Friday, October 11, 2013

The Hidden Hand - Luck or God?

We are constructed in such a way that we make patterns in order to survive.  Most of these patterns are useful, such as the ability to connect outlines of an object hidden behind a tree with a known animal, or the occurrence of storms with a certain pattern of clouds in the sky.  

Not all such patterned associations are obvious.  Most of the things we deal with on a practical level, such as weather and visual data and even sounds, are pretty chaotic.  We have developed a lot of computational machinery to deal with it.  Of course, there are false positives and false negatives in such a complex perception.  The difference between a keen analytical observation of cause and effect and a random coincidence is not always clear.  It becomes even more vague and fuzzy when we have no background for a logical explanation.  The difference between superstition and understanding is knowledge.  A person who has no way to connect the parts of a coincidence is inclined to see a hidden hand behind the scenery.  This is the exact same mechanism that perceives the outline of a tiger partly hidden in the grass.  It's better to see the tiger, even if it isn't there, than to miss it and get eaten.

The hidden hand explanation is only a part of the the atheist vs theist debate. 

If God is the perceived hidden hand you may be seeing a false positive pattern.  Or, there may be a God pulling strings behind the curtain of reality.  There is no obvious test for either hypothesis.  However, there is another definition of God that bypasses the false pattern issue.  That would be God the Creator, a master architect who set up the rules of physics we observe, and reality simply runs according to those rules.  The hand is not hidden, we can see it alright, but we cannot easily connect it to the vision of a bearded, paternal, omniscient deity.  

In this version, there are random events and there are still the false positives of pattern recognition we call coincidences, but they are irrelevant to the question of a deity.  God retreats behind string theory or some such -  still impressive, but not so much concerned with what church you belong to, or even if you ever go at all.

I have noticed that the debate has turned recently to the derivation of ethics, and the atheistic humanists are now closer to the theists on those issues.  

For the record, I am a theist, and I understand that this is akin to a belief in magic.  What a dull place this would be if there were no such magic in the world.

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