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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Biblical-Grade Science

A few months ago, I was heartened to see that a bus ad campaign was gearing up in London. All over the city, buses and tube trains bear the cheerul humanist message, "There's probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." It's a positive and succinct message, expressing both position and purpose, straightforward and elegant in its simplicity. The campaign has spread throughout the UK, and looks to be going strong, adding in posters bearing quotes from notable freethinkers.  Joining in the fun are the necessarily seasonal DC bus campaign - timely, but short-lived - and FreeThoughtAction's wonderful billboards springing up all over the nation.

Now, I can understand that there are those who wish to remain unaware that there are some who disagree with their position - by which I mean that I am aware these people exist. I don't understand their position on this issue, to be honest, but the only angle from which this can be seen to assault their sensibilities is by preventing them from maintaining their insularity.  And honestly, if they work at it a little, this is still no obstacle to that. Besides, it's no less appropriate than those billboards that went up a few years back saying things like, "Don't make me come down there. -God."

But here's an interesting twist: some guy is trying to get the signs removed by the Advertising Standards Authority on the grounds that they make an unsubstantiated claim.  OK, OK, stop laughing, take a deep breath, and read that again - Stephen Green, a Christian protestor, wants atheistic bus signs out of the public forum because he thinks that "There probably is no god"is an unsubstantiated claim.  This whole scene can be summed up in one simple line of dialogue:
Pot: [to Kettle] You are black.
I am reminded of Pat Condell's quip that there ought not to be a separation between Church and State, so that all organized religions could be sued into the ground for making advertising claims they can't back up, and promising a product they can never deliver.

What's more, according to many expert opinions, the total lack of evidence for a divine creator, coupled with our lack of an explanatory need for such, does in fact make disbelief the most reasonable option (i.e. the most likely to be true) - this is why religious people need to have faith in the first place, because reason does not get them there, reason takes them somewhere else. So he's not only a probable hypocrite, but factually incorrect as well.

However, there is one fly in the ointment: I can recall no single experiment in any journal that has ever attempted to verify the existence of a god. Not one. This gives me an idea, and you have three guesses as to what it is!

That's right: I want to perform such an experiment. With grant money and everything! I realize that this would be a stunt, through and through, and I make no bones about that. But I think it warrants doing just the same, because then we can have it on the books that we checked for God with science and came up empty. "But that's preposterous, you can't test God," comes the reply. Not so, says I - check out the way-ahead-of-its-time experiment conducted by the prophet Elijah. Also, remember the apostle Thomas? You know, the guy who hung out with Jesus during his life on Earth and supposedly witnessed the man's miracles firsthand - the same guy who, upon hearing of the resurrection from his friends, said, "Meh, I'll believe it when I see it." (I'm paraphrasing.) I think we live in a world of doubting Thomases, and we can't be blamed for having the same "I'll believe it when I see it" standard for belief as the apostle himself.

This would be an excellent opportunity for God to capitalize on, should we be able to verify his existence experimentally, and there's no reason for religious opposition. We've got Biblical precedent, we're trying to find God (I mean, if he actually exists, I certainly want to know about it!), and we're following the examples of no less august figures than a prophet and an apostle. What's not to love?

Mainly, though, I have to say I would love the spectacle. I wonder how people would react, and I wonder how these reactions would compare with my imagination of them. I would love to go on TV and actually discuss the matter with people who were offended by the idea (like making Bill O'Reilly explode while maintaining perfect composure myself). I think my case is pretty ironclad, and I would get to say things like, "Oh, come on, I'm just a scientist. People can believe the results or not, as they choose, just like they could before." Man, this would be so much fun!

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