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Monday, July 07, 2008

Random Thoughts: In Science We Believe

Brigham Young University is a private religious university. It is certainly an interesting experience for me, a non-LDS member, to attend the school. This article is an assignment from one of the classes I took, Computability and Complexity Theory, which is the only required course for PhD students. In this class, we learned about undecidability and incompleteness. And the professor asked us to write an article discussing how undecidability and incompleteness relate to our religious beliefs. Being almost an atheist (I used the term "almost" here because I can't prove the non-existense of supernature beings, therefore I can't completely deny it), I came up with the following article:

In Science We Believe
How undecidability and incompleteness
relate to an atheist’s view of the world

"An atheist is a person that disbelieves the existence of God or gods."

I. BELIEF

“Being an atheist, what is your belief?” When Dr. Jones asked me the question on our walk back to the Talmage building from class, my immediate response was that an atheist does not have a belief. But after I pondered upon this question more in the next several days, my thought became clearer. Although atheists do not believe in the existence of divine beings, we still believe in something. We believe in Science.

Science is imperfect. The history of science has proved that many times. Again and again, by correcting our mistakes we make great breakthroughs in the advancement of science. Science gives us a way to understand the world we live in, and gives us confidence (to a certain degree) to live in the world.

There are many different religions in the world, many ofwhom I have very limited or no knowledge about, that’s why I’ll focus our discussion in this paper to the religions I know, and in most cases, I’ll only discuss religions that are monotheisms.

So the first question you want to ask me is probably, “Why don’t you believe in the existence of God?” I guess my answer would be, “Because I do not believe in the existence of a perfect being with infinite power and wisdom, who has the ultimate control of the universe and never make any mistakes.” When I try to understand the world, I will first use our existing knowledge of science to reason, and when our knowledge is incomplete and the subject is undecidable I try to hypothesize using the current knowledge we have, and I remain skeptical about different hypotheses. I believe that as science advances further along, subjects that are undecidable and knowledge that is incomplete at the current time will eventually be explainable by science.

A. The Power of Prayers

Let’s consider the following story: Somewhere in the ancient times, two armies of soldiers were engaging in a fierce battle in the middle of the day. One side had much fewer soldiers and all of them would die if the battle continued. Desperate, the leader of the losing side knelt down on his knees and prayed to God for help. Within minutes, the blazing sun darkened and eventually disappeared as if night had fallen. Frightened by this “divine intervention,” the winning army stopped fighting and all knelt down in fear. By then, the sun reappeared in the sky and soon resumed its brightness. Shaken, the leader of the winning army promised to never fight the losing army again, thus, soldiers from the losing side avoided their fatal destiny.

If we ask any person in our class, he or she would easily conclude that an eclipse had happened in the middle of the battle. But for the soldiers in the story, they had no knowledge about such astronomical phenomenon, and being faithful Christians, they believed they had just witnessed a miracle performed by God answering to the prayer. So here is a very interesting question to ask: “Did God really answer the prayer and made the eclipse happen?” We’ll never know the answer. Even believers tend to think that this was not God’s answer to a prayer, but it is still possible that God foretold the event and planned the eclipse when he first created the universe, if and only if he does exist. To the losing army leader, the faithful Christian, this was definitely God’s answer to his prayer and this event will only strengthen his belief in God. But being an atheist, I tend to follow the scientific analysis and believe that the eclipse just happened to happen at the time, and the two things are unrelated.

Now let’s look at another example. In Masaru Emoto’s book The Message from Water, he showed some very interesting pictures from his experiments. I must admit that I cannot assure you the authenticity of these experiments, but that is irrelevant in this case and we can assume the experiment results are valid. The picture in Figure 1 shows crystal of water that have been exposed with a playing of Kawachi Folk Dance Song; the picture in Figure 2 shows crystal of water that have been exposed with a playing of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.” When we look at the differences, we tend to think that the change of structure probably had something to do with the vibration created by the music, because we know sounds are energy waves. It’s all about science. Now let’s look at another two pictures. The picture in Figure 3 shows water crystal of Fujiwara Dam before offering a prayer, and the picture in Figure 4 shows water crystal of Fujiwara Dam after offering a prayer. So how did a prayer affect the structure of the water? Human languages do not follow a very clear and regular sound pattern like music does, therefore it was probably not the sound waves from the prayer that made the change. I don’t know how a believer would try to explain this phenomenon, but as an atheist, I tend to try following the same logic and deduct a hypothesis such as maybe the prayer helpedrelease a certain type of harmonious energy from the human body, which changed the structure of the water. And maybe in the first case, it wasn’t the sound waves from the music that changed the structure of the water but rather the same type of energy emitted by human subjects who were present at the experiment. Because I believe in science, I can try to understand the undecidable subject using logic or deduction from existing knowledge. To extend the subject a little further, following the same logic, I could hypothesize that if ghosts, spirits, or souls do exist, it is possible that these things are also different forms of energy emitted from human body, but I’d be very skeptical about whether they will go to heaven or hell.

Fig. 1. Crystal of water that have been exposed with a playing of Kawachi Folk Dance Song


Fig. 2. Crystal of water that have been exposed with a playing of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations”


Fig. 3. Water crystal of Fujiwara Dam before offering a prayer



Fig. 4. Water crystal of Fujiwara Dam after offering a prayer


B. The Origin of Life

How did life originate on earth? This is a question many asked and many attempted at answering, resulting in many different theories. One theory hypothesizes that under a very specific natural environment, out of great randomness, certain chemicals reacted with certain other chemicals and wow, there was life from non-life, and this happened between 3.9 to 3.5 billion years ago. Another theory hypothesizes that earth life may have originated from “primitive” extraterrestrial life. These “primitive” life forms evolved in earth environment and eventually evolved into homosapien beings. The Bible states that God created life (the foundation for creationism) and God also created human (Adam and Eve being the first two) in his own image. Ancient Chinese mythology told the story of how the Goddess Nu-Wa created human beings out of earth in her own image (while a different God created the plants and animals). Being an atheist, I tend to agree more with the more scientific theories, and out of the Random Origin Theory and the “Primitive” Extraterrestrial Life theory, I lean more toward the later. And my reasoning relates to my current understanding of the universe. Since the universe is infinitely large and has always been there, it is also possible for life to always have existed (just like non-life materials). And with so many meteorites visiting earth since the beginning of earth, it is possible that life could have been brought along from other planets. It is also possible that primitive life forms were accidentally left on earth when extraterrestrial beings visited earth in spaceships. As an atheist, I don’t blindly believe or deny any one of the theories; I remain skeptical about each one of them. But because of my belief in science, I tend to believe more in the scientific theories.

II. IMPERFECT BUT EVOLVING BELIEF

Because our current understanding of science is imperfect, some scientific laws or theories we currently believe are true might turn out to be flawed or false, and when I try to reason using such false or flawed knowledge it will lead to false or flawed conclusions. For example, if I were born in 100 B.C., I would have believed that earth is flat, which we all know is clearly false. But I also believe that the flaws or errors in science will, one day, be corrected, and at that time, I would be able to understand the world more accurately. This room for correction in my belief system allows my belief to evolve. Sowith many undecidable subjects and incomplete knowledge, I believe as science advances, one day we will be able to understand and explain the subjects that seem to be unnatural or mysterious to us today. It might take a long time to get there, but as long as human race survives (especially surviving from possible self-destruction), we will get there.

III. OTHER RANDOM THOUGHTS

Even though I am a perfectionist, it is just so difficult for me to imagine the existence of a perfect being. It is easier for me to believe Aliens created earth life environment (maybe in an experiment) than to believe God did it, because Aliens can make mistakes, they might be mortal, they use science/technology to manipulate matter, and they didn’t create the universe.

I guess the main difference between an atheist and a religious believer is that the believer makes the faith leap of believing without the proof, and an atheist will not believe without the proof. So if in the future science advances enough to let us have enough knowledge to prove the existence of God, then all atheists will also become believers. Before then, an atheist will remain skeptical.

IV. CONCLUSION

In this paper I explained how I view the world from an atheist’s view when it is relating to undecidability and incompleteness. I hope I have not offended any believers and I hope the reader can get a better understanding of how an atheist reasons with undecidability and incompleteness. To summarize, an atheist believes in science and tries to reason with existing knowledge of the world. When existing knowledge is insufficient, he hypothesizes using scientific knowledge that is likely to relate. He doesn’t accept or deny any hypotheses and remain skeptical toward all of them, but he tends to believe more in theories that use science as the foundation because he could relate to it more easily. He also believes that as science advances on, one day, these undecidability and incompleteness can be reasoned and explained scientifically.





Taking grad level STAT class for a CS major is a stupid idea.