Saturday, February 15, 2014

Reason, Faith, Reconciliation

Reason, Faith, and Reconciliation?
Whether you have been paying attention or not, there is a war raging on.  An ancient war, long since suspended and sedated, but still a frenzied war, threatening to decimate the hinges of civilization. Every individual spec of soil from the Yasukuni Shrine to Grand Canyon, and from the North Pole to the South, has borne the heel of this war’s combatants. The next few decades will either ascend humanity beyond all expectations or cast our infantile species back to its roots.  The colossal contenders that decide our fate are the champions of reason and the legions of faith, and, of course, the pernicious force that consumes this theater of war, is the attempt to reconcile the two.  This feud is as old and deadly as both the laws of nature and the wrath of god, but can these two forces even be reconciled?  Where do these two forces originate, and who are their champions?  Which has the most to offer to humanity, and based on what we know, which is most likely to contain the truth that humanity seeks? The water is boiling over and the fuses are running short, and I am especially eager to declare a victor.  As a son of a minister, and a medical scientist himself, my father provided me with an interesting upbringing.  At birth, my genitalia was mutilated, I was submersed into a body of water just a short time following, in order to purge myself of any future sins I might commit.  I was taught from the beginning that I, along with all humans, was incurably flawed, and that I was supposed to be ashamed of any intentional, and/or unintentional sexual thoughts or impulses, and such thoughts, and others cut from this cloth, were pure evil and from the devil. My only chance for redemption was to repent and beg my omnipotent dictator to forgive me in order to prevent my young soul from eternal damnation. Despite that dramatization, my father also showed me how to analyze, think critically, never stop questioning, and, most importantly, how to instill within myself, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and enlightenment. The latter, was the single driving factor in my life until my wife and son joined me on my quest for life and knowledge. It is these skills, along with years of studies, that have shaped my mind into the mind it is today: the mind of an atheist.  Do I claim to have a secret source of knowledge that those whom identify as theist or deist do not possess? No, neither do I claim that my way of thinking  is the only way of thinking a rational person could take. One of my favorite sayings, though I cannot find the original author, is “What you think is not important, what matters is how you think,” and I like to add some words of my own to complete the philosophy: “and that your thoughts are your own.” Ergo, my research will take it from here.
What am I insinuating when I use the terms “reason” and “faith?”  Well, when I say “champions” I am referring to the greatest scientists that humanity has begotten, such as: Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Galileo, Kepler, Heisenberg, Rutherford, William Herschel, Niels Bohr, and many, many others, whom I almost feel obliged to dedicate the next thousand pages to. Furthermore, when I when say “reason”, I am referring to the product of human curiosity; science. Moving on, when I use the term “legions” I am referring to both the billions of religious people, as well as the most renown and well known religious figures, such as: Martin Luther, John Wesley,Gandhi, Confucius, Buddha, and Calvin;  as well as the more controversial figments from the numerous sacred text, such as: Jesus, Moses, Abraham, John the Baptist, Mohammad, and Jobe.  And when I say “faith” I am of course referring to the religious man’s most valuable attribute; faith.  Furthermore, let us define some additional important terms; Google defines science as: “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” I would like to take this definition a step further, and adopt pieces of Mr. Alvin Plantinga’s definition that includes  “any activity that is (1) a systematic and disciplined enterprise aimed at finding out the truth about our world, and (2) has significant empirical involvement” (Plantinga, Alvin,  Contrastingly, Google defines religion as such: the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods, and also a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.  It also defines faith as: a strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.  So how can a systematic and disciplined enterprise aimed at finding out the truth be reconciled with a strong belief based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof?
According to the theist point of view, this reconciliation can be done. God creates man in his own image. Man’s thirst for knowledge, understanding, and intellect is blatantly obvious; assuming that man’s intellect, knowledge, understanding, and the thirst for knowledge and understanding come directly from God’s personality, we can conclusively dictate that God is intelligent (hence intelligent design), and he too thirsts for knowledge and understanding. Science can be defined as the act of an intellectual searching for knowledge and understanding. Therefore, God and science are not just compatible, but God is actually the catalyst of science.  My issue with this philosophy is that it is solely based on an assumption, an assumption that God exist and as if his existence is just a matter of common sense. Author, and theist, Stephan Davis, claims that “if a theistic proof succeeds, then it is if none succeeds” (Davis,5), and he later goes on to say that it is a “point of general (but not quite universal) agreement” (Davis,5). Using my understanding of this quote, this logic is absurd; it is insinuating that any theistic theory is considered proven as long as no other conflicting (I’m assuming scientific) theory is left plausible or possible. This is a cheat, it is flawed  reasoning, and no rational academic could accept this as the standards required in order to be accepted. If I tell you that there are lizard people in our government, you would not be able to prove me wrong.  There would be no course of action for you to take in order to debunk my claim, due the lack of any possible evidence for the scientific community to consult before ruling in favor or against.  Just because there is an absence of evidence doesn’t mean that the opposing theory wins by default; the verdict should only be made when there is sufficient evidence proving beyond any shred of a doubt, or at least the likelihood being in favor by obscene margins, and acceptance by a supermajority of the scientific community.   In addition to the former, here is another example of flawed reasoning from the theologians and apologists rationality. The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science  illustrates the theist’s thought process as such, “Many Protestant writers agree, arguing that the roles attributed to random events is inconsistent with the biblical material. Creationist writers often consider this one of the most important elements of their critique of Darwinism” (Clayton & Simpson, Web).  To counteract, science likes to take a different approach; by taking an objective angle, and basing that angle on the evidence and sometimes probability. Instead of assuming to already know the facts and/or truth, despite all reasoning.   
Lets briefly hit the highlights of a few of the most recent findings, of knowledge and understanding, that science has brought to light, such as the realization of how microscopic our planet really is compared to the universe, and how incomprehensibly enormous we are compared to the micro-organism's world; not to mention how large they are compared to the subatomic world. Also, we’ve learned that stars are fueled by nuclear fusion, converting hydrogen into helium for millions (some maybe billions) of years until one day when it runs low on hydrogen, incidentally creating iron and resulting in a super nova which creates the various elements that make up all matter including biological organisms (yes,our bodies, along with everything we see, are made of stardust). Darwin showed us where we came from, why animals seem so perfectly adapted to their respective environments, and more recent scientist have since observed his theory in action and they have also shown us that the evolution process is conducted from the bottom-up as opposed to a designer’s top-down, debunking the theory that a designer is responsible for our evolution. Science also provided us with the “Big Bang Theory” in the 60’s, despite the creationist’s opposition, and last year, a team of scientist at the European Space Agency Telescope accidentally came across and collected images of the oldest light in the universe confirming the “Big Bang” (hence no more “theory” at the end), adjusting our estimation of how old the universe is from 13 billion to 13.8 billion years old, and finally, it debunked the theory that the expanding universe is slowing down, but instead showed us that the expanding universe is indeed accelerating for unknown reasons. This was later confirmed using Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation to map out the “Big Bang afterglow.”
During this exciting time period, in which we live, where has religion stood on all these scientific theories before they were confirmed? Well, for starters, the catholic church was solely responsible for the“dark ages”, a time period in which there was little to no scientific, mathematical, or innovative discoveries which retarded humanity’s technological progress.  The churches also condemned Darwin’s, as well as Galileo’s and many others’ scientific findings in order to preach a purely biblical and traditional way of thinking.  And also, the church condemned the Big Bang theory, instead preaching a creational theory that takes place only 6 to 10 thousand years ago, consisting of 6 days of creating and 1 day of rest by an all powerful superhuman.  
After acknowledging that these events took place, as well as the enlightenment period when the church was losing power and the arts and sciences were at the center of attention, it is easy to see that one can only flourish at a time.  Since then, Pope John Paul II acknowledged that the church was wrong to condemn Galileo in 1633, Pope Pius XII accepted that evolution was a valid theory for a catholic to possess and attributed Saint Augustine of being the first to develop the theory during the 4th century. Finally, Pope Benedict stated that the church accepted that the big bang did take place, but only because it was God’s will. One might assume that this is progress in the reconciliation of the two forces, and maybe with a more objective personality I could agree, but for now I stand strongly on the side of truth. Before acknowledging Galileo’s claim that the earth was not the center of the universe; before acknowledging Darwin’s theory of evolution (both were acknowledged hundreds of years later), and before acknowledging that the big bang was the beginning of the universe, churches of all religions were adamant about condemning these scientific theories, claiming them to be “of the devil” and absurd as they continued to indoctrinate children into their primitive traditions and then later conceding their claims, as if they hadn’t been denying them for hundreds of years. How many times can we let religions set a bar for science to meet, and when that bar is met, let them just move that bar back even further?  I cannot just forget everything I have read in the history books (even the Bible itself, have not made it to the Koran and Torah yet), all of the statistics, and all of the hard scientific evidence. When it comes to miracles, it is literally impossible for the laws of physics to be momentarily suspended or changed, which is a much needed prerequisite in order for them to occur. And their basis for these claims comes, allegedly, from “eyewitness” accounts, all of which, were all written well over a lifetime after the, supposed, death and resurrection of Jesus (the first account of the resurrection was written 85 years after Jesus’ death). Though I did find some common ground between reason and faith, I could not find sufficient evidence to reconcile the two. As humanity’s quest for the truth rages on, I feel as though our species will eventually realise that it has outgrown the need for faith.

“Religion is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as for comfort, reassurance and other infantile needs.)” (Christopher Hitchens)