Monday, 25 June 2007

Of Gods, Spaghetti Monsters, and Ham Sandwiches

I heard a programme on the radio recently about a museum, just opened in Kentucky, which is devoted to a creationist view of history; according to its owners, for example, dinosaurs lived in the time of Noah and made full use of the Ark. This is all part of what might be loosely termed the 'creationist fightback'; a movement to put intelligent design on an equal footing with 'real science'.

This coincides with my recent re-reading of Daniel Dennett's book Darwin's Dangerous Idea, an ultra-Darwinist tract whose central thesis is that everything, including such ethereals as human culture or consciousness, has at its base the 'algorithm' of Natural Selection. In it, Dennett devotes considerable space and time to demolishing intelligent design. Noting that the standard theories of how the universe came to existence (that, for example, there was a 'singularity' which suddenly expanded; or that the universe continually expands and contracts), do not provide satisfactory explanations, nor disprove God as creator, he comes up with a way to dissuade us from the belief that God was behind the 'Big Bang'. Using the example of a tennis match, he imagines a dialogue between a creationist and an atheist.

"The universe came from the big bang," says the atheist, serving.

"Ah, but what created the materials for the big bang, and what set it off?" the creationist replies, returning. "That must have been God!"

"There's no proof for that," says the atheist, hitting a backhand. "Even if it was God, what created him? You might as well just say that a giant ham sandwich set off the big bang, and have done with it."

The ball is now firmly in the creationist's court, according to Dennett.

The problem, of course, and the one that Dennett neatly skates over, is that neither position can be proved - and that neither makes any real sense. Either God exists (in which case he has existed for ever) or he doesn't (in which case the universe sprang literally from nothing). Both assertions lead to absurd conclusions. The perfect return for the creationist, coming into the net for a forehand volley, would be: "Yes, and people are free to believe in a ham sandwich, just as I'm free to believe in God, but you then also have to admit that whether people believe in God, a ham sandwich, a giant flying spaghetti monster, or for that matter a quantum singularity (or whatever), the point is that they are believing something. Atheism is founded on faith just as much as theism is."

It seems to me that Christians (theists in general, in fact), don't use this fact to their advantage as much as they should. That is, the central point of all religion is faith; faith that God exists and cares about human affairs even in the face of overwhelming evidence that he doesn't. It's the key theme of the entire Christian bible, from Job to Exodus to the Pslams to Hebrews. Where then does this insistence on competing with scientists on their own terms come from, when it can be easily demonstrated that scientists base their views as much on an article of faith (that the materials making up the universe sprang from a singularity, or are part of an eternally contracting and expanding reality) as do Christians? Why try to prove or disprove things that logically can't be proved, when you could be concentrating on your supposed fortes of faith, hope and love instead (the merits of which are far more likely to win converts than the absurd chasing of an illogical, impossible dream)?

Neither theism nor atheism have anything to recommend them, particularly, in terms of logic. But Christians must surely believe that their faith does have something to recommend it as a way of life, and that is what they should be concentrating on: promoting the way of life, rather than harping on about Noah and the dinosaurs.


zero_zero_one said...

One of the big problems is that people try to fight all of these "battles" on the same field, when really we're on different levels altogether.

And another problem is when you have people speaking, either from an atheistic or a theistic position who take it upon themselves to "speak for all in their position" (or to give the impression to Joe Bloggs on the street that they are speaking for everyone on their side of the debate), when this is rarely - if ever - the case.

By the by, who believes that God is a ham sandwich? Was that just a random thing you said or is that from somewhere?

I'll write something tomorrow, several somethings maybe. Head is devoid of ideas that don't involve immense plagiarism at the moment...

noisms said...

Daniel Dennett said that God might as well be a ham sandwich.

zero_zero_one said...

Ah, Dennett, what a japester...