Wednesday, June 29, 2016

There's Something There - Part 7

There was this very nice British teacher at an international school I worked at once near Geneva where he taught a class called Theory of Knowledge (TOK) - I spend most of my lecturing time in TOK settings all over the planet - and he was talking about faith one day.

"Little green men?! Flying?!
He said that faith was like this: you could believe in little green men flying around the room, or anything at all, really, and that would take faith, but clearly zero intelligence, so faith was believing in ridiculous things and was clearly for stupid people.

In the nicest possible way.

And, he said, since you can't offer him any tangible evidence that there in fact might be little green men flying around the room (apparently desperately looking for little green flying women)(I added that part just now.), then he is under no obligation or compulsion to believe anything except that you are a raving lunatic.

And so, faith is ridiculous. And for stupid and/or crazy people. Faith is just a short hop from insanity. I added that last part, too. But it's true. And thus religion is ridiculous, since there's nothing that is actually true about it, and if you are religious, then you are ridiculous.

Aliens having tea. Or maybe coffee. With aliens,
it's hard to know.
In the nicest possible way. Because he was British and very nice about it all. Then we had tea.

Actually, because he was very nice, he then let me talk about faith to his 3 classes. And, because he was very nice and kinda impressed, he invited me back thrice annually for the next thrice years. The Brits say "thrice" a lot. I don't know why.

Here's what I said.

"No little green droppings here.
What, I'm some kind of slob?!"
First, believing in little green men, or in anything, would be crazy without at least some evidence. Something that is true. A fact or two. Little green droppings scattered around the room, for example.

I'm not even going to mention that a lot of very smart, generally skeptical-about-religion-and-a-lot-of-them-actual-atheists scientists believe wholeheartedly in the Multiverse and/or String Theory and/or Loop Quantum Gravity and that the universe might be a hologram and/or a computer simulation and that there really really just have to be aliens out there somewhere, and a bunch of other sciency sounding things ...

Without any evidence whatsoever. No evidence. Not a single dingle fact. Little green men. That's what we're talking about. Little green men. And women, too, I suppose. Without any facts, you can believe in whatever you want. Right?

Anyway. Sorry for the tangent. Pay no attention to the tangent.

So. If you're gonna have faith in something, there needs to be a fact or two.

And so, there are some actual facts. Buddha lived, was a real person. Confucius, too. Mohammed. And his wife. Wives. Moses, real guy. David. And his wife. Wives. Jesus. Peter, Paul and Mary. The Bible ones, not the folk singers. OK, the folk singers were real, too.

All of these folks lived, did things, had lives, left records (with apologies to Peter, Paul and Mary), are part of history.

So for example, let's take the one that is common to many faiths, including Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. And Hinduism. LDS. JWs. Not Scientology. That's whackiness without facts, little-green-men-ism, bonkers, nutso. Christian Scientism, though. Some others.

So for example, let's, in what is an obvious attempt by me to take the conversation in the way I'd like it to go, take Isa. Yeshua. Joshua. Jesus. A rose by any other name yadda yadda yadda.

So here's the thing. Isa/Yeshua/Jesus was a real guy.

Clearly a bizarre cult of epic weirdness.
Or a sorority. Hard to tell.
Born. Raised. Lived. Said stuff. Did stuff. Had a big impact. Had to have, since Islam, Judaism, and Christianity (and its denominations and occasionally weird off-shoots and strange detours and often cultic bizarrenesses and not nearly rare enough white supremicists) all have had to deal with him, each in their own way, each different from the others. But believe him or not, none are saying he was just a myth.

That's just history. That's not religion. He was a real guy with a real history. You don't need faith for that. That's just a fact.

He also died. Everybody did, so that's not unusual.

Before that, history tells us that he was arrested as a rabble-rouser (governments hate rabble-rousers), tried, convicted, executed, entombed.

That's history. 

And his body was never found.

That's history.

What happened to it, is where faith begins. Where religion starts.

So faith is about facts, about evidence, but necessarily incomplete evidence. And the faith parts tend to be what science would call "supernatural", that is, not part of nature, outside of the laws of science.

Now there's evidence about what happened after the body disappeared, but it's evidence just from Christians. So it's biased. It was a supernatural event for which Christians claim to have real evidence from real people.

And you get to believe it, or not. That's faith.

Do you get the whole story? Hardly ever.

But that's also true in science.

For example. How many stars do you suppose are in the galaxy?

Maybe you've been told. It's somewhere between one hundred and three hundred billion.

How many stars can you actually you yourself with your eyes see at night, if you could count all the ones that are visible by the naked eye from earth on a really dark night?

Here's the number. 9110. Nine thousand one hundred and ten stars.

Not 9111. Just 9110.

In 1888, we thought there were just 6188 stars. So we're getting closer.

Now I've never counted stars at all, so I'm taking both numbers on faith in the people who tell me things about stars. The funny thing is, we don't really know how many stars are in the Milky Way, but we do know how many we can actually see at night. 9110. We know there are craploads more stars than that in the Milky Way, but not how many more.

And that's just our galaxy. Wanna know how many galaxies there are?

Somewhere between 100 billion and a trillion. So that's plus or minus 900 billion.

Wanna know how much bigger the actual universe is than the part that we can see with our actual eyes? OK, that's not right. We can only see 9110 stars with our actual eyes, and no galaxies, not really.

So we can't even see the part of the universe that we think we know about, much less the part that we will never be able to see and will never have any idea how big it is.

Scientists tell us that their experiments tell them that we'll never know. And they tell us things that their experiments tell them we do know.

It's a miracle.
Plus, bacon is a sign that God exists and loves us madly.
 And we take it on faith.

And then when they discover that, oops, they didn't quite get that right, but this time we've done a much better job, we take that on faith.

Lots of it doesn't make any sense really to us or to them. Space-time bending and warping. Particles everywhere all at once. Black Holes. Big Bang. Quantum Entanglement. Quantum Tunneling. Quantum Everything. None of it makes sense, it all seems quite miraculous, the math works, the experiments work, but it's all so so so so weird!

But they have faith in the math and the experiments. Ultimately, they have faith that the universe makes sense, that they can figure out a lot of things, that there is order and structure and math that describes it all.

They even talk about math being a kind of miracle.

So the universe as it actually is is weird, bizarre, counter-intuitive, almost nonsensical. But our evidence plus our experience plus our faith tells us that it's ok to believe in science and nature and the universe, even though it's not really here at all, except for maybe ...


Now, where scientists and skeptics and atheists take religious folk to task is over things like miracles and supernatural stuff. And honestly, religious folk are prone to seeing miracles in every parking space. Every time something good happens, whee! It's a miracle!

'Course, for the non-believers, every time something bad happens, it's God-is-a-total-jerk time. Or he would be, if he existed.

So we should talk about that.

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