OH on Twitter
So I was browsing through my Twitter feed a minute ago. Someone I follow, who happens to be fighting cancer right now retweeted the following statement:
“…people would rather have a crazy reason than deal with the randomness of it all.”
This was in response to the crazy reasons many cancer sufferers come up with for their illness. What struck me about this statement was its applicability to other topics. Say, religion, for example.
I think the biggest problem religious people have with atheism is that we tend to accept that the universe is random, and that we are the end product of life’s struggle with that randomness. Some of the most heated reactions I’ve had from religious people stem from a visceral reaction to the idea that the universe is based on randomness.
It seems that many people, of various backgrounds, really recoil at that thought. The universe is fundamentally random (or, at least, fundamentally chaotic and probabilistic, which seems like the same thing to me). Most people want to ascribe meaning and purpose to things that happen, whether it’s a missed bus or a natural disaster.
I get it, by the way. I understand why we tend to do this, as a species. Finding patterns is how we’re wired. It’s why people see faces in toast, or ghosts in a dark room. It’s why we hear our houses settling and think someone else is there, even if we know we’re alone. It’s why we assume, when we hear a twig snap, that there are monsters (or, at least, carnivorous beasts) in the bushes when we’re outside at night. A false positive (thinking there’s danger when there isn’t) is better, from a survival perspective, than a false negative (thinking there’s no danger when there is).
The problem lies, I think, when we forget to dismiss the false positive in the light of evidence. When we hear the snapping twig, then see a squirrel dart away, we stop worrying (for the moment) about being eaten. We recognize the false positive and throw away the assumption. Yet, many look at the complexity of nature (which, to be fair, has had billions of years to reach said complexity) and make the inference that there must be an intelligence behind it, even though there is absolutely no evidence to support the position (and a wealth of evidence to the contrary).
Even I can see the implied patternicity, by the way. The difference is that I can also accept the power of chaos and probabilities. I can accept that, given the possibility of other universes (either separated from us by immense space, or existing in different dimensions) a universe like ours was bound to happen (hell, even if you don’t assume a multi- or metaverse, you can’t dispute that our Universe exists). We just happen to be the lucky ones to live in that universe.