Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Atheist Forum Conversations 2

Here are excerpts from some of my conversations on a forum called Happy Atheist. It's really hard to edit a forum conversation to include all the relevant discussion without also including a lot of off topic banter. So there may be a line or two in reference to something not included. But I think I got the just of it here.



Re: UN-intelligent Design:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_nqySMvkcw

-ME (Scrybe) -

So… no one else is creeped out by how arrogant sounding the "stupid design" guy sounds? I mean, you can agree with his message, but still see that his presentation is so condescending and presumptuous, right? There are plenty of Christian speakers that say stuff I agree with, but they are clearly such ass-clowns that their pompous personality overwhelms the message. That's what I see in this guy.

And his argument has a gaping hole in it. It presupposes that a good design is one where there is no suffering or pain. As though a good God must want us to be comfortable and happy all the time. That's quite an assumption. To me, his argument is like this:

*In Jerry Seinfeld voice*

"What's the deal with garbage trucks?! What kind of an idiot designs a truck that is full of garbage? I don't want to drive around in a truck full of trash, do you? It's all stinky and bulky, and has terrible gas mileage. Clearly, this truck was not thought through at all!"

See, if the universe was designed as a metaphorical furnace for our mind, soul, and body, then it's designed quite well. Only if you add your assumption that we are supposed to be in a paradise can you make the argument that we are designed poorly. (Or in this case, not at all.)

-SteveS-

Actually, I'm a little surprised that this video was objectionable. The guy is Neil deGrasse Tyson, and I've seen him on a lot of the more modern cosmology shows on Discovery, Science Channel, places like that. He's going for humor, but, ..., he's mostly just stating what appears to be obvious. I mean, the door-to-door atheists I posted could definitely be considered "ass-clowns" ( LaughingI like this phrase) because they just retaliated by doing what the mormons did that annoyed them in the first place. Tit for Tat. Likewise the "War on Easter" crosses a line when you go into someone's church and place propaganda in the pews. I can't really condone their techniques. But this guys stuff, well, maybe it's just an engineer thing, but when I was in school we used to talk about "design flaws" in our anatomy all the time.

Scrybe wrote:

Only if you add your assumption that we are supposed to be in a paradise can you make the argument that we are designed poorly.


But only if we start with the assumption that everything was in fact designed to we even get to argue about what is or is not a good design. This is probably just a personality thing, but it strikes me that

Scrybe wrote:

if the universe was designed as a metaphorical furnace for our mind, soul, and body,


is a far larger assumption to make than

Scrybe wrote:

a good design is one where there is no suffering or pain. As though a good God must want us to be comfortable and happy all the time.



Also, the assumption of "divine design" is an assumption that can always be rationalized. Whatever you see, however inexplicable the purpose may appear, is necessary because otherwise the designer would not have included it. And the designer is assumed to be "God Almighty", so "He" knows better; how can a mere mortal argue with "His" design?

In other words, when we observe beauty, order, and intricacy, creationists argue that this implies a creator. When we see pain, suffering, deformity, and dysfunction, creationists argues that these things must be necessary for spiritual growth. All things can be explained by a creationist --- because god made them that way. And that's all there is to it.

I wonder, what would a committed creationist ever observe in existence that would make him or her doubt that existence was designed?



-ME (Scrybe) -


SteveS wrote:

Actually, I'm a little surprised that this video was objectionable.



I don't know that I would call it objectionable. Although, I guess since I'm objecting to it, it must be. … Anyway, I rather enjoyed the other ones. Must be a personality thing.

SteveS wrote:

Scrybe wrote:

if the universe was designed as a metaphorical furnace for our mind, soul, and body,


is a far larger assumption to make than

Scrybe wrote:

a good design is one where there is no suffering or pain. As though a good God must want us to be comfortable and happy all the time.



It doesn't seem that way to me. I'd say which theory has more evidence? If the universe was designed by a God who cares about us, then it is patently obvious that our comfort is not His primary goal in the design, wouldn't you say? If we were both observing a garbage truck and you said it must be designed for carrying kings, and I said it must be designed for hauling trash I think the evidence would support my argument more.

SteveS wrote:


Also, the assumption of "divine design" is an assumption that can always be rationalized. Whatever you see, however inexplicable the purpose may appear, is necessary because otherwise the designer would not have included it. And the designer is assumed to be "God Almighty", so "He" knows better; how can a mere mortal argue with "His" design?



Well, quite simply, you can not. This is not, however, the intellectual precipice you seem to be indicating. Whether or not there is a purpose behind a thing does not make it more or less deserving of study and thought. Actually, I take that back. An assumption that everything does have a purpose seems to me to be more of a motivation to study. An assumption that a certain percentage of reality is purposeless would seem incentive to marginalize things and ideas that you can't fit into your world view. Discard enough of these things and you must end up as an atheist. Wink

SteveS wrote:


In other words, when we observe beauty, order, and intricacy, creationists argue that this implies a creator. When we see pain, suffering, deformity, and dysfunction, creationists argues that these things must be necessary for spiritual growth. All things can be explained by a creationist --- because god made them that way. And that's all there is to it.



Actually, most creationists argue that the bad stuff is our own fault for giving into temptation.

SteveS wrote:

I wonder, what would a committed creationist ever observe in existence that would make him or her doubt that existence was designed?



I can't think of anything that would. Are you implying that this disposition makes us unable to create rational world views or scientific claims? If so, does a disposition that assumes no creator do the same? It seems to me that both offer a lens through which we interpret reality.

-SteveS-

Scrybe wrote:

It doesn't seem that way to me. I'd say which theory has more evidence? If the universe was designed by a God who cares about us, then it is patently obvious that our comfort is not His primary goal in the design, wouldn't you say?


Yes. My point was actually that assuming the universe was designed by a god (let alone designed at all) seems to me to be a huge assumption. You have to make this assumption before you can even consider the details of what is a good design.

Scrybe wrote:

If we were both observing a garbage truck and you said it must be designed for carrying kings, and I said it must be designed for hauling trash I think the evidence would support my argument more.


With everything that we know about garbage trucks (lol) right now I would of course agree. But this depends entirely on the circumstances. I can readily observe them hauling trash in cities. I can watch where they come from, where they go, when they fill up, what they fill up with, when they empty. I can't really visit god's design studio or read his margin notes, now, can I?

Scrybe wrote:

An assumption that a certain percentage of reality is purposeless would seem incentive to marginalize things and ideas that you can't fit into your world view.


But I have a great desire to know why things are the way they are, how they work. What purpose does a mountain have? And yet, I find the theory of plate tectonics fascinating. Here I have a real, consistent, working explanation for how my environment came to be the way it is. It is testable, falsifiable, and verifiable. I don't think I'm marginalizing things that don't fit in my world view. I do think I'm marginalizing things that could be said to be possible but that do not present me with any compelling reason to believe they are even probable, let alone actual, based on the best evidence available to me at the current time.

Scrybe wrote:

Actually, most creationists argue that the bad stuff is our own fault for giving into temptation.


Yeah, I've heard this one too. I've also read/heard that it is all Satan's fault. Honestly, the people I spoke to most about this were the Jehovah's Witnesses, and while their literature talks about both human and Satanic blame for suffering, they personally gave me the parent/child analogy. Pain is required for growth and learning. None the less, you make a good point that it was unfair for me to say this is the defacto creationist opinion - I don't really know that. Thanks for keeping me honest Wink

Scrybe wrote:

I can't think of anything that would. Are you implying that this disposition makes us unable to create rational world views or scientific claims? If so, does a disposition that assumes no creator do the same?


Thanks for your honest answer. I'm not claiming that creationists can't make any rational world views or scientific claims. I'm claiming that in this area they refuse to reject an idea that has insufficient supporting evidence, and isn't even really a scientific hypothesis at all since you can't disprove it. As you say, there's no observation that would possibly exist that is inconsistent with a creation by god. So what does it mean to believe this explanation? And how is it rational or scientific? As Carl Sagan so lucidly put forth in his "dragon in the garage" story,

Carl Sagan wrote:

Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder.



As for the return, if you asked me this same question (what observation would be inconsistent with an undesigned universe) I would answer differently. Here is a short list that would cause me to seriously doubt, if not outright abandon, my current world view:

  • Remains of a human being, with modern human genes in it's DNA, appearing in a pre-Cambrian rock strata and carbon dating to pre-Cambrian times.
  • Repeatable, statistical evidence that prayers change outcomes of events in a significant manner that is consistent with the request of the prayer.
  • Compelling evidence that occasionally, though no known forces are measured, bits of matter are recorded spontaneously composing themselves into new species of living creatures.
  • Otherwise random quantum events being recorded to occasionally, in large numbers, occur in strongly statistically unlikely patterns (i.e. very non-random) that together accomplish some seemingly directed goal like pushing atoms together into an RNA molecule.



-Me (Scrybe)-

SteveS wrote:


Yes. My point was actually that assuming the universe was designed by a god (let alone designed at all) seems to me to be a huge assumption.



Bigger than the assumption that it was not designed?

SteveS wrote:


I can readily observe them hauling trash in cities. I can watch where they come from, where they go, when they fill up, what they fill up with, when they empty. I can't really visit god's design studio or read his margin notes, now, can I?



Nope. So let's fit this analogy to our predicament better. Let's say we are children unable to leave our front lawns, postulating the nature of garbage trucks. We would have to rely on a lot of circumstantial evidence and inference. As finite beings trapped in time and space we are in the same boat. Some evidence we have to consider is what we know of history, (as told through a variety of biased sources) the fact that we exist, the fact that there is no explanation for how this could have come to pass. We can't see back before the big bang / where the garbage truck comes from. We can't see into the future / where the garbage truck is going. We have to rely on processes that occur here and now and make inferences based on their nature.

SteveS wrote:

I don't think I'm marginalizing things that don't fit in my world view.



Except the following:

SteveS wrote:

I do think I'm marginalizing things that could be said to be possible but that do not present me with any compelling reason to believe they are even probable, let alone actual, based on the best evidence available to me at the current time.



Please note how many judgment calls and subjective adjectives you used in this statement. This is precisely my point. You do marginalize things that don't fit into your worldview because your worldview finds them marginal. (not compelling, no physical evidence, etc.) Because your worldview only considers the physical, it must preclude that which is not. It seeks to find physical causes for metaphysical experiences and ideas. And that very position closes off an entire world of possibilities.

SteveS wrote:


I'm claiming that in this area they refuse to reject an idea that has insufficient supporting evidence, and isn't even really a scientific hypothesis at all since you can't disprove it.



I'm not sure which hypothesis of creationists you are referring to here. But I think you are wrong about not being able to disprove many creationist theories. (As far as modern science can disprove anything.) Take a global flood for example. There is simply not enough water in the earth's homeostatic system to cover the highest mountain. Those who make such claims are proven wrong.

SteveS wrote:


As you say, there's no observation that would possibly exist that is inconsistent with a creation by god. So what does it mean to believe this explanation? And how is it rational or scientific?



Is it rational to believe that matter and time was created rather than spontaneously occurring? Both are miraculous and occur outside the realm of science. So yes, I think it is rational. Scientific? Well, it depends on how you define science, huh? Confused

SteveS wrote:


As Carl Sagan so lucidly put forth in his "dragon in the garage" story,



Would you mind reading over my conversation with Squid on that thread and adding your 2 cents. (Why is there no 'cents' symbol on keyboards? Am I the only one annoyed by this? And even more importantly, why no musical note symbol to indicate that your text is intended to be sung?)

SteveS wrote:


Here is a short list that would cause me to seriously doubt, if not outright abandon, my current world view:



SteveS wrote:

[*]Remains of a human being, with modern human genes in it's DNA, appearing in a pre-Cambrian rock strata and carbon dating to pre-Cambrian times.



Wait a minute. It sounds like you are confusing literal 6 day creationism with every other creationism. Personally, I believe the evidence points to a multi-billion year history for the earth. I believe the creation account in Genesis is clearly a poetic interpretation of that multi-billion year history. If a modern human were found in a pre-Cambrian rock strata that would just mean that we have screwed up the dates, that wouldn't speak one way or another to the possibility of creation by a god.

SteveS wrote:

[*]Repeatable, statistical evidence that prayers change outcomes of events in a significant manner that is consistent with the request of the prayer.



Again, this is based on a certain interpretation of what prayer is and what is expected of it. And again, a verifiable study on this issue would not rule out a simple human component rather than a reacting god.

SteveS wrote:

[*]Compelling evidence that occasionally, though no known forces are measured, bits of matter are recorded spontaneously composing themselves into new species of living creatures.



I'm not sure that there are any religions that claim spontaneous generation after the initial creation of matter.

SteveS wrote:

[*]Otherwise random quantum events being recorded to occasionally, in large numbers, occur in strongly statistically unlikely patterns (i.e. very non-random) that together accomplish some seemingly directed goal like pushing atoms together into an RNA molecule.



This would not indicate a creating force either. There could be many reasons for such occurrences. Isn't this the basis of evolutionary theory? It just adds lots of time to the mix.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that your atheism will never be overruled by physical evidence. Only an true openness to experiential, subjective knowledge. Just like the creationist who will interpret anything and everything as a creation, you can find a way to interpret anything and everything as a result of natural, physical phenomena. Again, this is my main point on the Dragon thread if you want to direct comments or criticisms, you can do it there for the sake of organization.

-donkeyhoty-

Scrybe wrote:

I believe the creation account in Genesis is clearly a poetic interpretation of that multi-billion year history.


Why? What reason do you have for this other than you have been born into an age that already knew that the earth was much older than a few thousand years? The transcribers(if you're assuming word of god) of the story certainly had no clue about the age of the earth or where anything came from, so they must be operating from info god gave them, " A few days, I work quick-like."

If you're not assuming existence of god(the abrahamic) then yes it is a fictional account of the beginning with as much clout as any other religion or culture, or a creation story I could make up-- Alien spacehip.

Subsequently, the creation story is made up.... by humans. The rest of the bible was written.... by humans(what's made up and what isn't?, and who gets to decide and why?). What makes you believe that god wasn't made up.... by humans?



-SteveS-

Scrybe wrote:

Bigger than the assumption that it was not designed?


Within the Universe, yes. But if you are talking about the “cause” of the Universe, no.

I’m trying to be clear about this because some of your answers were not typical of the kind of beliefs held by what I consider a typical creationist. I believe that Neil deGrasse Tyson was mocking modern Intelligent Design, which is a specific kind of creationist attitude that never-the-less has a lot in common with other creationist points of view.

What I’m trying to say is I don't believe that anything within the Universe is designed by some superior intelligence. I believe that it is all the result of natural laws which are constant and unvarying (and hardly qualify as “gods” according to popular use of the term, although scientists such as Einstein used this term poetically as a description of nature). I believe this because of compelling physical evidence. There is a lot left to learn, but there is no good reason to believe that the things within our Universe were designed by anything other than these natural laws (if you can call that “design”, to me it’s more like “result”).

There is a line of distinction here which is the big bang. What caused the big bang? Unknown. That's all I can say about it. In honesty, that's all anyone can say about it. It’s hard to know if the concept of the big bang having a cause even makes sense. So, did some god or gods design these laws and properties of nature and then “cause” the big bang? Unknown. Ideally, we wouldn’t make any assumptions about things like these, we would just continue to study them and hold off judgment until we have some sort of evidence upon which to judge. To do otherwise is merely to speculate, and to speculate without reason. So – assuming that the Universe was designed does not stand to reason in my mind.

About the garbage truck analogy:

Scrybe wrote:

We have to rely on processes that occur here and now and make inferences based on their nature.


I agree. So, I'll stick with the analogy to try to express my line of thought, but we'll have to go back and forth a few more times. We were discussing what purpose we felt garbage trucks were designed for (hauling trash or hauling kings). But again, I think we're getting the cart in front of the horse. Let's go back to the design --- why would we think the garbage truck is designed at all? (This isn’t a trick question – I believe garbage trucks can be reasonably said to have been designed – but it’s the reason why that I’m try to get at).

Scrybe wrote:

Please note how many judgment calls and subjective adjectives you used in this statement. This is precisely my point. You do marginalize things that don't fit into your worldview because your worldview finds them marginal. (not compelling, no physical evidence, etc.) Because your worldview only considers the physical, it must preclude that which is not. It seeks to find physical causes for metaphysical experiences and ideas. And that very position closes off an entire world of possibilities.


Do you think Zeus, Aphrodite, Mars, Odin, Osiris, Amun Ra, Vishnu or the Titans are real? How much sleep do you lose worrying if you are on the wrong path because you've got the wrong god? Now, if you don't think any of these gods are real, do I get to claim you're just marginalizing things that don't fit in your worldview?

I'm trying to be as open minded as I can. Scientifically, all knowledge is tentative. Please try to understand that to me, "metaphysical experiences", or "spiritual experiences" have not been demonstrated to be real. As you say, we must use our faculties and our reason to deduce what things are most likely correct. My reason has led me to believe that there is no such thing as a "metaphysical experience", not my worldview. My worldview is constructed as a result of my reason. If you insist that "metaphysical experiences" are every bit as real as "physical experiences", do I get to claim that you are only accepting these things because your worldview requires that you do so? Because although you’ve dismissed all other gods (assuming you are a monotheist) as bunk, you must accept at least one as legitimate because your worldview requires at least one god? That you are marginalizing physical proofs because of your worldview?

Scrybe wrote:

Is it rational to believe that matter and time was created rather than spontaneously occurring? Both are miraculous and occur outside the realm of science.


The manner in which time and matter came to exist is unknown. How can anyone say with certainty that it is "outside the realm of science"? It's unknown. Period. Beyond that, everything is speculation.

A note on the below, about things that would change my worldview. I tried to come up with particular reasons that would allow either that our evolutionary understanding is truly incorrect (as claimed by the Intelligent Design advocates that the original video was in response to) or that would indicate that a deity is actually active in the Universe.

Scrybe wrote:

If a modern human were found in a pre-Cambrian rock strata that would just mean that we have screwed up the dates, that wouldn't speak one way or another to the possibility of creation by a god.


I'm not a professional "evolutionist", but I believe something like this would be a big problem. Evolution states that there can only be small changes to the hereditary material (DNA) during each generation. There are small numbers of mutations, sometimes. A trilobite cannot give birth to a giraffe. A human could not exist in pre-Cambrian times because our previous common ancestor did not exist until far later. There was no existing DNA that could have experienced a small mutation and become the first human. Here is a great presentation of common descent. If you decide to look it over, please pay particular attention to the phylogenetic tree. If evolution is grossly incorrect, then we don't know how we came to exist, which would re-open the possibility that human being were hand designed and created directly by god (a weak possibility assuming everything else remained valid, but at least a possibility that would be far better than seems to exist currently).

Scrybe wrote:

Again, this is based on a certain interpretation of what prayer is and what is expected of it. And again, a verifiable study on this issue would not rule out a simple human component rather than a reacting god.


Depends --- if a village could make it rain, reliably, through prayer - I would be hard pressed to find a simple human component. What if only prayers to one (or some) gods worked? And, what if those worked for all sorts of different things (weather, health, armed conflict, whatever). This would be consistent, at least on the surface, with active gods answering prayers. If there are active gods in the Universe, well then, there's a much better chance that things in the Universe are being designed, created, and manipulated by them.

Scrybe wrote:

I'm not sure that there are any religions that claim spontaneous generation after the initial creation of matter.


This is a failure on the part of creationists to fully consider the ramifications of their theories. For example, Intelligent Design advocates hold that life could not have arisen naturally on earth from non-living matter. So god would have to have created life on earth far after the initial creation of matter (after 7 to 10 billion years or so, after the earth formed). Intelligent Design also holds that evolution can increase variety within species (or like kinds), but cannot produce new species or new kinds (they use the word “kinds” because of the Noah’s Ark scripture). However, the history of earth shows us that there are species alive now that were not alive in the past. Historically, we can find time periods where the variety of species on planet earth was increasing over time. Where did they come from, if new species can only be created by god? They must have been created after the big bang, after the formation of earth, and continually throughout the history of living creatures on earth. Observation of such events would lend credence to their theory (don’t worry, I’m not holding my breath).

Scrybe wrote:

Isn't this the basis of evolutionary theory? It just adds lots of time to the mix.


This would be origin of life theory, not evolution. But no, current models of origin of life look for natural processes that create self-replicating molecules (living molecules). They don't rely upon very highly unlikely firings of quantum events (they aren't compelling theories if they need too much "luck").

Scrybe wrote:

Only an true openness to experiential, subjective knowledge.


Openness without rigorous proof is the way to mysticism. We've tried mysticism and it led us into darkness. This is exactly what Carl Sagan meant by the "Demon-Haunted World". More about that thread, I was enjoying Squid’s input, and I didn’t want to hijack the conversation. We have so many long winded conversations between us – if you came here to learn about atheists I’d hate for you to leave having only been exposed in discussion to my own personal take on it Sad.

-Me (Scrybe)-

SteveS wrote:

I believe this because of compelling physical evidence. There is a lot left to learn, but there is no good reason to believe that the things within our Universe were designed by anything other than these natural laws


Again with the physical evidence. I interpret the physical evidence differently, but arguing that back and forth is pointless. The point behind the point is "Why is there physical anything?" You dismiss the question:

SteveS wrote:


Ideally, we wouldn’t make any assumptions about things like these, we would just continue to study them and hold off judgment until we have some sort of evidence upon which to judge.




Two questions: Why is this the ideal? And what are the ramifications of ignoring the question of origins?

SteveS wrote:


To do otherwise is merely to speculate,



Well... yes.

SteveS wrote:


and to speculate without reason.



I think there are two good reasons to speculate. First, it is our nature to speculate. Where would we be in the sciences if we didn't speculate? Second, there are profound ramifications on the way we live and organize ourselves that depend on how the question is answered. (or left unanswered.)

SteveS wrote:


Do you think Zeus, Aphrodite, Mars, Odin, Osiris, Amun Ra, Vishnu or the Titans are real? How much sleep do you lose worrying if you are on the wrong path because you've got the wrong god? Now, if you don't think any of these gods are real, do I get to claim you're just marginalizing things that don't fit in your worldview?



You are substituting the general for the specific, creating guilt by association. I do not marginalize an entire sphere of life the way an atheist must. I investigate religious claims and discard the vast majority of them. But I don't marginalize them out of hand as one who denies all spiritual reality must.

SteveS wrote:


"metaphysical experiences", or "spiritual experiences" have not been demonstrated to be real.



Not by your inappropriate application of scientific tools. You don't prove that love or beauty is real with scientific tools. You don't prove that spiritual experiences are real with scientific tools. It's like your trying to apply paint with a hammer, and saying, "painted walls can't be real because my hammer won't paint!"

SteveS wrote:


As you say, we must use our faculties and our reason to deduce what things are most likely correct. My reason has led me to believe that there is no such thing as a "metaphysical experience", not my worldview.



I think there is more interplay than that. I think your worldview channels your reason. And your reason molds your worldview. I'm advocating breaking down the walls your reason has built to dam your worldview. … I think.

SteveS wrote:


My worldview is constructed as a result of my reason. If you insist that "metaphysical experiences" are every bit as real as "physical experiences", do I get to claim that you are only accepting these things because your worldview requires that you do so?



Yes, you can claim that. Though, I'm not claiming that metaphysical experiences are every bit as real as physical ones. I'm claiming that I don't know. But in order to answer some of the big questions I'm forced to follow conclusions that coincide with what I would call spiritual experiences. I admit that my experiences could be psychological trickeries that I've misinterpreted. And if, in investigating the big questions I discovered some reasonable proof that there is no spiritual realm I wouldn't be at all remiss in discarding those experiences as such.

SteveS wrote:


Because although you’ve dismissed all other gods (assuming you are a monotheist) as bunk, you must accept at least one as legitimate because your worldview requires at least one god?



In a sense, yes. Though sorting out motive in this sort of issue may be a Gordian knot. I've concluded that there must be some sort of supernatural power since there is a reality. My Christian upbringing has a huge influence on the way I view that power. Though I am open to other ideas.


SteveS wrote:



That you are marginalizing physical proofs because of your worldview?



I don't think I'm guilty of this. Do you have an example?

SteveS wrote:


The manner in which time and matter came to exist is unknown. How can anyone say with certainty that it is "outside the realm of science"?



Well… is it inside the realm of science? Yes, it is unknown. But is there any scientific concept that approaches the concept of something-from-nothing?

SteveS wrote:


Openness without rigorous proof is the way to mysticism.



Well that's a bit of a loaded word isn't it? But essentially I agree.

SteveS wrote:


We've tried mysticism and it led us into darkness.



I think this world and its history are far to complex to make such a simplistic statement. There is no way to show causation or even correlation. Humanity is far more atheistic now than it ever has been and the world is no more or less dark than it ever has been.

SteveS wrote:


if you came here to learn about atheists I’d hate for you to leave having only been exposed in discussion to my own personal take on it Sad.



Well I didn't really come here to learn about atheists. I came here because God came to me in a dream and commanded me to convert some guy named Steve. Laughing ...Just kidding, just kidding. I'm here on more of a mission to expose my beliefs to greater scrutiny. So don't worry about ganging up on me with others. Cool

-SteveS-

Thanks - this was an interesting answer.

Scrybe wrote:

The point behind the point is "Why is there physical anything?"


About this, I don't think I'm dismissing this question - I think it is a great question. I don't think anyone knows enough to answer this question yet, although I certainly hope that scientific research may one day find an answer. Because we don't know enough to answer this question now hardly means we won't one day (if we don't self destruct, or get creamed by asteroid, or find a way to migrate before our sun burns out, etc.).

One thing we're sure about: as scientific knowledge increases, we find that reality is far stranger that we originally realized. This makes sense: our "common sense" and "human intuition" are really just prejudices formed by our regular work-a-day experiences.

Look over the following Wiki Article on Vacuum Fluctuation to get an idea of what I'm talking about. No doubt, this is funky, right? With weirdness like this describing reality, how can we just write off the big bang as impossible physically? And if we say it has a "non-physical" origin, what the heck is that? Honestly, that's even weirder than the above wiki. How do we even describe the non-physical? This is why I'm having such a hard time with our conversation. I don't know what non-physical reality is. Anything attributed to non-physical causes (whatever they are) seems to have an alternate explanation that is plausible and physical (seems to me, I should qualify). A final thought on this, we can describe physical reality fairly well. Non-physical seems like a negative definition. What is it, anything we can conceptualize that is not currently described physically?

Scrybe wrote:

Two questions: Why is this the ideal? And what are the ramifications of ignoring the question of origins?


Context re-fresh: This was in response to my statement that "Ideally, we wouldn't make any assumptions about things like these", which in this case was the origin of the universe ("above and beyond" the big bang, if you will).

My point was that in the case of origin it's hard to feel we have a firm foundation from which to make any "reasonable" assumptions, leaving any assumptions that we do make unfounded. Ideally, we don't make unfounded assumptions because we can find ourselves working down a line of reason (or expensive/time-consuming research) that is doomed because the original premise was false. I hate it when this happens Wink

What are the ramifications of ignoring the question? Easy: ignorance. I don't actually propose we ignore it. I propose we "keep on keepin' on" until we get to some further understanding from which we can launch an attack on the answer, or at least "speculate" or "assume" from some more reasonable position.

Scrybe wrote:

I think there are two good reasons to speculate.


I basically agree with you - when I said "speculate without reason" I meant speculate without "reason" as in logic, or logical foundation, or rational reason, to back up our speculations. With insufficient knowledge, how do we favor one speculation over another?

Scrybe wrote:

one who denies all spiritual reality


I only claim that spiritual reality has not been demonstrated to be true. I don't deny the possibility. But give me something I can sink my teeth into, something we can hold onto, something beyond personal experiences that we have to accept simply on somebody's say so. I don't want you to have the impression I just write-off all possibility of spiritual reality. I don't, but I do require that its existence stands to rigorous proof. So far, to say it doesn't seems like an understatement to me.

Side note: it's funny when I read this I find how sensitive I am to the word "deny". Like the dictionary says, an atheist is a person who denies the existence of god. Then why does it define innocent as "free of guilt", instead of as "denying guilt"? It seems like a prejudice to me.

Scrybe wrote:

Not by your inappropriate application of scientific tools. You don't prove that love or beauty is real with scientific tools. You don't prove that spiritual experiences are real with scientific tools. It's like your trying to apply paint with a hammer, and saying, "painted walls can't be real because my hammer won't paint!"


I returned that hammer (it sucked). Seriously, the problem I have with this is that love and beauty in the above sense are abstract concepts. If spiritual experiences are "real" as abstract concepts, well, that's certainly true because here we are conceptualizing them. But all human thought, abstract, conceptual, whatever, seems ultimately physical to me because it seems reasonable to conclude that all human thought is electrical (or chemical) activity in our brains. "Scientific" tools are really just methods to investigate reality. They are the best methods we have. Don't you think if you tried to explain quantum tunneling to Newton he may have been awfully confounded at first? It would seem like using science to explain magic. Science has progressed to a realm where we have knowledge of things that even now seem very, very bizarre. I don't know why science is an invalid method for determining the truth or nature of anything.

Scrybe wrote:

Yes, you can claim that. Though, I'm not claiming that metaphysical experiences are every bit as real as physical ones. I'm claiming that I don't know. But in order to answer some of the big questions I'm forced to follow conclusions that coincide with what I would call spiritual experiences. I admit that my experiences could be psychological trickeries that I've misinterpreted. And if, in investigating the big questions I discovered some reasonable proof that there is no spiritual realm I wouldn't be at all remiss in discarding those experiences as such.


This paragraph has done me a world of good in understanding your perspective - thanks and cheers Cheers

Just to jump ahead a minute,

Scrybe wrote:

SteveS wrote:

That you are marginalizing physical proofs because of your worldview?

I don't think I'm guilty of this. Do you have an example?


I was under the impression you were arguing against evolution, which I would consider marginalizing a physical proof. Based on your above, it does not appear to me now that you are doing so, and that you are open to the possibility that there is no spiritual realm (and presumably that there is no god). So I will gladly retract the question Smile.

Scrybe wrote:

I've concluded that there must be some sort of supernatural power since there is a reality.


Yeah, I think many people do so. I'd even venture to say most. I think it's something about our humanity that causes this (theory of mind being a likely candidate). (shrugs)

Scrybe wrote:

But is there any scientific concept that approaches the concept of something-from-nothing?


Eh, I transfered out of physics because of things like that above wiki link. So, I don't consider myself a physics expert. But, for the life of me, I can't think of such a concept in science right now. Maybe someone else can think of something? I don't know.

But, let's get back to the question - the presumption is that the universe came from nothing. This is a topic that really gets my gears grinding. It's hard to know if this presumption is correct, or even makes sense. It seems to me to be an unfounded assumption that there ever was a nothing. The simple answer would be if reality is broader than our universe - then the big bang didn't necessarily come from nothing. But, what if not. Then, how do we know that the idea of "nothing existing" beyond the big bang is sensible? If time started with the big bang, then the statement that "nothing existed before the big bang" is clearly meaningless because "before the big bang" is a meaningless phrase - there was no "before the big bang", because that's like saying "before time". Nonsense. This is what I mean about finding it hard to know if any of our questions about the origin of the universe even make sense, and finding it safer to make no assumptions at all. The universe has existed as long as time; in other words, for all time there was a universe. So, has the universe existed forever? If not, what's the difference? If there is no space outside the universe (because the universe is space), where did "nothing" exist? In other words, what is "nothing", and how is it different then empty space? These are really hard questions, and they might be nonsensical. Seems to me they say more about our lack of understanding than they do about reality (if this makes sense).

Scrybe wrote:

Humanity is far more atheistic now than it ever has been and the world is no more or less dark than it ever has been.


I can't agree with this. We can manipulate our environment far better. We go to doctors when we are sick, instead of witch-doctors (or at least most of us do). We know far more about our existence, the cosmos, life itself. Almost all of this came from the relentless pursuit of knowledge, with built in error correction, that is science.

Scrybe wrote:

Well I didn't really come here to learn about atheists. I came here because God came to me in a dream and commanded me to convert some guy named Steve. LaughingJust kidding, just kidding. I'm here on more of a mission to expose my beliefs to greater scrutiny. So don't worry about ganging up on me with others. Cool


Haha! That would have been a tall order (the conversion mission). I understand about the learning thing, I must have misinterpreted something. About the exposure to scrutiny - an excellent idea, I see the sense in it. And finally, I already broke my peace on the dragon thread. I couldn't really keep quiet afterall Wink.

-Me (Scrybe)-

SteveS wrote:

I think it is a great question. I don't think anyone knows enough to answer this question yet, although I certainly hope that scientific research may one day find an answer. Because we don't know enough to answer this question now hardly means we won't one day



See, the problem I see with this idea that we may find this answer within a scientific framework presupposes a purely materialistic universe. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that no matter what answer you plug into this problem it is going to be outside the jurisdiction of science. Maybe we could concoct a theory of how physical phenomena could create something from nothing. But what 'nothing' is, and what 'something' is, are philosophical questions, not scientific ones. Philosophy has to reside above and beyond science because it provides our definitions. Every decision and categorization that occurs in science is driven by a philosophy. So it becomes circular to propose that science can answer a philosophical question. That's not to say that science can't inform and influence philosophy, it obviously does a great deal. I'll get more into this in a sec.

SteveS wrote:


One thing we're sure about: as scientific knowledge increases, we find that reality is far stranger that we originally realized...
With weirdness like this describing reality, how can we just write off the big bang as impossible physically?



We can't. And I'm not proposing that we do. But if the origin of the universe has a material explanation it just pushes the ultimate question back a step. "Where did the material come from?" will always be a question that can not be answered with a material answer because it requires an immaterial component and concept.

SteveS wrote:


And if we say it has a "non-physical" origin, what the heck is that? Honestly, that's even weirder than the above wiki. How do we even describe the non-physical?



Um… not very well? I think this may highlight a difference in psychological disposition between us. I'm ok with unsure, less-concrete guesses about things that can only be unsure and less-concrete. You atheists seem to just want to discard any idea that can not be concrete. But when you are dealing with the big questions you have to build on premises that are unsure. But life usually does a great job of showing you when you are wrong about many of these kinds of issues. If there is a God, we have to guess about His attributes based on the evidence we have. We can find sources of revelation that explain God, nature, and mankind well, and see if that source remains stable when you apply the pressures of the real world to it. But you will never be sure, and you can't quantify it with hard data, so you don't even want to try.

SteveS wrote:


This is why I'm having such a hard time with our conversation. I don't know what non-physical reality is.



Neither do I. We don't have to know. We can guess. And that's ok. If our guesses are wrong then they will eventually crumble under the weight of conflicting evidence. Then we can move on to another theory, and so on. But I get the distinct sense that atheists are perfectionists when it comes to knowledge. You don't want to move from point A to point B until A has been thoroughly proven to be true. And what I'm trying to convince you of is that you can never prove any points to be true. Physical, metaphysical, it doesn't make a difference. Our perceptive faculties can never be proven accurate. Our perceptions of physical reality are unsure. We are just more comfortable with claiming that we are because we have a larger consensus.

SteveS wrote:


Anything attributed to non-physical causes (whatever they are) seems to have an alternate explanation that is plausible and physical (seems to me, I should qualify).



I would be interested in hearing those qualifications. And again, your statement is true for you. There seems to be and alternate explanation. Especially when you compartmentalize those phenomena and cleanly separate the material (planets, bodies, chemicals, etc.) from the non-material. (love, memory, infinity, mind, self, etc.) You can chisel away at all these things with your material hammer all you like. But the aggregate weight of their existence creates a landslide around you. It's like a court case where reasonable doubt has to be established. It's very subjective what reasonable means. Look at the O.J. case. Every bit of evidence could be explained away in some fashion or another. (Just like you can find supposedly material explanations for every non-material thing.) Does that mean O.J. is innocent? When you look at the big picture you can see the sheer number of coincidences and brilliance required to set him up, and it would have been staggering. So to me, the doubt that he may not have done it is not reasonable. I don't think atheists are looking at the big picture. I think they are so busy dissecting the physical world they assume everything that exists must be dissectable. And when they find something they can't dissect they pretend it's something else, reduce it to the physical, and get back to work butchering it. (Beauty? Pshaw! It's all in your brain. It's chemical secretions and electrical signals.) At least that's my perception.

SteveS wrote:


A final thought on this, we can describe physical reality fairly well. Non-physical seems like a negative definition. What is it, anything we can conceptualize that is not currently described physically?



I don't know. But that seems like a pretty good start. Though I think we can conclude that things like memory and God are separate types of things. From that point we must use the tools of philosophy to investigate further.

SteveS wrote:


My point was that in the case of origin it's hard to feel we have a firm foundation from which to make any "reasonable" assumptions, leaving any assumptions that we do make unfounded. Ideally, we don't make unfounded assumptions because we can find ourselves working down a line of reason (or expensive/time-consuming research) that is doomed because the original premise was false.



You are right that ideally we don't make unfounded assumptions. However, we are forced to do just that when it comes to philosophical matters. Though it's not as grim as you paint it. When philosophizing we are using our reason that is rooted in the natural world. We are comparing what we think with what we experience. And those two things refine each other as they grow. So I wouldn't say we are working with completely unfounded assumptions. There is just a lot more wiggle room in there since we don't have adequate tools for measuring the accuracy of metaphysical concepts and so there is more room for interpretation and bias. Please note the same issues exist in the physical sciences, but to a lesser degree.

But your argument seems to be a utilitarian one. The expense and time required to follow a path that could lead to a dead end seems to be too great for you. That's simply a matter of personality. Is the risk worth it? Is throwing everything I think I know up in the air and admitting I could be wrong about everything worth the trouble? For most people it's not.

SteveS wrote:


What are the ramifications of ignoring the question? Easy: ignorance. I don't actually propose we ignore it. I propose we "keep on keepin' on" until we get to some further understanding from which we can launch an attack on the answer, or at least "speculate" or "assume" from some more reasonable position.



And I wonder what position that would be. I'm assuming you mean a position from materialism. You will be happy to re-open the case once it looks like there can be an answer that suits your specifications. I'm saying you can't answer a philosophical question with a natural answer. Natural data may be involved in the process of discovery, but that does not change the fundamental nature of the question. How something came from nothing is not possible to answer scientifically because science can not know 'nothing'. And what 'something' is is also a philosophical distinction. (Is beauty something?)

This is why there are more issues involved with ignoring the question than simple ignorance. Ignorance is not a neutral position on the topic. You either believe that there was a Being or thing that caused all to be, or you don't. And that watershed answer informs everything you believe from interpersonal relationships to politics. You can claim neutrality on the subject of origins, but your beliefs and actions will bear the fruit of one of those interpretations.

SteveS wrote:


I only claim that spiritual reality has not been demonstrated to be true. I don't deny the possibility. But give me something I can sink my teeth into, something we can hold onto, something beyond personal experiences that we have to accept simply on somebody's say so.



I'm telling you that you are never going to get something to sink your teeth into or hold on to. You still want to sense and measure before you validate. That's not going to happen. But you do have more to work with than simply somebody's say so. Reason and logic hold up just as well in the metaphysical as in the physical. There are many people who do abandon reason when it comes to these matters, but that's not at all a requirement. Most people just choose what authority suits them the best and stick with it without examination. But you don't need to do that.

SteveS wrote:


I don't want you to have the impression I just write-off all possibility of spiritual reality. I don't, but I do require that its existence stands to rigorous proof. So far, to say it doesn't seems like an understatement to me.



Again, it depends on the kind of proof you require. The fact that matter and time exist is enough proof for me. Has it always existed? There is no scientific explanation for that nor can there ever be. Did it come from nothing? There is no scientific explanation for that, nor can there ever be.

SteveS wrote:


Side note: it's funny when I read this I find how sensitive I am to the word "deny". Like the dictionary says, an atheist is a person who denies the existence of god. Then why does it define innocent as "free of guilt", instead of as "denying guilt"? It seems like a prejudice to me.




Hmmm… yeah, funny how certain words can set us off like that. Personally, I hate the word 'meal'. I have no idea why.

SteveS wrote:


the problem I have with this is that love and beauty in the above sense are abstract concepts. If spiritual experiences are "real" as abstract concepts, well, that's certainly true because here we are conceptualizing them. But all human thought, abstract, conceptual, whatever, seems ultimately physical to me because it seems reasonable to conclude that all human thought is electrical (or chemical) activity in our brains.



One quick note first: I am not claiming that all spiritual experiences are real. I think most are brain anomalies.

Now, regarding the possibility that all experiential concepts could be manifestations of physical brain activity… Two problems present themselves to me. First, we can't get around the origin problem without appealing to the non-physical. Second, if all experiential concepts can be the product of physical brain activity then we have to lump our perception of physical reality in there too. As I've said many times before, you can't prove that what you see is really there. And without that proof your physical reality is in the same category as your existential reality. Both are subject to doubt and are inadequate to inform your decisions. I don't find this a reasonable place to work from. I'd rather accept that there is a physical reality that we all perceive with reasonable accuracy, and there is a supernatural reality that we all perceive with widely different accuracy. That way there is a place to put things like God, memory, love, beauty, etc. I'm not forced to automatically dismiss a large portion of my experience as a human. I'm not forced to dismiss the question of origins. I'm not forced to dismiss our human interconnectedness that occurs in art, love, culture, philosophy, aesthetics, religion, etc. as merely mechanical impulses. I think the way you categorize a thing plays a great role in your attitude towards it. And viewing all these things as ancillary vestiges of a random occurrence simply flattens them, and destroys incentive to pursue them and do them well. (Or maybe it just would for me.)


SteveS wrote:


"Scientific" tools are really just methods to investigate reality. They are the best methods we have. Don't you think if you tried to explain quantum tunneling to Newton he may have been awfully confounded at first? It would seem like using science to explain magic. Science has progressed to a realm where we have knowledge of things that even now seem very, very bizarre. I don't know why science is an invalid method for determining the truth or nature of anything.



I assume you mean, "the nature of everything." As I've already emphatically stated that science is a valid method for determining the truth of a great many things. Just not everything. But this gets into the philosophy of science. What is science and what it is not. Today, we have defined science as limited to the material universe. And excluded all that exists outside of it. So working with that definition, I'm saying that science can't determine everything. Now if we were to redefine science to mean, "The pursuit of every kind of truth" then I would say we could determine most things scientifically. But as it is, "Is there a God?" can not be measured or quantified using our 5 senses and the tools available to us in the scientific arena.

SteveS wrote:


But, let's get back to the question - the presumption is that the universe came from nothing. This is a topic that really gets my gears grinding. It's hard to know if this presumption is correct, or even makes sense. It seems to me to be an unfounded assumption that there ever was a nothing.



You are right. Either there was nothing, or physical reality always existed.

SteveS wrote:


The simple answer would be if reality is broader than our universe - then the big bang didn't necessarily come from nothing. But, what if not.



Right. I don't care about the big bang. We don't know if the theory will withstand the test of time. It's simply a handy reference point for people. I care about the beginning of the existence of anything.

SteveS wrote:


Then, how do we know that the idea of "nothing existing" beyond the big bang is sensible?



We don't. But unfortunately there are only two options. (that I can think of!)

SteveS wrote:


If time started with the big bang, then the statement that "nothing existed before the big bang" is clearly meaningless because "before the big bang" is a meaningless phrase - there was no "before the big bang", because that's like saying "before time". Nonsense.



I wouldn't say "before time" is nonsense. It is the best way a time-bound creature can articulate a concept that we have no way of experiencing. Just because we can't experience it does not make it nonsense. We can't experience sonar or x-ray vision, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. Atheists of all people should be the first to say that man is not the measure of anything.

SteveS wrote:


This is what I mean about finding it hard to know if any of our questions about the origin of the universe even make sense, and finding it safer to make no assumptions at all.



But such a position is impossible. You have made an assumption by calling yourself an atheist, and I've made an assumption by calling myself a Christian. There is no middle ground when there are only two options. Time and matter came from nothing or else it always existed.

SteveS wrote:


The universe has existed as long as time; in other words, for all time there was a universe. So, has the universe existed forever? If not, what's the difference?



Our current understanding is that time and matter are inextricably linked, right? I don't know, I'm not a physicist either. But I think it's safe to say that matter has existed as long as time has. But both had to come from nothing or had to always exist, right?

SteveS wrote:


If there is no space outside the universe (because the universe is space), where did "nothing" exist? In other words, what is "nothing", and how is it different then empty space? These are really hard questions, and they might be nonsensical. Seems to me they say more about our lack of understanding than they do about reality (if this makes sense).



Yes, we have a huge lack of understanding. As "the" Bible says, "We see through a glass, darkly."

SteveS wrote:

Scrybe wrote:

Humanity is far more atheistic now than it ever has been and the world is no more or less dark than it ever has been.


I can't agree with this. We can manipulate our environment far better. We go to doctors when we are sick, instead of witch-doctors (or at least most of us do). We know far more about our existence, the cosmos, life itself. Almost all of this came from the relentless pursuit of knowledge, with built in error correction, that is science.



I guess I wasn't specific enough. I was referring to the heart of man, and our propensity for slaughtering each other. That has not diminished at all. Just look at all the millions killed over the last century in the name of progress.


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