“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.” – Jan L.A. van de Snepscheut
An Israeli writer once wrote about his Jewish friends of East European origin, who “did not believe in God” but were “terribly afraid of him” (‘Polish Forever’, Yair Garbuz). I have thought about this simple humorous statement, and I find it extremely interesting. In it, we can discover much more than meets the eye.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is some bad news for you: Most of us suffer from a type of dual personality. Our mind can work in two different modes – let’s name them reality and religious. While it works in reality mode, our minds tend to use logic, to check things, to apply knowledge and experience to our daily behavior. However, in the religious mode – as we shall soon see – we judge things differently. We have a different view of the world around us.
Problems arise when these two modes collide, when we actually do something in the real world, based on our perception of the religious universe. This is when unfamiliar languages are spoken, famous people or total strangers get murdered, history is re-written, and aliens are praised.
As you know (or perhaps you still don’t), most scientists are not what you would call religious and most people who actually practice religion are not considered scientists. And yet, once in a while you may encounter a religious scientist. Such people are typically a cause of much joy for religious preachers, who seldom understand quantum theory but possess great skill in talking about it.
It would be sort of okay for a professor of science to switch between reality mode and religious mode, and even to experience both at the same time, as long as they don’t disturb each other and reside in different dimensions. Things become a bit strange though when the religious mode dictates a world of some 6000 years old (5764 at the time of writing this book, to be exact), to a scientist whose research of Earth in the reality mode dictates a planet of some 4.5 billion years. Things do not get less strange when the religious mode dictates a human mother giving birth to a son with no human father, while in the reality mode one’s spare time is busy with advanced genetic research. Or how about a religious-mode night journey of 800 miles from Mecca to Jerusalem some 1400 years ago, described by a reality-mode doctor of physics?
One of the many methods in which people sometimes settle such conflicts is the pseudo-scientific approach. Ask many Jews about the destruction of the old walls of Jericho (I’m not going to describe the whole story here – grab a copy at the nearest library), and you’ll hear a fantastic description of the powers of acoustics. Funny enough, they won’t take this description one step further to actually include the relevant physical equations, or the archaeological evidence about the amount of people in the region at that time.
The pseudo-scientific approach can also be very amusing: A comet causing the Red Sea to split in the middle, or a special angle of the Sun causing the bush to look like it’s on fire (Moses again, you know). Once I even heard some explanation about the internals of the lost ark being a non-Euclidean space (don’t ask).
A somewhat more relaxed method of settling the conflict is what you may call the philosophical approach. This approach has to do with a complete new line of excuses whose common denominator says nothing meaningful, at least not in scientific terms. You may name it the blah-blah approach if you wish. Don’t worry – it will be explained in a second.
“God,” the believer will say, “is incomprehensible. We, humans, simply cannot understand his ways.” One must admit it’s a bit problematic to argue about the existence of something one cannot comprehend. If this divine mechanism called ‘God’ is indeed incomprehensible for humans, then there is no real point for myself, being a human, to discuss it. I’m left only with the hope that my partner for this argument considers himself human as well. Somehow he seems to know more about God… Do you think that he possibly…?