On Debating Non-Debatable Subjects: God, Creation, and Religion

Last week, among a gathering of friends, we ended up debating for many hours, the subject of creation, religion, and god. It was a lively discussion to say the least, and one I was ill-equipped for, after drinking 10 glasses of wine, and on many occasions, found it difficult to articulate my proper thoughts, much as I imagine, did many of my friends. One rather large mistake we made, was not stipulating a suitable foundation to base our friendly discussion upon, which led to us going around in circles for far too long, as well as relying, far too much on our inter-cranial intuitions, thinking that because we can think certain things, that they must then be granted validity of truth, even in the face of objectivity and even when experimentation says that is not the case. But I want to express what foundation is required for this kind of discussion in order for it to be relevant, to others, as well as any future discussions I get into on the subject, and, somewhat selfishly, articulate my proper thoughts from last night.

First and foremost, one must understand the difference between objectivity and subjectivity. The definition of ‘objectivity’ is “existing independently of perception or an individual’s conceptions.” However, the definition of ‘subjectivity’ is “belonging to, proceeding from, or relating to the mind of the thinking subject and not the nature of the object being considered.” So, pursuant to this, an objective fact exists regardless of whether or not you believe in it. By ignoring objective facts in any debate, you may as well pillow fight instead of debating any subject in which objective facts cannot be agreed upon, as it would be preferable to the frayed nerves and spilled wine of not being able to agree on 2 + 2 = 4, or specific to last night, that Quantum Mechanics is the most verified and repeatable theory in all of human existence (denying it is tantamount to denying the existence of oxygen because you can’t see it.) However, a subjective fact is something that is contingent on an internal state of being, or thought in one’s mind. It is not wholly based upon the outside world, and it has no basis in reality for anybody else save for the thinker. An example would be, ‘religion makes me feel better’. It may do that, but that does in no way, shape, or form mean that religion helps other people, or is a beneficial characteristic in all religious people. I, myself know many unhappy religious people as well as many happy religious people. Happiness and religion are not definitively linked by subjective thoughts, though they are correlative. But on the other hand, the world being spherical and weighing 6×10^24 kg is true, whether you agree with it or not, or even, whether you know it or not.

Secondly, in order to be intellectually honest, one should only give their opinion on a hugely complicated issue, when they understand, at the very least, more than one facet of such a multi-faceted issue, as is the issue of creation. For example, if one wishes to discuss creation: where did the Universe come from? It is not sufficient to tackle this question from the basis of your philosophical intuitions. At best, you will arrive at an answer that is insufficient (i.e. the ancient Greeks) or at worst, and far more common, an answer that is simply wrong. Instead, such questions can only be tackled and overcome, if one also understands Einstein’s Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Inflation (not the monetary kind), String Theory (or the multi-verse theory,) as well as having an understanding of the religious texts (though not necessary, but helpful in contrasting), philosophical intuitions (and their limitations), neuroscience, and evolution. Even then, not only must you comprehend each of them individually (to varying degrees,) but how they come together and bounce off each other and form a cohesive whole. We all know that nothing exists in isolation on this planet and in this universe, yet invariably in such debates, issues are debated in pure isolation and just assumed to be true in an inclusive environment. Any viewpoints you have on the matter of creation, absent knowledge of the above subjects (and perhaps a few others I may have neglected to mention) are meaningless. If you do not understand that time is relative, then you will ask the question, what came before the Big Bang, but time didn’t exist before the big bang so the question is irrelevant. If you are unable to comprehend that quantum fluctuations create something out of nothing, because nothing is inherently unstable (and not a preferred state of being as philosophers will have you think), will naturally led you to the question, why is there something rather than nothing? The question is again, meaningless. The two states are not equal, and the latter may not even exist at all.

Any opinion made on creation, of the Earth, of the Universe, of God, that does not consider the positions and objective facts of relativity, quantum mechanics, string theory, as well as that of many others is ineffectual. If one does not take into the account the facts of the reality we live in, then the subsequent statement, having been made in light of its absence, has no basis in reality, and thus the statement can be tossed aside with nary a second thought as to its validity, and the chagrin of the speaker (unfortunate as that maybe.)

Neuroscience shows us that we are far more emotional than rational. It tells us that we cling to stories that make us feel good, rather than preferentially embrace the truth, and that we cling further to feel-good-stories in the face of hard-realities. It tells us that our faculty is completely subjective in the absence of objective facts, and thus cannot be trusted in painting a real picture of the world, and as such, any statement made about creation, about god, about religion, that is subjective, is irrelevant, no matter how personal or true it may feel to the orator.

Last night’s debate with my friends was enjoyable, though equally frustrating. Everybody’s opinions are not equal, and anybody’s opinion that does not respect the reality of the Universe they live in, is wrong before the first word oscillates from their vocal chord. Just because someone says something is true, does not make it true, and the inability to comprehend objectivity and subjectivity is tantamount to acknowledging one’s own ignorance.  Human beings are not truth-seekers, we are truth-creators, and the only tool that we have created that can possibly acknowledge objectivity in our reality, is science. It is the combined effort of hundreds-of-thousands of independent minds each attempting to rip apart and prove wrong each others theories and hypothesis’. In such an environment (the opposite of religion in which the majority of people simply take it on evidence-based faith; an oxymoron in and of itself, i.e. their holy books), only the theories, that can withstand the brutal assault of the smartest people in the world day-in-day-out remain, and successfully describe reality in such a way as no individual could have done on their own, remain standing. Ignore such objectivity at the peril of your own ignorance. I know no simpler way to put a hard truth.

The opinion of 10,000 men is of no value if none of them know anything about the subject.” – Marcus Aurelius

I’ve believed false-realities before, and know how hard it is to attempt to overcome the emotional attachment and bias that our irrational minds create to them, but it can be done, and on the other side, a better subjective reality can exist if one is open-minded enough. Perception is not reality, though our minds operate as if it was. The reason why is simple, our brains can only process a tiny fraction of the information it receives through its five senses, and so when you think, or seek some kind of subjective reality, your mind  attempts to find corroborative, correlative nuggets of said-subjectivity out of the tiny fraction of information it receives, and bends your thinking to that fraction, subsequently giving you the false impression that that view is inherently true. This is the biggest problem in religious-style thinking. Our intuitions are far more often wrong, than right, and this is why anybody expressing subjective opinions, in light of objective reality, should have their views dismissed with no thought to the personal benefit they receive from it. It is harsh yes, but unfortunately necessary.

The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not your believe in it.” – Neil Degrasse Tyson

Hit me where it hurts...

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