Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Cartesian God

One thing I have been hearing a lot of lately is the religious concept that there is always something bigger than what we know, and that bigger thing is God (unless it is coming from a different religion, then it is whatever their god or gods are). On the surface of it, this almost sounds like a reasonable argument... almost. It is also a difficult argument to argue against since almost all of us have Cartesian coordinates drilled into our heads from a very early age.
Wait, what the hell are Cartesian coordinates, and what do they have to do with arguments about whether God is real or not? Simple. The argument about there being something bigger (or beyond, or outside, or grander) than the universe absolutely relies on the idea of Cartesian coordinates.
Cartesian coordinates, for those of us that aren't math nerds, is the idea that space is broken down into areas that are perfectly squares. You can superimpose a number system on these squares, and that number system, with each direction being at a right angle to the other directions, is a Cartesian coordinate system. Granted in mathematics there is more to it that this, but this is the basic idea that their argument of God relies on.
Their idea is that since everything we know of is finite, there has to be something further on out. That something is God, and if it isn't God it is at least where he resides. But it was this exact type of thinking that lead us to the idea that the Earth was flat.
When man first imposed Cartesian coordinates on the Earth, he decided that it couldn't go on forever. They then thought that there must be an abrupt fall if you take one too many steps. If Earth didn't go on forever, then there also had to be something under it as well. This thing below the Earth had to be the realm of the devil. Of course it became known as the underworld. And heaven, of course, was straight up. It all made perfect sense. It fit with our preconceived ideas of how things were constructed. Needless to say, they were wrong.
And the same misapplication of Cartesian coordinates is at the heart of the argument of a God that has to be grander than the universe. The universe doesn't seem to be laid out in perfectly square geometry. When we try to impose a Cartesian coordinate system on it, the lines turn, twist, and drag around from their starting place. Sometimes they wrap around on themselves and cut off areas from the rest of the grid. The universe, much like the Earth before it, is much stranger and more fantastic that we would have ever guessed.
The knowledge we are gaining of the universe is making arguments like 'there must be a god grander than the universe' as meaningless as insisting that there must be something more east than east.

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