Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Religion

9 out of 10 americans believe in God. Then again, only 4 in 10 believe in evolution, so you can't put faith in numbers. So, what's the truth about religion? Is there one true faith, or are they all bunk? There's so many variations... polytheism, or monotheism which could involve theism, deism or pantheism. Most people seem to adopt their parent's faith. Other people call themselves "agnostic", either to dodge the scorn of "athiest" or to play it safe in case Hell is real. So what's the truth about religion... not whether it's good or bad, but whether it's correct?

Let's consider a few options:
  • Theory A: One religion is true. All the folks from other religions, and especially athiests, have got the fundamental nature of the Universe completely wrong. (South Park suggested an answer)
  • Theory B: Many religions are true. There are all kinds of gods and creation scenarios for each culture in history.
  • Theory C: No religions are true. They were all made up and existence can be explains by natural phenomenon.
While Theory B would be pretty awesome, theories A and C (the theories most people subscribe to) would beg the question: "How could the other guy believe that?!".  Having studied psychology, I'm going to tackle the greater question, why 9 in 10 americans might falsly choose to believe in higher power:

Reasons why people may believe in religion:
  • Cognitive
    • Difficulty explaining experience: e.g. natural events, consciousness, where we came from
      (courtesy of Bill O'Reilly, see 1:40 for the classic exchange as example)
    • Anthropic principle/fallacy (i.e. self-aggrandizing that "man just be the center/meaning of the Universe")
  • Emotional
    • Fear of death
    • Avoidance of hell
    • Comfort of a protector, greater power
  • Social/Cultural
    • Transcribing value systems and traditions into transferable lessons
    • Advertising moral integrity to others, by publicly proclaiming that one fears supernatural punishment for bad behavior
    • Proliferations of organizations based upon self-replicating memes: i.e. believe this or you will suffer forever
So, theory A or C? One true religion or none? My conclusion relies upon the most important deductive method: Occam's Razor. Also known as the Law of Parsimony, is that among a set of theories, the one requiring the fewest assumptions is the correct theory. We've gained enough knowledge of our natural history to refute old creation myths. Some religions have thrown out what doesn't fit, and adapted by coming out with "Intelligent Design" theory. The common theme in the history between Religion vs Science has been the fallacy of the anthropic principle, that man is the meaning/purpose/center of the Universe. This isn't just believing that Man was created in God's image, or that Apollo's chariot drive the sun each morning. Copernicus' true and simplified sun-centered model of the solar system struggled against the charges of heresy and idea that man is the center of the universe (and Ptolemy's previous church-approved geocentric model which devised complex epicycles of planets ensure earth was the center). Human knowledge has always expanded in one direction: realizing that reality is larger than man. Today, physicists debate the nature of dark energy and dark matter, and  speculate about the age and size of the Universe after their "Big Bang". People still struggle against the anthropic principle, and I predict astronomists' CMB will one day be known as the shadows on the wall of another ptolemaic Plato's Den.

As a child, I often wondered "How could there be an end to the  Universe?" Because if it's finite, then numerous more assumptions must be made: why that size? What's beyond it? Where did it come from? Similarly, if one believes in god or gods, one must ask where they came from... and so forth. Therefore, Occam's Razor prescribes one rational truth: the Universe must be infinite in every way: time, space, dimensions, permutations. The Multiverse is a physical reality. No creation is required nor possible for infinity, because 8 "just is". God becomes extraneous in an equation where natural science explains evolution of the human animal, because: Infinity > God.

This is my religion. To fathom it is a religious experience, implying how utterly insignificant each of our lives and concerns are. When I've sat in a dentist chair having my teeth cleaned, I've actually used the Multiverse as my personal zen-tao koan to find my happy place.... because the Multiverse means you have and will exist again, in the same way the monkeys will type Shakespeare. By the same token, a replica of me has, is, and will again write these exact same words in a blog somewhere else in the Universe. As mind-blowing as the implications are - no faith is required here, just logic and reason. 


My post leaves out a major topic of religion: morality. However, ethics also are an exercise in reason, and I will refute anyone who says that religion is required for a source in morality. For more on that, read my previous posts on the Golden Rule and altruism.

Anyways, maybe John Lennon had it right after all...