Monday, August 16, 2010

Is it rational to be an atheist?

So asks Gideon Slifkin. In doing so, he attempts to make an equivalence between string theory and the existence of God:
"The universe we live in is one great mystery. Until that mystery is solved, theorizing God, Strings or refusing to Theorize at all is all about the same. Either way, you are stuck in an absurd mystery, and there's not a lot you can do about it. Except Theorize. Or not. "
One hundred years ago, one might have made a similar statement regarding relativity. But the effects of relativity were soon experimentally verified. Indeed, before Arthur Eddington tested Einstein's theory of general relativity via the bending of star light during a solar eclipse, the latter was asked what he would think if Eddington's measurements failed to support his theory, Einstein replied "Then I would have felt sorry for the dear Lord. The theory is correct."

During subsequent decades one might have made a similar statement regarding quantum mechanics. Yet we can observe many quantum phenomena, such as quantum strangeness (Feynman included the double slit experiment as one example), entanglement (action at a distance), etc.

Relativity and quantum mechanics are still mysterious and non-intuitive, and perhaps will always be. Yet we take for granted practical applications that utilize both of these ideas, such as GPS units and devices that rely on electron tunneling (VLSI chips, microscopes, etc.)

Using string theory is a red herring, since it is a theory in its infancy, is currently untestable, and may in fact have no predictive value!

Gideon's error is that God is simply not a scientific postulate. It is not predictive, nor is it falsifiable. Even the argument "Does God exist?" is framed as an evidence-based argument, for when we use the term "exist" we generally mean something along the lines of "is it testable via scientific means". God is a faith-based idea, and thus a pure materialist has no basis for believing in God.

5 comments:

MKR said...

Even the argument "Does God exist?" is framed as an evidence-based argument, for when we use the term "exist" we generally mean something along the lines of "is it testable via scientific means".

Well, for starters, that's not an argument; that's a question. For another, what we may "generally" mean when we ask a question of the form "Does X exist?" does not necessarily show what we mean when we ask that question for a particular X. For instance, the question "Does an even prime number exist?" is a perfectly respectable existential question having nothing to do with scientific testing, unless you consider a priori proof to be a kind of scientific testing.

Anyway, it is not clear to me how this bears on the question in your (and GS's) title.

Frum Heretic said...

OK, admittedly I was a little off in how I phrased it. It should have been something like "Even the arguments in response to the question 'Does God exist?' starts off with an evidence based question."

The title is the same as GS's; I was only responding to what I still think to be a bogus comparison that he introduced.

2 is an even prime number.

MC Complete said...

Morality isn't predictive or falsifiable. For that matter, logic isn't really falsifiable either, since you can only falsify something using logic, which is circular. So logic is faith-based. And since science depends on logic, science is ultimately faith-based too.

jewish philosopher said...

Do extraterrestrial intelligent beings exist? If we found radio signals showing signs of purposefulness coming from another star, then we could say yes.

Does God exist? Since we find many natural phenomena showing purposefulness, such as the eye, heart, knee, etc, then we can say yes.

Anonymous said...

But a 'pure materialist' has only self-referencial basis for believing in material. It's non-contingent is postulated to believe everything else derives from it or can be reduced to it and its behavior, one way or another. It's quite valid to do so - given their presuppositions. Certain Buddhists regard the state of being known as Satori to be the radically non-contingent, while the ancient Greeks believed Kaos/Okeanos to be that from which all else, even the Gods and Titans derive from.