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March 17, 2008
Firstly, the disclaimer that goes with all of my ideas, even if I don't actually bother to explicitly state it: As far as I know I came up with this independently, but I have no idea if anyone else came up with it independently before me...
Firstly (technically "Secondly", but it's important to understand this before we get to the actual point...) I feel it is relevant to point out (in case anyone was unsure) that I do not believe in God, I do not require God to exist for me to be happy, but my world view will accept the existence of a God if/when sufficient evidence presents itself. I've heard a lot of discussion on this point, but I use "Agnostic" to refer to this. This entry is basically an explanation of how, as a non-religious non-spiritual scientist, I think God and Science can coexist.
First, however, an important aside:
My problem with Creationism
As I see it, there are two main views on the topic of the creation of Everything in the west: The Scientific explanation is the Big Bang etc. and the Creationism explanation is God snapping his fingers and Everything appearing in a crowd-pleasing puff of smoke.
This is where I have a problem: according to my understanding of Science the Big Bang happened (for reasons that are unlikely to become clear again at the moment) and hydrogen appeared. Then - as determined by Physics and a simplistic overview of the events - the hydrogen collected together and became stars which ran on nuclear fusion and created a few heavier elements. These stars then exploded, scattering the heavier elements and any remaining hydrogen. These then gathered together into more stars which produced even heavier elements, and then exploded. Finally stars formed again, but this time there were heavier elements which formed the planets orbiting around them. Now if we focus on one particular planet orbiting (for the sake of argument) a class G star at a distance of (just so we have a number to work with) about 93 million miles, the planet cools down and interesting things start happening. I admit to being less clear about the overview of this particular few million (or billion, maybe) years, so we shall skip to the amoebas. Eventually the volcanoes and chemical processes on the surface of this planet cause oxygen to appear. Life As We Know It seems to quite like oxygen, so the single-celled amoebas were suddenly presented with more complicated multi-celled organisms that were probably better at finding sources of nutrition. The organisms kept gaining more cells and becoming even better suited to their environment. Then some of them developed cells that were able to detect differences in the quantity of photons coming from the aforementioned star; these probably became quite useful in situations where a drop in the intensity signalled the approach of something that may want to eat you. And eventually some organisms discovered that if these light-sensitive cells were bowed slightly then it was possible to make out shapes and not just average intensity. Then some organisms developed an aperture over this dish which made the shapes clearer. Then some organisms developed a sort of lens-like structure over the aperture, and you finally had an eye after a long line of gradual improvements (but that's a subject for a different argument). And so things kept developing in this way until we get to now.
However according to Creationism, God willed Everything into existence exactly as it was a few thousand years ago and nothing has changed since, except fashion trends, architecture, and the quality of our tools; oh, and Evolution is apparently a lie.
And this is what I have a problem with: the apparent impotence of the Abrahamic God; He is supposedly all-knowing, all-powerful, all-talented, all-this, all-that, all-the-other. Yet the one thing He is apparently incapable of doing is devising and implementing Evolution.
In each of the situations below, which do you think is more impressive, more awe inspiring, or more worthy of merit and respect:
- Humans create an incredibly powerful computer; or humans create an incredibly simple computer which is capable of making itself progressively more powerful until it is far more powerful than we could have ever made it.
- Someone uses a Game of Life applet to create as realistic a rendition of the Mona Lisa as it is possible to create with two colours; or someone sits down and works out what the simplest starting conditions would be such that the rules of the Game will eventually create the Mona themselves.
- A magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat; or a mummy rabbit and a daddy rabbit, who love each other very much, f**k like rabbits and, by cell division and whatnot, a baby rabbit builds itself.
If I was going to believe in a God, I'd much rather believe in a God that would put the time and effort into figuring out how to get the Universe to create us itself rather than just magically creating us out of nothing.
And this leads nicely into my main point:
How God and Science Can Coexist
(Please do not dismiss this based on apparent flippancy; the sci-fi references are merely cogent paradigms.)
As I understand it, Science is fantastic once the Universe exists, but it's a little shaky on the exact moment of creation and what came before. You get questions like "What was there before the Big Bang, and how did it get there, and what was there before that?" and so on. This is where this idea comes in.
I can see God as being a sort of hybrid of these two ideas; He is outside time, and either outside space or in a higher plane of existence. He would therefore exist in a "realm" where our Science does not apply (which would fit with the fact that there is no Scientific evidence for His existence), and since He exists outside time we have a theory for the "before" of our Universe: there was no "before"; our entire reality came into existence at the exact moment that God created it. And since He exists outside linear time, the idea of "where did God come from?" is irrelevant; from God's perspective there is no "before" for Him to come from, nor "after" for Him to go to.
Also it should go without saying (why do we always say that right before we say it anyway?) that, given my complaints about Creationism, in this theory God created our reality to start from something simple and to make itself more complex.
So. Any questions?