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This Blog used to be about the question: What is Science?
Now, it asks: What is Happiness?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

God Van Winkel & the Long Vacation

Having promised all of last week to 'prove that God cannot exist and then show how we can create God' I must now be true to my promise.

There is a key precursor to my treatise as follows.

I am writing from a jungle paradise called Nairobi, Kenya. It is a land where probably 99.9% of folk are religious and hence believe fervently in the existence of a super being who is all powerful, all knowing and all good. Judging by the number of families who turn up well dressed at the local mall at about midmorning on a Sunday, I can only conclude that church and religion fulfill a crucial set of needs for many people here. Thus it would not be a positive action to simply negate the very real role that faith and its expression have in the lives of so many. Thus I present these words in good faith, hoping that it may be a seed that stirs more questions in a climate of minimal emotional distress.
Of course the counter to that perspective is the question of why I am so sensitive about affording the same right or ability to others to ask intellectual questions as I do to myself! Surely what is good enough for me is good enough for everyone else?

In my argument for the necessary non-existance of supernatural beings I am convinced that I have certain responsibilties. I should propose alternatives to replace the positive and social aspects of religion and be seen to be contributing to a better world for all. I should understand and promote a sensitivity to the neuropsychological realities that play themselves out in the way we as different human beings relate to reality.

At a recent lecture, Daniel Dennet, the atheist philosopher, was asked what atheist groups could do to best stem the criticism they receive from the religious quarter. He answered, "Tithe".

That being said, I hereby apologise to anyone who may be offended in whatever way by anything that I should say in this blog, or any future publication or speech by me for now and eternity.

The challenge with the existence or non-existence of supernatural beings is that the practice of the belief systems (some good, some not so good) that are in their name(s) are entirely linked to the 'reality' of their existence. It is thus difficult to argue for the non existance of supernatural beings without being seen to be condemning the social practice of religion.

But, that is precisely what I am obliged to do. I am convinced that intellectually at least, the fundamental problem with all religions is the idea that the existence of their supreme being(s) is real. It is precisely this aspect which makes it so easy for the extremes that flow from religious belief to exist. Great deeds of good and self sacrifice coexist under the same banners as the most dastardly evil ever committed by man. It has seldom happened that genocide or civil war has been justified under the banner of atheism, but from time immemorial global conflicts have and still do bear the label of religious idealism.

There is a clear cut difference between the state of belief or faith and the opinions that arise from it. We see too often how unquestioning faith in a super natural force can lead ordinary people to have unwavering opinions about the moral and human rights of others, whether they be women, homosexuals or just not sharing the same beliefs. It is this dangerous leap from faith to misguided action that I am condemning.

I am persuaded of the need to write this posting by 2 major events in the scientific world.
The first is the imminent full power turning on of of the LHA at CERN in Switzerland. The Large Hadron Accelerator has taken 10 billion US$ and 15 years in the making. What on earth can justify this?
The same question was asked of Michael Faraday, the father of practical electricity. His answer to the politician asking was 'I don't know, but one day you will tax it.'

Basically, the LHA bangs together very small subatomic particles in an effort to recreate the conditions of the Big Bang. The first conclusion we can make from this is that in the scientific community there is really no doubt that there was an intial event of sorts that we call, The Big Bang. If not, the 10 billion $ would never have materialized. Somebody had to believe in the basic premise of the LHA before giving that kind of money.

So how do we know that there was some kind of intial event? Easy. It has been conclusively shown by solid evidence that the universe that we can see is expanding. It is flying out rapidly in all directions. No matter where you are everything that you can see is moving away from you. This is like the surface of a balloon as you blow it up. Every point is moving away from the others as it expands. Well, if we work backwards then it is obvious that at some stage the universe must have been very very small. In fact, so small that everything that we know had to be squashed up into a space that was getting smaller and smaller all the time. How can this be? Surely there is a limit to the size of space into which everything can fit?

Well, Albert Einstein came to the rescue on this one with his famous equation E=MC2 which shows how matter and energy are just different forms of the same thing. The evidence for this is the atomic bomb which releases huge amounts of energy when enough pressure is put onto solid matter to convert it into pure energy.

It is reliably accepted that the reverse of this happened shortly after the absolute beginning point of the existance of the universe. Somehow a lot of energy was created which then, in a cataclysmic explosion turned into all the matter and energy that we now see in the universe. The purpose of the LHA is recreate the kind of temperature and energy levels that were around at the very beginning so we can understand more about how it all happened. There are a few theories that seem to explain it all, but lack the evidence that comes from good experiments. The LHA is providing just that.

The ultimate aim is to know where we all came from, and is the same question I ask all the time. In a file on my PC I have a family tree tracing my family back 400 years to Sweden, but it’s not enough. I want to know where it ALL started...and why. This is exactly the questions that formal religion attempt to answer, with a simply solution. God(s) made it all and the reason for it can be found in our holy book(s). SImple to understand and once or more a week on your holy day or time, you can get together with like-minded folk who, equally happy to have answered the fundamental questions of existence, can now get on with socializing in a meaningful world.
For a long time scientists had theorized that the universe had come into existence in a fiery ball about 15 billion years ago. Surely there must still be some evidence of that huge explosion? The answer was staring us in the face all the time, but it took what initially appeared to be a background hum in a set of radio telescopes to provide the proof. Try it yourself. Turn your TV onto a non channel area and listen and look at the fizz on the screen. A precentage of that is the distant echo of the Big Bang, coming to our TVs from the edge of the observable universe.

The much famed Hubble Space Telescope brought back startling images of an outer space you and I can only imagine, but could not see as far as the edge of the universe. This is the part that first came into existance and now is so far that it takes light 15 billion years to reach us.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is due to be launched in 2014. It is an orbiting infrared observatory that will complement and extend the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope. It will look much closer to the beginning of time and to hunt for the unobserved formation of the first galaxies, as well as to look inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today.

These two scientific endeavours mean one thing. We are very near to being able to look directly into the creation events that underpin the myths of major religions.
Physicist Stephen Hawking was requested by the Pope to explain how New Physics explained the creation of Life and the Universe. After hearing the evidence, the Pope said that the Catholic Church would accept the theory of evolution of life and the universe, but that the intial moment of creation would have to remain in the hands of God.

What Hawking did not tell him was that as they were speaking substantial work had already been done to explain how the universe and all it represents could have come from nothing. It is called 'Creation ex Nihilo' and stems inevitably from the understanding of a strange and contradictory branch of physics called Quantum Mechanics.
It is this set of hypotheses that amongst others, the scientists at CERN will be attempting to prove with the LHA.

Already there are benefits that you and I experience from the program at CERN. The Internet was created there as was the science that drives almost all medical scanning devices, digital watches and GPS systems.

That is the basic science that allows me the confidence to have alternative evidence based solutions to the problems explained by religions.

It is also the kind of thinking that scientists use that allow me to make a sure argument for the impossibility of the existance of God(s).

I use the term God(s) as it is clear to most that belief by a young person in a particular God or religion is almost exlusively defined by the culture or religious disposition of their family before them. There is no such thing as a Moslem or Christian child, only children from Moslem of Christian families. Take any young person who has a strong faith and imagine them to have been born into a similar family but of different religious persuasion. That child would grow up with the same fervent belief in a totally different set of beliefs. Further, the fact that the faithful of one religion can dismiss the tenets of another as not being true, means that they have a direct understanding of what it feels like to be an atheist. The only difference is that atheists believe in one less religion.

We only have to apply basic logic to the question of the existance of God(s).
For the sake of simplicity I will refer to the Judaic-Moslem-Christian concept of a single male god.

My starting point has to be the concept of God being omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent. (All powerful, All knowing and perfectly good)
God cannot thus be the designer of the universe if any evil exists. That is obvious.

The answer that God created free will is also absurd. It is ridiculous for someone who knows everything and is all powerful to create something that can defy him. It is a solid contradiction. It cannot happen. Either free will exists and God is not all powerful or men are not free. If we accept the latter, that all was created by an all powerful god then we have to accept that it is possible for an all powerful being to exist. Has this all powerful being always existed or did he also come into being at a certain point. If the latter, we must ask, who or what created him. This is the same question that the existance of God is supposed to have answered!

If we say that God has always existed we have to answer some pretty difficult questions about how he in fact moved from a timeless state to one where clearly all events occur in a space and time framework.

Infinity is a hard one to get grips on. But basically it is impossible for an infinite God to act at a particular time. If we look at chance and probability it is clear that given enough time, anything that can happen, will happen. For example, if there is a 1 in 1000 chance of you winning the lottery, and you enter long enough you will win. If there is an infinite amount of time then you must by definition win an infinite number of times. Thus an infinite God must have created an infinite number of universes with an infinite number of humans etc etc. That we are clearly not seeing them implies that no creation occured from an infinite realm.

Maybe then, God just happened somehow to be created from nowhere. He then set out to make a set of laws by which the basic components of his creation would interact and increasingly become more complicated and intelligent. If the rules he made were absolute and fixed then whatever happened thereafter could only have happened as it did. Everything we see right now is the only way it can be. One thing leads to the next not something else. This is known in philosophical circles as 'Determinism'.

How then can we ever judge a criminal? Surely he or she is not responsible for the crime? God created the first state and the rules by which everything happened.
This argument for everything being determined held strong until the discovery of quantum physics. For the first time we had a glimpse of a world where we could by definition not say for certain what would happen next. All the evidence in the world cannot predict with certainty the result of a particular set of circumstances. The universe, it seems, is built on a shadowy underworld of probables rather than definites.

For the first time we saw how Free Will can truly exist. And if this Free Will exists then God is clearly less and less in control as the universe becomes more complex. This would explain the rather poor success rate of prayer. In fact the hit rate is no better and often a lot worse than if the supplicants had just got on with the job with a positive attitude and good information. The number of people who are cured of cancer at Lourdes is slightly less than the cure rate for those who don't leave home. The reason is that more get killed in the journey from home to the healing waters and back.

SInce the ancient days when God(s) were directly responsible for everything from the seasons to whether it rained, the jobs of the supreme beings have got less and less. It is no coincidence that the latest attempt by the religious right to have God as creator is packaged as ├Źntelligent Design'. This acknowledges the fact that his sole remaining portfolio is that of merely kickstarting the whole affair. This God could have gone to sleep 15 billion years ago and not made a jot of difference to what happened.
Maybe He pops in to the office every now and again and goes though his list of prayer requests and manages to only answer a small sample. This would explain how some good happens occasionally amidst a sea of suffering. But this is a lame super power and we would be better advised to seek local solutions with predictable outcomes. God, in every sense of the word is effectively getting more and more irrelevant to man as we progress.

The other promise I made for this post was that I would recreate God. I buy into the maxim that we should never destroy anything that we cannot replace.
Well, if my argument has in any way destroyed the concept of God then I must replace it with something at least as effective. I am hoping to show how we can go for Gold here by creating an almost all powerful, all knowing, all good God......without having to resort to infinity.

Looking forwards we can at least have a concept of a future of a long long time. If we understand how evolution works we know that more complex states are always favoured over less complex. That is how life and diversity evolves.

Google was founded on the premise of being able to catalogue all the accumulated knowledge of mankind in the foreseeable future. It has made remarkable progress already. Given enough time it will approach being all-knowing. the target of theoretical and applied science is to become more and more technologically proficient. Given enough time we humans will be almost all powerful. If the trend continues for good to be selected over evil for simple reasons of survival, eventually we will live in a close to all-good society.

Given an infinite amount of time we must end up as a complex expression of a state of being all knowing, all powerful and all good. Thus will God have been created logically.

This also answers the additional problem with a created God. Anything that is created must have been made by something or someone at least as complex as its own creation. Thus a God complicated enough to create the universe had to have followed from something more complex than it.

Maybe there is a God and he or she or it is no more or less than the ultimate expression of a previous near-eternity of development. By the previous arguments, such a god could be near perfect but not altogether so. This means that if there is such a god then he or she is still capable of mistakes. Basically, just one of the boys, but when he gets it wrong, big disasters can result.

For the above long term progression to the Godhead, it is clear that we need to ensure our own long term survival. If we do not respect our environment and if we do not value science and good deeds as being essential to our survival, we will simply not be around long enough to realize our innate need to truly experience what it means to be made in the image of God and for God to be made in the image of Man.

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