The God Conundrum

Karthik Ravi/ November 20, 2016/ Uncategorized/ 3 comments

Ah religion. The super touchy topic. Everyone seems to avoid it, or vehemently oppose/champion it. Both sides ignore the other’s opinions and points, and keep trying to shout the other side down. So hopefully, in peace and quiet, and in this space provided to me, I can put the topic across in a different, and hopefully fascinating, light.

Firstly, most of the arguments against religion are generally along the lines that there is no proof. To counter that, the other side retorts that there is no proof to disprove it either. The Russell’s Teapot is brought up somewhere at this point, generally with success, but not always.

Let’s look at the topic from another perspective. Let’s treat religion as a theory, and science as another theory. No need to take any specific religion, but let’s just use some generic picture of a religion instead. By science, I mean the physical sciences. Now let’s just say that a theory in physical science, is similar to a theory in math with the added constraint/definition that the claims made by the theory should correspond with real world observations. Note that I don’t regard this as a necessary condition, just that it’s been defined that way. So here, I’m just saying that science is a theory of math, with that added condition, that any theory claiming to be ‘scientific’ should pass that test of being ‘true’ in the real world.

Now take religion to be another theory. One with its own set of axioms, and logical rules of inferences. So, say one of the axioms is “GOD exists”, or “Everything said by so-and-so a book is true”, or “Everything said by so-and-so a person is true”, then we can’t argue with their definitions/axioms. Science too uses its own set of axioms, and there is no point questioning them, there can be no fundamental reasoning without any axioms at all. So, we can’t subject these axioms, as such, to ‘reasonability’ checks; nor should we.

Now let’s take science. Lets quote the big bang theory as an example. It says the universe started off at the big bang, the moment of creation and that’s when time and space were created. Let’s treat that as an axiom. It also uses certain ‘laws of physics’. Let’s also put them in the axiom category, much like including header files at the top of your program. It has its own set of results and outcomes, which mostly correspond with the real world. Now two theories may start off different but arrive at the same outcome, namely the physical world. More importantly any theory can be manipulated at, until one arrives at the right answer, or we could make a theory a tautology, as religion seems to be – nothing wrong in that. The point I’m trying to get across is that, say the big bang theory and the religion come to the same conclusion that the universe exists, more particularly that it exists in the way it is today. Now the question is, which one is preferable?

Slight digression. Say we have n points given to us on an xy plane, and we have to find a function to map those points. One obvious approach would be to just define the function so as to deliberately map these points one by one. And another approach would be to find a generic equation which satisfies all these points. Both are valid, but it’s obvious which would be preferred, the more elegant one. The analogy is obvious, the points are the real world data, that the theories must correspond to, while the functions are the theories themselves. The more elegant one has the added advantage of being more useful, in that it might also include future ‘points’ that might be found, or in a more pragmatic light, it may give us some results that can be exploited to make something useful for ourselves, or maybe just give us satisfaction of knowing why something works.

Scientists hence accept the mainstream scientific theories; mostly, due to these advantages of it over the other theory, namely usefulness and elegance. I could come up with another theory which states, “make all the results you arrive at axioms”. Gravity bends space-time? Space is defined as that which is bendable by gravity. Light is deviated by a star of one solar mass by so-and-so degrees when it’s at so-and-so a distance from it? Light is deviated by a star of one solar mass by so-and-so degrees when it’s at so-and-so a distance from it. And so on. That would work. But no one would accept that because it doesn’t get us anywhere. It’s not just a question of rightness, but rather usefulness. The same goes for religion.

Some might argue that religion is also useful, at least in the sense of it providing closure to the bereaved, or it giving people something to aspire for, and many would hold that it is what gives one a sense of right and wrong, their moral compass, their conscience. While i would contest the last point, to be fair, that would come from my being prejudiced towards science, which seems almost inevitable in this day and age, where kids in school feel that ‘educated’/’smart’ people are atheists and that that’s the cool thing to do. The sad thing is that most of them don’t grow out of this attitude, and that’s where the vitriolic clashes between the two factions arises. (I’m going to doing something not so mainstream here and quote Hitler {paraphrasing}) Hitler says that the person who has just climbed a rung higher due to their toil find their immediate lower rung all the more repulsive having just arrived out of it, and as such find it intolerable to mingle with them and treat them with respect, since they seem a constant reminder or their previous life. However the second generation find it easier to go back to the masses as they don’t have such a strong impression formed against it. So, you can see the level of atheism in a person based on his attitude towards religion.

To conclude, maybe we should stop trying to disprove religion, as it can’t seem to be disproved, but rather reject it, if we do, because it’s not useful/elegant. Elegance is physics, where with a few fundamental laws one can arrive at the present state of things in a clear cut manner which many find so beautiful, that they devote their life to studying it.

Hope this made you see things from a different perspective. Keep on critical thinking.

– Karthik R

3 Comments

  1. I don’t want to start a flame war here. But a few thoughts. Elegance can be an intuitive tool to arrive at the theory but never in any way can it become a barometer of truth (or consensus?). Usefulness or predictability alone wins I would say in that regard. And for the same reason, I’d say that religion is extremely useful quite beyond the reasons which you have given as a source of solace, morals, aspirations. Religion has stood the test of time. Religious people have been exposed repeatedly. Yet religion (religions) have endured much longer than scientific theories. I anticipate arguments as – “It was for long believed that the earth was flat”. But I would say that ,the earth being flat is a piece of information with which people hardly did anything. No one made major life decisions based on that (except perhaps a bit of fear of exploring far away places). But people give their lives away for religion(not in the jihadi sense, but as dedication). That is crazy. And in ancient India, the most intellectual people, all believed in God(we know this from the literature which has survived.) And it isn’t at all fair to say we have more IQ today or that we are so much more advanced philosophically. Bad science exists because good science is powerful. So also bad religion can survive only if it is backed fundamentally by religion which has potential for enormous( practical, empirical) good.

  2. So I think religion deserves much more seriousness than it is given by both those who follow it and those who oppose it. Just as people ‘believe’ in science but real scientists are few. So also real practitioners of religion are rare. And we need more of both. Quite often (almost always), critics of religion have no actual practice of religion. They(to be fair, both parties) are only interested in ‘defeating’ the other. Not in knowing it. You go to a (genuine) spiritual teacher, practice under him and then come away and think about it. NOT FROM THE OUTSIDE. To prove the existence of higgs-boson we needed to build a giant lab with thousands of scientists. That is investment. What investment have we, critics of religion, invested in practising it, having first hand experience of it? My suggestion and hope is that more people seriously practice both and then discuss based on their first hand experiences of it instead of abstract arguments completely separated from experience. God is real to believers, just as electrons are to a physicist. Neither can prove the existence of either. But both have arrived at their belief based on their consistent observations. I think it is quite unfair( or perhaps lazy) to paint all believers with the brush of wishful thinking.

    This was long and maybe a little heated. But I just wanted to make forceful point. Please don’t be upset or offended. And thank you for spending your time reading it. I hope it helps you in some way.

  3. So I think religion deserves much more seriousness than it is given by both those who follow it and those who oppose it. Just as people ‘believe’ in science but real scientists are few. So also real practitioners of religion are rare. And we need more of both. Quite often (almost always), critics of religion have no actual practice of religion. They(to be fair, both parties) are only interested in ‘defeating’ the other. Not in knowing it. You go to a (genuine) spiritual teacher, practice under him and then come away and think about it. NOT FROM THE OUTSIDE. To prove the existence of higgs-boson we needed to build a giant lab with thousands of scientists. That is investment. What investment have we, critics of religion, invested in practising it, having first hand experience of it? My suggestion and hope is that more people seriously practice both and then discuss based on their first hand experiences of it instead of abstract arguments completely separated from experience. God is real to believers, just as electrons are to a physicist. Neither can prove the existence of either. But both have arrived at their belief based on their consistent observations. I think it is quite unfair( or perhaps lazy) to paint all believers with the brush of wishful thinking.

    This was long and maybe a little heated. But I just wanted to make forceful point. Please don’t be upset or offended. And thank you for spending your time reading it. I hope it helps you in some way. (Sorry – using a different email coz it won’t accept it)

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