Behind the secrets of nature remains something subtle, intangible, and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. – Albert Einstein
Ever wonder why physicists who’ve never been able to see an electron and can’t agree on the make-up of subatomic matter can turn around and treat people who believe in “god” as delusional?
I put “god” in quotations and use the lower case g here because I’m not in any way trying to make a case for God in the traditional, Abrahamic context. Anyone who truly knows me knows that I am both an unapologetic Christ Follower and staunchly irreligious. I’m merely trying to point out some odd contradictions that are over looked when taking a scientific world view and yet are the same types of contradictions that are used to make religious people look crazy.
Take for instance subatomic theory. Physicists cannot prove the existence of electrons. No machine has yet been invented that can magnify matter to that level; the best they can do is follow the scientific method of testing their theories in a controlled environment. However; in some cases electrons function very much like particles while in others they function like waves of energy. They cannot be both.
The theories that physicists have postulated for the make-up of matter at a subatomic level have been tested as much as possible at this time but they can be neither proven, nor disproven. At best we are left to continue to theorise and work within the “laws of nature” without really knowing how or why things work the way they do. That’s why I love the quote from Albert Einstein above.
Without comprehensive evidence in any one area we are left with what has become know has Ockham’s Razor. William of Ockham was a 14th century theologian who created the Law of Parsimony, most often expressed in Latin (pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate - plurality should not be posited without necessity) the law basically states that when competing hypotheses are equal in other respects, the hypothesis that introduces the fewest assumptions shall be considered correct. Or as Isaac Newton put it; “we are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.”
It is also interesting to point out as a side note that all three of these great men of science; Einstein, Ockham and Newton where also members of their respective churches (in Einstein’s case make that synagogue), but I digress.
Economists have a created a model for negotiation and forecasting called Game Theory, also known as a Sum Game. In a sum game you chart all of the potential outcomes of an event on a board. On one side you put all of the potential outcomes for one party, both good and bad and on the other side you put corresponding outcome for the other party. If party A achieves outcome X then party B will be affected in manner Y and so on.
The ultimate goal of such an exercise is to figure out what are the best possible outcomes for both parties and how to achieve that goal. This is known as the win-win. The end result is almost never an equal win for both parties however; there is always one party that wins more. The art of negotiation is to know when to accept what you have won and move on, either recognizing that you are negotiating from a position of weakness and cannot demand more or if you could get more to do so would un-necessarily oppress the other party and it is therefore prudent to stop. No one wants to lose so ending a negotiation in a win-lose scenario almost always results in some form of oppression and leads to civil unrest or war. In some instances a situation leads to a stalemate where neither party is willing to accept any of the solutions on the table. This leads to a long period of inaction that is generally only broken when the very act of not acting becomes itself a losing proposition. Stalemates are most commonly seen when unions go on strike until the financial cost to one party outstrips their cash reserves and forces them back to the negotiating table.
So, what does this have to do with “god” and Ockham’s Razor? Stay with me on this, we’ll get there I promise. But first we have to talk about one more thing.
Collective morality has evolved within societies as different cultures have rubbed up against one another and had to learn to live together. We can see throughout history that basic morality, right and wrong, are the same across multiple cultures through thousands of years. But where did all this morality come from?
If we play a sum game with evolving societies and collective morality we can see clearly that morality is a win-win. The sceptic will say “ah ha – if morality is a win-win then that proves there is no need for god, morality “evolved” because it just makes sense – we’ve got you!” But if morality evolved it would have had to have a beginning. Why wouldn’t the stronger party always go for the biggest win they could get? Remember we already established that win-win does not mean equal.
In fact win-win is against human nature. Human nature drives us to gain all we can and suffer the consequences later. Man has had to be taught to see the benefits of win-win and throughout history each generation has had to re-learn that lesson.
So if morality is not human nature and is something that has to be consciously taught to each new generation then it hasn’t really evolved at all. The seed of morality has always been there, innately within our human consciousness and it had to be planted somehow.
This brings us back to my friend William of Ockham. Sceptics will say that morality evolved naturally as man learned to live together but can never give a satisfactory answer as to how the seed got planted. I say the simplest explanation is the truest – that morality was planted in the brain of man by design.
Who or what that designer is and how you respond is a discussion for another time. All I ask is that you keep an open mind just like the great religious scientists of our past did.