Book Reviews

10 março, 2008

177) Contestadores da ideia de deus...

Introduz e selecionou o prefacio abaixo a candidata à carreira diplomática Luciana Nery:

God: The Failed Hypothesis by Victor J. Stenger

Luciana Nery wrote (em 10.03.2008):
Esse é o prólogo de Hitchens para o livro de Stenger que será lançado só em abril. Além de informativo, é bastante intrigante, e talvez um anúncio do que está por vir - se antes cientistas se eximiam de provar ou desprovar a existência de Deus, afirmando que essas questões eram distintas e que não havia ponto de contato, agora já se sentem à vontade para demonstrar a implausibilidade da existência de um ser divino que se importa com o nosso destino. Provar uma negativa é impossível. Então o argumento parece ser - observe esses fatos... onde estaria a interferência de alguma inteligência superior? Ainda não sei se concordo com esse ponto de vista, mas é algo interessante a se pensar.
O título do livro é bem corajoso... tantas vezes o ateísmo é confundido com fundamentalismo, por fazer a afirmação de que não há evidências da existência de Deus... mas se tantos pastores e religiosos afirmam com veemência que Deus existe, que está em todos os lugares, em nossas mentes e corações, etc., e têm a convicção íntima disso... então são fundamentalistas também? Ou seja, acreditar em Deus é bom e natural, não acreditar em Deus é fundamentalismo? Por que padrões diferentes? É um engano comum. Os recentes questionamentos sobre a plausibilidade da existência de Deus passeiam por essas novas possibilidades de dúvida.
Luciana Nery

Hitchens foreword to God: The Failed Hypothesis by Victor J. Stenger
Christopher Hitchens
Until relatively recently, the argument between theists and atheists or (to adopt my own self-description) between theists and anti-theists, was largely based on two implicitly shared assumptions. The first was that science and religion belonged, in the famous words of Stephen Jay Gould, to "non-overlapping magisteria." The second was that science and reason could not actually disprove the existence of a deity or a creator: they could no more than show that there was no good or sufficient evidence to justify such a belief.
One sometimes suspects that the acceptance of the "non-overlapping" verdict was a cause of some relief to many non-scientists such as myself, who prefer to argue with religion from different premises. But with the arrival on the scene of Victor Stenger's book, the already-revived and extended argument for unbelief has undergone a sort of quantitative and qualitative acceleration. One side in this dispute is going to have to yield.
Before I say more about how important I think this contribution is, I'd like to say a word for the lay or non-scientist infidel community, who are now so much in Victor Stenger's debt. Until 1834 the very word "scientist" was not in common circulation. Men like Sir Isaac Newton were considered, and considered themselves, to be "natural philosophers": men of scientific bent to be sure, but men of a wider and deeper learning as well. Arguments about greater cosmic purposes were all of a piece with calculations and experiments, and the tyranny of specialization had not imposed itself on us. As a result, by the way, many scientists held completely "unscientific" views. Newton himself was a secret alchemist who believed that the Pope was anti-Christ and that the true dimensions of the Temple of Solomon might yield crucial findings. Joseph Priestley, the Unitarian discoverer of oxygen, was a devotee of the phlogiston theory. Alfred Russel Wallace liked nothing better than a good spiritualist séance.
It is not really until the figure of Albert Einstein (and perhaps Bertrand Russell also) that we start to find that very powerful synthesis between scientific method and a more general "humanism"; a synthesis basing itself upon reason and daring to make the connection between physical and natural evidence and the conclusion that an ethical life, as well as a rational one, is best lived on the assumption that there is no supernatural dimension.
In recent years, a number of scientists – physicists, biologists, neurologists, and others – have become, in effect, "public intellectuals" for the cause of atheism. They have transcended the bounds of their respective disciplines in order to defend the general proposition that free scientific inquiry, and the sort of society that can both support it and benefit from it, is worth defending from the assaults of ignorance and bigotry and terrorism. Thanks to these volunteers, from the brilliant Richard Dawkins in Oxford to the truly exceptional and brave Pervez Hoodbhoy in Islamabad, there is now a wide cultural resistance to those who would force stultifying creationist nonsense into the schoolroom, or those whose only interest in science is the plagiarism of technology for the purposes of criminal "faith-based" violence.
Attending a recent conference that included many such figures, I was interested to find that, when their experience of debating with the faithful was "pooled," there was really only one argument from the other side that was considered to have any interest or bear any weight. This was the question of "why is there something rather than nothing?" with its attendant suggestion that the laws of physics and the universe have been somehow "fine-tuned" in order to create the conditions most optimal for life.
I first came across this "argument" in a book published in 1993. Credible Christianity: The Gospel in Contemporary Culture, was written by a man named Hugh Montefiore whom I slightly knew and rather liked. A senior bishop of the Church of England, he had been converted from Judaism as a schoolboy by the appearance of a white-robed figure who commanded him to "Follow Me." Here is how the bishop phrased the matter:
"For example, if the strong force which keeps the nucleus of an atom together had been only 2 per cent stronger, the universe would have blown up: if it were slightly weaker, nuclear fusion, which keeps the stars burning, would not have happened. There are many such coincidences, signal examples to the eyes of faith of the wisdom and providence of the Creator."
If you turn to pages 137 to 164 of Victor Stenger's book, you will find a fairly comprehensive rebuttal of this attempt to update the old argument from design, which was originally cast in more purely terrestrial terms by William Paley in his Natural Theology. It becomes ever-clearer that the scientific and the supernatural explanations of matters are not so much "non-overlapping" as doomed to overlap, and to contradict one another, or perhaps better say, to be incompatible or irreconcilable with one another.
Let me adduce a couple more examples of my own – or rather, adaptations of my own from the work of others – to support Victor Stenger's case that the god hypothesis has actually been conclusively discredited. Suppose we take the hypothesis at face value for a moment. Edwin Hubble long ago demonstrated that the universe is exploding away from its "big bang" starting point. Persuaded by the "red light" evidence that this was indeed true, the scientific community nonetheless thought, for what might be called Newtonian reasons, that this rate of expansion would slow down over time. To the contrary, and as Lawrence Krauss had predicted, it has now been found that the universe is exploding away from itself at a rapidly increasing rate. Among the non-trivial consequences of this will be that we shall one day be unable to observe anything in the whirling galaxies that will any longer confirm that the "big bang" ever took place. Meanwhile, the Andromeda galaxy, already visible to the naked eye in the night sky, is headed directly towards our own and will collide with it in five billion years. What sort of "fine tuning" is this? (Perhaps the same tuning that has made all the other planets just in the tiny suburb of our own solar system either too hot or too cold to support life.) At least, however, it provides a good demonstration of how a great deal of "nothing" is all set to come out of our brief "something."
Or take a quite different order of instance, again from the sort of scientific knowledge and discovery that has not been available to us for more than a few years. Now that we have mapped the human genome, we know that all our common ancestors left Africa about 60,000 years ago, and that we all share the genetic markers to prove it. Allow me to quote from an essay by Spencer Wells, the director of the Genographic Project at the National Geographic:
What set these migrations in motion? Climate change – today's big threat –
seems to have had a long history of tormenting our species. Around 70,000 years ago it was getting very nippy in the northern part of the globe, with ice sheets bearing down on Seattle and New York; this was the last Ice Age. At that time, though, our species, Homo sapiens, was still limited to Africa; we were very much homebodies. But the encroaching Ice Age, perhaps coupled with the eruption of a super-volcano named Toba, in Sumatra, dried out the tropics and nearly decimated the early human population. While Homo sapiens can be traced to around 200,000 years ago in the fossil record, it is remarkably difficult to find an archaeological record of our species between 80,000 and 50,000 years ago, and genetic data suggest that the population eventually dwindled to as few as 2,000 individuals. Yes, 2000 – fewer than fit into many symphony halls. We were on the brink of extinction.
Ponder this arresting finding, even with its misuse of the word "decimate" (which means "reduce by one tenth" rather than "eradicate"). There are, really, only two ways of assimilating and analysing it. The first way is to see the survival and escape and later population spread of the endangered 2,000 as a miracle: a form of the Exodus story that alas never managed to get written on any tablets or papyri. The second way is to remember something else that we didn't know until recently: that almost 99 per cent of all species ever recorded as having lived on this planet DID become extinct. If you bear that in mind, then any author of any miracle must also have been the deliberate author of the ice-sheets and the Sumatran explosion – "the wisdom and providence of the Creator," as Bishop Montefiore put it so fulsomely – and then have stayed his hand until just the point when the population of his preferred creatures dipped below the 2,000 mark. That could, I suppose, be called "fine tuning." It could also be thought of as a very laborious and roundabout and inefficient and incompetent (and somewhat cruel and capricious) method of ensuring human survival.
In other words, none of these god-centred "hypotheses" can do any more than replace, or attempt to restate, the original fallacy of the "design" arguments. Meanwhile, our advances in knowledge and technique simply place these efforts under an ever more pitiless and skeptical gaze. Now we know roughly the age of our species. Richard Dawkins has put it as high as a quarter of a million years, while Francis Collins (the extremely genial and decent C.S. Lewis fan who oversaw the Human Genome Project) once in my hearing said that it could be as little as a hundred thousand. No matter. Let us take the lower figure, and use it to illustrate the truth of revelation. On this model, our species emerged and for tens of thousands of years cowered in the few climatic refuges of the globe that were hospitable to it. Life expectancy? Perhaps a couple of decades. Infant mortality? Extremely high. Death from tooth decay or diarrhea? Commonplace. Terror of micro-organisms in general? Intense. Fear of death from earthquake, tsunami, volcano and flood? Extreme, and again compounded by ignorance. Wars between tribes and clans, for food and territory? Grim and frequent. Religion? Not known to us, but probably involving human and animal sacrifice to propitiate weird idols.
And for a minimum of ninety-five thousand years, heaven watches this with folded arms! Stony, lofty indifference attends the striving and the suffering and the agonising deaths of infants and innocents, to say nothing of the sadistic and genocidal violence and the worship of bogus shrines and false gods. And then, at long last, after nine thousand and five hundred decades or so (in instant in evolutionary time, to be sure, but quite a long time for frightened mammals), it is decided that heaven must intervene. By direct revelation. But only in certain illiterate and backward parts of the Middle East. As I say, you may choose to believe this if you so desire, but that is what you must now believe. Until an amazingly recent date, science would not have compelled you to face the absurd consequences of your faith in quite this way.
In any case, and as Victor Stenger points out quite early on in his marvellous book, there is a big difference between being a deist and a theist. You may still, to your own satisfaction, decide that none of nature's observable processes could have got under way without a prime mover. But alas, all your real work as a religious person is still ahead of you. How can you get from this prime mover or first cause to a deity who cares who you sleep with, what you eat, what holy day you observe or how you mutilate your own (or your children's) genitalia? From the big bang of the great beginning to the small and sordid bang of the virgin-hunting suicide bomber is still quite a step. Nobody has even come close to showing how this step could ever be taken. And it is highly unlikely, now, that anybody ever will. The simple reason for this is that we have better and clearer and more impressive explanations for things, as well as explanations that are more beautiful, elegant and harmonious. To look the facts in the face is not to surrender to despair and nihilism: we know that the world will come to an end and we even know how, but it is only the religious who look forward to this event with relish and relief.
The challenge of our age is the same that confronted all previous ages. How shall we live the good life and how shall we know virtue? In the past millennia of primeval ignorance, pattern-seeking primates proposed a totalitarian solution to this question and threw all the responsibility onto a supreme dictator who demanded to be loved and feared at the same time. The story of human emancipation is the narrative of our liberation from this evil myth, and from the greedy, ambitious primates who sought (as they still seek) to rule in its name. Many forces have contributed to this emancipation, from philosophers to satirists, but it is perhaps to the natural and human sciences that we have come to owe the most, and Victor Stenger is prominent among those whom we must acknowledge.


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