Tuesday, November 6, 2012

God of the Gaps

Professor Winston; I didn’t get the rest of his name. The show was a BBC production, The Story of God: The God of the Gaps. Pr. Winston was looking at the question of god from the viewpoint that he’d (God) been relegated to the gaps in scientific knowledge; which was a curious argument for Winston to take as he is an avowed believer in God. Although perhaps not so strange as he also presented himself as a firm Darwinist and follower of orthodox science; he was no starry-eyed dreamer. Winston has a tooth-brush mustache à la Groucho Marx and shares his Judaism. Other than that he seemed less of a wit and more kind.

Winston’s prime argument, a common one, is that people have two sides—spiritual and rational—and that they serve different human needs. All the while, mind you, demonstrating how the concept of god has withered through the centuries to be left only with this vague spiritualism of which he speaks. All fine and good, but he never got around to defining what this spiritual need is. He finished by pointing out that scientists don’t know what came before the Big Bang and religious folk don’t know what God is like, so they are both founded on uncertainty.

Well, yeah, sort of. No.

For one thing, in the end he compared the two views anyway; he didn’t leave them to their separate fields. He tacitly acknowledged that religion does concern itself with the knowable, not just the imaginary; and that where the two collide, religion disappears. Quite why he wants to hang onto the thread of religion is not examined.

Along the way he visited a statistician, who, in theory, could give a statistical basis as to whether or not God exists; but it turn out, could only give a statistical basis for what one thought about God, not about the likelihood of God itself. This fellow had an algorithm into which he inserted variables of what one thought about likely proofs for a god being correct. Winston, for example, thought that the existence of love counted in favor of the likelihood of their being a god. Winston had a couple assumptions like that; so, according to his beliefs, there was a 96% chance of there being a god. How that was anything other than confirming what he already told us—that he believed in God—was not explained; but it seemed to have been inserted into the film as positive evidence for the likelihood of there being a god. In the category of “Well, we don’t have any stronger evidence, so, we’ll go with the belief algorithm.” Winston believes strongly that there is a god and he’s a reasonable and pleasant enough fellow, so there must be something to it, right? But is that scientific?

If nothing else, it’s a superficial understanding of love. Thinking that love is anything other than an evolutionarily evolved emotion belies either wishful or limited thinking. Winston didn’t explain how attachments formed by other animals are categorically different than human attachments; he simply assumed so. Isn’t that a form of reverse-anthropomorphism, thinking that humans are categorically different from other different animals? Is it logical to think that our increased brain capacity has led to new types of emotions? Is it our intellectual capacity which governs what moves us emotionally; and that animals without our capacity don’t have our emotions, that our emotions evolved out of our intellect? Is it reasonable to base one’s belief in a god on a single emotion?

Winston never examined why he chose love as evidence for God anymore than, say, anger or hunger or frustration. Nor did he explain where love came into the chain of existence and why. Is love here to prove that there’s a god, or is there a practical side to love?

I don’t know; to me it just seems silly. All that time and effort put into making a documentary where in the end a guy shrugs his shoulders and says, “I think there’s a god because I want there to be a god.” I just don’t find that a convincing argument, no matter how nice a guy is that makes it.

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