Monday, December 19, 2011

What Does It Take? (God Proof III)

What would it take to get me to accept the god hypothesis? Theists often accuse atheists of being as dogmatic as they are for rejecting all of their purported evidence, for being bound to refuse to believe, for being religiously faithful to our unbelief. So what evidence would convince me? Allow me to reason by analogy. What would it take to disprove evolution? What would it take to get me to stop believing in that scientific theory? Popular mythology has it that JBS Haldane once growled "rabbits in the Precambrian". That is, if fossil rabbits were found in Precambrian strata, that would disprove evolution, because a derived form cannot precede that from which it is derived. More complex forms do not precede less complex forms. Such a counterintuitive datum would require extraordinary explanation.

This is precisely why tetrannuative* fundamentalists have desperately sought things like that, have desperately sought little niggling things that would prove a chunk of the theory false. If something like the crocoduck were to show up, it wouldn't be proof of evolution, as the farcical Kirk Cameron claims, but rather proof of creation. Such a hippogriff or chimera would completely explode evolution.

Is that what it would take? No. I declare myself totally intransigent. I won't stop believing in evolution, because a century and a half of being pounded against the anvil of disbelief has not caused evolution to birth such a chimera. Mermaids and hippogriffs and all the rest have been frauds, some more creative than others. At this point, evolution is a theory so firmly grounded that to concede something might overturn it is as idiotic as conceding something might overturn gravity or physics.

Again, someone who hasn't read Asimov's "Relativity of Wrong" might be tempted to claim that physics was overturned. No it wasn't. Physics was supplemented. Updated. Improved. Aristotle's intuitive and non-scientific mechanics were indeed overturned by Newton's scientific and calculus-based mechanics, but Einstein supplemented Newton, he did not supplant. Newton's mechanics were not incorrect, they were incomplete. If something appears which challenges the current evolutionary model, it will not prove it wrong, but incomplete. It will supplement rather than supplant. Darwin's theory, crude and incomplete as it was, has not been overturned in more than 150 years despite rigorous scientific testing because, to the limits of that testing, it is entirely correct.

So what will it take to get me to accept the god hypothesis? Nothing I can imagine will convince me to do so. Alternative explanations will always be better because they always have been better, not least because the god hypothesis isn't even an explanation. In the infamous words of Pauli** "Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig, es ist nicht einmal falsch!". "Not only is it not right, it is not even wrong!" The god hypothesis in most of its forms is wildly unscientific and flies in the face of all evidence. The most reduced forms are scientific (though very unsatisfying to believers. Seriously, who wants to be a deist?) but still wholly lacking in evidence and still face challenges from better supported hypotheses.

Perhaps a theist will surprise me and come up with a new argument, some new kind of apparent evidence. This would be a surprise because it's typically not a creative endeavor, relying instead on retreads from centuries in the past. However, new evidence always has to be considered and I always will. However, the evidence so far suggests that any new evidence will fall in one of the previous categories and will be at best evidence of nothing, or at worst more evidence for a stochastic universe with no god at all. The god hypothesis has always been an answer in search of a question, and science has been the rather kid coming in and saying, "Nope. That question's mine, too."

Does this make me different from a dogmatic theist? Absolutely. The theist refuses to look at evidence, claims it's a lie made by the devil to trick you (sometimes it's a test by god). I look at the evidence and realize it's irrelevant, fraudulent, or simply not even evidence of anything at all. I will always look at new evidence with as much open-mindedness as I can muster. I hope, however, you can forgive me for being a bit cynical. After all, how much open-mindedness could you bring to bear for a flying carpet, a magic crystal, or a fully functional Ouija board?

* Four years old. As in they close their eyes and plug their ears and scream until the thing they don't like goes away.

** I'm not claiming Pauli was an atheist, but he did leave the church in 1929.
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