Thursday, May 20, 2010

Today and Back Then

Ophelia Benson, today:

Does it make sense to think we can make educated guesses about what kind of personal qualities – intelligence, courage, politeness – an entity of that size [the size of the universe] might have?

I don’t think it does. I think it’s just a packet of words that people mouth, without really thinking about them properly. If they actually thought about them, the oddities would slow them down. It’s very easy to say we certainly believe that the creator of the universe is intelligent, but making sense of it is another matter.
David Hume, back then:
All our ideas, derived from the senses, are confessedly false and illusive; and cannot therefore be supposed to have place in a supreme intelligence: And as the ideas of internal sentiment, added to those of the external senses, compose the whole furniture of human understanding, we may conclude, that none of the materials of thought are in any respect similar in the human and in the divine intelligence.

Now, as to the manner of thinking; how can we make any comparison between them, or suppose them any wise resembling? Our thought is fluctuating, uncertain, fleeting, successive, and compounded; and were we to remove these circumstances, we absolutely annihilate its essence, and it would in such a case be an abuse of terms to apply to it the name of thought or reason. At least if it appear more pious and respectful (as it really is) still to retain these terms, when we mention the Supreme Being, we ought to acknowledge, that their meaning, in that case, is totally incomprehensible; and that the infirmities of our nature do not permit us to reach any ideas which in the least correspond to the ineffable sublimity of the Divine attributes.
The classics never get old, and there are both good and bad reasons why they never get old. This is one of the former, in that this classic retains its vitality and relevance because people keep repeating the insipid fallacies to which it responds, e.g., this guy, a modern-day Cleanthes:
BioLogos enthusiastically endorses the idea that the universe is intelligently designed and we certainly believe that the creator of the universe is intelligent. We consider the evidence regarding the fine-tuning of the universe to be provocative and compelling. Our reservations about ID certainly do not derive from any rejection of the rationality of the universe.
Goodness no! The universe does, when you think about it, closely resemble one of the more elaborate engineering feats of Patek Philippe:
Patek created one of the most complicated mechanical watches ever made, the Calibre 89, created for the 150th anniversary of the company. It holds 33 complications, including the date of Easter, a thermometer, time of sunrise, equation of time, sidereal time, and many other indicators. 1,728 unique parts allow sidereal time a 2,800 star chart, and more.[5] The Calibre 89 is also able to add a day to February for leap years while leaving out the extra day for every 100 year interval.
The universe, likewise, calculates Easter impeccably, never misses when computing the time of a sunrise, and is composed of clean, elegant lines made from the finest of materials, or so I've heard.

If not for its less-admired materials, astonishingly vast regions of cold emptiness, its tendency for its constituent parts to explode or implode violently, and its propensity to ensnare its admirers in intractable imponderables and stubborn paradoxes, some dumbass would surely bid a couple of million for it the next time it goes up at Sotheby's.

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