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Not so fast! July 27, 2009

Posted by Mike Trudeau in Cosmology.
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Ok, now I usually don’t use this blog to talk about my beliefs (I subscribe to no religious doctrine and am not an atheist), but there are some things I need to say.

I follow Phil Plait’s very informative blog, Bad Astronomy. Recently he linked to this post in Jennifer Ouellette’s blog, Twisted Physics.

In her post In Praise of Insignificance, Jennifer Ouellette says: “If one embraces an atheist worldview, it necessarily requires embracing, even celebrating, one’s insignificance. It’s a tall order, I know, when one is accustomed to being the center of attention.”

Centre of whose attention, may I ask? Are we not still the centre of attention? If we’re not, what is?

It’s a mistake to assume that with atheism comes insignificance. How insignificant are we if everything is “just this,” where the “this” is infinitely amazing? We are the beholders, the consciousnesses. We define our own existences (at least more than free-falling balls of dirty ice do, ie perceive that we define our own existences), make decisions and answer to no one. That’s exactly as significant as you think it is.

The word “significance” loses its meaning when used to describe atheist cosmology. In the atheist universe, nothing signifies anything; at least not in the way that human existence signifies God’s love for creation in Christian belief, or that committing a sin signifies a rejecting of God’s freely-given love.

I find it frustrating when people ooh and aah to great length, sermonizing about our tiny existences. Come on! Are we seriously still having this conversation? The idea itself is old-fashioned. Scale goes on and on in both directions, leaving us somewhere in the middle, just like everything else. On the earth a grain of sand is small, in the universe a galaxy is small. There may be an infinite number of full-sized universes. Let’s stop patting each other on the back for reminding each other that the cosmos is huge.

That being said, I still love a good night sky!

Some atheists argue that they don’t believe in a God because there is no evidence to back up this belief.

This is problematic in two ways. First of all, both atheists and religious believers like to choose their own field of engagement. The atheists say that there is no scientific evidence for God, and the religious say that the evidence is right there in their own canon. Both systems are essentially self-referential.

Second, the claim that there is no evidence for intelligent design (and I do not mean the “Christian” version of Intelligent Design that they say should be taught in science classes; that’s a whole other argument) only really works if God is a separate entity from the universe. St Augustine tackled this question in his Confessions, when he contested the dualism of the tangible and spiritual levels of existence. If we say that God is not separate from the universe but instead that the universe is a facet of God and that the ongoing process of creation is the unfolding will of God, then I’d say that in all the richness of the universe(s), through all dimensions, in all space, all time, and on every scale, there is certainly still plenty of room for believing that we are part of something infinitely greater than ourselves that is intrinsically good, supremely intelligent, and of which our own bodies and minds are simple derivatives.

It’s the same old Socratic chestnut: We don’t know, and those who say they know, know less. I say we try for less self-justification and self-congratulation, and more reasonable, tolerant discussion.