When I was growing up in America atheists were considered taboo by most people. Atheism was a territory occupied by the amoral; by godless communists, hedonists, anarchists, and let’s face it… devil worshippers. They didn’t just disbelieve in god; they believed in satan.
Or so we thought back then. Hell, how were we to know any different? No one I knew would ever admit to being an atheist. Even the most hardcore left wing flag burning pot smoking anarchist liberal could only summon up the huevos to admit that he was an agnostic. And let’s face it… agnostics are just people too weak kneed to take a stance, commitment phobes afraid to make a choice.
All this crossed my mind as I was having a conversation with a physicist the other day. He happens to be an atheist [note: atheists are not considered pariahs here in New Zealand], and we were talking about god, creationism, and the scientific method.
I asked whether he thought his belief in physics (the laws of nature) was any different than others’ belief in god. To which he replied with the usual arguments of testing by scientific method, proving and disproving theories, and using empirical evidence and such, whereas with god you just rely upon faith and believe in it all.
And so I asked if the laws of physics were really all that different from god, and I don’t think I made myself quite clear, as he seemed a bit confused by the question. So I offered up a comparison.
Physics is a thing that exists outside our universe (and inside it, as well). It controls everything in the universe, but is itself not controlled or affected by us, or by anything in our universe. It is immutable, all powerful. We live by its laws, even when we don’t know or understand them.
We don’t even have a clue as to what percentage of the laws of physics [nature] we do understand. Do we know ninety percent? Two percent? We have no idea, and probably never will. Do the laws of physics [nature] change if we go somewhere else in the universe, or to another universe? We don’t know yet. Maybe it’s not for us to ever know. Hell, we don’t know that, either.
My scientist friend posited a familiar argument about god being taken on faith, while science is tested and retested, etc. I mentioned that he was actually talking about religion vs. the scientific method, and not about god vs. physics. Religion is what we do. Science is what we do. But if god and physics exist they are beyond our grasp, and they’ll exist whether we’re here or not. They’ll exist for other lifeforms on other planets in other galaxies. And though they’re everywhere, not a single being can touch either one of ’em.
I’m a believer in the laws of nature. Here’s a quick test for you: if you DON’T believe in them, just take a short trip to the roof of your nearest, say, 15 storey building and step off. I’m pretty sure that gravity is gonna beat disbelief on that one. But all that proves is that physics works. But who’s to say it wasn’t invented by god?
Don’t look at me. I don’t know the answer. I’m an agnostic.