Sunday, August 15, 2010

God, Science and Narcissism

Here's an actual conversation I've had with a co-worker.

--- So do you believe that possums are lucky?
--- No. What? No. Wait, what?
--- Y'know, possums. Do you think they're lucky? Because I saw a possum – the same possum, I think – in my yard three different times and my Chinese mailman tells me that possums are lucky.
--- I believe possums are gross and carry disease.
--- Well what animals do you believe are lucky?
--- Uh... none of them, I guess.
--- You... DON'T believe in Power Animals?

No, because that's ludicrous. I don't believe in ghosts or curses or luck or leprechauns or any of that dumb stuff. That's dumb stuff. For dummies. You idiots. Sheesh. I do, however, believe in God. Despite doing everything that people do that lead to atheism – being raised Catholic, majoring in physics, going to a state school in Massachusetts, I was even an altar boy for eight years in the molestiest area of Christendom – I'm still a believer. I'm no longer Catholic.

I'm terrible at meeting new people. My wife's solution is for me to start going to church. There are people at church, and we already have something in common. That'll serve as a nice starting point. Right? Yeah! I guess. Not really. No. Not even a little. I don't really like talking about my faith with other people. It's distasteful. It lies somewhere between “how much do you make?” at the dinner table and a dick-measuring contest at a funeral.

Sharing a common faith also seems like it's not exactly fertile ground for conversation, either.

--- So uh, how 'bout that Christ, huh?
--- Yeah. How cool was he?
--- Right!? Dying for our sins! Just for us!
--- I know! What a mensch!


I resent being lumped in with other believers. I'm not one of those weirdos who things the Earth is only 5,000 years old and the Jews buried dinosaur bones in 1922. I think gay marriage should be legalized. I abhor the idea of prayer in schools. I hate – HATE – the Boy Scouts. I refuse to vote for somebody if their platform has anything to do with God.

I hate the constant shoving match between Religion and Science. Nothing gets my blood boiling quite like Kirk Cameron and company talking about bananas and how they're proof of God's endless love because they're the perfect food for humans. Aaaaaagh. The bananas we eat are engineered in a Godless laboratory by scientists. And they're delicious!

[Sidenote regarding engineered food: I love naturally engineered food. If you can plant a tree that naturally yields lemons and limes, I'm all for it. Although it'll be tough to figure out what's a lime and what's an unripe lemon. Or the other way around, I forget. It's the scary, creepy Monsanto genetic engineering that bothers me. It's evil and it's icky. My wife's mom's husband (you figure out the relation to me, I don't care to) once suggested I could move to Fresno and work for Monsanto. His heart was in the right place, I guess. I'm still not sure if I'm more repulsed by the idea of working for Monsanto or living in a city whose only major attraction is a bunch of underground trees. Which, to be fair, has a lot of naturally engineered miracles of science. There's a tree that bears like, six different kinds of fruit. Maybe there you've got a crossroads of God and Science. Kirk Cameron ought to look into that.]


What it really comes down to, the more I think about it, is narcissism. What kind of narcissist are you? Are you the kind of narcissist who believes that there is a Benevolent Creator who watches over YOU and cares about YOU and every stupid thing that YOU do? Are you the kind of narcissist who believes that YOU are able to say with absolute certainty that YOU are able to say that there's nothing?

Truly, scientifically, intellectually, the place to start is agnosticism. I started off as an agnostic, then started leaning towards believing, then I became a believer. [Note: I was always a narcissist.] I'm not sure how or when or why. A lot of it came from my love of science. The massive, expansive universe. The same cold, unloving, randomness that most atheists say is the absence of God is the reason for my faith.

There was a discussion a couple of years ago with theoretical physicist Brian Greene. His belief is that, given an infinite universe, using a finite number of unique atoms, there must be an infinite number of exact duplicates of everything. There are an infinite number of Josh Grimmers out there, and an infinite number of Brian Greenes, and an infinite number of everythings and everyones and all kinds of stuff. It's like a cosmic version of the monkeys and typewriters theory. In this talk, he allows for the possibility of something, somewhere, being able to create and control its own miniature infinite universe. (Fucking noodle on that phrase. Miniature infinite universe. Amazing.) He acknowledges the fact that we – our universe – may be controlled by such an entity. This, more than anything, affirmed my faith. Not bananas. Hard (theoretical) science. Maybe I'm tailoring the facts to fit my beliefs. That's what everyone does. We're all narcissists here, we're on the Internet.


Auntie Z said...

Twelve kinds of yes, and this post is made of way to go Joshie. I figure you love being called Joshie.

...and only one quibble: Narcissists never admit it. (e.g. you'll never see *me* admit it. So *I* win.)

Tina Rowley said...

This is so great, Josh.

Fact-tailoring is just about as popular a belief-wrangling pastime as there is. I haven't met too many bona-fide agnostics. I'd agree that agnosticism is the most intellectually sound blank slate from which to proceed. We just tend to want one side or another to win, for elaborate personal reasons.

I don't buy it for a second when someone claims their take is utterly rational. The question goes right to our cores.

Check a box, considerer of the universe!

___ We've been betrayed!

___ We haven't been betrayed!

I think as babies we absorb some deep sense of one or the other, and I don't think it's simply the quality of our parenting that determines this.

Now, I'm a believer, and I have a whole elaborate bunch of theories that are just the parts of the stories I've heard to which I've given the nod. I'm glad to ride on the many coattails of the brilliant thinkers who've linked science and belief. I come from a long line of them. I'm not even cribbing their work anymore. I don't feel like I have the time or interest. I wave a little casual hand over to their work, "Yeah, that. That stuff. What they said."

I'm happy to take the intellectual hit, and claim that I'm working unabashedly from different angles. What story do I find the most elegant, the most beautiful? What makes me want to go on living? What's the spin that makes all of the horrendous swathes of aliveness worth it?

And it's even more basic than that. It's a dumb, mute pointing with some internal arrow. THAT. THAT WAY. It's Red Light, Green Light. That story? Red light. I got nothing. No charge. Empty. This story? This one makes me shift around in my seat, makes me want to stand up, makes me want to do something. Green light! I'll take it from here.

Oh, I could go on. But I won't.

Thanks, sweets, for going there. Your power animal is the Orca, because this was killer.

Anonymous said...

.....Jack Nicholson
some how introduced me to this blog.

I actually like it.

(better than my wifesbed)

I will read all from oldest post to newest.

Marsi White said...

So spot on. Need to share with my husband, a science teacher.