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Saturday, June 02, 2007

God and Quarks

If you ask the majority of physicists, they'll tell you that quarks exist. This is a not insignificant statement, since in reality, nobody has ever experimentally verified said existence of quarks outside of the consequent mathematics. Quantum chromodynamics seems to imply that there are theoretical states where one might be able to isolate a quark, but thus far, experiments in that vein haven't turned up basically anything. In a very salient sense, quarks are metaphysical constructs that are said to 'exist' only in that the math works out well if you posit that baryons are a sort of quark sandwich.

The problem with metaphysics is that it tends to be, definitionally, unprovable. Demonstrating the epistemic existence of an object removes it from the realm of the metaphysical and allows it to crash solidly down into the physical firmament.

So when political candidates or theologians speak of God 'existing' I am forced to wonder: in what sense can they possibly believe that has meaning? Supposing for a moment that God 'exists' in the same sense that Pluto exists, you would tend to believe that such a guiding belief would have a modicum of evidence. But that argument is neither here nor there. In a more real way, the non-dogmatic version of theology (that is, God separated from Religion) would have us believe that God is the monadic source of reality. That is, God is indistinguishable from Hegel's Absolute Spirit or Buddhism's Oneness of Being or any of the other thirty-one flavors of singular originations for the world we observe.

In this sense, the conflict between Religion and Irreligion isn't one of fact, or even of consequences. It's a conflict of aesthetics. The normative reason to believe in a given unprovable metaphysics is the degree to which it enlightens an individual about the nature of things as we observe them. In the case of quarks, even if people never manage to isolate a quark (and a more compelling narrative that drives the mathematics never arrives), it can be said that they 'exist' in a metaphysical sense that is just as important as in an epistemic sense. The failing of religious belief is hardly that it's wrong; as it makes no verifiable claims of any sort, it's silly to talk about it as incorrect. The failing of religion is that it's incongruous with what we perceive, and falls short of making the universe that we see and taste and touch more comprehensible. The naturalist world view is similarly unpredictive (note: Boyle's law is predictive, whether it came about because God liked it or gravitational constants at the time of the big bang precipitated it), yet it is more harmonious with how we generally think and as such, is superior.

This is the fundamental error so-called 'agnostics' tend to make. They would say that there's no proof of God, but there is also no disproof, so nothing meaningful can be said about His existence. Yet what would evidence of God even begin to look like? Assuming that God is a personification of the monadic source of reality, the evidence for God would look exactly like the evidence for any number of other originations. For any given observable fact, there are, literally, an infinite number of perfectly rational hypothesis that explain it. Moreover, you cannot test the source of a physical law by invoking that law. That level of induction is utterly vacuous. There's similarly no reason to believe you can find the source of physical law qua physical law inductively. The whole question of proof and disproof is meaningless.

"Atheism" is simply the rejection of the theistic metaphysics, which is to say, a position of aesthetic disagreement. Asking whether or not atheism is a 'rational' position is akin to asking if disliking Chopin is a 'rational' position. It's a matter of taste, not fact.

cranked out at 11:29 AM | |

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