The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Warp Drive Argument

I want warp drive engines to be real.

You know, like in Star Trek, warp drive engines that will allow a star ship to move significantly faster than the speed of light, allowing us to travel to distant stars in a matter of days, or maybe even hours. I want to be able to get on board a star ship and travel vast distances, seeing what is out there, and if alien life exists, meet it.

This will not happen in my life time. In truth, it will probably never happen at all. The laws of physics being what they are, the odds of anyone alive today ever venturing out past our solar system are pretty much nil. Even if humanity does travel to distant stars, it'll likely have to be through something like generation ships - where a population that reproduces over the course of centuries travels, rather than individuals of a particular generation beginning and ending the trip. And this is assuming that we can figure out how to have a population live for extended periods of time on a space ship and not be killed off by any one of the millions of things in the universe that threaten us once we leave the safety of Earth's atmosphere.

When I consider this, it depresses me a bit. The Earth, vast as it us on the human scale, is nothing in comparison with the size of our galaxy, and to know that I will be forever limited by the atmosphere of this watery rock makes me feel more than a bit claustrophobic when I stop and consider. I want my warp drive, dammit!

But, of course, I can't have my warp drive (or, better yet, a TARDIS). Wanting it, thinking about how great it would be, and considering how much less interesting life is without it does not in any way cause the laws of physics to change and make the warp drive (or TARDIS - mine would be disguised as a filing cabinet) possible.

Okay, Mr. Armstrong, what does this have to do with anything?

Well, I'll tell you.

One of the more frequent arguments that I hear in favor of debatable propositions is a variation on my argument in favor of warp drives and TARDISes. People may phrase it differently, they may say something like "without X" where X may mean anything from ghosts to gods to magic, "the world/universe would seem so cold/boring/uninteresting/lonely that I can't accept that X isn't real."

Well, as stated, without warp drives, the world seems too isolated and constraining for me, but that doesn't make warp drives real, nor does some one's tendency to be cold/bored/uninterested/lonesome make whatever their pet notion is true. Likewise, the fact that someone has dedicated their life to a false premise, whatever that premise may be, doesn't in any way make the premise true and more than the fact that people have dedicated their lives to dreaming up methods of faster-than-light travel has made this a physical possibility.

For an example of this principle in action, consider something that happened to me back in 2000. An acquaintance at work asked if I was a Christian. I responded that I was not. They asked me why, and I replied that I had never seen any persuasive evidence for the existence of a god of any sort, much less the Christian God. They then stated that they had a question that, if I answered it honestly, would bring me to Christianity. I was curious, I requested that they reveal this question to me. It was this:

"Don't you want to spend an eternity in the bliss of Heaven?"

Classic Warp Drive Argument.

Do I find the idea of an eternally blissful afterlife appealing? Yes. Do I wish that there was such a place and that I would get to go there? Absolutely. Is this desire evidence of it's existence? Unfortunately, no.

So, in the end, the co-worker who wished to convert me went away disappointed. My desire for there to be a benevolent God and a Heaven does not provide evidence for the existence of Kingdom Come or God. And understand that I am not being sarcastic here, I really do wish that there was a benevolent God and a Heaven (hey, there have been times when I just wished that I believed without wishing for my beliefs to be true), but my wishing for it is simply not evidence that it is true.

The same is true of ghosts, psychic powers (which would be totally boss...if they existed, that is), Reiki, Bigfoot, and all manner of other things. The basic problem is that many people don't recognize that they are using a Warp Drive Argument even when they are. But, perhaps, if you point it out, you'll have less friend....I mean, you'll improve people's ability to think critically about their beliefs.


wheelst said...

I have faith that someday humanity will over come the vastness of space and invent some means by which it will be possible to travel the distances. This form of faith I see a quite different from the faith derived from some ancient scribblings.

The latter, teaches us to accept the status quo, as a better existence awaits, the other inspires us to move forward. We may never get to the stars, but imagine the of the discoveries we will make in the attempt. Then again man was never meant to fly...

Anthroslug said...

I often suspect that people who wish for people to do the impossible may be the ones who lay the groundwork to make it possible. So, there is some value in that.

オテモヤン said...
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