City of Brass

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

On Reddit, someone posted the following question: “What convinces you that the Quran is the literal Word of God?” I think this is precisely the wrong question.

The book/movie Life of Pi directly and elegantly addresses this question. In the end – no spoilers – there are two versions of events that the main character tells the authorities. One is beautiful and uplifting, and melancholy in some ways, but ultimately affirming and magical. The other is brutal, savage and harsh. But both stories explain the events equally well. The beauty of Life of Pi is that it simply asks you – which story would you rather believe? Not, which one is there more evidence for. Because despite the assertions to the contrary of disbelievers, the world isn’t defined by what we can prove.

The great lie of the Enlightenment was that human reason and rationality is sufficient to describe the Universe in full. I am a scientist, remember – I literally rely on Reason every day. But I have no illusions that the scope of Reason’s objectivity is truly universal. Reason is fundamentally limited – and the mathematician Godel proved that limit mathematically. Godel used logic itself to irrefutably demonstrate that provability is a weaker notion than truth, no matter what axiom system is involved.

The video game characters on the screen, or the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave – it’s all the same.

So, the right question isn’t, what proves that the Qur’an isn’t the word of God – it’s, what would possibly be better about the universe in which it isn’t, that would compel me to stop believing it is? All things being equal – and they are, because absence of evidence is NOT evidence of absence – I choose what is beautiful over what is ugly, what is magical and uplifting over what is brutal and degrading.

This is the fundamental and critical distinction between religion and science – in the former, the first step has to be one of belief. At some point, you have to choose to take the leap.

Ironically, one of the premier atheists, Douglas Adams, knew that very well – which made him far more intellectually honest than modern atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens. Adams wrote that proof denies faith – so if one were to prove the existence of God, one might arguably be disproving his existence at the same time. Any God that can be proved, is not one worth believing in.

As an irrelevant aside, the name Richard Parker (name of the Tiger in Life of Pi) has a very strange history, in fiction and in real-life, with shipwrecks, and survival, at all costs. If ever I get a chance to ask Yann Martel a question, I’m asking him if he knew. I already had my chance to ask Douglas Adams a question 🙂

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