that the Perihelion precession of Mercury, which was used as proof of General relativity still, has some discrepancy with the theory. This discrepancy arose after closer measurement with newer technologies but by then General relativity was accepted and other proofs have been found elsewhere. Thus initially the theory was accepted on rather “interesting” “facts”. What I am driving at that in science as in any other discipline, anything goes. If you have too relax a structure no progress will take place, if you have too much constraint like Falsification paradigm or Bacon’s theory of science, then also science wont progress. Science is just as frail and open to mistake as any other human domain.

Science starts with the notion that everything can be explained using the principle of materialism and thus it is sanile to assume that scientific explanation will not be grounded on materialism; but to use it again as a reason for believing in materialism, if done intentionally, is nothing sort of propaganda. Militant Atheists are doing just that, just like their religious counterparts.

One always here that religious books are open to multiple interpretations and so they are highly ambiguous. But if we look at religion as subject to evolutionary principles then if it was written in mathematics or other precise language, it would have gone extinct pretty quickly. One cannot imagine general people or priests trying to understand a holy book written in tensor algebra or topology even now let alone 2000 years ago. Mathematical precision comes at the cost of narrowness of domain. So if a text has to survive over 1000 of years while it's readers evolve mentally and also cover every aspect of it's reader's life, then precisely it has to be open to multiple interpretations. There cannot be one single meaning. Now about all the hardship and suffering in the world, well if you want us humans to have freewill then the outcome is likely to be a mix of good and evil. Now these are by no means an attempt to justify religion but a way to show that I can virtually use any logic to justify them. Science cannot and has no rational ground to talk about religion. It is a personal choice, I can be a solipsist, which may sound absurd but logically it is a very defensible position. If I believe that earth is 4000 years old, I can say an omnipotent god can make the earth look 4 billion years old whereas it is only 4000 years old. Science cannot challenge me on this, although general people by virtue of tradition or culture might.

Just because great scientists like Hawkins Dawkins say that atheism is scientific doesn’t make it so. Their capability and expertise lies in development of science and that does not necessarily imply what they say is always scientific. Neither atheism nor religion can ever be scientific and so pretty much anything goes. This implies anarchy is probably the most logical set of belief, but albeit we “choose” not to be anarchic. There is no reason to assume that our belief structure should be under the same constraints as has been imposed upon science, just like it is absurd to think that we should speak with iambic pentameter inorder to speak correctly.

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