Sunday, August 28, 2005

Sunday Sermonette: Gedanken experiment

On Sunday we usually give the pulpit over to a personage of note, someone whose pronouncement on a subject of interest to Freethinkers strikes our fancy. But this Sunday we take the lectern ourselves to ask a religious question in the form of a thought experiment. We mean this as a serious question, not a facetious one.

Suppose I were to maintain there was a tiny man, invisible and undetectable, inside my wristwatch, who was master of the universe. I could elaborate on the theme of time, Eternity, write a scripture or cathechism extolling the virtues of punctuality and the sin of tardiness and procrastination and it would not be hard to construct an “origins” story. I could also make as a special a target the teaching of Special Relativity in school, because Einstein’s theory denies any standing for the notion of simultaneity and the universal time of Newton. Relativity would be my “evolution,” a scientific theory that strikes at the heart of my religious system. I don’t think I have to elaborate much to make a case that a plausible religion along these lines could be devised. And I could almost certainly find a dozen or more people who believe it and would proselytize for it. Think of some of the things people already believe. I have purposely not made a claim I believe this myself, because I plainly don’t.

Here is my very serious question. What distinguishes this from any existing religion and why isn’t it a bona fide religion? Does it make any difference whether I believe it or not, and if it does, why? I ask these questions with a sense of genuine puzzlement. It is not meant to ridicule.