November 19, 2010

From You might be a Christian Fundamentalist if::
You complain when Christians aren't allowed to practice religion in other countries, but you go berzerker when someone tries to set up a Mosque in your neighbourhood.
For the record, I consider the quoted section to be the highlight of the entire article and subsequent comment thread. For example, one of the following points
You believe we were created from dirt.
applies just as well to evolution as to most religions ... which may be part of why I have never seen why there has to be such a determined chasm between religion and science.

We have heard so much about evolution/creationism and pro/anti human-caused climate change: yet that road goes in both directions. If Stephen Hawkings narrates a series on genius, enlightenment can only ever refer to science: and that only in the context of how science has benefitted mankind. An examination of the growth of steam power must never once mention the killer smogs of Victorian London, any more than the Christmas postcards do.

Sometimes the omissions can be glaring. I sometimes wonder if future generations will look back upon us as the Dark Ages for what, today, might be an entirely unexpected reason. Is it any wonder that so many of the faithful see atheism as a root cause of war?

Hawking has no problem stepping beyond what can be proved by science: but has quite a bit more trouble stepping outside his familiar frameworks. (True also for his scientific work, although he is scarcely unique in that.) Other, as yet unmet alien species must inevitably have the same mindset as Renaissance European explorers. The universe operates by natural laws: and thus no God is needed. And perhaps above all: how could a compassionate God inflict amyotrophic lateral sclerosis on anyone?

In the eighteenth century CE, Isaac Newton and many other scientists of the time had no problem reconciling a universe that ran by clockwork with a universe set in motion by God. The very inevitability of the natural rules argues just as easily for a divine framework as not (but only if one is open to it). Physics alone cannot prove the point one way or the other. There is a reason these kinds of questions fall into the realm of meta physics.

Nor does a universe set thus in motion negate the power of God. Omniscience, omnipotence, and atemporality covers that issue quite nicely. Change it ever so slightly from "God does not play dice with the universe" (Einstein) to God being co-aware of all possibility: and atemporality need not even contradict free will.

The final question coelesces into eleven words all the bitterness and frustration and confusion that have always plagued humanity. Why must some of us be born poor? Why must most of us get sick? Why must we get old? Why must we die? Add to all these the newer, pro-evolution versions: if God is all-knowing and all-caring, why would He design such an imperfect eye/wing/foot ...?

(Yet at the same time, any examples of the opposite -- eg. of a seemingly perfect pairing -- are immediately seized on as proof of God's existence. Apparently our world appears capable of both -- simultaneously!)

To me at least, to ask why we must die is to ask why stars come to an end. To ask why things are not perfect is to ask why it is that we think things should be perfect. The answer would be no different.

Why do we assume that nothing short of healthy, prosperous immortality would be "fair"?

Stephen Hawkings has become a powerful symbol of transcendent mankind: a mind which can strive to understand the workings of the universe, trapped in an earthbound body. The actuality has forced him to focus on mathematics as few others can. The symbol has given his words a singular power. Although there are many others of his calibre in the world, he is forever set apart and above: and this is to large extent because of his paralysis. Take it away -- imagine it had never been -- and what is left but just another theoretical physicist?

Does it really matter which explanation for the way things work another person chooses? If they are true to their understanding of the world and themselves, things will work out quite well. It is only when we start cherry-picking to suit our own conception of ourselves and how we interact with others that an unwanted mirror starts showing us hypocrisy: and it is in fighting that unwanted image that we really start running into trouble.

Yet many of us are still determined to reject all other views and convert others to our single "right" view, lest they be damned.

Possibly related is the increasing trend toward assigning deliberate motive (usually malice) to all words and actions which don't accord with the viewer's worldview. However neutral the language I use -- and again for the record, although it points out possible hypocrisy, nothing about the linked quote above or its subsequent comment thread is neutral -- people seem to be quicker than ever to cry "Hate!" Even if I lay out a situation such that simple ignorance is entirely likely to be the cause, it will still immediately be called lying.

Interestingly, these kinds of reactions only ever happen where the other person is somehow out of step with the viewer. Where there is agreement -- even if the situation is identical -- no one assigns motivation. Agreement is so deeply assumed, it becomes invisible. The end result is that silence must never be broken except in ways which are completely acceptable to a large enough number of those dominant in an audience.

I wish I knew why these types of reactions are increasing in frequency. It strikes me as a dangerous trend to automatically assume the worst of the other.

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