22 December 2011

The difference between science and religion

Penn Jillette, via Gruber, via Kottke:

There is no god and that’s the simple truth. If every trace of any single religion died out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.

Actually, I think it is pretty clear that the basic truths—which you find repeated in nigh every religion—would reappear.

The big difficulty with religion is that it is easy to get caught up in the unimportant parts and lose sight of the important ones.

(Though, we don’t need to be putting science and faith into opposition.)


Rick said...

At some time in your life you may have wondered about the purpose of existence. If you are like most people you will have considered that it is a mysterious and unknown path that we travel. What will we find when we reach our destination?. Will you have to be content with your circumstances and do you have the power to gain what you need?. What lies beyond our present experience? What challenges and circumstances will confront you?.

And what is more important, will we conquer in the battle of life or be conquered by it?.

All of these considerations arise in our minds when, during moments of quiet reflection, we think about the reason for our existence. Does the universe exist for some purpose or is it no more than a group of celestial bodies floating about in space without a definite cause or justifying purpose?.

Born in this great universe filled with the mystery of the Infinite, we cannot believe that our existence is a momentary product of chance, floating without purpose on the currents of matter. It is not possible to consider our lives as fantasies of some dreamer who must never awaken. We possess a personality whose nature and force can only make sense when associated with something deeply personal that palpitates within us with human love for the greatness of good, the martyrdom of heroic souls, the ineffable beauty of nature, sensations and emotions that are not on the order of the physical, but rather the expression of a personality.

(Rabbi Tagore)

When we turn our view toward the firmament on a dark and starry night, we know that such a vast construct as the Cosmos must work in agreement with natural laws so perfect and orderly that all the stars of the Universe moving with such mathematical precision must have some reason for their existence.

Are we able to think less at such a time than that the whole amazing vista spread across the skies must have some reason for being? Surely everything is created to satisfy a definite purpose. It is very difficult to imagine a Universe, with all the energy and movement it contains, a universe spread out from infinite distance to infinite distance, existing for vast and incomprehensible time, being something that exists for no particular reason.

And what of us? What is our role in the vast scenario of the Universe and how do we carry it out?.

Is our life only the result of some casual chemical reactions that happened to evolve many thousands of millions of years ago, or is there something more?.

Are we slaves to destiny?.

Is there a reason for living and being, or are we creatures that are only born to grow old, die and then nothing?.

What comes after this life?.

Is our life, and the lives of all of humanity, predestine and without choice?.

Why do we often feel as though we are ships without a helm, at the mercy of life's currents and buffeted by the tempests of existence?.

Is there a particular mission that each of us needs to carry out during our time on earth, or is life only a chimera until it ends?.

Why is it that some people live fruitful lives filled with successes, and others live with continuous failure and bitterness?.

What is the Secret of Life?

Science can not answer the philosophical questions you ask yourself at 3 in the morning. The fact the I am alive in a flowing, growing, living universe is because it was created and began. It is and exists now. It will probably continue after I am no longer alive.

There is a creator and we call him God. Whether you believe in him or call him by that name does not change the fact he created it all.

Merry Christmas

Dr Rotwang! said...

I'm with Penn on this one. Religious truths may reappear...but they'll be exactly what they are now: Secular truths (ethics, morals and the like) co-opted by whichever new religion has the most popular support/money/politicians under its sway.

There is no reason for the universe. The need for something to have a reason is a human imposition; we seek agency in all things, no matter how minor they may be.

Interestingly, nature doesn't much care what we think it means. This is most evident when we look at the universe in search of a reason; based on what we can tell about it, the universe seems to want nothing so much as to kill us. There's a lot out there that we can't survive--hard vacuum, radiation, extreme temperatures, dangerous chemicals, water...

(Ahh, you say--is the universe meant to be explored and conquered by us. Well, we are certainly doing that, but I'd argue that this has more to do with our impulses as a species, and not at all with any sort of agency which set 'em up so we can knock 'em down, so to speak. But I digress.)

That said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a universe which has no meaning. Rainbows don't have a meaning; they happen due to natural laws, but there's no inherent "meaning" to them beyond that which we ascribe. They're beautiful, but we can only call them that be cause we possess the biological mechanisms that allow us to perceive the colors in that part of the spectrum, and we possess the ability of abstract thought which we use to define concepts such as "beauty".

But what matters is that those rainbows are beautiful, and that we can see them at all.

There is no strong evidence for a creator of the universe, but if you want to make one up and call it something, go for it. Just be aware that, in the end, the universe doesn't care.

Rick said...

I will not convert you nor you I. :)

I am sorry you feel the universe is trying to kill you.

As a specie you and I agree, we try to find the pattern. It is how we were created. Look at the brain and how it tries to make patterns where there may be none (A crucial ability for Penn to be in business as a magician)

As far as morals and ethics go in a secular world they are much closer to anarchy. With all humans not needing to be taught how to lie or do evil, without a belief in the good how would these secular ethics or moraltiy be set? Easy, they aren't.

The models for good and evil have been based on religous beliefs. As a wonderful older man told me once, if you find hell you know there is a heaven and vice versa.

The universe is not trying to kill me. It does not feel one way or the other about us. The reason why it is there and what you and I are, is the amazing question to ponder.

Enjoy your weekend.