7 Science and religion
To the millennials, existing technologies appear ordinary because they were born amidst it. The technologies now entering their life, e.g., AI and CRISPR (for gene editing), are sexy, feasible, bursting into mainstream, and scary, because they insidiously make people feel inadequate. To the religious, it is even more so because intelligence and life were considered unique gifts from God. Man was supposed to be powerless to compete against God in such matters. God is God, man is man. If man competes against God and succeeds in creating life and mechanizing intelligence what would become of God? Science explains, religions explain away. At one extreme, in Hinduism, the real world is explained away as unreal. So, how can science rationally explain unreal things? Since it cannot, religious people go about the rest of their life suffering from existential ennui that is unresolvable, worrying about what or where they will be after death. In all religions, fanatics argue that God exists because no one has proven otherwise. That the converse is also true somehow escapes them. It is a game of hide and seek; religions hide, the sciences seek.
Since Homo sapiens are still evolving, speciation may yet produce superior creatures with some new attributes that will give them superior knowledge of the Universe and its origin. This is not impossible. After all, it is speciation that made the Homo sapiens intellectually superior from the great apes and our cousins, the chimpanzees with whom we share over 96 percent of our DNA sequence. “Darwin wasn’t just provocative in saying that we descend from the apes–he didn’t go far enough. We are apes in every way, from our long arms and tailless bodies to our habits and temperament.”100
Holding uninformed beliefs comes naturally to humans, to be well-informed requires rational thought. Uninformed beliefs in religion and economics are widespread and amazingly resistant to change. Shrewd politicians are adept at exploiting this fact about humans when seeking their votes.
If I am ignorant about a phenomenon, that is a fact about my state of mind, not a fact about the phenomenon; to worship a phenomenon because it seems so wonderfully mysterious, is to worship your own ignorance; a blank map does not correspond to a blank territory, it is just somewhere we haven’t visited yet … – Eliezer S. Yudkowsky101
Religion and science are two powerful forces with opposing characteristics created by the mind. They have extra-ordinary power in deciding humankind’s destiny. The scientific view of the Universe does not require a God hypothesis. History shows that religious beliefs and theology will create obstacles rather than increase our chance of survival. Acquisition of STEM knowledge will remove obstacles. The reason is simple. Success in the world we live in depends on our sharpening our mind by acquiring knowledge driven by extraordinary curiosity rather than waiting for some enlightenment and a merger with a divine entity or a place in paradise in the afterlife. If scientists are condemned to Hell, they will, on finding there an infinite source of energy, use their knowledge of thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, and genetic engineering, and enlist the Devil in renovating Hell to surpass Heaven. Air-conditioning Hell will be their first action point. Such a hellish high temperature energy source is a godsend for creating other luxuries, once the temperature in the living areas cools down. There will be jealousy in Heaven; unpleasant and unintended consequences will likely follow. Of course, none of this will happen, if after death, we are disintegrated into atomic particles, as we have in any case been doing throughout our life (our cells have been dying and replicating continually; we are not identifiable by any specific amount of matter; we are identified only as an information package which is transported by continuously changing carriers) and put in random motion throughout the Universe. Information cannot be punished or rewarded.
We are not matter per se, but dynamically changing, information packages. Our current scientific understanding is that the total information in the Universe is conserved. All things in the Universe are information carriers. Since in physics, information and energy are related,102 converting Hell into a super-Heaven by scientists and technologists will be a cake walk. After all, isn’t that what STEM has been trying to do–improving hell on earth into a more livable place, fighting against divine atrocities. If quarks and leptons, atoms and molecules, DNA and proteins are neither clean nor unclean, then when, why, and where do things built from them become clean and unclean and who labels them so and on what authority? If space is homogenous and isotropic, and time is homogenous103 then why are some places, dates and times holy and others not so? For the millennials, the choice between religion and science is becoming increasingly obvious.
Religion does not provide a living, science does if you devote your life to it with inquisitive intelligence and an enquiring mind. It is true that scientific knowledge is not absolute; it is built on conjectures and refutations and hence fragile. But religion is much worse; it is mostly hearsay without any means of verification. Ignorance, knowledge without structure, gullibility, irrationality is indeed bliss if one is happy in being unemployed; when one is gainfully employed in non-religious work and believes in an ancient religion after being educated in STEM, he gets disoriented; if one is unemployed and believes in a religion and is unhappy, he becomes his master’s pet: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth”104, of course, till such time the Sun makes life on Earth impossible or the Homo sapiens become extinct in an evolutionary process.
Modern physics is far subtler than any theology. Religion no longer confrontationally interferes with science and scientists, even though the basic scientific beliefs do form a specialized faith. Theologists are rigid in their beliefs, scientists are not. When theologists develop doubts, they often split into warring factions. In contrast, science demands one to incessantly probe, question, correlate, and revise acquired knowledge. In science, the search for knowledge is iterative–it is based on conjectures and refutations.105 Scientists are perennially in search of better conjectures, because they believe truth is not knowable. Scientists settle dissent through rational arguments, not by force of arms. That is because physics speaks in mathematics, the ultimate means of communicating objectively with men and machines. Technology can command Nature only by obeying her.
Divine knowledge became suspect when Euclid’s fifth axiom in geometry was reinterpreted, not by the heart but by the brain in 1823, without fanfare. It created non-Euclidean geometry that lies at the heart of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. By 1948, when Claude Shannon (1916-2001) had defined information106 and Landauer107 related it to physics, all the heavy rational arguments needed to demolish religions, were in place. The heart was a pump and the brain was a neural network open to mathematical analysis. In his master’s thesis at MIT, Shannon showed that electrical applications of Boolean algebra could construct any logical, numerical relationship.108
One great impact of AI will be the fall of religions. AI’s strength lies in its impartiality if programmed to follow a rational system. No religion based purely on faith and dogmatic adherence to its divine teachings can ever be a rational system. People are not attracted to religion because scriptures exist, they are attracted because those scriptures are promoted by a priestly class comprising humans and trained to (or has a natural ability to) sympathize with humans at an emotional level that resonates with a person’s feelings of insecurity, fear, apprehensions, inconsolable grief, need to belong, non-acceptance by society or social groups, etc. These are people in search of hope and solace. Hence religions cannot be rational because they serve people who cannot face stark rationality.
Once a religion becomes a defacto profession, it creates its dress code, hierarchies with titles, organizational set up, its line of business, its mode and style of running the business, the facade it must put before the public, etc. Like any other business, to stay in business, it must strive for market share. Their market relies on the fact that humans will always feel insecure by divine design. Thus, there is a huge market of distressed people (which means almost everyone living and conscious), gullible and in need of irrational hope. Like any statistical system, a random few sometimes find some respite and those instances are immediately grabbed by religious institutions as examples of divine favor for the blessed. The whole business depends on making the gullible believe that the exception is the rule rather than the rational explanation that it was an example of probabilities at play (as in quantum mechanics or statistical mechanics in physics) where it is clear that statistics is the means by which Nature does not play favorites. Nature runs the show based on creation and annihilation, and for living matter with a nervous system, to be red in tooth and claw as a means of individual survival and of its species.
[ 100 ] A quote from Frans de Waal as it appeared in Lovgren (2005).
[ 101 ] Yudkowsky (2008).
[ 102 ] Landauer (1961).
[ 103 ] In physics, homogenous and isotropic space amounts to conservation of linear and angular momentum respectively, and homogenous time to conservation of energy laws.
[ 104 ] Matthew 5:5, King James Version of the Bible.
[ 105 ] Popper (1963).
[ 106 ] Shannon (1948).
[ 107 ] Landauer (1961).
[ 108 ] Shannon (1937, 1938).