Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Gods Are Crazy But Is Science Going Mad?
Advanced Physics and the Irrationality of Religion.
Religion has come in many shapes and sizes. Even within a single religion, there are many schools of interpretation. For instance, in the Old Testament God is intemperate and unpredictable; He willfully and erratically interferes in our affairs or plays dice with the cosmos. But, others have argued that God created the universe according to set of rules, and so, the universe is governed by those rules–such as gravity and so on. In some religions, the divine forces are, if not always gentle or friendly, systematic and well-patterned. Consider the ancient Egyptian religion which believed that the change of seasons and the flow of the Nile reflected the stability of the universe as governed by gods. On the other hand, the gods worshiped and feared by civilizations along the Euphrates and Tigris were believed to be unpredictable, violent, and fearsome. Historians think these differences reflected the physical environments of Egyptians and Mesopotamia. The ebb and flow of the Nile followed the similar patterns year after year, encouraging the notion gods prefer order over chaos, and that the universe is governed by stable laws. As the rivers of Mesopotamia violently alternated year after year, civilizations along them were inclined to believe in violent gods and a chaotic universe(or perhaps gods were themselves not powerless against the unwieldy universe).
Anyway, as the Jewish narrative progressed, an idea arose that God created the universe according to certain principles. And, God gradually removed Himself from the affairs of man. God existed, of course but didn’t interfere with the clockwork functioning of the universe. Since He already told us what we must do, it was up to us–with our free will–to choose good over evil.
This view of the universe complemented certain scientific assumptions. Though we credit the pagan polytheistic ancient Greeks with the invention of science, science-as-search-for-the-universal-laws-of-the-cosmos was deemed perfectly acceptable in the Christian world. Science wasn’t seen as challenging or refuting God but a way to appreciate and admire the genius of God’s design. Indeed, many scientists thought the order in the universe could not have been possible without a Maker.
But, as science progressed, it took on a life of its own. It became its own master. If reason based on evidence was the source of all knowledge and truth, shouldn’t God’s existence also be questioned and put to the test? What was the evidence for the existence of God or that God created the universe? How can the notion of some deity without shape or form with supreme power coexist with Reason? Isn’t God a matter of traditional belief or Faith? Or worse, a delusion?
Science sought to find the laws of the universe and order in all things. According to science, even chaos had or hid its own logic or order. Nothing can exist or operate outside the laws of the cosmos. For instance, primitive peoples look upon lightning and thunder as crazy or crazed manifestations of nature or godly rage. Science tells us that even the most cataclysmic phenomena–floods, earthquakes, forest fires, etc–happen for a reason. Lightning is electricity. Earthquakes happen because of pressures built along geologic fault-lines. Asteroids hit the Earth because our gravity attracts flying pieces of space objects. And, we now know that there are simple reasons for infections–germs. So, if we use our reason, we can find the order or the hidden laws behind any phenomenon, no matter how ‘crazy’ it may seem to ordinary senses. A primitive man who’s never seen a TV or heard a radio would surely be startled and confuse what he sees or hears as magic. But, we know that a TV or radio is a machine made by man along certain scientific principles.
Christians were not averse to science as it was a form of respecting God. Christians had a similar concept about art. Art would be an appreciation of God’s beautiful creations and the nobility of nature and man. Artistic genius was seen as a gift bestowed unto man by God. God has the grand artistic talent to create the wonders of the world. Man’s art would appreciate and replicate this beauty in a humble way. In pre-modern times, even the most ambitious artists served the vision and power of God.
To be sure, the very notion of art and science didn’t sit well with some religious folks. In the Old Testament, it’s forbidden to make idols of man or animals for such would blaspheme God’s lone creative powers. Life can only multiply through sex, a mechanism equipped in all living forms by God. Man may procreate but not create. Creation was the lone power of God. According to this view, a sculpture or painting of a living being was a sign of hubris on part of man, as if he had the same powers as God. In the area of science, many religious folks feared that any exploration of the workings of the universe was disrespectful to God; God made the world the way He saw fit, and it was our duty only to live in His world with gratitude and humility, not nosily look around to see how everything works.
But, especially with the Renaissance, Christian Europe came to appreciate the role and significance of art and science. Even so, most Renaissance painters focused on religious subjects and themes; they also dwelt on pagan themes but were careful in that regard lest they incur the wrath of religious authorities. Kings, noblemen, and rising business class were more ambivalent. Narcissistic and vain in their love of beautiful things, many could not resist the beauty and charms of sensual paganist art. Even the religious authorities–the privileged ones anyway–found roundabout ways to collect and appreciate sensual art–as long as such were said to be within good taste and a tribute to God’s eye for natural and human beauty. But, strong-willed artists wanted more freedom, and at times ran up against the orthodoxy of religious powers.
Same was true of the scientific community. As long as scientists offered up discoveries that confirmed the view of the church, they were honored and sponsored. But, when Galileo argued that the Earth revolved around the Sun and not the other way around, he got himself into trouble. Christians wanted to believe God had placed Earth at the center of the universe–just as the Chinese across the millenia had believed that China was the Middle Kingdom, the center of both mankind and the universe.
Anyway, mounting evidence proved that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Eventually, the Church accepted Galileo’s discoveries, believing that such did not, in any real sense, call into question the authority of God. Just because Earth wasn’t at the center of the universe didn’t mean that God wasn’t at its center. Besides, Galileo’s impeccable models showed that there is a perfect mechanism governing the stars and planets. So, there was a Maker after all who designed the universe to function like clockwork; we just didn’t happen to be at the center of it anymore. Besides, what did it matter? Why do WE have to be at the center of anything as long as God is at the center(and everywhere)in the universe?
But, there was no guarantee that science would continue to serve God or only reveal the glory of God. Science, based on curiosity, endless questions, and reason, was also bound to call into question the very existence and authority of God. Could God be proven or discovered through science–based on facts and use of reason? For science to be truly independent and free, this question had to be asked. The more it was asked, the more science became a thing unto itself. If Galileo was said to have only ‘discovered’ few of God’s truth, Einstein was said to have ‘conquered the universe’ when awarded with the Nobel Prize. Of course, conquering the universe isn’t quite the same as creating the universe, but IF there is no god and the universe just happen to have ‘created’ itself, couldn’t it be argued that the man who figures out its laws is the greatest being that could ever exist?
The two scientific areas where religion was most profoundly challenged were in physics and biology. Physics asked the most profound questions about time and space, about the infinitely large and infinitely small. It searched far and wide, it looked into very nook/cranny of the universe. It didn’t find God anywhere. It found bigger and bigger stars and smaller and smaller particles. It found funny things happening to time and space in other dimensions. But, where was God?
As for biology, it questioned one of the most sacred ideas in the Bible, namely that God created life and that life is sacred. Also, Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions believed that man was a separate creation all unto himself. If Darwin had proven that evolution applied to only non-human life, his theory might have been more acceptable to Christians. But, Darwin went whole hog and said man too evolved from lower forms of life. Not all religions found these notions anathema, but Christianity naturally did due to its creation myth where God created man to rule over nature. Was man just a product of nature?
As the Western World advanced through modernity, the ‘progress’ of Art followed much the same pattern as that of science. It became more a thing unto itself than a craft devoted to glorifying God and his creations. Of course, all great artists had always partly been into art-for-art’s-sake, but their great talent still dutifully and reverently served some ‘higher’ authority or theme.
But, already by Beethoven, this was no longer the case. Beethoven believed in God but also believed that his creative powers were equal to that of God. So, Beethoven wasn’t so much serving God–as Bach had done–as competing with Him. This outlook eventually led to the secular sanctification of the artist. Art became the religion for many people in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Unmoored from old certitudes and sacred subjects, artists became their own subjects. Their grand, brilliant, dark, violent, and/or sensual expressions and visions became the new heavens and hell for late modern man.
A genius was not just a smart talented person who learned how the universe worked or who replicated, in art, the beauty created by God. He was a discoverer of new universes of knowledge, the creator of new ways of seeing the world. He would do for science or art what Napoleon did for politics. Such greatness was also said to have the moral or amoral authority to change the world. The vision of the Great Man embodying the new spirit in knowledge, creativity, and politics was Nietzsche’s superman. This great Superior Man had the will and power to create Gods, not just meekly serve some already pre-packaged God.
Of course, this is also where the Age of Reason breaks apart. Freedom in art and creativity didn’t necessarily co-exist peacefully with freedom in science. Science is about finding out what really is; creativity is about what one feels, what one imagines. Civilization is the product of both fantasy and technology.
Reason promised truth and justice based on what the mind teaches us. Reason demanded more freedom. But, more freedom also meant greater freedom to feel, to emote, to imagine, to fantasize. The rise of Romanticism struck a blow on the citadel of Reason. Romantics argued that man is not mind alone but feelings, creativity, sensuality, imagination, and even madness. Indeed, madness and even diseases–such as tuberculosis–became fashionable and romanticized in artistic circles.
Of course, the tragi-comic aspect of all great 20th century radical revolutions was they expounded on reason but won power and support through political romantics. Leninism, Stalinism, Hitlerism, Maoism, Che-ism, and etc all played on the emotions and imagination of the masses. Much of it was kitschy and ridiculous but also grand, awesome, and magnificent. To add to the irony, there were both the themes of desecration and consecration. As rebel ideologies, they challenged the notion of the sacred(as defined by conservative or traditional powers) but also erected new gods and engraved new orthodoxies.
Anyway, it seems we’ve backtracked a great deal from the original point, which was that science and reason would show us the orderly way of the universe as opposed to religion, which posited that the laws of the universe were created by an all-powerful God--implying that God himself could bend those rules at his will. Initially, science was content to figure out and understand–rather humbly–the laws as devised by God. As Reason grew in power and gained in confidence, it sought to prove that there is and can be nothing outside the laws of the universe. God, whether He existed or not, could not violate or circumvent universal or cosmic laws. Einstein said, "God does not play dice", which was another way of saying that He canNOT play dice. Even God is subject to a power greater than He–the laws of nature.
Science sought to show that every corner of the universe was subject to these universal laws. The power of Reason would bring man closer and closer to the ultimate truth. Perhaps one day, we would know all the laws governing matter, energy, life, and humanity. Or, even if we could never know all the answers, we would know increasingly more and make advances that would improve civilization by leaps and bounds. Reason would reveal the mechanism of stars, life forms, society, history, etc. Karl Marx, for example, thought he figured out the secret dynamics of history. Having gained such ‘scientific’ knowledge, he thought his kind should have the power(even total power) to change society. If expert doctors are the ones to perform surgeries, if expert auto mechanics should repair cars, why shouldn’t expert philosophers of history handle political and macro-economic affairs?
Though fascism is considered an irrational ideology, there is a rationalist twist to its theories. Fascism is essentially a rational understanding and use of the core irrational nature of man. If Marx focused on the economic forces in history/society, Mussolini and Hitler focused on psychological forces in history/society.
In a way, both the radical left and the radical right thought they had rationally figured out the irrational nature of economic and psycho-political behavior. Marx thought he unearthed the irrationality of elite economic behavior. He observed how the rich and powerful advance economic processes wherein they themselves are ground to dust. The rich and powerful seek greater power and wealth, but their means eventually favors the people they ‘exploit’. The kings and noblemen sought to only use the bourgeoisie, but the bourgeoisie came to supplant the kings and noblemen. The bourgeoisie ‘exploit’ the working class(and the peasant class uprooted from the soil and forced to work in factories), but this very process would only lead to the expansion and revolt of the working class against the capitalist class. Though the rich and powerful ‘rationally’ sought to maintain their power and privilege, the very system they’ve created and operate will lead to their demise. Marx thought he rationally understood this irrational behavior on the part of the rich/powerful, who in their desire for more wealth and power, only end up digging their own graves. Lenin, in a similar vein, said the bourgeoisie would supply the revolutionaries with the ropes to hang them with.
If Marx focused on economics, Mussolini and Hitler focused on psychology. (To be sure, Mussolini started out as a socialist, so he was the product of both the radical left and right, much more so than Hitler whose socialism was basically practical than ideological). Mussolini and Hitler saw politics as art and theater, as communal mythmaking. Both were skeptical of the power or ability of The People to ‘think’ rationally. Individuals could think rationally perhaps, but then everyone disagrees anyway on what is good for society.
So, Mussolini and Hitler thought political unity and national strength should fundamentally be founded on holistic, emotion-bound, and sacred concepts of the nation, state, destiny, tradition, and/or race. Both leaders thought the essentially mythical and religious nature of man was a given, a fixed constant. (Liberals plagiarized a big page out of this book in their grooming and marketing of Obama. Though a secular leftist, Obama played the spiritualist game, and the media coverage of him has been very sacramental and messianic. Also, the cult of Martin Luther King makes a mockery of all rational and skeptical principles presumably held by liberals. King is not remembered or understood as a political or historical figure but as a divine figure, a kind of modern prophet. And, of course, the cult of personality surrounding Che Guevara has nothing to do with rationalism. But, this is a reality that goes back to Marx and Lenin. Before the charisma cult of Mussolini and Hitler, there was already the deification of communist thinkers and leaders. And, recall that the French Revolution, that supposedly great struggle for the triumph of Reason, gave us the first great modern god-man Napoleon. And, certain artists, especially Wagner, gained almost a god-like cult in the 19th century. Cult of personality seems almost universal. We can see it in the worship of Jesus and the iconography of emperors.
The cult of Jesus was a rather great and troubling development because it deified humility and elevated equality. Jesus was said to be a man who didn’t care for wealth or power. He ate simple food and cared for the poor. Yet, the Jesus cult made him out to be not only a prophet or son-of-god but the equal of God Himself. In a way, Jesus cult has served as the template for the tyrants of the 20th century. It being the age of the masses, the tyrants had to be a man-of-the-people, both humble and god-like, both ‘one of us’ and ‘the one and only’.
It had always been understood that Kings were better than the people. The modern ideology said the People are the bosses, and so the leader must reflect the will of the people, must be one of the people. If so, why must the leader be elevated above the people far beyond any king or duke in the past? Perhaps, this is the most troubling thing about the rise of Obama. America had been cautious in its choice and perceptions of its presidents. Even Teddy Roosevelt the tough guy knew his limits, and he had to deal with the opposition like anyone else.
In the US, the media and academia are owned and run mostly by liberal Jews. Blacks, the victors in sports and pop music, are held in awe and reverence by ‘faggoty ass white boys and jungle-feverish white girls’. So, Obama has become the god-man of America. Even Republicans say they are much more optimistic since Obama became President. This isn’t rational or sensible. Cult of Personality has taken over America, and there is nothing to oppose it but some scattered opposition in the media. Most people don’t read conservative journals. Most people get their news from TV. Most kids get their views of the world from schools taught by liberal teachers who themselves have been weaned on the cult of Martin Luther King, the religion of white guilt, and the worship of the Superior Badass Negro.
Anyway, I digress again. So, we return to science and religion once more. Science was going to reveal the order of the universe and human society. More discoveries would dispel all notions that anything could happen by chance or that there could be divine intervention(or even the existence of God) as such would violate the fixed laws of the universe.
But, 20th century led to some funny discoveries. The theory of relativity went far beyond Newtonian physics. This theory was (mis)applied to culture, society, and philosophy(mainly by those who didn’t even understand its math). In some ways, cultural relativism was an outgrowth of this theory. On the other hand, I would argue cultural relativism would have come along anyway, Einstein or no Einstein. It was the inevitable product of Western anthropologists’ exploration and study of other cultures--the realization that ‘reality’ always exists within a certain paradigm. Cultural relativism doesn’t necessarily say all perceptions/conceptions of reality are equally valid; it merely says reality is as it is to those ‘trapped’ in their particular paradigms.
Even so, even the theory of relativity didn’t violate the concept of order in the universe; it merely showed that cosmic laws were far stranger than we thought. And, though Einstein’s idea of matter and energy being interchangeable was alarming to some, it could be demonstrated by a neat mathematical formula. It could be proven and measured.
But, the theory of quantum mechanics was altogether stranger. It posited that in the realm of subatomic matter, randomness and chaos prevailed. And, there seemed to be no way of bridging the laws of nature between Big reality and Little reality. Though this was purely a scientific matter, it was bound to have metaphysical and spiritual implications. Didn’t Reason promise us a vision of perfect order through science? This seemed to be the case with science up to the early theories of Einstein. But, the theory of quantum mechanics threw a monkey wrench into the whole notion of a unified universe governed by the same rules. The rules of the ‘normal’ universe didn’t seem to jibe with the random ‘rules’ of the subatomic universe. So, is our seemingly ordered universe merely a thin layer of a much crazier universe beyond the penetration of reason?
A sort of parallel developed in the arts as well. Art, of course, was never rational, but it had its rules and conventions passed down as tradition. Also, it had its favored subjects, generally sacred and spiritual. The Age of Reason embraced political and social revolution but didn’t dispense with the notion of art having conventions and serving a ‘higher’ purpose. There had been many great individual artists throughout Western history whose personal genius cannot be denied, but they were serving ideals and subjects bigger than themselves.
With the rise of Romanticism, the artist’s own genius and personal vision became the central theme of Art. He didn’t have to imagine God or the Noble Ideals or Beauty. Rather, his main obsession was to reach within his soul and unleash all the creative powers within. Romanticism embraced the opening of the creative pandora’s box. Even so, 19th century Romantics could only build upon what had come before them, and therefore, their great passions and obsessions did serve themes of beauty, passion, nobility, purity, etc despite some of the mad quality. Romanticism was new and different, but also a continuum. It was still very much part of the grand tradition. Wagner’s music was ultimately the sublime twilight of Old Music than the dawn of New Music.
What we call ‘modern art’ that arose in the 20th century was a clean break from the past. It was to Art what quantum mechanics was to science. If the theory of relativity was still related to Newtonian physics through a loopy mathematical formula, quantum mechanics was a break from both and existed in a world of its own.
In the arts, avant-garde art of the 20th century was a clear break from the creative past. The concept of Art serving themes or primarily replicating reality was gone. Rather, Art explored its own subatomics. It fragmented and divided into smaller and more abstract parts. In some ways, it turned more into an intellectual exercise than an artistic enterprise. At its most far-reaching, it wasn’t even intellectual nor recognizably sensual. It was like watching the elements of creativity spun around and around in a nuclear accelerator and then blasted onto a canvas. The results were often particular(as in ‘like particles’). Indeed, even the concept of Art was shattered and lost. Today, much of Art is really a deconstruction of not only art but of all the forces–social, economic, political, academic, etc–that play a role in determining what is ‘art’ and what its value is. It’s about "a-r-t" with many more quotations and parantheses around it.
Anyway, what does the most advanced science say about reality? All the Newtonian scientific laws still govern and apply to what we consider 99.99% of reality. Theory of relativity makes us understand stars and galaxies. But, is there any set of laws governing the realm of the infinitely small? Yes or no, aren’t all big things made of small things? If there are no rules in the small world, and if big things are made up of small things, is the basic core of reality beyond order, beyond laws we can fathom?
This is not what Reason promised us. Scientists mocked religious people as believing that any part of the universe could be beyond the laws of nature.
Of course, quantum mechanics doesn’t say there are no laws of nature, but it does tell us that the laws of nature in the subatomic world are nothing like what we might define as ‘laws’. Can laws be anarchic and random? In quantum mechanics, we have an observation of reality but no understandings of its laws if there are, indeed, any.
Of course, I’m not in anyway suggesting this proves the existence of God. It’s merely to point out that science finally ended up with a discovery which is even more ‘nonsensical’ than what religious people believe. The very people who mock religious people for believing in a God willfully violates cosmic laws now believe that chaotic randomness reigns in the realm of subatomic matter beyond the reach of rational measurement.
Of course, the String Theory and others like it have tried to finally unify theories governing the big and small. And, if its formulations are correct, we finally seem to have the answer. But, its implications are even more ‘nonsensical’. String Theory says there is more than one plane of reality; there are parallel universes, maybe 5, 9, 12, 24, infinitum. What you don’t do in one universe, you do in another, and so on and so on. String Theory may make mathematical sense, but its theories are crazier than any religion.
This is where scientific truth becomes insane; indeed, far more ludicrous than anything taught by religion. I do not oppose or blame science or scientists in anyway. All I’m pointing out is that the strongest argument used against religion by science goes out the window with String Theory–and more such theories down the pipeline. For all I know, String Theory may well be true, but if it is true, the cosmos is a madhouse.
The notion of religious folks believing in crazy stuff as opposed to scientists discovering & believing in orderly stuff is no longer tenable. The methods of science and mathematics may be as valid, sound, and legitimate as ever but what if they tell us, at the end of the day, that ultimate reality defies and mocks at all notions we’ve built up around science? And, if there can be a million parallel universes, who’s to say one might not actually have God?
Richard Dawkins and others like him deserve great respect as scientists as they carefully and impeccably–and arrogantly and haughtily–make their rational argument to persuade us that laws of nature govern everything, and these laws can be understood with anyone with an open mind and open to reason. In biology, this is true enough. But, it’s physics that explores the ultimate reality, and what it’s telling us is beyond reason though it’s reason that is taking us to that conclusion. ‘Mad scientist’ may be an unfair stereotype but physics is turning into mad science–not because it’s bad science but because the more we know through legitimate scientific and mathematical methods tells us that ultimate reality defies all our concepts about laws of nature and cosmic order.