Monday, 17 August 2009

My outlook on God, faith and religion: part one

Some people's unwillingness to believe in God is difficult for me to understand.

The universe is hugely complex and detailed, it is beyond my imagination that it started as some random accident. And, yes, you can say that I have a limited imagination because I can't see randomness as a possibility. But then I might say that it is _you_ who has a limited imagination, to not be able to imagine that there is a creative force behind Life. Let's have an imagination contest!

Imam Abu Hanifa (an esteemed Muslim scholar who lived about a thousand years ago) was once late for an appointment with a group of atheists with whom he debated. To excuse his unpunctuality, he told them that the ferry he normally catches on his way to meet them was not there, but that while he was waiting, planks of wood floating on the water came together and formed a boat. He got in; the ferry navigated him across the river, and he was able to meet them.

They told him this was an outrageous story. He stared at them.

Me too, I feel like staring at those reluctant to believe.

Some people claim:
  • there is no God,
  • Life is all a great big accident,
  • we all started from a single entity and evolved from there,
  • there is an evolutionary process that explains everything,
  • things make sense now only becase there was a lot of trial and error millions of years ago.
Let me ask some questions. There seems to be an evolutionary software running in all living things. Who wrote this evolutionary software? Who started it running? Who created the original single entity from which we all evolved, who initiated the Big Bang?

All what we do, we do against the assumption of staticness. Imagine if you woke up to find that water is no longer H2O, that the sun is rising from the West, that everything solid is liquid, or that no one on earth understands English anymore? It is a mercy that things are predictable; life is static enough for us to analyse it. (This is a fundamental assumption in Physics, called symmetry.) Imagine existing in a universe in which you are hardly able to establish anything!

Atheists would say there is nothing special about the universe being a symmetric, static place; I guess they would argue that random systems do slowly stabilise on patterns. I suppose they would argue that the evolutionary software was not quite so good at first and it kept making mistakes until the current software came out and it was good and it wiped out everything before it and propagated itself.

Okay, so why was there software in the first place? How did the first version of evolutionary software come about? How come it could mutate and spread itself? Why do atheists assume randomness begat order, instead of order begat randomness?

The short of it: humanity doesn't know a lot of stuff - yet. We don't know what on earth is consciousness? How come when someone dies their 'spirit' leaves them? Where does it normally reside? Is it something tangible? Does it weigh 24grams as some have claimed? We have no clue. Do animals have a 'life' spirit too? Does everything have a life spirit? Well then, are we ever alive, do we ever die?

Time and space are our constructs, we know that. Could there be a parallel universe in which time is not uni-directional?

The exact narrative of how God created everything is something humanity will keep debating, trying to work out, until the end. We are good at debate, proposition versus proposition, lines of thought, evidence and counter-evidence. But we are also emotional beings.

I feel that there is God; some questions, some debates you know the answer to before you even begin. We are trying to construct narratives to explain the universe. Let's separate the various narratives from the concept. Let's say it simply: God exists. The Life force within us knows and understands that God exists. It certainly does for me.

(More posts to follow in the days to come - if God wills.)

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avantcaire said...

some blindingly good posts of late!

it seems to me the differences between the science and religion approaches are not as far apart as they seem.
they both involve attributing many of the great universal unknowns to dreamt up theories or narratives that allow us to make some sense of the bewildering unknowable vastness that surrounds us.

you capture the heart of the debate when you say 'i feel that there is a god'.
the direction we go with is a product of an emotional, from the gut, non-rational decision that we then rationalize as you have in your two recent posts. i choose the opposite direction, feel it as sincerely as you, and rationalize accordingly.

the wonder of this beautifully chaotic world is our shared starting point. you find the same reassuring beauty in the prose of the kuran as i do in mathematics' deep truths (i qualify this by admitting i don't truly understand either the kuran or the math - but i do sense their powers and truths).

the personal choices are just that - personal. what we need to collectively work on is mutual respect. an allowance on both sides that the other may be right. peaceful, playful even, intra-, inter- and outer- religious co-existence.

i find much to admire in your approach to these great questions while disagreeing with most of the derived positions. here's a request asking for the same in kind for us with alternative belief systems who are equally genuine in our questioning.

Ahmed said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

See, someone like Feynman would have reminded us that Physics is the only proper science. Physicists do not concern themselves with constructing narratives. They propose models to
quantify observable phenomena, and then they test these models repeatedly. That's why when someone tells me "my religion is Science", I feel they don't know what science is.

As Feynman puts it: he can explain the "how", not the "why". How does a nucleus respond when it is bombarded with a photon? He can answer that - up to a certain degree of accuracy. Why is that when the nucleus is bombarded with a photon, such and such happens? He doesn't know. Why didn't it happen a different way? He doesn't know.

I am not with you on the gut/emotion paragraph. Humans are both rational and irrational. We are both logical and instinctive. And we use either expression to shore up the other.

A chain of reasoning has the power to 'kill' emotion, or to buttress it. Likewise, emotion can render a chain of reasoning cold, or the most exctiing thing ever.

I would love to meet with people who have no inclination of God; people whose upbringing had a cultural or religious 'blank' in that area, and see what they feel. I remember meeting a Thai guy a long time ago, who had no idea what God is. He kept an open mind; he didn't know. He was raised to believe in Buddhist tenets and no mention of God was made. That'd be interesting: to see people who were not raised to believe in God, no mention of God was made, to see what they think of the idea.

So, no, I have no sympathy for your position. :-)

And mutual tolerance is not important at all. You're hereby banned from my blog. And as for your blog it shall hacked into and destroyed. ;-)