Thursday, October 25, 2007

Miracles, Science, and Fundamentalism

As an atheist, I am of course very uncomfortable with any religion that believes in a supernatural being. And as a scientist, a belief in miracles really drives me up the wall. A central tenet of science is that a fundamental, probably unchanging, set of physical laws has governed the entire Universe since just after the Big Bang. And no exceptions whatsoever are permitted! So you can’t get around inconvenient physics that regulates important events like death and the future just by calling in a favor from your favorite diety. And yet miracles are part of the fundamental (pun intended) fabric of at least three of the current major world religions- Christianity, Hinduism, and Judaism.

Although organized religion leaves a bad taste in my mouth, I find that I can in some sense respect the conservative fundamentalists of any religion. These conservatives by God hold unequivocally to their ancient beliefs, be it Christianity’s virgin birth and transubstantiation (tantamount to cannibalism!), the parting of the water by Moses, etc. On the other hand, I hold little respect for the modern religious revisionists who say something like “We modern (name-your-religion)ists don’t really believe any longer that stories of miracles in the Bible (old or new), Koran, etc. should be taken literally- we now think these stories should be viewed as parables.” But if you take away the miracles in Christianity, I think you’re left with a pretty vacuous religion. Just think of The Book of Matthew, loaded with situations where Jesus had to pull off magic “miracles” to prove he really was the expected saviour.

So as religions go, I prefer one that sticks to its guns about its supernatural beliefs, and essentially says to the world (including all other religions): “One of us is going to hell, and it sure as hell ain’t us.” This type of religion steadfastly maintains its unadulterated beliefs, and doesn’t “cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions” (Lillian Hellman, letter to House Un-American Activities Committee, 1952). Such a fundamentalist religion, although sorely misguided about God (and often also about Science), at least represents a worthy adversary of atheism.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and Atheism

When my son was about 16, he asked me if I was sure that God doesn’t exist. I replied that I was not absolutely certain about this; but that I was also not absolutely certain that no far-off planet is continuously orbited by purple pigs wearing pink tutus. With no evidence for either God or the purple pigs, both seemed to me equally unlikely.

Theists believe, based on faith, that God is everywhere, including our bodies and minds. Can we atheists ever believe in the presence within us of something(s) that we not only can’t detect, but is not even a constituent of our physical bodies? Dark matter and dark energy are good candidates for just such entities. The normal matter-energy in the universe (our bodies and everything else we can detect) is a tiny fraction (c. 4%) of the total matter-energy. The rest is about 23% dark (no interaction with light) matter and 73% dark energy (which pushes the universe to expand). Both dark matter and dark energy permeate our galaxy and hence us, but have no apparent physical effects on us. So if these entities don’t directly affect us, why should we believe in them? Because recent astrophysical observations of the universe have yielded strong evidence for the existence of both dark matter and dark energy. If equally good evidence for either God or the purple pigs were produced, then I would believe in either (or both) of them.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Proof that Richard Dawkins is God

The “proofs” of the existence of God are both fun and funny. It’s not easy to choose the most amusing one, but one of my favorites is the Ontological Argument. Since St. Anselm proposed it in 1078, this argument has often been restated. Descartes provided a concise statement of one version of this pretty devious and murky proof (

1. I have an idea of a supremely perfect being, i.e., a being having all perfections.

2. Necessary existence is a perfection.

3. Therefore, a supremely perfect being exists.

This argument (and others for God’s existence) has been discussed recently by Richard Dawkins in his excellent book The God Delusion (pp. 8O ff). So I would like to present my own devious ontological proof that Dawkins himself is God. I realize my proof contains logical holes, but probably no more than any of the proofs for the existence of a god(s):

1. Dawkins has shown that God is a delusion.

2. But if God did exist, he/she would be the most supremely perfect being.

3. By #2 in the Descartes proof above, existence is a prerequisite for perfection, so God comes up short on that score.

4. But If God did exist, he could certainly sway many minds.

5. In his books, Dawkins has swayed many minds.

6. Since Dawkins clearly both does mind-swaying and exists, he is more perfect than God, and so must actually be God.