Open Letter to TheNoize

by

A commenter on Digg called TheNoize asks:

I would assume religious freaks would WANT to see the christian cross broken and turned upside down – after all, it’s the torture device where Jesus was nailed and brutally killed. Why would anyone use that as a symbol of their love for Jesus? It’s completely nonsensical.

I reply:

You need to listen more to what Christians really believe.

Hint: Christ’s suffering is what makes our redemption possible. Why would we want to ignore that?

(Of course, my comment was buried because I didn’t represent the groupthink there, but that’s a different issue.)

In the interest of actually answering the sincere questions I believe TheNoize was asking, let me try to continue the conversation here.

There are several points of argument.

First, TheNoize asserts that Christianity is crazy.

Maybe you need to listen more to the clear indicators that christianity is coocoo and makes no sense in a world where science has figured out a lot more about the Universe than all religions put together.

My rebuttal is that if he thinks Christianity is crazy, then he doesn’t understand Christianity. Billions of people believe in Christianity, and they can’t all be insane. (Assuming, of course, that sane people tend not to believe insane things.)

He doubts my figures; very well, let me show them. The current best estimate is about 2.1 billion Christians. This is likely a lower figure than the actual number, because of the strictness of the data set. (reference: http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html)

He tries to assert that I used argumentum ad populum, which would be the case if I asserted that Christianity were true because billions of people say so. That wasn’t my assertion. My assertion was that it’s unlikely something is crazy is billions of people believe it, since the population who believes in it is likely not crazy.

I figure this matter is closed, unless he wants to continue discussing it. It’s up to him to show how Christianity can be considered crazy despite the fact that billions of people believe in it. His assertion that billions of people have been wrong is a good start, but there is still more work to do.

Second, he asserts that Christians “are the least educated people in physics, astronomy, chemistry and biology.” My rebuttal was that I have a BS in Physics, minor in Math, and consider myself a Christian. (Thus refuting that the “least educated” are Christians. I am certainly not the least educated person.) I figure this topic is closed, unless he wants to try and defend the assertion that “generally, Christians are less educated than non-Christians.” I’d be happy to take that topic on. I believe atheism is a religion for the intellectually lazy, so it would be a fun debate.

The next section deals with some of the ideas I have about Christianity and science and how they complement each other. I think he missed some of the ideas I have, and I owe it to him to see that he has a correct understanding of what I believe.

Point one: The fundamental assumptions of science.

Me: “Point one: The universe is ordered and logical because God said so. There can be no other reason, because then you have circular reasoning. Using logic and reason to prove logic and reason is circular reasoning. (The same applies in so many other sciences: you start with a basic assumption and then run with it. The correct set of assumptions are the assumptions God gives us.)”

TheNoize: The universe is by no means ordered and logical, according to science. It’s actually mind-blowingly chaotic, in ways no human can understand (our brains are structured to organize information in order to understand patterns, and use them to survive). It’s not by circular reasoning – it starts with no reasoning, just observation. “Seeing is believing”. But you’re right, religion departs from a dogma imposed by the church – science stars with objective observation, and then formulates theories, not according to a book – but according to measurable, observable reality. Doesn’t that sound more reliable to you?

There are really two kinds of chaos. One kind of chaos is the assumption that the universe is not governed by any logical laws. The other is the idea of logical chaos, ie, unpredictable and dramatically varying results based on minute changes to initial conditions.

I don’t believe that you believe that the universe follows no law. In fact I think you are arguing that what you observe does indeed reflect the nature of reality, and that experiments should be repeatable, with no time or space variance. (Meaning, the laws of nature don’t change based on your position in time or space.)

My original point is that science starts with the assumption that the universe follows laws, one of the first laws being that things must be logical, that we can observe reality, that our observations can be used to deduce the laws of nature. The predictions that science has made have been remarkably accurate, so much so that it is obvious to any observer that making these assumptions was a really, really good guess.

Note that this idea is new! Throughout history, mankind has not assumed that nature is a logical thing. Indeed, people have long assumed that violent, emotional gods governed the motions and processes of nature. It is only the religion of Christianity, which teaches that God follows logic, and that God rules the universe through logical laws, that modern science began. In other words, the assumptions that lead to science were directly from the teachings of Christianity.

In answer to TheNoize’s question, no, I don’t think what he believes in is more reliable.

Point Two: Science is the study of God.

Me: “Point two: Science is the study of the universe, or in other words, the study of God’s handiwork. By understanding the laws that God has set down and that govern the universe, you come to understand science. Hence, science is, originally, a uniquely Christian pursuit. All of the great founders of science were Christian who believed God wasn’t lying. I believe any scientist who is honestly pursuing truth, and willing to accept the truth no matter what it may be, is doing God’s work. (If only every scientist were an angel…)”

TheNoize: I partially agree, because a lot of scientists were religious in a time when almost everyone was.

If you’re trying to say that modern science developed in a time when men were generally Christian, not because of it, I will argue with you. The entire reason why science was developed into the form which we understand it today is because religious people, Christians, were trying to study and learn more about God and his Creation.

You can turn back the clock to many moments in history when science could have, and according to many atheists, should have, developed, but at each of those times it sputtered. Why? Well, you can invent one reason or another, but I believe it is because none of those cultures were dominated by a religion that not only believed in logic, but necessarily assumed that the universe conformed to this belief. In essence, without Christianity, modern science would never have been invented.

Point three: Science can only show facts, and cannot deliver absolute truth about explanations.

Me:“Point three: Science, at best, can only show facts. While we may invent explanations of those facts, we can never tell which explanation is true.”

TheNoize: Well, those facts are clarified by more facts. Explanations are based on facts – the more facts science discovers, the closer it gets to the real explanation, and therefore the universal reality.

Me: “Even if we recorded and documented every event in the history of the universe, we would never arrive at one obvious truth that describes everything.”

TheNoize: How do you know that?

I don’t disagree that more facts brings better explanations (by eliminating incorrect ones.) But I question where the end will be: At some future day will we possess all knowledge of the universe through observation and reason? I don’t think that’s a reasonable assumption. I’d challenge TheNoize to show why he thinks there is an end to knowledge, because as far as I can see, all signs point to infinite knowledge in the universe.

Imagine a sphere that represented all of human knowledge. The inside of the sphere is what we know, and the outside of the sphere what we don’t know. The surface of the sphere represents what we know we don’t know. As that sphere grows, will it ever envelop everything? No. We do know, however, as the sphere grows, our knowledge of what we don’t know yet increases.

I believe that knowledge is infinite, and that infinite knowledge can only be possessed by an infinite being, which we are not (in this mortal state.)

Me:“We use things like Occam’s Razor to prefer one explanation over another, but there is nothing that says that the simplest explanation must be the best.”

TheNoize: Occam’s razor only steps in when you’re truly confused about which explanation is more factual and makes more sense… That rarely happens in science. You usually have at least 1 theory that has been more supported – and historically, that theory is usually the one that ends up being true!

Unfortunately, I think some of your ignorance about scientific ignorance is showing. It is not the case that on the leading edge of science there is obviously one correct theory. As an example, can you count on one hand the number of perfectly reasonable GUTs? Not to count String Theory, with all of its variations.

Popular media would have you believe that evolution and the big bang are settled science, and that no reasonable person can disagree with these theories. If that’s the case, why are we still studying these things? There are countless variations on these theories alone, and any honest scientist who supports these theories knows this. Much of the details of these theories are known to be incorrect, and demand more understanding, theories, and experiments to clarify.

If we take a broader view, science has to exclude a ton of explanations because they are simply not testable. One explanation that science can’t work with is, “God wanted it that way.” If the universe were really ruled by the whims of an infinite being, then this could be the ultimate explanation. But science is powerless to determine if this is the case or not. How would you test to see if reality aligned with an infinite being’s whim of the day?

Me:“Explanations (theories) are either right or wrong, and that’s all we can really say. “Yes, it agrees with observations,” or, “No, it does not agree with observations.”

Isn’t that brilliant? That means you’ll only believe something if you have facts to back it up. How mentally sane and stable is that?

I don’t know how you made the jump from what I said to what you claimed I said. I’d need more explanation.

I would normally leave these kinds of arguments out of a reasonable discussion, but I want to help you understand why these kinds of remarks aren’t helpful, and certainly don’t reflect well on your attitudes to science. The word “polemic” is worth remembering. Normally, scientists immediately give up arguing the moment polemic enters the discussion. Be grateful I decided to continue the discussion despite your polemic.

Point Four: Science is not worthy of religious worship.

Me:“Point four: Science is an imperfect art, so the conclusions of science are no more worthy of worship than idols made of gold or stone. Only perfection (God) is worthy of our worship. Therefore, even if you could prove to me something that contradicted God’s word, I would say, “Yes, that’s what the evidence points to, but I still believe in God.” In other words, people who “believe” in science the same way I believe in God are worshiping dumb idols.”

TheNoize: Science is imperfect? How about religion? What’s more perfect? A castle solidly build out of facts, or a palace on a cloud of assumptions that were vaguely extracted from ancient, outdated scripture, that we have no evidence to be actually the word of a God?

(In response to point two, but really about this point.) But my question to you is: how do you cope when science finds things that are different than what religion found to be true? List of true discoveries that took a while (or are still taking) for religion to accept: round earth, earth not the center of the universe, earth orbiting the sun, bats not being birds, evolution and natural selection. I remind you that, before the church admitted their errors, it tortured and killed innocent people who defended the scientific truth, for hundreds of years. Doesn’t that make you sad? To be associated with such an institution?

A castle built on facts alone is a castle without a foundation. Why are facts a foundation? You cannot say with facts alone. You need something more to explain why facts are a valid building material.

Religion is not based on assumption. Or do you think Moses was assuming while God was conversing with him on the mount? Do you think Jesus was conjecturing when he spoke with authority and declared, “I only do that which the Father commands me to do.” Do you think I assumed that I knelt down in sincere prayer, and received a response from God?

Religion is based on simply believing what we are told by God, his book, and his prophets and messengers. If you believe, then you will act according to what you are taught. If the thing is truly from God, then it will be proved true, according to God’s word. If not, then you will know likewise.

When science teaches something contrary to religion, what do I do? I investigate what God’s word really says. I ask God what his opinion on the matter is. I put my trust in God, not my brains, not anyone else’s brains, or eyes, or machines, but God. I know that eventually, I will find a way to resolve the difference, either through a better understanding of who God really is, or a better understanding of what science really says. But my assumption starts with God, and ends with science, not the other way around.

It is possible for me, a person who believes evolution to be incorrect, to do scientific work in the realm of evolution. In a way, science is a game with rules. As long as you follow the rules (and worshiping the theories of science is not a rule!) you can play the game. Many scientists do this every day. In fact, I have seen scientists play both for and against their own theories.

Point Five: Science does not give me what my soul needs.

Me:“Point five: The parts of my life that are important are my soul, my happiness, and my eternal salvation. Science provides me no more comfort than a car or food. My soul hungers for the companionship of Deity, and science can never satisfy that.”

TheNoize: My soul finds awe and respect for the Universe in science, and that satisfies my spirituality. Spirituality and religion have been tied to the belief that YOUR beliefs are true and correct, eternally. What better, more fact-based faith can you have, besides science? The parts of my life that are important is my positive influence in the world, my happiness, and the people I love. You’re more focused on eternal salvation in your next life (that may or may not exist) than being a good man in this world? I don’t think that’s very positive, or moral, or ethical.

Here, you’re making the fallacy of what’s good enough for you is good enough for me. You also don’t understand what all my religion entails, so you can’t render a judgment on whether I need it or not.

Me:There is so much more to life than the universe around us. We are more than meatbags that happen to have interesting electrical patterns in our skulls. Science doesn’t tell me that.

TheNoize: Sure, there’s philosophy. Why are we here? What’s our purpose? Science seeks answers to answer, ultimately, those questions as well. We don’t know the answer yet, because we don’t have enough information. That doesn’t mean we have to assume it’s all in the good book, and stop caring for studying our universe. That would be insane. Meat bags? Sure, we’re meat bags – but isn’t it amazing how we evolved out of single cell organisms and protein chains that started replicating in the primordial seas? It doesn’t seem like it was god – it seems like it was the universe itself, and we’re merely a part of the way it works. Why? Nothing can tell you that, because no one knows the truth. Religion can pretend to give you the truth – and you can believe in it 100% – but that doesn’t mean it’s the truth! If you know history (and philosophy), you still have to include the possibility that you’re believing in lies.

“Science seeks answers to answer, ultimately, [the questions of why we are here and what is our purpose] as well.” Unfortunately, no, this is not in the realm of science. I challenge you to find a scientist who believes that science can answer these questions. I doubt you could even put these questions in scientific terms, as a testable hypothesis or theory.

“Isn’t it amazing how we evolved out of single cell organisms and protein chains that started replicating in the primordial seas?” Unfortunately, I do not share your belief that this is where we came from, and even if I did, what would be more “amazing” is the powers of the infinite that have created the universe moved to create mankind in his own image. The product of lifeless processes are not amazing. They just are.

“Nothing can tell you that, because no one knows the truth.” Here’s where you’re wrong. If you assume no one knows the truth, then why bother? We’re all wrong. I assume that there are people that know the truth, and they are the people who are able to gather the truth from God himself.

“Religion can pretend to give you the truth.” False religion can absolutely pretend to do anything, kind of like the science religion you preach. True religion is based on truth, and truth alone, and does not need to pretend to be anything.

“If you know history (and philosophy), you still have to include the possibility that you’re believing in lies.” You think I am ignorant of this? Honestly, who do you think you are talking to? One of the points I hope I inspired you to consider is that there are other people with different ideas who may be just as smart as you. I would hope someone of your intellectual capacity would realize that just as you are smarter than others, there are people smarter than you. And just as there are smart people who have different ideas, then there are smarter people who have different ideas.

But to answer your question, the very, very first doctrine any Christian must adopt is the doctrine that allows them to see truth from error (or lies.) What gives them the power to do this? Their connection to God, and his personal revelation to them through the Holy Ghost. If you spent more than a few moments reading what Jesus actually taught, and how his disciples actually learned, you would know this.

Now that I have thoroughly explained to you how a sane person can believe in Christianity and be a scientist, the ball is in your court. You can apologize for your polemic and grow up and acknowledge that there are people smarter than you who do not think the way you do, and you can begin attacking Christians on the things they actually believe, rather than the things you wished they believed. Or you can persist in ignorance, although I imagine you would think less of someone who did so.

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