Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Life Experiment

It occurred to me the other day that all this hubbub about being a theist or an atheist is misplaced, for your average scientific-minded atheist. The common explanation for disbelief is "there is no evidence." By this is meant, of course, no empirical evidence, no evidence that can be subjected to evaluation using an empirical scientific method.

But here's the thing. The question of whether or not God exists is a metaphysical one. By its very nature, it would be improper to subject the question of his existence to empirical evidence. In order to verify his existence scientifically, we should expect evidence in the dimension appropriate to the problem at hand. So of course we can't prove (nor disprove) that God exists using physical evidence and experimentation upon it, and asking theists to do so is fallacious, a form of moving the goalposts.

There is, in my judgment, plenty of metaphysical evidence based on sound reasoning to at the very least give God a good benefit of the doubt. But hey, let's be scientific about it. Each of us is looking at (theoretically) the same metaphysical evidence and reasoning and forming contrary hypotheses from it. Each of us believes that his hypothesis comes from good reasoning. If we are to be scientific, what is left but to experiment? So let's experiment with our lives.

The theist proposes the hypothesis that God exists. In order to test that hypothesis, he will choose to believe in God and live his life accordingly.

The atheist proposes that God does not exist, or at the very least he remains sufficiently skeptical to be inclined towards that hypothesis. Either way, he will choose to not believe in God and live his life accordingly.

So, when each of us dies, we will find out the results of our individual life experiments, and in the meantime, we're all being scientific about it, right? Plus, it's an eminently repeatable experiment. Every single human being has everything needed to form a hypothesis and test it. And in the afterlife, if there is one, the results will be in.

So Why All the Gnashing of Teeth?
Of course this is all well and good. What is all the arguing about then? The atheist might say, "fine, you can have your religion, but keep it to yourself, in private--don't let it affect me or anyone else in any way." Whereas the theist (and especially a Catholic Christian) says, "sorry, no can do. Part of my life experiment involves letting my belief system inform the way I act and the way we relate to each other, both in private and public life."

There's the rub. What we need to do is find a good balance to let each of us carry out our life experiments as freely as possible. Neither of us should insist on social arrangements that prevent us from carrying out our experiments effectively.

Atheists by definition don't have a common creed. Plus, if their hypothesis is correct, then it really doesn't matter how they act. They could live their life as holy as a saint, and it wouldn't matter. On the other hand, if the theist hypothesis is correct, then how they live their lives really matter. They do have fixed creeds. They do have definite rules they have to live by, some of which do include behaviors that can impact other people (usually for the better). They are bound to share their beliefs (especially with their children). They are bound not to deny their beliefs or to hide them (even if others find them objectionable). They are bound to charity towards everyone (not just people who share their creeds).

So if we were going to be strictly scientific about it, then it would follow that the atheists, not the theists, are the ones who need to accomodate more. Since the success of the atheist experiment does not depend upon any particular way of living, they can freely accomodate theists in cases where the success of the theist experiment depends upon some behavior that calls for such accommodation.

Ironically enough, though, this is the exact opposite of what the self-proclaimed "scientific" atheists demand. They demand to control how the theists are allowed to carry out their life experiments. They demand that theists cannot freely exercise their religion. Some even call for the outright extermination or suppression of religion.

That is hardly scientific. It is hardly the mark of an open, freethinking scientific mind. It is, rather, a very unscientific and prejudiced jumping to conclusions, a short-circuiting of free scientific experimentation. It is, in short, everything that a good scientist should abhor.