Tuesday, December 16, 2008

God, Faith and the Science Fiction Method

I think I can say now that I am a skeptic. I've been growing into that role since last July, but now I think I can say that I am and it's what is driving my Crisis in Faith.

I have always been a critical thinker. I prefer that and that term better because "skeptic" is more a lifestyle and critical thinking is more a process. Skeptic comes with a bag of preconceived notions (both internal and external) while critical thinking doesn't. Critical thinking is perceived as assertive to skepticism's aggressiveness. You ARE a skeptic, but you DO critical thinking.

This gets right into how I developed a Crisis in Faith.

When you write fiction you have something called a "Suspension of Disbelief."

For instance, look at any Muppet show you KNOW that it is all just people's hands inside of Styrofoam, but you suspend your disbelief because you want it to be a pig, a frog, a rat; you want the pig and the frog to be in love; you want the animals and things to all be able to talk; you want there to be legs below the waists; you want to partake of the story.

I use movie examples because they are so illustrative.

Another example would be the Blues Brothers. You know that Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi are not brothers, or orphans, or even Blues musicians. You know that the bluesmobile can't jump that bridge, or jump the Nazi car backwards, but you want to enjoy the movie.

Dan Ackroyd had originally written a big explanation as to how the bluesmobile could do such miraculous things, but the director, John Landis told him, you don't need that, the car does what it does because we say it does. There is suspension of disbelief, Ackroyd didn't think it was strong enough to not lose the audience when the car did strange things, but Landis knew it was.

You see, suspension of disbelief can be spoiled. You see this most often when an expert watches a movie in their field or reads a book in their field. They point out that hand grenades don't work that way, or the Sergeant wouldn't tell the Lieutenant what to do, or cops don't talk that way, or it doesn't look like that in a fire. The experts have lost their suspension of disbelief.

Belief in God is like this to a skeptic or critical thinker. Critical thinking and skepticism require you to ask for scientific evidence for things. There is none and can be none when dealing with an omnipotent, omniscient being. Those skeptics that are not atheists keep their belief of God compartmentalized. They know there can be no proof so they don't ask for it in this one particular case. They have suspended their disbelief so that they can participate in their belief of God.

That's the way I feel, or at least that was the way I felt. I don't think I had examined my own belief system this critically before, but now looking back I realize that this is how I looked at Faith. Now it seems that I have learned too much and it has spoiled the suspension of disbelief.

There is a thing in Science Fiction thing that takes suspension of disbelief one step further. In hard Sci Fi you cannot break any existing Laws or Theories. You may present new ones in the space between the old ones, but you cannot break the existing ones.

For example, the speed of light is immutable. You cannot travel faster than the speed of light, nothing can. So, how do you do star travel within a human lifetime? It happens all the time. There is nothing in science that says for certain that there is no "hyperspace." Current scientific theories suggest many different dimensions, some of which may touch every point in our universe, but are themselves vastly much smaller than our universe. If you could go to that universe; travel within it and then return to our universe you could be taking a shortcut. Science cannot show that this is impossible; therefore you can use this in your stories.

You cannot have people travel faster than light just by going faster or building a bigger engine. You cannot have people defy the laws of gravity, or thermodynamics etc. You cannot have insects grow bigger than people and still have them walk around.

Similarly, if there is a scientific law or theory that is broken by Faith in God, it doesn't work. Belief in God cannot go against what we already know; God must be beyond our current knowledge.

For instance, I have absolutely no belief that Noah took two of every animal aboard the ark. Could an omnipotent God have put those animals in a boat so big that they could have held them? Sure, omnipotence makes everything possible, but I don’t know anyone (outside a few fervent fundamentalist Christians who believe that the Bible is literal and absolutely correct) who believes that to be a literal story.

If you break a scientific law or theory you automatically ruin suspension of disbelief in Science Fiction. If miracles break scientific laws then they could not have happened. If the existence of God breaks scientific laws then God cannot exist. At least that is what would spoil your Belief if you were a skeptic.

Right now I'm sitting on my couch with my wife. We are watching a movie and something happens to ruin my suspension of disbelief. I complain to my wife that the movie is ruined. She says, "don't analyze it so much, just enjoy the movie."

I want to enjoy the "Movie." How do I get that back? Is it like the splotches of ink that if you look at them a certain way become a drawing of a face? Can you make it look like splotches of ink after you see the face? I hope so.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Remember Pearl Harbor Day

This post is about my thoughts from last Sunday, December 7th, 2008. I would say "Happy" Pearl Harbor Day, but that just doesn't sound right.

I'm writing this because I think I'm more coherent when I write than when I speak extemporaneously. If I were to script out what I'm going to say I might as well just type the article and post it.

The Orthodox gospel reading today was from Luke 13:10-17 (BTW, the Orthodox readings tend to be shorter than the Roman Catholic readings for some reason). The story is about how Jesus healed a woman and was chastised for it because it was working on the Sabbath. Jesus responded, not with a swift, "Shut up, it wasn't work, it was a miracle for crying out loud." He said that the guy who criticized him untied his donkey to let it have a drink on the Sabbath.

I wonder what the situation was that surrounded this. To me, the miracle of healing someone right before their eyes should have been staggering. I don't know how any one could have questioned that. Were they performing "healing miracles" all the time? Did they think that Jesus was doing the same type of, "trick" they were doing? Weren't they impressed? Why wasn't Jesus outraged, why did he play word game with them? Why didn't he just tell them to be quiet?

You must understand that I never believed in miracles, not even before my Crisis in Faith (which started in July 08). I always felt that GOD didn't set up a beautiful, well functioning universe jut to break the rules that G made for it. Miracles are things that work on the mind, not physics or reality. Now, I'm not even so sure of that.

Let me get into the other thoughts I had when I was standing there in church (in the Orthodox service you mostly stand). I stand in the Narthex or the back of the church (more on that later) when my daughters are in Sunday school.

What's the purpose of church? What's the purpose of prayer? Let me suggest that they are useful even if you don't believe in GOD or are shaky about your faith. The reason is that it gives you time to think, time devoted only to thoughts about GOD, the universe, our place in it and our relationships with each other. I think this time is very useful.

I was thinking that I personally use church time and prayer to my own advantage. I listened to a podcast called Skeptoid. The podcaster in that show is an atheist and he suggested that our moral centers are the same for all humans, regardless if you believe in GOD or not. That our morals grow from a basic human cultural community, guided by GOD or not. With that in mind, I think that church could be the way to strengthen that moral center. If you believe in GOD you are there with other believers. If you don't believe then you could put the very same teachings (love your neighbor, etc.) to work to strengthen your moral character, just take out the GOD driven part.

When I was in Afghanistan I led prayer services when there was no priest available. Do I feel hypocritical about that? No, because I was just there to facilitate others prayers even if I didn't pray myself (I did at that time though, but my argument still stands). They used GOD as the source of their morals and strength, I used the community. When I'm with a group of Catholics I feel at home. I know what they know and I know a lot of what they believe. If they are good Catholics I should have nothing to fear, IF they follow the morals prescribed in their religion.

I wonder if you can pray to the community. My prayers for years have been the type of prayers for strength and guidance. The types of prayers for the strength and intelligence to use what I have been given. I could just as easily meditate and try to use the strength of the community around me.

There is a book by Stu Kaufman called Reinventing the Sacred. I haven't read it yet, but I've read a review and in it he talks about the fact that people need a "sacred" and there is sacred right here in the world around us. The beauty of nature and the human community at its best are awesome and worthy of respect and perhaps veneration themselves

In an article I read recently called "Religion for Skeptics" by L. Karl Branting. It was very heartening. In it he said that GOD performs two essential functions for humans, transcendence and morality.

I've written about morality already, but this transcendence is something I find very dear. This is the part where I say I WANT there to be a GOD. I NEED the transcendence. My Scout law tells me to be reverent, but doesn't mandate to whom or what to be reverent.

Branting says that the community is a kind of meta-being (my word) that we are beholden to. It provides the morality. It provides the thing that is bigger than all of us (as individuals). It provides the immortality we all want.

This immortality is not only in the memory of us (which we all know and which seems hollow to me), but in the way we shape others and the world around us, just by being here. Every one of us, no matter how small, petty or reclusive adds to the human "inertia."

This is the community that I'm referring to when I say, "pray" to the community.

There is one small problem. Human communities are flawed because of what they are made of. GOD, if G exists is not, because G isn't made of the same stuff. This is a stronger base for most. It is just that I can't use that base anymore. I have to hope that the human community and it's evolution are moving in the right direction, and maybe I can help it. This is called Cultural Evolution and I think I'm going to have to believe in it to keep up this idea of a community based morality and transcendence.

I have to explain why I stand in the narthex. I do because I don't feel comfortable in the actual church and I think I might make others uncomfortable (what with my note taking and all). That puts me OUTSIDE the community. That doesn't help at all. I need my wife and children to act as my chaperones or proxies.

On the other hand, what my Father said is becoming stronger in my mind. He said that basically Boy Scouts is his religion. I think this may be closer to the truth than he imagines.

In church they talked about leaps of faith. On another episode of Skeptoid the host said that to use science to find evidence for GOD was going against religion, even though it is being done to supposedly help reinforce faith.

This is similar to Douglas Adams' argument that if you have proof of GOD then GOD ceases to exist because GOD is dependent on faith alone. When you have proof you don't need faith, and you actually can't have faith, by definition.

The problem with this argument is painfully obvious, but what I want to point out is the problem of seeing no need to try to find evidence for GOD. The reason I see for looking for evidence of GOD, or for using logic to figure out GOD, or just the logical questioning of GOD is this, you will always need to make a leap of faith in order to believe in GOD (who, by definition is outside, beyond our direct observations and proofs), but just like an actual leap, the more narrow the gap, the easier the leap. Some people can leap very far, some can't go much more than a long step. Personally I always needed a very narrow gap between GOD and our reality.

GOD is in the leaping, not either side. Right now I feel like the space has closed up and there is no room to leap at all.

Maybe the perfect human community in the distance (cultural evolution) is an effort worth working for, and maybe eventually leaping for.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

PropCast I

I am semi-officially entering the world of podcasting. This is my first time, be gentle.