Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Angels and Demons II

For the better or worse, I've watched Angels and Demons twice. I felt the first review didn't address the central question the movie asks over and over again: Could one ever bridge the gap between religion and science? Here is my take:

Metaphysically Speaking

Science is the product of observation and the application of reason to understand the physical and natural world around us i.e. understanding the natural world which is independent of our consciousness. Now what does it mean for a thing to be "supernatural"? Nature is all there is even including everything that there is in the outer space. If a star ends at a particular point, then it ends at that point. It is not limitless. For that matter, any entity be it on earth or outerspace or wherever, if a part of the natural world and exists, then cannot shrug the restrictions placed by identity. It has to act in accordance with its identity and properties. If a thing exists, it has to follow natural law that to be is to be something. A thing that is not something specific cannot exist. If there is nothing, then there really is nothing.

Lets consider another angle. Leonard Peikoff tells us in OPAR, there can be no fact of this reality and this world that transcends everything we know. Thus, any inferences from the natural can only lead to more of the natural, not to something that does not exist. Take rocks. If we decide to research rocks, then all inferences drawn from it will lead to only more of the natural world. For instance, a discussion on rocks may lead us to understand that there are different kinds of rocks viz., igneous rocks, sedimentary rocks, metamorphic rocks and so on. There can be no evidence that will arise that will lead us an entity beyond the whole of existence itself. The realm of evidence itself then becomes inapplicable.

Craig Biddle nails it in his book, "Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It" when he says:

"But that raises the question: How can anyone know anything about that which is "not an aspect of nature" or "greater than the universe" or "beyond our sensory abilities"? Nature is all there is; the universe is the totality of it; and our senses are our only source of information. In other words, such "knowledge" would require understanding of a non-thing from a non-place by the means of non-sense.

This is why religionists of all walks ultimately echo the famous words of Saint Augustine: I do not know in order to believe, I believe in order to know."

Epistemological Stand

If man wishes to survive on Earth, then his survival entails a long chain of factual requirements he has to fulfill in order to live. Ayn Rand summed up the factual requirements succinctly as, "One cannot place an 'I wish' above 'It is'". These 8 words sum up such a vast quantity of knowledge that one needs to delve a little deeper into the issue. To refrain from placing an "I wish" above "It is" presupposes that one acknowledges that a world exists "out there" and exists independently of our wishes, feelings and desires. It acknowledges the responsibility that it is the duty of the individual to conform to facts and not the other way round. This view towards reality is known as the primacy of existence viewpoint according to Objectivism. It acknowledges the fact that a reality exists out there independent of our consciousness and that it is our duty to conform to facts through the faculty of reason. The opposite kind is exhibited by the primacy of consciousness viewpoint. It is the view that reality should shrug off the restrictions placed by identity and conform to ones whims and feelings. To them, it's not the duty of the individual to conform to the identity of things to live but the duty of things to act according to their wishes. True, nobody actually states it in such explicit terms but the primacy of viewpoint is assumed in any argument for religion or subjectivism.

Reason is the faculty that helps us draw relationships, deduce, induce, connect ideas, observe data and build it up into a consistent sum of knowledge. Using the faculty of reason presupposes the fact that one acknowledges the primacy of existence of viewpoint; that there is a world independent of us which requires observation and study. On the opposite side of reason stands faith. Faith is precisely this: the belief of the existence of a thing for which no evidence exists. Having faith presupposes the primacy of consciousness viewpoint; that one can close their eyes to facts and pray that reality conform to ones desires. Application of reason, leads us to knowledge and progress while the application of faith leads us voluntary blindness and ignorance.

If reason is our faculty of knowledge, then one looks outwards for knowledge and corrects his mistakes through a span of time. It is pertinent to ask then, what is the means of knowledge of the faithful? Since metaphysically speaking, God doesn't exist or since in fact, God doesn't exist, it is metaphysically impossible for God to inject knowledge into an individual head through the means revelations, intuitions and whatnot. A person disavowing his distinguishing characteristic of reason, has only one other guide to action: feeling. He does a thing and acts in a particular fashion because he feels so. He feels that God magically appeared in his head and told him to take a course of action. He obviously cannot prove the existence of a god, let alone entering his head but that doesn't concern him – it is not consistency that matters to him but having "a little faith" totally does.

Coming back to the question: can one bridge the gap between religion and science? To state the question differently: can one bridge the gap between reason and faith? Can one bridge the primacy of consciousness viewpoint and primacy of existence viewpoint? Can one bridge the rational means of knowledge with revelations? Can one bridge emotionalism with reason as our primary means of knowledge? Can one take two extremes [science and religion], extremes from all different angles and claim to bridge them? Could one bridge clear logic with the twistedness of the arbitrary? Could one bridge the method that furthers man's life and the method that hinders it?

The answer is painstakingly obvious: a resounding, "No!"

Update: Minor edits.

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