Two Epiphanies

Over the holiday weekend I had two epiphanies concerning those two topics my mother told me never to discuss in polite company, religion and politics.

The first revolved around religion. Highly regarded physicist Stephen Hawking announces in his new book that God is not an essential ingredient to creation. Indeed the Big Bang can be explained without God in the equation. It is possible, according to Hawking, for something to come from nothing. I’d estimate there were three types of reaction to this finding. Atheists rejoiced. Polite Christians said Hawking was mistaken at best and spiritually lost at worst. Impolite Christians told Hawking that God had some choice words for him upon his imminent death from Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS). I was in none of these three camps. I’ve never called myself an atheist because I find most atheists to be as dogmatic in their disbelief as the most obnoxious Christian. In fact, a conservative friend of mine recently remarked that for folks who don’t believe in God, atheists manage to talk about Him almost more than the average religious person. I tend to agree. I’ve always maintained, I don’t know if there is or is not a God. I don’t find His existence relevant to my everyday life. I also don’t believe that anyone else knows for sure that there is a God.

The epiphany occurred when I thought about Hawking’s comments about gravity. He said something, which I admittedly don’t understand, about gravity being the foundation of something arising from nothing. Have you ever seen gravity? I haven’t. Yet every night we go to bed 100% sure that we will awake the next morning to find our bed firmly on the floor. We are equally sure that when we emerge from bed, we will not float up to the ceiling or for that matter that our entire neighborhood won’t be hovering in mid-air. I’m sorry but this is not science. This is faith. We have faith that gravity, the force that keeps us grounded, will not suddenly disappear. Now most folks would tell me “I believe in gravity” is not equivalent to “I believe in God”. I’m not at all sure.

A Klein Bottle
A Klein Bottle

When I studied advanced mathematics in college, one of the things that really bothered me was when we started discussing concepts that defied my notion of reality. An example is the Klein bottle which I would call a three dimensional version of the Möbius strip. You can construct a Möbius strip by simply taking a strip of  paper and gluing its ends together but first twisting the strip once before you glue. The circle you have created has the following quality. A fly walking on the outside of the circle will find itself on the inside of the circle once it gets beyond the twist. In a sense this represents the fly moving from a two dimensional space, momentarily into a three dimensional space as it moves from the “outside” of the circle to the “inside”. In the Klein bottle, a fly walking along the handle of the bottle can conceptually, go into a fourth dimension and then wind up on the inside of the bottle. Although rational to any competent mathematician, it was to me totally preposterous and it was the point at which mathematics started to resemble religion to me and I became disenchanted. Mathematics scholars would simply call me ignorant. Perhaps they are right? But let’s get back to the gravity example. I take gravity for granted. I have often heard believers in God say “how can you not see evidence of Him everywhere you look?” Indeed, if one has faith in God as I have faith in gravity, then He is evident everywhere around us.

This brings us to the next epiphany, related to the first one. I spend a good amount of time arguing with folks on the Internet about politics. We live in such polarizing times that I often encounter folks who say things like:

“Obama wants to destroy this country.”
“Our government wants to make slaves of us all.”
“We have abandoned our Constitution.”
“We will have Sharia law here any day now if we’re not careful.”

The list goes on and on. I defy anyone to take these comments out of context and not identify their speaker as a paranoid schizophrenic. I’m sorry but taken on the face of it, these comments constitute the ravings of a nutjob. However if we factor in the prism of perception that bends the clear light of day and distorts it, then these comments are not so crazy. The folks who say these things interpret the signals around them in a way completely different from me. Perhaps I’m the nutjob? The bottom line is that debate with people who say extreme things like this is futile. How can I possibly convince someone that Obama does not want to destroy this country if every signal they absorb convinces them otherwise? It is like trying to convince a believer that God does not exist or convince an atheist that He does. Everything Obama says passes through this prism of perception that makes me believe in him and makes radical conservatives think he is the anti-Christ.

For those who really believe the United States is fundamentally in danger of collapsing from within, there is no changing minds. Will this stop me from debating? Not likely. I enjoy the exchange of ideas, even when I am confronted with what I believe are irrational ones. Perception is reality. It is true in religion as well as politics and it accounts for intractability from both ends of the belief spectrum.

Respectfully,
Rutherford

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39 thoughts on “Two Epiphanies

  1. re: the three types of reactions to Hawkings, I’d add, some of us said, “eh? Don’t make no sense to me, but then, I’m no genius like Hawkings.”

    If he doesn’t find it scientifically necessary for their to be a God, that’s his view. I’m no scientist and certainly not a genius like he is. I just know what makes sense to me. I’d call that the “Live and let live,” view. I have no great opinion about Hawkings’ scientific conclusions and therefore, feel no great compulsion to say anything about it.

    For what it’s worth…

  2. The bottom line is that debate with people who say extreme things like this is futile.

    Which is why I like to begin by finding the common ground which, in my experience, is much easier in person in the real world than it is in the abstract world of the webosphere. I think internet interactions tend to make some or all of us more nutty.

    So, while I agree it is nigh-uno-impossible to argue with “Obama wants to destroy the nation and enslave our children (the ones he doesn’t abort!)!!” line of reasoning, if we can break it down to more rational bites, we have hopes of finding common ground and where we logically DO disagree with one another. In general, I tend to think we all agree much much more than we disagree, it’s just hard to tell that in the gaseous air of the internets. I think it makes us lightheaded or something…

  3. OK – I have had a bit of sleep and I am ready to provide a more coherent comment…..

    Rutherford, I am sadly starting to agree about the futility of discussion with the right wing of the right wing. As I mentioned over on my blog in response to your post there, it is almost is if we are inhabiting separate realities these days. Our fundamental assumptions are so very different rational debate becomes nearly impossible.

    Dan – I agree that finding common ground is the answer. That is what I try to do in my blogging. These days, I sometimes despair that no common ground remains. I guess I am feeling unusually bitter about all of it these days, perhaps fueled by some particularly nasty exchanges I have had over the last 48 hours or so.

  4. You mean like your claims of Summer Recovery?
    Or maybe you meant the most transparent Administration ever! No?
    How about claims to be bipartisan? Of course not…

    It takes two to dance, and expecting us to shut up and color because you want a photo op to appear ‘bipartisan’, well, that’s not going to work is it.

    Maybe there are some language issues between us. For instance, when you say cooperation, you really mean submission. Hmmmm, maybe that’s why Islam is the only religion you’ll not run off a cliff…

  5. Case in point…

    NBC/WSJ:

    Do you think if Republicans win control of Congress in November they will return to the economic policies of George W. Bush or do you think they will have different ideas for how to deal with the economy?

    Policies of George W. Bush 35

    Different ideas 58

    Not sure 7

    Do you think if Democrats maintain control of Congress is November they will continue with the economic policies of Barack Obama or do you think they will have different ideas for how to deal with the economy?

    Policies of Barack Obama 62

    Different ideas 32

    Not sure 6

    This is a double dose of bad news for Democrats. First, the entire premise of their fall campaign is that a vote for Republicans means returning to the bad old days of the Bush administration. Unfortunately for them, most Americans disagree. Unless voters can be persuaded that their assessment of today’s Republicans is mistaken, the Democrats’ attack seems fated to fall flat. Second: As we have seen, the electorate tends to believe that continuing Obama’s economic program would do more harm than good. Unfortunately, they also believe by a 2 to 1 margin that if they leave Congress in Democrats’ hands, Obama’s program is what they’ll get.

    Yet, what do we see is Obama’s strategy for this November? Blame Bush. Yeah, that’s working just peachy…

  6. You mean like your claims of Summer Recovery?
    Or maybe you meant the most transparent Administration ever! No?
    How about claims to be bipartisan? Of course not…

    Actually, G, I don’t think any of those comments fall in the category of loony land. Saying you’re pissed that the Summer Recovery didn’t materialize is a far cry from saying Obama wants to destroy this country.

    My premise here is that the most radical far right arguments greatly resemble religious zealotry and cannot be shaken by reasonable debate. And to be fair, the same can be said for the most radical far left arguments.

    Amazon is featuring a huge excerpt of Markos Moulitsas’ latest book (I think it’s called the American Taliban). Some of it is very hard to read … makes him sound like a nutjob.

  7. This would be consider heresy in some academic circles; others I know think Stephen Hawking is a fixture of secular media:

    Since when did Hawking’s become the most intellectual of giants? I’ve met physicists at Fermi Labs that I thought far more impressive sounding than old Stephen, and have often wondered if Hawking’s reputation is based as much on feel good PC as qualification. No doubt, the man a brilliant mathematician but there are many of those.

    The question I would like to pose to Hawking is before you decide there no need for a Creator needed for the creation of universe due to gravity, perhaps you should work on explaining gravity. Because they still haven’t figured that out. They can measure it, they can observe it, we all know it exists as two objects with mass attract each other. But unless there has been some dramatic discovery that has gone unmentioned recently, we still don’t know the specifics of how gravity works. There’s the Newtonian theory and the theory proposed by Einstein even – both widely accepted.

    Somehow, Hawkings failed to mention that in his hypothesis.

    Sounds a lot like another “theory” I learned. :wink:

  8. I don’t know if the ‘Recovery Summer’ slang is loony. I do know it couldn’t have been more wrong and Joe Biden couldn’t be anymore of a dumbass.

    Like so many of Obama’s hare brained ideas, the stimulus was an epic failure. Do I think Obama is trying to destroy the country? Don’t think he is capable or intelligent enough. Obama is a puppet on a string.

    But the people that back the Dimocratic Party like George Soros certainly are and Soros would like nothing better than to destroy America.

    Think I’m off my rocker? Read this and tell me Soros isn’t a sociopath. And Hippie and Rutherford – this is the man that runs your party and stays within close proximity. This is the man you really support with your liberal causes. And much as you might like to dispute that, not going to fly and the facts are indisputable.

    http://pajamasmedia.com/rogerlsimon/2010/09/06/holocaust-denial-george-soros-vs-the-tea-parties/

  9. R, you could avoid the conundrum altogether if you’d just agree with us. Nah. That wouldn’t be any fun. But I will say that I am not sure that the hyperbole proves that “everyone” is fixed in their opinions. Hell, for many of his adoring fans, Obama went from the Beatles to Vanilla Ice in just 18 months. It’s the ones like you and Hippie that are too invested in the man himself to admit he sucks. Oh it was only yesterday that that pariah Bush was out to destroy the country. . .

    If I keep walking around that Klein Bottle thingy will I have a chance to visit the fifth dimension?

  10. Rutherford, you have beaten me to the punch because I was about to post that politics is not a math problem. When people disagree, you will often see the request “cite your sources”, which is merely a red herring. If you do, your sources will be immediately debunked and discredited. Because…it isn’t a math problem. If you want to ask my opinion about geometry, I could cite Euclid, but even Euclid is not a safe source these days :)
    I have a friend who says there can never be a rational discussion of politics, because political opinions are based on values, and values can’t be argued. There is, he says, no such thing as facts in that context. I disagree with him, partially. It’s possible to share the same values (“freedom”, for example), but it’s that the “facts” are interpreted in different ways. In other words…you got it. It’s perception.

  11. I have a friend who says there can never be a rational discussion of politics, because political opinions are based on values, and values can’t be argued.

    GUFFAW!!!

    Not the largest Obama voting bloc. The majority of Obama voters I’ve met have few values unless self-servitude and self-gratitude now counts as values, but have a great deal of “wants.” As in I want my gas paid for, I want my rent paid for, I want my union protected, I want freedom from religion, I want my unemployment benefits extended, I want gay marriage, I want my MTV, I want, I want, I want…

    A want would define a lib. A redeeming value would define as “Thou Shall Not Covet.” And that doesn’t define one lib I know. :smile:

    And THE ONE has tried mightily to oblige with other people’s money.

  12. R, my comments were in response to HP’s “As I mentioned over on my blog in response to your post there, it is almost is if we are inhabiting separate realities these days.

    Loony? Maybe. Certainly the intellectually dishonest though. This administration has shown itself inconsistent at best, a liar at worst.

    As to Fake, facts are important and sources just as much. In fact, sources are extremely important, because when you start quoting Media Matters or Think Progress, then we know you’ve been brainwashed. R can pooh pooh polls from Rasmussen (even though they are one of the most accurate) but he can’t- nor can you- when Gallop or Pew say the same thing.

    I just you liberals held your own to the same standards, but alas, this isn’t about integrity now is it…

  13. However if we factor in the prism of perception that bends the clear light of day and distorts it, then these comments are not so crazy.

    You know what else distorts light? Gravity.

    When people disagree, you will often see the request “cite your sources”, which is merely a red herring. If you do, your sources will be immediately debunked and discredited.

    While I’ve been on the receiving end of this more often then I cared for, the tactic I find far more disingenuous is the conflation of opinion with fact.

    ———————————————————————-
    Returning to the topic at hand:

    The bottom line is that debate with people who say extreme things like this is futile.

    You mean like all the lefties screaming “ChimpyMcBushHitler” and “CheneyHaliburton” from 2000-2008? And “Theocracy!!!!11!!!!” at the hint of any public display of Christianity? Yeah, we know, but we still talk to you regardless. Funny, that….

  14. I don’t think the Klien Bottle is nonsense. I know a very functioning pocket pussy when I see one. Where can I get one?

  15. Rabbit,

    I’ll take it your house isn’t in danger? That would be the final piece of the puzzle, hey?

  16. Rutherford Lawson, on topic.

    I had never seen the “Klein bottle.” I played with your post for a time and am still trying to decipher a 4th dimension. I remember in Linear Algebra this concept with three dimensions with a point in time (sounded like a crock to me) when we considered vector mathematics. And we talked about a Mobius strip, but I had never seen the “bottle.” Guess you and I will remain three dimensional, because I’m still not trying to determine the point.

    One of the most interesting concepts I learned on my march to med school was the concept of chirality (an object that is non-superposable on its mirror image). I thought I knew what chirality was until I took Organic Chemistry. But then again, chirality is only three dimensional. :smile:

    The importance of chirality finally clicked when I learned that thalidomide, the infamous drug given to women for morning sickness during the late 50’s which caused horrible limb birth defects in newborns. It creating the defects by interfering with proteins during development (Sonic Hedgehog being one – I kid you not). But only one optical isomer of thalidomide caused the defects – the other was “safe.”

    Horribly tragic but pretty cool when you consider the properties of just not molecules, but the location of their atoms in space actually plays a part of their interaction.

  17. Ugh…

    Guess you and I will remain three dimensional, because I’m still not trying to determine the point.

  18. Tex, I have no doubt that competent mathematicians would argue with my use of the term “4th dimension” but that was the only way I could envision what was actually going on with the Klein bottle. One could reasonably argue that even with the Moebus strip we are really not moving from 2 dimensions to 3 but I envision the fly walking on a strip that exists only in an X-Y axis (Cartesian plane?) until the twist presents itself at which point we must have a Z axis to account for the twist. Once we get past the twist in the strip we can return to the X-Y space. Of course, to be consistent we’d have to really call the fly a dot with no depth.

    My head hurts.

    I only introduced the concept to illustrate how science can begin to look like “faith” when phenomena are described that we can’t possibly envision in the real world … such as a fly moving from the outside of a bottle into the inside when the bottle has no hole in it.

  19. “R”,

    So you switched from the four dimensional to the two dimensional, hey? I thought you were the in between guy, the rationalist, the middle of the road, the dude looking for common ground (maybe that’s the Hippie), the moderate? :smile:

    You know, speaking of math. Now that my career is all but over and my working life winding down, after all the math I was exposed to over the years, there are still two basic courses that I can look back and say they were the most helpful (beyond basic arithmetic). And what is funny is that most of us took these courses – and most bitched about it the entire time. These two actually did prove quite useful.

    (1) Trigonometry – which I have actually used as recent as this week.

    (2) Algebra – which I used throughout my career with giving much thought to it. You did too in your field.

    And if I were to look back on my two favorite college courses, they were Calculus and Physics – not because I was necessarily brilliant in either one, but because they changed the way I think about how the world works.

  20. As recently…grrr.

    Looks like I am starting up where I left off yesterday – screwed up. Our house is a complete mess and it has in turn messed me up.

    I am a creature of habit and it is amazing how little things can turn my life upside down. Not sleeping in the same place. Furniture out of place. I want my own bathroom and I don’t want somebody else peeing in my stool. :smile:

    You know, simple things.

  21. I liked this post,I also laughed out loud when I read Rabbit @ #21.
    Call me biased but I don’t think anyone on this thread qualifies as being guilty of the crime Rutherford puts forth. I’m not saying R is charging anyone here either.
    This past 30 days has marked a big deal for me re blogging.
    I have become absolutely exhausted with some folks on the Right and Left and have lost my head a number of times. More than any time since starting in2thefray with the whole Tennyson,Valley thing I now feel I’ve been exiled to the center.
    I share this so as to not let you left guys have a monopoly on the phenom. :)
    On a completely unrelated and uninvited note I wanted to share a link. More than a few times I’ve seen and participated in threads that have downsizing govt. themes. Not to insult anyone but CATO currently is offering a pdf download on Downsizing the Federal Govt. by Chris Edwards.

    http://www.cato.org/downsizing-government/

  22. Alfie, the discussion with Tex was, I think, on an earlier thread and you may have missed it.

    I probably agree to some extent. Lots of damage has already been done just by this idiot suggesting he might conduct the burning. I suspect some additional damage will be done if he goes through with it – but some of the damage is indeed already done and irreversible.

    BTW – Tex and I had a rare moment of agreement. We both believe that the guy is an absolute asshole.

  23. Well then we’re all in agreement even though I am all done with accepting the mantra of tolerance.If I had more time and a YouTube account I think I’d burn a Bible,Torah and Quran just to prove that a burning book doesn’t diminish ones faith.

  24. Due to the static nature of threads I don’t know how to take that Tex.
    Any chance you putting forth that by burning certain books I end up burning….eternally??

  25. Alfie, :lol:

    No! That’s not what I meant. I mean the Torah is the first five books of the Bible. Two for the price of one!

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