Rational Religion

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Diddling Over Small Dots


You have to believe in something larger than yourself?


How much bigger do you want than the Universe? Everything that's out there!


Do you have to have mysteries? 


How about the Eternal Mystery of the Great Unknown?  We have empirical evidence that everything we learn leads to a myriad more questions.


Do you need the comfort of believing that somebody is in charge?


I'm not sure I can help you, there, if you mean by "somebody" a sort of superhuman intelligence which watches over you like an omnipotent angel; protecting; rewarding; punishing, if need be.  There are a lot of theologies for you, all of which promise immediate results.  If you look for it, you can find plenty of evidence that yours is working exactly like you need it to...


If you are of a more objective bent; don't require a "hands-on" deity but still need an "intelligent" first cause, I can come closer.


Don't be misled by the fact that everything seems to work like a marvelously wound-up clock.    That's post hoc reasoning, and it's the trap that the Seventeenth and Eighteenth century "Age of Reason" philosophers fell into.  They actually thought that god was dead because they were on the threshold of understanding a perfectly mechanistic universe.  


God is not dead.  Dead is something that once was alive.  There may be god, but it is a great deal different than anybody imagines it to be:  So different that “alive” and “dead” are not concepts which apply.


I am bemused by the intellectual gymnastics of highly intelligent persons who admit they can't "prove" much except some dimly distant "first cause", yet use that as an excuse to cleave to some ritualistic body of mythology which they know has been made up out of thousands of years of apocryphal stories...based mostly on ignorance of the physics and chemistry of the "real" universe. 


The accepted rationale of these thinkers is that the Universe is so complex...and its laws and constraints are so finely tuned...that it inconceivable that it should have arisen without a plan.  And because "this is so," why not go to church and pray and tithe and act like a normal human being?  


Blessings on thee.  Unless your particular sect also demands you cause mischief and misery to your physical and social environment.  Then you should go to hell, and the more promptly the better for all the rest of us.


I have seen a theoretical argument, I believe first advanced by Tielhard de Chardin, that makes use of a narrow (glass?) tube filled with one hundred grains of sand  -- fifty black ones on the bottom and fifty white ones on the top.  If one dumps them all out in a bowl, then pours them back into the tube without sorting, how long will it take -- how many operations -- to return from a random gray column to the original configuration?


The tediousness of this task is cited as "evidence" that the Universe -- with its many more than hundreds of billions of variables all tamed and winding along in their allotted spheres of influence -- could not have arisen "by chance."


Analogies of this sort are specious and, forgive me Tielhard, simpleminded.    They are in the same intellectual camp as the notion of putting a finite number of chimpanzees to work on a finite number of word processors and trying to calculate how long it would take them to produce the 38 (or so) plays of William Shakespeare.   


They are reasoning, of course, from the wrong end of the problem.   Before he did it, what do you suppose was the probability that Shakespeare would write those 37 or 38 plays?  One of them?


Looking at the complexity of even a cubic foot of meadow (See Gray's "Flower In a Crannied Wall.") - and only at the life therein -- one is overwhelmed by the sheer number of variables.  You could spend entire human lifetimes trying to figure out all the connections, without ever getting outside that miserable chunk of sod.


The only thing you can learn investigating particulars is the ever-deeper subtleties of the particulars.  This is often extremely useful, as in medical research or chemical experimentation, but it is of very little help in constructing a rational, philosophical picture of the Universe at large. 


Reasoning from the small picture to the large, you will always become overwhelmed by the data and mired in the details.


Having denigrated analogy, I will now use one...as a demonstration of the futility of trying to construct a cosmology along the lines of Tielhard's tube of sand. 


Think of yourself; the complex, impossibly arcane thing that is the living you; with all the genes and years of influence that have made you what you are this moment.


Then imagine the landscape a few moments before your conception. 


Put aside the random reality of the single ovarian egg which had chanced at that time to be available (in one of a pair of fallopian tubes) for fertilization and concentrate only on the legion of competing sperm, swimming frantically toward their goal. 


Mathematically, what do you suppose is the probability that any one of them would have succeeded?  How many millions to one?


And you well know, from looking at the variation within observable families, or your own brothers and sisters, how different you might have been if the one that made it had been some other one. 


But the question is moot, isn't it?  The deed is done.  You are who you are, courtesy of that one fantastic chance, and modulated by the years of being subjected to your environment. 


Before the moment of conception; millions to one odds.  After that moment, it's an out bet.  Fait accompli in a phase change. No more speculation on what might happen...just deal with the genes we've got.


If you believe in an omnipotently meddling god, you have no problem.  You became you because god willed it and the mystery is solved.


If you are of the "first cause" bent, your answer is a little less precise.  There are too many "why's" and "how's" floating around out there, demanding resolution. 


If you adhere to a Rational Religion, the problem is easier. 


Our biology, like the rest of physics and chemistry, obeys certain laws.  (Never mind who or what formulated the laws.  They are there.  All else is speculation.)


Anything which does not obey those laws doesn't exist very long, whether it is a non-viable combination of nucleic acids or a piece of asteroid wandering in a wildly eccentric orbit through space.  "Very long" is of course highly variable.  For the biochemical glitch it may be a lifetime of milliseconds.  For the errant rock it may be eons.  But eventually both will tend to cross paths with some physical reality which will obliterate them.


How much damage they collaterally do to whatever they collide with depends on their toxicity or relative mass. 


But the Universe exists as it does simply because anything which doesn't follow the rules has already been obliterated. 


Anything in the immediate neighborhood, that is...Almost anything.    The very lately realized fact that there are rocks wandering around out there that are big enough to snuff out human civilization in one crash -- and that an alarming number of them are whizzing by close enough to worry about -- should put to rest all that specious reasoning from the viewpoint of a "clockwork universe". 


At any rate, our local part of the Universe only works fairly smoothly because it has ground up everything that doesn't work, already.  Almost everything.


And you are you (in part) because your conception did occur; odds and statistics be damned!  It happened.  Paradox resolved!


If it had not, you wouldn’t be reading this.