May 23, 2007

Watch out the geniuses…

Posted in Life at 7:10 pm by pmatos

On my last post I received a comment:

Stephen Hawking, Einstein and many more genius physics believe in God.

Funny enough, and after a phase of absence and doubt, my beliefs started recovering when a portuguese physics professor once told me that it’s when you see the smallest particle and, still, all its complexity, that you acknowledge that Maths and Physics only explain what God created.

Replying to this with another comment would be a waste. This comment deserves more!

In any book about philosophical argumentation book you’ll learn that one of the best ways to win an argument is to quote an expert. For example, if I were to argument about a C++ feature, nothing better than to find a quotation from Scott Meyers to assert the point I was trying to make. In some sense the commentator tried to do that, willingly or not, regarding the support of his belief in God. However, believing in God cannot be considered as evidence of his existence. Not even if geniuses believe in him. More than that, If I were to believe in God, their belief should not account to me as greater evidence than someone else beliefs. This is so because although they might be geniuses, they are also humans and the belief in God is much more of a human necessity than a physics assertion. Otherwise all physics, geniuses, or less geniuses (like probably the Physics Professor) would believe in God because they would understand that given the amount of complexity the world has, only God could have created this (which is also another false idea, as I’ll talk next).

The commentators assertion that “it’s when you see the smallest particle and, still, all its complexity, that you acknowledge that Maths and Physics only explain what God created” is something that resembles the Goldilocks dilemma mixed with the usual beauty argument. Even though the fact that things are complex are no evidence for Gods existence, redirecting the reader to the Anthropic Principle solves the issue [B. Carter, The anthropic principle and its implications for biological evolution, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A, 310, 1983, 347-63]. Informally the issue is as follows, things are complex to our eyes. That’s a fact, and there are still things that are not explained at all but scientific research is filling those unexplained gaps. The existence of God however, doesn’t explain however why things are complex at all. We live in a planet, in a universe where everything fits. Universal constants have the right values. We are on the planet which supports life. Everything seems to fit as in a very intricate complex puzzle and this is amazing. Still, if things were not this way we would not be here wondering these issue, if we are it’s just because things, by evolution, and not by design, turned out to be this way. It’s like the fact that by putting a monkey pressing keys on a keyboard will possibly generate a 10 line poem. Note that, this is not the only planet in the universe, there are planet in the order of billions of billions. This is pretty huge! And as far as we know 1 generated life. So there were many, many, many trials and errors and many texts inserted by the monkey that didn’t result in a poem. This is definitely an argument (not an evidence) against Gods existence, not in favor of it. In my view, if God really existed, he would either create only one planet with us inside or a lot of planets which could generate life. Another view of mine is, if we are God creation, Gods puppies, God was damn stupid by creating the sun with limited existence and imposing us such huge limitations on space travel. Because one day, the sun will stop generating heat and either we find another planet where we can survive (and do some kind of Noah’s Ark) or we will all be killed and no puppies will be left for God to play with. Either he will have to create some more people, or he’ll live in a boring eternity with nothing to play with. Either way, it was not smart the sun creation.

Regarding the commentators assertion that Einstein and Stephen Hawking believe in God, I can only say that he is wrong and provide evidence. Einstein sometimes invoked the name of God (and he is surely not the only atheist scientist to do so). In fact, Hawking dramatic religions convictions misconception come from the ending of his “A Brief History of Time”: ‘For then we should know the mind of God.’ One of Einstein’s most eagerly quoted remarks is ‘Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.’ But he also said,

‘It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as out science can reveal it.’

In fact, Einstein ‘religion’, if people wish to call it that way is a non-supernatural religion. Some of his quotes which provide a feel for what this means:

‘I am a deeply religious nonbeliever. This is somewhat a new kind of religion.’,

‘I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.’,

‘The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive.’

References are from Max Jammers book “Einstein and Religion”. Hawking’s ‘God’ is in fact as Einstein ‘God’. Many physicists have this tendency to use the word ‘God’ to mean something definitely not related to a supernatural, personal God advertised by the Christian church. Also, many references to this and other scientists come from Dawkins “God Delusion”.

On a personal note, I know one portuguese theoretical physicist (a friend and not to be found in Portugal anymore), which also uses the word of God and religion as mere words to mean things not related to religion. Quotes likes “Only God could f****n ‘ do this.” is found among the ones I keep in my logbook. I also use the word Jesus and God in contexts sometimes related to science but be sure that no religious belief is to be found in me. Still, I need to assert that religious belief is per se not a bad thing. If it helps you structure your life, if it helps you go through the day and if it helps you smile, believe… believe in God, Ala, or the flying spaghetti monster. No belief, however, be it from geniuses, not geniuses, politics, presidents or Nobel winners will contribute as evidence to Gods existence.



  1. island said,

    1) You can’t supercede a strong anthropic interpretation with a weak one, unless you can prove that more than one universal configuration is even possible. Still doesn’t impy god though.

    2) You can’t extend the mediocrity principle to the observed universe in order to say that life had to happen given one of billions of possibilities..

  2. Mário Lopes said,

    I feel honored you just made a post out of my comment.

    I just cited those physics because in previous posts you kind of implied that believing in God is kind of dumb, as in, there is no empirical evidence, thus, if you believe, you are dumb. So, using first degree logic, if you’re dumb for believing in God so would be Einstein and Stephen Hawking. That was my point. (You didn’t explicitely used the word dumb. I used it to the sake of my example).

    Believing in God is a question of faith: if it could be empirically proved, there would be no challenge at all in believing. Anyone would have faith. Some believe, others don’t. Some need evidence, others don’t.

    Finally, please drop the handicaped argument that one needs to believe in God to be happy, to be guided, “to structure your life and help smiling and believing”. Again, besides fool, it’s an argument implying the others’ dumbness. etc.. I don’t need to believe in God to know what I want to do and when I want to do and feel happy and accomplished and insert-typical-diminuishing-adjective-that-non-believers-use.

    P.S. – Einstein was jew and died jew and asked for his coffin to have the David’s star.

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