occam's shaving gelramble

(13 comments)
September 7, 2005

"Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, then that of blindfolded fear."
--Thomas Jefferson, via Lex's blog

It's an interesting thought, and a good response to Fundie Christians who assume the founding fathers thought the way Fundie Christians do now. But it falls prey to a certain fallacy, the "I used to think that the brain was the most fascinating part of the body. Then I realized, 'look who's telling me that.'" problem that Emo Phillips set forth.

Isaiah 55:9 has God saying
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
I used to think this was a great big copout. But at the risk of taking a sci-fi and/or transhumanist approach to this...if God is a system outside of our system, if our universe is the equivalent of a petri dish, carefully isolated and exceedingly more limited than the one God works in (an idea which, interestingly, diminishes God along with us, for God might just be a small part of some even larger system), then who's to say that logic and rational thinking amounts to a hill of beans? Maybe the rules that run the universe, despite seeming to line up fairly well to logical analysis, really do have threads (supersuperstrings, I guess...) that are so outlandish, that extend to something so far outside of our system that we'll never have a hope of understanding it.

(Of course, this "meta-rationality" is just a brand of rationality itself, recursively suggesting its own demise. Still, it's interesting that Thomas Jefferson doesn't acknowledge the risk.)

God doesn't have to play fair. Maybe he simply demands "blind faith"...either because it follows some consistent rules that we'll never be able to fathom, or just on a whim. As for the multitide of religions...maybe we just need to pick one, and stick with it. Then would agnostic skepticism be less acceptable than one of these faiths? Maybe, maybe not. Who knows? (Of course there's always that one rhetorical trick, maybe the afterlife is whatever you expect it to be. In that case, I better start thinking in terms of paradise for everyone, including a lazy bum like me!)

This would seem to be a disregard for Occam's Razor, that we must avoid "needlessly multiplying entities". But who's to say what "needless" is? You could do a lot of great science just in using Newton's beautiful and elegant laws, before realizing the need to use more and more complex rules once things really start speeding up and getting large.

I guess you could always try a utilitarian approach...if there are questions about the hereafter that won't be answered in this world, then we might as well live by the advice in Vonnegut's Book of Bokonon:
Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy
According to that page, Foma are "lies" or "harmless untruths". There's something to be said for that. There's still the meta-problem here, to what extent can the tolerant be tolerant of intolerance, since it's such an assymetrical situation? (The old Onion.com ACLU Defends Neo-Nazi Group's Right to Burn Down Its Headquarters dilemna.) So many other people--especially in the United States and the Middle East--feel that their belief system needs to be all-encompassing or else it (and society) all falls apart...I guess its ground I've covered before...search this site for "fundamentalist" to see more about that, lest I repeat myself more than I already am. Oh what the heck:
"Since there is no higher authority than God, and, since there can be no higher priority than obeying him, the entire notion of separating politics and religion is inherently troublesome to the fundamentalist mind."
--Andrew Sullivan.
Boy howdy!