Sunday, August 17, 2014

Our not-so-mysterious universe




“For me … it’s part of a larger question, which is ‘Why are things the way they are?’ That’s what we scientists try to find out, in terms of deep laws. We don’t yet have what I call a final theory. When we do, it might shed some light on the question of why there is anything at all. The laws of nature might dictate that there has to be something. For example, those laws might not allow for empty space as a stable state. But that wouldn’t take away the wonder. You’d still have to ask, ‘Why are the laws that way, rather than some other way?’ I think we’re permanently doomed to that sense of mystery. And I don’t think belief in God helps. I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it. If by ‘God’ you have something definite in mind---a being that is loving, or jealous or whatever---then you’re faced with the question of why God’s that way and not another way. And if you don’t have anything very definite in mind when you talk about ‘God’ being behind the existence of the universe, then why even use the word? So I think religion doesn’t help. It’s part of the human tragedy: we’re faced with a mystery we can’t understand,”---physicist Steven Weinberg, responding to the eponymous question of Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story.

Rob's comment:

Andrew Sullivan's blog is essential reading for me, except on Sunday, when he always has a lot of religious guff. The above foolishness---Sullivan's Quote for the Day---by a smart guy goes in my When Smart People Are Dumb file.

If by ‘God’ you have something definite in mind---a being that is loving, or jealous or whatever---then you’re faced with the question of why God’s that way and not another way.

Watch the Christopher Hitchens video above, and it's obvious why he thinks God is "that way"---or any other way: it was obviously invented by humans thousands of years ago---with the Old Testament God of the Bible invented around 800 BC---to provide humans with an explanation for things they couldn't understand.

The Moslem god, according to Islamic scripture, is apparently "another way"---a god who approves of killing Jews and others who reject Islam. 

Creating god/gods is also a clear instance of a rather pathetic wishful thinking---that human life is the creation of a morally engaged supreme being very much interested in human history---even the behavior of individual humans. And, crucially, that there's some kind of afterlife when a moral reckoning takes place based on how we live this life. 

The reality that there's nothing after this life, that we are dead forever, is a tough one for most people to accept. "Life's a bitch, and then you die," as the bumper sticker has it. But it's a bigger bitch for a lot of people than it has to be, which is why I'm a liberal, more or less. We need to forget about an afterlife and instead make this life better for everyone.

Weinberg claims that this is "part of the human tragedy: we’re faced with a mystery we can’t understand.” No, there's no mystery. All you have to understand is human nature and our powerful motivation to believe what we want to believe: in a meaningful universe in which we have a special place. 

Our species started out with many gods, and now we're mostly down to one. See the pattern there?

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