Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is it a cop-out that the Neanderthals never had religion?

A minister wrote to me over the weekend to say it was a "cop-out" that my Neanderthals in Hominids and its sequels never had any religion; oh, he could understand a story about a kind of humanity that had turned away from religion, but not one that never had it; he said a lack of religion betrayed a fundamental lack of curiosity about their origins on their part. My reply:
Thank you for your very thoughtful letter.

Indeed, a man of the cloth might say it's a cop-out to not explain why the Neanderthals don't have religion and are incapable of the same leap you yourself have taken, but the point I was making was the opposite: the rational position based on looking at the evidence around you is that we're just here.

It is not a lack of curiosity to say that, and then try to fathom the random mechanisms -- from quantum fluctuations in a vacuum to evolution through natural selection -- that might have led to that; indeed, the lack of curiosity, if I may be so bold, is in positing some magical cause that requires no other explanation.

That is, rather than asking how do the Neanderthals possibly justify their lack of belief, the books ask how we possibly justify the presence of our belief. :)

Thanks again for taking the time to write me! I really appreciate it.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Beware of Science Fiction!

That's the message of this guy. Holy shit -- um, so to speak. 
Visit The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site
and WakeWatchWonder.com


Friday, December 18, 2009

Boneheaded Facebook anti-creation-science petition

I've written before about how the skeptical movement has all the PR savvy of the New Coke team (and how they end up making people who otherwise might be sympathetic to their position simply find them unpleasant and unlikable).

Here's another such boneheaded move: a new Facebook group entitled, Can we find 10.000.000 people that oppose "Creation Science" by 25 Dec?

Nothing wrong with a petition of people who oppose so-called creation science, of course, but why, oh, why, make the deadline for the petition Christmas day? There are hundreds of millions of Christians who don't subscribe to creation science, so why pin this protest to one of their most important holidays?

A positive approach might have been: Let's start the new year -- and the new decade -- on a rational note with 10,000,000 people standing up and saying "No" to Creation Science.

But no. Despite the Facebook group claiming, "This is not an issue of whether or not you believe in God, it’s an issue of addressing the future of education in the U.S. and the rest of the world," they tie it into a religious holiday (and one that has nothing to do with Genesis, for that matter).

Once again, the self-styled Brights aren't the brightest bulbs on the tree ...

Visit The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site
and WakeWatchWonder.com


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Is atheism a religion? Is the many-worlds interpretation pseudoscience?

In response to my op-ed piece "A Bright Idea for Atheists" (expanded from a speech I gave at the grand opening of the Centre for Inquiry Ontario), and the essay "Science and God" I wrote for Borders Books to help promote the release, back in 2000, of my novel Calculating God, a friend wrote to me to object to two points I make.

First, he objects to this statement: "Atheism is no more a religion than not playing chess is a hobby."

Second, he objects to my citing of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics (which, coincidentally, Lloyd Simcoe discussed in last week's episode of FlashForward, the ABC TV series based on my novel of the same name).

My reply:
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. It all comes down, to me, to what a religion is. For me (codifying here in words off the top of my head what I believe) the defining characteristics of a religion are:

(1) a belief in a supernatural sentient being or beings, whether extinct or extant, that has or had an influence on our own existence, and

(2) a systematic undertaking to communicate with, get the attention of, worship, avoid the wrath of, or otherwise interact with or act in response to the existence of said supernatural being or beings.

I freely admit that others have their own definitions of religion, but for me atheism fails to meet either of the above criteria and therefore is not a religion. (It may be a movement, a club, a cult, a lifestyle, or a community, but it is not a religion.)

And I gently disagree on the possibility of alternate realities, many-worlds, or multiple universes being "a pseudoscience that is not falsifiable and can never be 'proven' nor 'disproven' since the theory itself demands that no information can ever be exchanged between universes."

I invite you to cite where the theory demands that no information can ever be exchanged between universes; it's true that there's no current mechanism for that, but except for the argumentative sleight-of-hand that says "I insist that this theory and all iterations and variations of it have this defining characteristic [that no information can ever be exchanged between universes] because insisting on that characteristic is necessary for me to be able to dismiss this theory as unprovable pseudoscience," I'm unaware of any laws of physics that prevent individual universes within a multiverse ever exchanging information.

Visit The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site
and WakeWatchWonder.com

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