12 November 2015

My Faith in Science and God

I believe in the laws of thermodynamics:
Zero – If two thermodynamic systems are each in thermal equilibrium with a third, then they are in thermal equilibrium with each other.
First – Energy is conserved, it can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only change forms.
Second – The disorder of an isolated system will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium.
Third – As temperature approaches absolute zero, the entropy of a system approaches a constant minimum.

I believe in the fundamental forces of gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force. I accept the existence of the nuclear forces (and some of the following points, as well) on my faith in the social dynamics of Science. (physics)

I believe the periodic table of elements is an accurate description of the primary material properties of the world. (chemistry)

I believe that the basic unit of life is the cell. (biology)

I believe that all cells that exist today came from parent cells. (non-spontaneous generation)

I believe in the DNA/RNA molecules, that they encode proteins, and that they are central artifacts for cellular reproduction.

I believe that DNA/RNA can be changed because of random environmental factors, such as radiation. (random mutation)

I believe that mates are selected based on features that the selecting animal finds attractive. (nonrandom mating)

I believe that the gene pool of a population changes across time because of the mixing of parental genomes in sexual reproduction. (semi-random mutation/ genetic drift)

I believe that in populations certain characteristics of organisms and by logical extension the particular molecular sequences that encode those characteristics survive at different rates. (natural selection)

I believe that certain characteristics encoded by DNA (technically called alleles) can die out from and enter into the gene pool of a population when individual organisms that contain those characteristics leave or join that population. (gene flow/ formerly known as migration)

The preceding beliefs cover the central tenets of the material and life sciences. The following beliefs are drawn from psychology and related fields. Psychology and those related fields have not yet come to the same level of consensus that these tenets are central, though they should consider the possibility (IMHO).

I believe that animals with brains have consciousness, though not all are conscious in the same way. Following the lead of scientists like Antonio Damasio, V.S. Ramachandran, and Terrence Deacon I believe there are levels of consciousness that correspond to the ability of the brain to map its own operations. We, humans, have the most developed ability to map the operations of our own brains, as attested to by these words. The human ability to actively conceive of and communicate about the deep past and the deep future (beyond the scale of a day or so) represents an activity of consciousness that appears to be unique in our species. The self is a concept that derives from the maps of consciousness by consciousness and is the central frame of reference for the creation of both the deep past and the deep future.

The activities of human consciousness are shaped significantly by primary needs for oxygen (air), water, material nutrients (food), sleep, protection from extreme environmental conditions (shelter), relatedness, competence, and autonomy. Needs are primary when they are universal within the species, have non-neutral effects on well-being, and are not derived from any other needs. The latter three psychological needs are mapped in reference to the self as a locus of causal, volitional, and relational goals and activities.

Based on all these beliefs, I also have beliefs about belief itself. I make a distinction between how we use language to refer to things and ideas and how phenomena occur in the world. The phenomena in the world exist independent of all language that refers to them. Therefore, beliefs are irrelevant except to the degree that they inform decisions that rely on accurate causal models of the world. This belief tempers my faith in both science and all the forms of metaphysics including religion, philosophy, and any other social constructs that may consider issues of causality, volition, and relationships between beings with agency.

Science is a product of human interaction and the use of language to mediate those relationships. So is metaphysics. As human products they are inherently fallible. The best we can hope for is to extensively triangulate on our causal, volitional, and relational goals and activities via language to arrive at increasingly shared understandings.

I also believe in God, but not in personified terms. I believe the term “God” is a placeholder for unspecified causal, volitional, and relational forces.

Using personifications of God in a discussion can be a useful gambit for conveying emotional and non-causal ideas. But if consequential decisions are being made that depend for their efficacy on a personification being an accurate description of some causal forces in the world then those decisions are unlikely to be good decisions. If the causal forces that need to be described in the course of a decision making discussion are utterly inaccessible then reliance on god-language may be acceptable. However, whenever it is practical to do so, it is better to formulate and test hypotheses about the causal forces involved rather than surrender to ignorance from the start.

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