29 October 2014
Pope Francis swerves toward a more scientific outlook
recently declared that evolution and the Big Bang theory are true and that God isn't a "magician with a magic wand." Of course, as Lawrence Krauss often points out, it isn't clear what the God theory explains. If people can get on with their entire lives and can create completely consistent pictures of our world without God, we may ask what the point is. In this light, theistic religions seem to be at an impasse. On the one hand, a belief in God as a "magician" is highly problematic because we simply don't see a reality that shows the signs of constant intervention. Anyone familiar with science realizes that statistical tests of sufficiently large collections of data will reveal significant effects. If amputees who pray (vs. those who don't) were to occasional regrow limbs, it wouldn't take a high number for us to notice a significant effect at 95% certainty (the lowest standard used in most science). On the other hand, if we demote God to just the warm fuzzy feeling we get when we're nice to our neighbor, it isn't clear why that myth is preferable to any other. As a staunch atheist, I fortunately don't have to worry about how religion is going to get out of its current box. That said, I salute the decisions of the current pope. The warm fuzzy God is preferable to complete irrationality. Fundamentalists in the U.S. (as elsewhere) are deeply damaged by cognitive dissonance--the need to acknowledge science which explains an ever greater range of phenomena, balanced against the need to believe in the ark, recent dinosaurs, an Earth several thousand years old and all sorts of other untenable tenets of faith.