Friday, August 08, 2003

Get Over Your Bad Self

The 2Blowhards, in their continued service to the blogsphere, linked to an interview with someone named Heather MacDonald. Though I have no idea who she is, it was a fun read because of her takedown of deconstructionism, as promised by the 2Blowhards.

In the same interview, she also makes this statement:

Q: "Have you noticed that the more intelligent people are, the less religious?"

Heather MacDonald: "No, it is therefore to me a mystery that very intelligent people can be religious. I think there is a part of them that is willing to put aside their rationality because there is a deep emotional or psychological yearning for a belief in a transcendent being who has responsibility for our world. It's a part of the brain that does not involve empirical reasoning."

The consistency of this kind of assertion amongst some types of atheists never ceases to astound me, and it strikes me as one of those classic "it's not about what it's about" situations. Typically, when a person is evangelized into atheism, the primary tactic used is an appeal to intelligence, re: "If you're smart, you'll realize that all religion is superstition, and only the unlearned and the ignorant of the world are superstitious." So it becomes a street cred kinda thing. And the fact that most of those who are swayed by this trick are supposed to be intelligent ... well, at least I find it grimly amusing. Wouldn't it seem logical to question any idea someone presented to you as a test of your intelligence? In the same way you should question someone trying to hand you a religious doctrine as a test of their power or as proof of your unworthiness (and potential damnation) should you refuse it?

It makes me wonder if something is missing in this kind of person's ability to process information, or if they've unknowingly or purposely put on blinders to prevent some kinds of thinking or looking at the world, a limitation of perspective say. (Which is ironic of course, since she thinks the religious are missing something.)

I know a lot of these people have moved their faith, as it were, completely into the realm of science, assuming all they will ever need to know about our physical world will be found there. Though that's not an entirely misguided notion, it often pairs with an overly optimistic view of what science claims to really know, or can know. As much as a Christian fundamentalist will ignore or discount the various clues and solid reasons to not take every account or story in the Bible as a literal rendition of actual events, the fundamentalist, science-faithful atheist will claim more conclusions than exist currently, and typically will follow that up by stating we will eventually know everything we don't know now, somehow.

I would concur that we will continue to make phenomenal scientific discoveries that may enable faster than light travel, a cure to most diseases and afflictions, and a basic control over many physical properties of our world that still exist currently only in the most fantastic science fiction.

But what we don't know right now, at this very moment, and what we are aware of that we don't know, is legion. We still haven't decoded the genome, we've merely mapped one complete set of genes' "GATTACA" sequence - the pairings of the four components that all DNA is constructed of or from. What we have discovered is that most given sequences in the genome can produce many proteins, which means there's a whole level, or many levels, of functionality of the genome that we simply don't comprehend. It's like the message in Contact, where the sound from deep space is revealed to carry a video signal, and beyond that is an alphabet, and beyond that is a schematic for building a spacecraft. When it comes to the genome, or even anything smaller than a molecule, we are only at the stage - to reinvoke the Contact analogy - where Jodie Foster has discovered that the mysterious sound she just recorded from space is running through the sequence of prime numbers. We haven't even begun to discover the other levels present.

There are some scientific fields that have become dead-ends until we have a breakthrough in our understanding and ability to manipulate at the molecular and atomic level, such as: 1) truly combating a virus head-on rather than invoking the still mysterious ability our immune system has to combat them, and 2) nanotechnology. We aren't even close to curing AIDS (or the common cold or flu) because we just don't know how to stop or disable the virus mechanism. And all the dire warnings about how nanotechnology will get out of hand and render the universe into gray goo are silly, because nanotechnology is still governed by laws we don't understand completely just yet, and I bet one of those laws won't let a nanorobot render your doggy into a toy train or a gray puddle.

So, given the limitations of our knowledge, to dismiss God, however some may view Him/her/it/them, because we've figured some of this science stuff out is directly comparable to the illusion most of us have when we are teenagers where we believe we have figured everything out. Only later, with maturity, do we realize out how little we really know, and with that comes true wisdom.

Wisdom, through the admission of what we don't know, also allows us to apply what we do know. That's why we can say extreme fundamentalist religions that causes mass murder are wrong, without having to collapse into a pile of post-modern doubt and debris. It means we can admit the Christian, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the atheist, the agnostic, and the Rastafarian just might know what they're talking about, and not have to take extreme, and false, positions that belittle and debase other's beliefs, because we understand we simply do not have the final proof or solution just yet.

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