God Is In The Details

A new documentary, if it can be called that, has been recently released through a limited selection of venues in the U.S. and Canada. I’m not interested in naming it, though a cursory glimpse of recent newspapers will make it clear which I’m referring to. It takes the Michael Moore approach (in other words, disingenuously removing anything which does not conform to a frustratingly partisan point of view) in an attempt to prove its thesis that there is a systemic (nay conspiratorial) effort to discredit scientists who believe in creationism (more specifically, the recently-minted term “intelligent design” or “ID” for short) by those in the scientific establishment who extol the findings of Darwin.

Reading the paper Friday morning, my wife commented on an interview with the film’s host and narrator, Ben Stein. She took note of his perspective on the debate and thought it was interesting. I was less than enthusiastic (if not hostile toward Stein), though to be honest his interview wasn’t that bad (unlike the film, which has been almost universally derided with contempt outside of evangelical circles). What upset me is that I actually think there is a debate to be had (if not owed) between secularists and Creationists.

I’m not a religious person. I was raised a quasi-Catholic, but found myself too interested in other streams of thought to figure that any one system of belief – secular humanism being one in a series of legitimate choices – had the copyright on truth. I’m very comfortable calling myself Agnostic, though these days wary of those who would have the public believe that Agnosticism is simply a less-assured branch of Atheism. I respect Atheists. I just wish more Atheists would respect Agnostics.

For me, Science, Art, and Religion are the same; they each aim to spelunk the chasm between knowing and not knowing. To investigate the disparity between the I and the not I in the universe. I’ve never been prepared to declare that there is or isn’t a higher intelligence/level of consciousness at play in the unfathomable orchestration we find ourselves surrounded by, whether it exists only for mankind to perceive or something more holistic and all-embracing.

I’m frustrated that, in this age of elaborate misinformation, the only time an interesting perspective is given publicity it’s usually loaded with so much subjectivity and partisan half-truth that it’s tainted with suspicion before it even comes to the table of debate. And this is my problem with this documentary. The dice of its argument are so loaded from the start that it negates intelligent discussion from the start.

One cannot talk about this without referring to previous unsuccessful efforts by the current United States government, endorsing “intelligent design” to be taught in science classrooms as a legitimate alternative, and that the theory of evolution be referred to as a “current theory”. The problem being, procedurally speaking, there’s nothing remotely scientific about “ID”, whereas Darwinism and the theory of evolution are demonstrable, regardless that there are many disagreements on the details. As a result of this meddling on behalf of the Bush administration, scientists across America took to the streets (or the web, at least) denouncing the idea, aided by the burgeoning Atheist movement, driven by the likes of Richard Dawkins.

In other words, the water in this wading pool is poisoned.

The question of Darwinism’s compatibility with the idea of a higher intelligence/consciousness, if such a thing exists, is not a zero sum game. One does not, theoretically, eliminate the other’s existence. I would love nothing more than an open discussion on the subject, if only to highlight the limits of understanding in both Science and Religion and perhaps find perspectives which intelligently respect opposite approaches. Unfortunately, given the current climate, this isn’t likely to happen outside of a university campus, and in the case of the documentary released last week, the prospects of we – the intelligent public, of which I include you, dear reader – being treated to such a thing without the deck being stacked by partisan ideologues of either side of the argument is slim.


A Vote For Uncertainty

ag·nos·ti·cism [ag-nos-tuh-siz-uhm] –noun

  1. An intellectual doctrine or attitude affirming the uncertainty of all claims to ultimate knowledge.
  2. The doctrine that certainty about first principles or absolute truth is unattainable and that only perceptual phenomena are objects of exact knowledge.
  3. The belief that there can be no proof either that God exists or that God does not exist.

[Origin: 1870–75; agnostic + -ism]

I don’t want to wade into the current (or latest, if you look at this historically) spat between atheists and theists, but I find it tragic that – and I don’t know why I’m surprised – there is no middle ground of perspective in the discussion. It’s not much of a “discussion” to begin with, is it?

I don’t particularly care about Richard Dawkins, his followers/imitators, fundamentalist zealotry of any sort, and atheism in general. I think atheism, while legitimate, is about as interesting and constructive as a “zero” on a chalkboard. Of theoretical curiosity, but not much else. Yet lately there have been many books published – the latest of note being Christopher Hitchens’ – throwing down the atheist gauntlet against organized religion.

I have a healthy wariness toward organized religion and I understand, in light of the recent alignments in many parts of the world between fundamentalists and political/military activity, why the gauntlets are hitting the ground on either side of the theist atheist debate.

Or at least I think I understand – I’m just a layman.

Yet agnosticism is never mentioned. Atheists joke that agnostics are just vacillating fools and leave it at that. The problem is this: history proves that certainty has a best-before date. Anyone remember the Age of Reason, when classical physics had reached such austere heights that it became referred to as the Age of Certainty? And then those crazy guys, like Neils Bohr and Albert Einstein, had to go and blow the head off of it – essentially showing that presumptions about time and space (as well as lot of other things) were not as they had been presumed to be. And yet, perplexedly, many pro-atheism websites contain quotes from Einstein proudly questioning the limits of God.

You can be certain that the sun will rise every morning (even if obscured by clouds), yet, technically speaking it’s in the process of burning out (when it reaches thermal equilibrium with that cold “space” stuff). So, not even that is certain.

I argue that our need for certainty is an ancient one, and whether it be expressed in theistic or nihilistic terms, it is always coupled by Thoth’s ape: the spectre of an annoying footnote which clearly states “You know this could all change at any minute.”.

What’s wrong with embracing uncertainty – does it not open more doors, feed more thoughts, raise more questions? Is it not more analogous to the inherently uncertain and complex world around us? Allowing for uncertainty is being honest with the way life works; it is neither cynical nor pessimistic. In fact, I consider it more spiritually genuine (although agnosticsm itself does not need to be used only in those terms) than holding a fixed idea of what “lies beyond”, whether it be God or maggots.

I just wanted to put this out there, as I’m tired of only hearing two sides to an argument which cannot be limited to such a static form.