Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ignorance and Observation

Atheists often scoff at believers for adhering in times past to a naive cosmology which the atheist assumes was the result of a linear relationship between ignorance and religious dogma. The atheist asserts that if one were to embrace the pure reason of science then one would just as readily release one's grip on the idea of god. For my part, I've often wondered how mere observation, however more scientifically detailed and correct, could demonstrate that reality is godless? What if theism were true? How different would the world look? The point being this: Not necessarily different at all. In fact, a great many, including myself, would say that it is the atheist's world that would look very different, if true.

Recalling one of my grade school science books, I am reminded of an illustration of the sun moving across the sky that was used to demonstrate that how things appear is not necessarily how things are. The sun "appears" to the unaided observer to be 'rising' - a conclusion we now know to be naïve being drawn as it was from incomplete data.

(Despite this "misperception," we still use the old cosmology thinking in our linguistic conventions, especially our poetry, and things work just fine!)

While this belief is not considered damning, it is however viewed by the modern atheist to be ignorant (a word used most often as a pejorative). Religion, they say, is just the same: an idea based on the same type of ignorance. We only need to recognize the authority of science.

Here I recall an incident that I had in grade school in which, upon observing a physical model of the solar system which functioned with an electric motor, I playfully grabbed the model by the 'earth' as I and others watched and laughed hysterically as all the planets and the sun bobbled about it in wildly elliptical motions. I asked the teacher, how do we know that this is not how it works? It would not look any different to us! In other words, I was expressing in a childish fashion that there is a perspective in which the earth is the 'center' - if one is only willing to alter one's point of observation.

I am not arguing for geo-centrism. That my observation is not scientifically the case is not the issue. What is the issue is that those folks were not a bunch of ignoramuses who avoided rigorous thinking in order to believe a religious myth. They were merely pre-modern in their descriptions of what they perceived. It is important to note that we - being significantly more informed - still reserve for ourselves the right to pick which perspective is 'real' depending on our mode of activity. When we write poetry, the sun rises; when we launch space shuttles, the earth orbits. Strangely, there is a sense in which modern man is bored with space travel, yet the musical expression of poetry is doing just fine. Truth is everlasting, fact is incidental and pragmatic.

Weighing in again on this incident, it seems to me that it is Atheism which looks most like the bobbling solar system. Yes, it appears to make sense from the viewpoint of mere observation, and may be logically possible, but it is odd and leaves so many things - the most important things - strangely or poorly explained. Morality, Beauty and the Divine - the three great a priories, if you will - appear ill-fitted in the atheists bobbling universe.

A universe in which they are ordered as a natural part could very likely look like what we see in our own world - and experience, even in ignorance, to be true. If so, this might explain why atheists 1) still worship those things they believe enhance or provide self-worth; 2) bring in morality through the back door; and, 3) recognize that, while a dog may pee on the rose, it is only man who enjoys its beauty for its own sake.

Things might not necessarily look any different in an atheist or theist world. However, seeing the universe in grander, more smoothly moving terms seems, at least from one perspective, far better than the explanation which gyrates wildly when trying to explain life holistically.
This is the atheist's dilemma. Despite all his arguments, perhaps a divine explanation of the universe is true and the believer is not stupid for holding to it. This 'perhaps' is frightening to them, I'm sure.


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