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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A friend and I got into a conversation about god that other night. We are continuing the conversation over email and I thought I would share my last email as it pretty much sums up my views on god.

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>don’t see any difference between god and religion

I think that is the statement that I take issue with.

Religion is the most successful business of all time. Some people obviously need what they are selling - and I think that is fair enough. Generally religion teaches good principles (don't kill, etc...).

But God? God has nothing to do with religion. It's like saying God and Wal-mart are the same thing. ...I guess I have to define god. ...I would say: "some energy or purpose greater then ourselves." Ironically, I think the selfish gene talks about god. ie: your genes have a purpose beyond yourself. It is not survival of the fittest being, but survival of the fittest gene. Are genes "alive"?

Was the universe created? Yes. In the same sense that mountains and oceans where created. "By who" may or may not be a reasonable question, but it was certainly created - and we will NEVER know what happened before creation. It is impossible. As Stephen Hawking says, "What lies north of the north pole?" Anything pre-big bang is...meaningless.

Five scientific facts that make me think there is something "greater then myself":

1) The universe was not always here. At one point, there was nothing - not even time existed. Nothing. Not a single atom. Why does the universe exist at all? If there was nothing - how did it come to exist? How could "something" have happened?

2) The universe is big. Billions and billions of - GALAXIES. So big that it is not actually humanly possible to comprehend. However, it has limits. Either: a) The universe has a barrier after which there is simply nothing. This implies that mass can escape the universe. b) the universe folds back on itself (a lot of current mathematical models are based on this assumption). If the universe does fold back on itself, then that means that - if you have really really really good vision - you could look out any point (in the mathematical sense - make the point as small as you want) and see the entire universe, including earth as it existed 100 billion light years ago (so, light escaping earth 100 billion years ago would be wrapping around the universe and hitting earth again).

3) DNA. Impossibly small blueprints for creating things far more sophisticated than anything man has ever made. Self-replication alone. As a feature, this has never been accomplished by our species (by far the most technically advanced species we know of). How was this accomplished by...atoms smashing together in just the right way? Also, if it was just atoms smashing together in just the right way, then why has it not been accomplished in another way? All self-replicating things have DNA. A double helix. A-C-G-T pairs. Why a helix? Why not a circle for some and a square for others? ...the atoms are not very creative.

3) Quarks. The entire universe is made of four basic materials (ultimately, I believe this will be narrowed down to 1). Materials that are so small they are - again - beyond our comprehension as human beings. Why does the physics of these materials allow so much diversity in the universe.

4) Anti-particles and black-holes. Small and large version of the same thing? There is enough mystery in these two phenomena alone to suggest something bigger then ourselves. Dark Matter + Dark Energy? ...explain that one!

5) Life goes on. You are 50% your father and 50% your mother. 25% of 4 grand parents. 12.5% of 8 great grand parents. Following this chain leads to infinity - or at least to the beginning of life on this planet. What is the difference between this and reincarnation? ...life after death?

For me, these five points lead to two questions which I can only answer with a belief in god:

1) What if god is an expression of the laws of physics? Why are the laws of physics...laws? Are the laws of physics an "energy or purpose greater then ourselves"?

2) Am I "more significant" then a rock? If you believe you are more significant then a rock, this implies you believe in god. Otherwise, you and the rock are just a collection of atoms. You are equal. For me the answer is yes - I am more significant then a rock. I am alive and the rock is not, therefore, I believe I am more significant. ...of course, I am biased. Maybe if I were a rock, I would see things differently?

Food for thought:
http://earth.google.com/ - check out the "sky" bit.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1jd8AgjP9k - powers of 10 video.

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Comments:

 
This post is sort of interesting to me, because at the time I read it I had just finished a class on the topic of creation/"intelligent design" vs. evolution and I had just begun reading a book that made me ask, or maybe consider, virtually the same question that you ask in #1 of the two questions at the bottom.

I don't necessarily have anything to ask or to add, but someone I know pointed me to a website that supposedly has credible scientific evidence for creation. The man responsible for the site has written a book laying everything out, and while you can buy the book in the print version it is available online for free
(no registration or anything either). I thought I'd share the link with you and see what your thoughts were on it. I haven't actually had the time to read through it myself, so I'm not endorsing it or anything, just thought I'd pass it along. If you do decide to have a look, I'd like to know what you thought...

 
1. Your statement implies a temporal dimension, although you specifically say that some time ago, even time didn't exist. This is the problem: if you think of the universe as a whole including time itself, it doesn't have to have a cause for its existence. To parallelize (based on St. Hawinkg's idea), let's say North pole of Earth is the beginning of time: it's special only if you are looking at the meridians of the Earth (its polar axis); if you look at the parallels (or at the sphere itself) North pole is just a normal point on the sphere. Just like that maybe big bang isn't something special; we see it special just because we sense time, and if we were out of time maybe it would have been a standard point.

2-3. Self replication and diversity of life and universe is something explainable by randomeness and if you insist, the antropic principle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropic_principle): maybe there are infinite parallel universes that do not touch each other, each having different physics laws, but just in this universe (and a small set of others) intelligent people can ask about life and why it exists. In this case there is nothing special about life or the diversity in the universe: it's just a random thing in many things. We can think of the universe as the set of all the smaller universes with different properties (some with life, and the many remaining, without), and in this case we don't have any special case for our universe.

4. Anti-particles, black holes, etc. are just concepts with nice names. They may be just output of the universal laws and again, they can be considered as not very special things.

5. Reincarnation seen through genetics is a very nice concept - I never thought of it. You are right, there is no conceptual difference between them: but still, why do you consider this to be an important aspect in relation with the believe in God? Of course, many religions have concepts like them (either reincarnation or other type of life after death) but this isn't really very important (at least in my opinion) for believing in God or not.

Finally, the point with the comparison between humans and rocks is beautiful. Personally, I believe in God if God is the whole universe (in other words I believe in the universe itself), but still, I'm comparing myself with a rock: maybe all what I do, what I say, even what I think (or what I write here) are just random things in this universe, and that I don't actually control myself. I don't want to BELIEVE that I'm beter than a rock, cause I don't know for sure (and even if I would believe that, maybe that would still be a random law physics making me believe :-)).

Still, discussing these things is always interesting! I hope I didn't destroy anyone's optimism with my post.

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