Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Midnight on the Border of Science and Religion

Verb: To Be God (tr, inf)

I am God
You (s) are God
He, She, It is God
We are God
You (pl) are God
They are God
I fondly remember the day I lost my Christianity. It was February 29th 1984. Not three years ago, I had won the Divinity exam. I got to choose my prize. It was an Usborne Book of Science. Perhaps the seeds were sown then. Maybe it was just a matter of time before faith was shown to be an answer without a reason. Why are we here? God. Why do bad things happen? God. Is there life after death? Yes. An eternity of talking to God and watering pot plants.

Then there was the whole God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit thing. While the Three-in-One idea was a nice line, I had discovered that the idea was stolen off the Greek Hecateae. A closer inspection of God the Father revealed some serious flaws. All fathers are men (this was the '80s when this still held true). All men have penises. Therefore, God must have a penis. Where was God's penis? Did God get laid? Was God circumcised? Who was God's doctor? etc. Such is the level of early-pubescent philosophy. Crude but valid.

The old man presented me with a Bible when I was 12. Jesus' words were in red type, and they were the most interesting things in the whole damned book. I could dig Jesus. Let's just, y'know, get along. Jesus was a hippy, the first popular Slacker Jew. The Old Testament thundered with blood, gore, senselessness and way too many begats. The New Testament started OK but ended with what I many years later discovered was a big plate of shrooms.

The Holy Spirit was the most mysterious and therefore most interesting part of the Trinity. This force seemed so ethereal and pervasive, it rendered God the Father and God the Son altogether irrelevant. Whichever way I sliced it though, the scale was all wrong. The concept of the Judeo-Christian God was just too small. Too finite. If the Holy Spirit existed, it wasn't limited by whether someone coveted thy neighbour's ass. Wrong name.

So the search for the Holy Spirit has been replaced with a search for the This. Not that I'll ever discover what This is. I'll be content to sample some of the qualities of This. For statistical purposes, I call the pursuit Jedi. Others call it Bright. Whatever. Same thing, different name.

Intellectual masturbation aside, the whole God argument has more practical considerations. Up until Sept 11, I had considered China and America to be the most likely flashpoint, probably over Taiwan. But standing in an Airlie Beach pub in 2001 watching two dozen TVs showing the same thing at different angles, with two dozen nationalities weeping or shivering around me, the probabilities changed. And I was scared.

No wonder there are people sheltering under whatever illusory protection they can find. Only now are the Better the Devil You Know political incumbencies are starting to fall. The NZ housing market is still pumping. And the lure of a deterministic outcome through religion or bad science is seductive.

Consider the myth that underscores economic theory: ceteris paribus. Let us pretend all other things are held constant despite all evidence to the contrary. Like dividing infinities in calculus, the method is dodgy. Yet it is swallowed with the same presumptive ignorance that the Jesus freaks are accused of. Consider String Theory, which isn't strictly speaking a theory at all. A theory must be falsifiable. Science, at its heart, is the art of the falsifiable. While string theory is art, it may not be science. Even so, I can't help for wishing for it to be true.

Which is exactly the line being spun by the governmental quacks, albeit in more prosaic areas. The Anti-Science brigade isn't limited to the Yanks. The UK Telegraph has a good piece on how the Brit wonks bend science reports to fit the policy. There are sure signs that the same thing is happening here. Prof David Fergusson's longitudinal study has recently shown how evidence sharply contrasts with policy aims and public perception. And I believe it. I have anecdotal proof.

But at the end of the day, you can't ignore Bertrand Russell's warning in The Scientific Outlook back in 1933. The same pitfalls of religion blight the path of science, leading to an evolutionary cul-de-sac. I doubt, therefore I think. Or, to paraphrase Bertrand Russell from another time, there will never be a way to prove that the whole of existence didn't come into being five minutes previously. The possibility will always exist.