Monday, April 21, 2014

Shades of Grey: Truth Resisting Simplicity Edition

My investigation of religious traditions, such as it has been, generally focuses on the theology of the now. This is for two reasons - I exist in a results-oriented domain wherein I prefer things to be demonstrable rather than not, and I have the intellectual equivalent of an allergy to creation stories.

Now, I should be clear - I like creation stories. Their a fascinating insight into various cultures, but the surprising number and, frankly, difference between the creation stories infects me with a general sense that all creation stories are at least a little bit false at worse, or pure allegory at best.

For example, I am a baptized and confirmed catholic in spite of the usual social anxieties that have prevented my going to more than a small handful of masses since then and quite a few ideological differences with the church doctrine - this is why laymen should perhaps not read the catechism and certainly a subject for another time. I'm also not the perfect catholic for reasons I've talked about before (see the Shiboleth post), but also because I have a tendency toward syncreticism. In spite of this, I take the Genesis account anything but literally and essentially consider the whole work a lesson on the pervasiveness of the Divine Directive, right up until the Adam and Eve account of the Garden, which is obviously allegorical but I'm still nailing down precisely for what.

Now, before I go any further I'm not going to go full-blown skeptic and explain exactly why a six-day creation myth doesn't jive with my understanding of reality, nor am I going to go on a tear and rail against the importance of having one belief over another, because I have two fundamental beliefs as part of my Grand Assumptions: Truth resists simplicity, and grey is more than a shade.

I am not a cosmologist. I know we've talked about such things as the composition and early history of the universe before, but I would be engaging in a game of pretend if I said I fully understand the concept. Those on the bleeding edge of the science don't understand everything (remember: if science had all the answers, it would stop) and I am certainly not among them.

What I do know, is that there's a few assumptions we need to check about time and space. Firstly, I should say that I subscribe to the Big Bang cosmological model and specifically to a variant of that model that states that space-time - with all of the requisite matter and energy - existed at a compressed singularity-state. This doesn't sound as silly as it is if you understand mass-energy equivalence.

I'm also talking about a singularity in at least four dimensions - we know that the main four (horizontal, vertical, depth, and time) have been expanding since the birth of the universe. Questions of "before" the Bang don't make sense at all in a scientific bent and can be answered only with religion, if at all, and questions of the aftermath have measurable, testable answers. I therefore believe the correct answer is somewhere in the middle.

It's not just cosmology - I'm the same way with the evolution-versus-intelligent-design debate. The tree of life is a pretty compelling argument and the way I see it is either that God is lazy and hates reinventing the wheel or that there's a genetic algorithm at work here, and since life has reinvented the wheel on more than one occasion (wings being a good, if not crude, example) I'm intending to select the latter.

Now, a genetic algorithm is this really, really cool piece of emerging applied computer science where the programmer-type individual provides some base characteristic variables (say, some design metrics for a quadrupedal robot) and some environmental variables (gravity and what not), then devises a metric for testing these simulated designs. The initial designs are tested in simulation and then the ones that best suit the metrics are retained while the ones that worse are discarded. Random variation is introduced between generations of designs with the best continually retained and the worst continually removed and after several testing generations you suddenly have a design far superior to whatever the original intelligently-designed device was.

Now it's not hard to draw parallels to actual natural selection and it's really not hard to demonstrate abiogenesis being a thing (the precursor chemistry is rather trivial to model if not somewhat difficult to execute, which is why spontaneous generation is a thing, and also why we see a tree of life rather than like, a forest). Abiogenesis is covered by the root constants that cover everything else from the laws of thermodynamics to the Cosmological Constant.

It's not hard to imagine at all a universe where god sets the properties and then presses play. After all, if he's really a timeless, omnipotent being, it doesn't matter to him that it takes billions of years for anything interesting to happen.

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