Apply science to gods, not gods to science

What scientific idea is ready for retirement?  “The Atheism Prerequisite” says Douglas Rushkoff.

Wait, huh?

We don’t need to credit an all-seeing God with the creation of life and matter to suspect that something wonderfully strange is going on in the dimension we call reality. Most of us living in it feel invested with a sense of purpose. Whether this directionality is a genuine, pre-existing condition of the universe, an illusion perpetrated by DNA, or something that will one day emerge from social interaction, has yet to be determined. At the very least, this means our experience and expectations of life can no longer be dismissed as impediments to proper observation and analysis.

Ah yes, the feeling that there is indeed “something up” in all of this. I’m familiar with that, the feeling of being caught up in the gears of fate as it were. Many people get those sorts of feelings, and most people also have the ability to separate the dizzying sense of purpose from empirical analysis. In fact, the sense that one is “on to something” is not always misleading in STEM-related contexts. Scientists, engineers, programmers, and mathematicians all develop intuition for how to approach and solve problems, and sometimes their intuitive senses can pave the ways to superior solutions and new discoveries.

But science’s unearned commitment to materialism has led us into convoluted assumptions about the origins of space-time, in which time itself simply must be accepted as a byproduct of the big bang, and consciousness (if it even exists) as a byproduct of matter. Such narratives follow information on its continuing evolution toward complexity, the singularity, and robot consciousness—a saga no less apocalyptic than the most literal interpretations of Biblical prophecy.

First, has Rushkoff read Revelation? Robot consciousness is not the same thing as heavenly beings with seven heads or fifty eyes and whatever else goes on in that book.

Second, serious scientists wouldn’t put forth any assumptions about the “origins of space time” with the Scientific Seal of Approval. The big bang, if I’m not mistaken, is figured to be the beginning of this universe, and some funky things happened to space-time around the big bang event. Scientists seem fairly confident in that, but why space-time exists in the first place is presently far beyond our grasp.

And finally, materialism is a likely explanation for all manner of phenomena which we observe.  Even if any given scientist is not fully committed to a 100% materialistic existence, they would be foolish to discredit the idea that our experiences are mostly the product of material happenings, especially if they ever find theirself in need of psychiatric medication.

It’s entirely more rational—and less steeped in storybook logic—to work with the possibility that time predates matter, and that consciousness is less the consequence of a physical, cause-and-effect reality than a precursor.

I don’t know what he means by the idea that “time predates matter”, or where he might be going with that thought. However, the idea of consciousness being a precursor to the physical universe is understandable, because after all, would this universe even exist in any meaningful sense, or any sense at all, were it not for us? That is truly a question for the ages.

The problem with the consciousness-first hypothesis in a scientific context is that we have no method to test it, at least not presently. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t an important point to ponder, even if only for a while, but it’s just not on the table for scientific discussion.

And here we have the conclusion to this particular musing:

By starting with Godlessness as a foundational principle of scientific reasoning, we make ourselves unnecessarily resistant to the novelty of human consciousness, its potential continuity over time, and the possibility that it has purpose.

Atheism is not a foundation for scientific reasoning; agnosticism is, and that’s the way it should be. As for the continuity of human consciousness over time, and the possibility that human consciousness has purpose, how could we possibly go about testing for such things presently?

And, furthermore, why tie any of this in with monotheism?  Because that is the most prevalent variety of theism today?  That seems like a rather far-fetched conclusion to all of this.

People who attempt to mix gods and science usually try to find ways to apply God to science rather than applying science to gods.  What Rushkoff seemed to be trying to do was to build a new foundation for science, by which science could test new sets of hypotheses based on the idea that God is at the center of all of this, because consciousness might be at the center of all of this and consciousness ≈ God. The problem is that we can’t actually scientifically test any of the hypotheses which he proposed. When people apply God to science, the result doesn’t look like science; it looks like a great deal of assumption.

What about the other way around?  What happens when we apply science to gods?

I’m not actually up on the latest hypotheses concerning the capacity of our brains to create the experiences of gods and the various sensations and thoughts surrounding divine.  When I first got into atheism I learned of hypotheses that our tendencies toward gods may actually be the result of our “wiring”— of neurons and chemicals. Such hypotheses are testable to a certain extent, if willing subjects can allow for empirical measurements of their brain activity when they meditate on their gods. I’ll bet that there is a fair bit consistency in the ways which activities like prayer and “holy book” reading affect the brain from person to person.

We can also look at population data regarding theistic activity throughout history to get a sense of the various ways in which we may be wired to approach, perceive, react to, experience, conceptualize, and commune with gods. There are a great deal of similarities in this kind of population data, more than can be explained by cultural conditioning alone. That’s not any argument in favor of objective divinity, it’s merely a suggestion that our proverbial wiring probably predisposes us to such behaviors when we get the brain-signals of divinity.

(The brain-signals of divinity? Band name going once! going twice…)

And, yes, divinities have changed throughout the ages, divinities look different across cultures, and our responses to differing divinities, not surprisingly, differ! Still, the nature of divinities is just one more variable to analyze, and if different kinds of divinities provoke different responses there are statistically significant patterns to those responses. I’m pretty damn sure of that.

The point is that we can learn a lot about the natures of gods by looking at people, because while we cannot look for objective or material divinities in the world, we can look at the effects that gods have on people. Through such research we may be able to zero in on what makes our god-senses tick, and how we may actually be able to best utilize our tendencies in this vein.

And because the only scientifically sound position to take with regard to objective divinity is agnosticism, we’re still free to hold elaborate personal understanding about the natures of gods, if we want to— if it’s at all helpful or healthy for us, so long as we don’t stamp such understanding with the Scientific Seal of Approval. That’s where personal gnosis comes in: when Rushkoff ties consciousness in with God he could be saying that, because consciousness seems so magical it only makes sense to attribute it to God. Maybe that is his personal gnosis, and if that is the case then that is fine.


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