In the Faith and Values guest column of April 4, Jim Becker stated that university philosophy departments are finding religion. That may or may not be true, but if so I hope they are using better arguments to substantiate their claims.
For example, the column gave the following syllogism:
1. Everything that exists has a cause.
2. The universe exists
3. (Therefore) the universe has a cause.
Anything more than the most cursory reading of the above will reveal that it assumes its conclusion. I could just as easily reverse the logic:
1. The universe does not have a cause.
2. The universe exists.
3. Therefore, everything that exists does not have a cause.
This syllogism is just as valid a proof as the first – that is, none at all.
A little later on the column used the Big Bang theory to support the statement, “We now know the universe had a specific beginning …”
The author failed to mention that there is also a cyclical version of that theory which says the universe will eventually collapse into another Big Bang and so on, ad infinitum. And, oh yes, that old science fiction storyline of multiple universes is now being viewed as possibly being true.
Mr. Becker also seems to merge the creation of the universe with the existence of a god. Whose god, or goddess, or multiples thereof?
There are roughly 20 major religious divisions on this planet. By definition, at least 19 of them must be wholly or partially incorrect. One could argue that the lack of agreement among them makes it a likelihood that all are wrong.
Have I proven that the universe was not created? Of course not. All I’ve done is to put us back where we’ve always been: We just don’t know and may never know.
One of my favorite stories concerns a little green alien circling our planet in a flying saucer. At regular intervals he sends reports to his headquarters: “Twenty percent of humans say flying saucers are real, 70 percent say they are not, and 10 percent don’t know.”
After several iterations of this with the numbers changing only slightly, he writes back that he’s giving up and coming home: “This species will never qualify for membership in the Galactic Confederation – you’ll never get a majority of them to say ‘I don’t know’ about anything.”
We live in a very large universe. It may even be only one in an infinity of universes. But it alone contains billions of galaxies.
Each of its galaxies contains billions of stars. As our instruments get better, we find that more and more of those stars have planets.
And yet on the third planet of a medium size star way out on a spiral arm of a mediocre galaxy, a semi-intelligent naked ape stands on his hind legs, raises his arms to the sky, and exults, “All this was created for me!”
Now that’s egotism!
I think all of us, myself included, are prone to treat as facts things which are only opinions. Many of us also resist and ignore any facts which disprove those opinions.
I was optimistic when our knowledge of DNA and its mutations allowed us to derive molecular clocks. I thought that the “young earth” folks and the deniers of evolution would finally have to see the light. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I don’t expect this column will change many minds about the origin of our universe. But I hope that some will see it as a reason to think about the difference between facts and opinions.