Please Tell Me What "God" Means

By Sean Carroll | October 20, 2007 5:15 pm

Via 3quarksdaily, here is Richard Skinner (“poet, writer, qualified therapist and performer”) elaborating on Why Christians should take Richard Dawkins seriously. I would argue that they should take him seriously because much of what he says is true, but that’s not Skinner’s take.

Skinner suggests that Dawkins is arguing against a straw-man notion of God (stop me if you’ve heard this before). According to the straw man, God is some thing, or some person, or some something, of an essentially supernatural character, with a lot of influence over what happens in the universe, and in particular the ability to sidestep the laws of nature to which the rest of us are beholden. That’s a hopelessly simplistic and unsophisticated notion, apparently; not at all what careful theologians actually have in mind.

Nevertheless, Dawkins and his defenders typically reply, it’s precisely the notion of God that nearly all non-theologians — that is to say, the overwhelming majority of religious believers, at least in the Western world — actually believe in. Not just the most fanatic fundamentalists; that’s the God that the average person is worshipping in Church on Sunday. And, to his credit, Skinner grants this point. That, apparently, is why Christians should take Dawkins seriously — because all too often even thoughtful Christians take the easy way out, and conceptualize God as something much more tangible than He really is.

At this point, an optimist would hope to be informed, in precise language, exactly what “God” really does mean to the sophisticated believer. Something better than Terry Eagleton’s “the condition of possibility.” But no! We more or less get exactly that:

Philosophers and theologians over the centuries, grappling with what is meant by ‘God’, have resorted to a different type of language, making statements such as “God is ultimate reality”; or “God is the ground of our being”, or “God is the precondition that anything at all could exist”, and so forth. In theological discourse, they can be very helpful concepts, but the trouble with them is that if you’re not a philosopher or theologian, you feel your eyes glazing over – God has become a philosophical concept rather than a living presence.

The trouble is not that such sophisticated formulations make our eyes glaze over; the trouble is that they don’t mean anything. And I will tell you precisely what I mean by that. Consider two possible views of reality. One view, “atheism,” is completely materialistic — it describes reality as just a bunch of stuff obeying some equations, for as long as the universe exists, and that’s absolutely all there is. In the other view, God exists. What I would like to know is: what is the difference? What is the meaningful, operational, this-is-why-I-should-care difference between being a sophisticated believer and just being an atheist?

I can imagine two possibilities. One is that you sincerely can’t imagine a universe without the existence of God; that God is a logical necessity. But I have no trouble imagining a universe that exists all by itself, just obeying the laws of nature. So I would have to conclude, in that case, that you were simply attaching the meaningless label “God” to some other aspect of the universe, such as the fact that it exists. The other possibility is that there is actually some difference between the universe-with-God and the materialist universe. So what is it? How could I tell? What is it about the existence of God that has some effect on the universe? I’m not trying to spring some sort of logical trap; I sincerely want to know. Phrases like “God is ultimate reality” are either tautological or meaningless; I would like to have a specific, clear understanding of what it means to believe in God in the sophisticated non-straw-man sense.

Richard Skinner doesn’t give us that. In fact, he takes precisely the opposite lesson from these considerations: the correct tack for believers is to refuse to say what they mean by “God”!

So, if our understanding of God can be encapsulated in a nice, neat definition; a nice, neat God hypothesis; a nice, neat image; a nice, neat set of instructions – if, in other words, our understanding of God does approximate to a Dawkins version, then we are in danger of creating another golden calf. The alternative, the non-golden-calf route, is to sit light to definitions, hypotheses and images, and allow God to be God.

It’s a strategy, I suppose. Not an intellectually honest one, but one that can help you wriggle out of a lot of uncomfortable debates.

I’m a big believer that good-faith disagreements focus on the strong arguments of the opposite side, rather than setting up straw men. So please let me in on the non-straw-man position. If anyone can tell me once and for all what the correct and precise and sophisticated and non-vacuous meaning of “God” is, I promise to stick to disbelieving in that rather than any straw men.

Update: This discussion has done an even better job than I had anticipated in confirming my belief that the “sophisticated” notion of God is simply a category mistake. Some people clearly think of God in a way perfectly consistent with the supposed Dawkinsian straw man, which is fine on its own terms. Others take refuge in the Skinneresque stance that we can’t say what we mean when we talk about God, which I continue to think is simply intellectually dishonest.

The only on-topic replies I can see that don’t fall into either of those camps are ones that point to some feature of the world which would exist just as well in a purely materialistic conception, and say “I call that `God.’” To which I can only reply, you’re welcome to call it whatever you like, but it makes no difference whatsoever. Might as well just admit that you’re an atheist.

Which some people do, of course. I once invited as a guest speaker Father William Buckley, a Jesuit priest who is one of the world’s experts in the history of atheism. After giving an interesting talk on the spirituality of contemplation, he said to me “You don’t think I believe in G-O-D `God,’ do you?” I confessed that I had, but now I know better.

For people in this camp, I think their real mistake is to take a stance or feeling they have toward the world and interpret in conventionally religious language. Letting all that go is both more philosophically precise and ultimately more liberating.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Religion
  • http://www.sunclipse.org Blake Stacey

    Skinner’s Theorem:

    God has infinite Kolmogorov complexity.

  • BlogReader

    I looked up the Terry Eagleton mentioned in the blog and found his article on Dawkins book. Pretty painful to read.

    The first part of it rests on Terry’s believe that Dawkins’ hasn’t read anything by Christian authors. What if he has? It is a rather poor line of argument.

    Believing in God, whatever Dawkins might think, is not like concluding that aliens or the tooth fairy exist. God is not a celestial super-object or divine UFO, about whose existence we must remain agnostic until all the evidence is in.

    Well, what is it then? Oh wait he does respond:

    He [ God ] is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.

    Whatever it is he’s smoking I want some. Dude, like God’s the matter AND the anti-matter at the same time! Don’t bogart that joint!

    He is what sustains all things in being by his love

    I thought food and sunlight did that. Well what do I know as I haven’t read some obscure Christian authors.

    The huge numbers of believers who hold something like the theology I outlined above can thus be conveniently lumped with rednecks who murder abortionists and malign homosexuals.

    The trouble is they are reading the same book and seeing their own message in there and can “prove” it to be true. This is unlike a math book, for example, where you can’t go all crazy and expect anyone to take you seriously. This is all because religion forces you to give up your rational mind and rely on faith — you can’t suddenly say “but I want to be a rational one!” as you’ve already given up that right by getting in with these people.

  • tacitus

    I don’t think I have come across one. For most non-fundamentalists, defining God is like trying to put their finger on top of a blob of goo without it oozing out on all sides. They just can’t pin it down.

    Witness Alistair McGrath’s efforts when debating Christopher Hitchens just the other week. Here is a well respected theologian who has written numerous books about God and religion, and yet when challenged to define what God was to him, did nothing but waffle.

  • http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com James McGrath

    The problem is that, from the perspective of mystics and many theologians, asking for a precise definition of God from a human being is like asking a mitochondrion for a precise definition of a human being.

    When people misuse religious language and treat it as literal statements of fact rather than myth and metaphor, they get criticized, and rightly so. Why would you also criticize those who are attempting to argue that such language is a way of pointing to transcendence and mystery rather than a description?

    I say more about what I, as a religion scholar but also a person of faith, understand “God” to mean on my blog in more than one place – for instance, at http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2007/07/god-is-mystery-not-explanation.html

  • Tiago Nunes

    BELIEVE in something doesn’t mean that it needs to have any meaning, it’s just the act and it don’t need comprehesion. I don’t care if god exists or what is god, the only thing I know is that i’ll have a tomorrow till the day I day, with or without god. So I prefer the ‘agnostic way’

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    James, how would things be different if God didn’t exist?

  • http://mogmich.blogspot.com/ mogmich

    You say that atheism is completely materialistic, and describes reality as just a bunch of stuff obeying some equations…

    Question: Where exactly does that place your own consciousness?

    Isn’t the reality you are talking about, an external reality – external to your own consciousness?

    If you say that consciousness is “only some physical processes in the brain” I find it self-evident that this is not true.

    And another thing: Atheism is not necessarily materialistic (e.g. Buddhism).

  • http://terryjoe.com Terry

    Sean, If God didn’t exist, I would think that people who believe that God Exists would say, there would be no existence. That’s how things would be different. Wow!

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Sean, why is the question of “how things would be different” necessarily the question that matters? It depends on whether that’s what matters to you. I care about whether there is something “more” behind the universe, and so it is meaningful to me aside from whether things would happen differently here. It is hard to be sure what that would be, that isn’t intellectual dishonesty. If you want to think about those kind of issues, then it just isn’t easy to get a handle on it. Consider the arguments about what the wave function is, how it “collapses” etc. You can ignore the “ultimate reality” question about that if you want, and shut up and calculate. But if you do want to think about it, it is not easy to get a handle on that great smoky dragon. (PS: decoherence schemes don’t explain it away, just consider the basic collapse of a single photon wave function somewhere on a spherical shell. For even more fun, consider the Renninger negative result of non-detection on say a half-shell inside the main shell: then, the WF must redistribute (?!) because now it can’t hit in the shadowed part of the outer sphere. And then, what do unreliable detectors do to wave functions?)

    You talk about it being acceptable to think, this universe just here with its laws etc., but that is avoiding the questions of why this and not something a little or a lot different, why just curiously friendly to living beings, what is logically necessary and self-sufficient, whether “existing” is even a meaningful distinction and if so, can you define it non-circularly (or, in formal logical terms not referring to mathematical type existence: our world distinct from other describable “logically possible worlds” that allegedly do not have this “property” of “existence”, etc. This is the Modal realism argument – the cute irony is that although “materialists” claim the mantle of supreme rationality, “material” is not a formally definable entity in the logical universe! You can’t use logic to tell us the difference between our world and a “platonic” description of some other configuration and behavior. For all the talk about how you can’t pin “God” down, you can’t pin “this” down except that we experience it.) Check back over the previous “Why is there something rather than nothing” etc. In addition, we have the multiple universe question, and once we admit some multiplicity, what is to circumscribe the scope of that? (I am not a modal realist, but use it as a challenge to show the contradictions in “rational materialism.”

    There may even be a real “consequence.” Materialists tend to scoff at ideas of personal survival, falsely and crudely thinking that depends on some kind of “stuff” inside us that escapes like a gas. But, we don’t consider “programs” to die just because the computer they first (or later) ran on is destroyed. If the same thing happens somewhere else, the program “lives again.” Again, the irony: materialists like to consider “the mind” as a program not a mystical stuff, but then don’t usually (except for Bart Kosko, Frank Tipler who is really a modal realist, and a few) consider this sort of possibility. If there is a suitable multiverse, the process of a person or etc. could “run” again and they could experience again. It doesn’t even have to be what we formally consider information – leaving room for qualia and etc. (Our formulating such concepts do not give them inherent powers of circumscription and self-containment.) I consider “god” to be something which organizes the multiverse could be organized well enough to have that established. I also think it is why our laws are life friendly – for the literal purpose of having beings to exist. (why else? can you explain it) I can’t prove that, sure, it is philosophy and not science. But talking about what science is and what we can know or should try to know, what is meaningful or not and why, etc. – that’s philosophy to. You just can’t escape it. You have to practice metaphysics to argue against it (or anything it postulates.)

  • John Merryman

    The problem with the conventional view of god described above, is that it amounts to an example of Plato’s Ideal Forms, as applied to the individual soul. That we are imperfect examples of an ideal from which we have fallen.
    The problem with this logic is that the absolute is basis, not apex. So the spiritual absolute would be the essense of out of which we rise, not a model of perfection from which we fell.

    Consciousness is bottom up emergent phenomena, while intellect is top down ordering of context. Good and bad are not a dual between forces of light and dark, but the biological binary code and the intellect rises out of emotion when yes and no are abstracted from good and bad. A god of aspiration, not intention. The journey, not the destination.

    At what level does biology begin to manifest consciousness. Are athletes, who have pushed their responses to the very edge of reactive impulse, conscious? If so, how different is this from animals, if not even insects? The fact is there is no way to determine just how far down into biology some sense of awareness exists. Rather then a byproduct of the central nervous system, it may be the operating principle.

    Here is a related argument; What is time? Consider; If two atoms collide, it creates an event in time. While the atoms proceed through this event and on to others, the event goes the other way. First it is in the future, then in the past. This relationship prevails at every level of complexity. The rotation of the earth, relative to the radiation of the sun, goes from past events to future ones, while the units of time/days go from being in the future to being in the past. To the hands of the clock, the face goes counterclockwise.

    So which is the real direction? If time is a fundamental dimension, then physical reality proceeds along it, from past events to future ones. On the other hand, if time is a consequence of motion, then physical reality is simply energy in space and the events created go from being in the future to being in the past. Just as the sun appears to go from east to west, when the reality is the earth rotates west to east.

    Since energy is just moving around, previous information is constantly being recycled by and giving structure to the present, as the energy by which it is recorded continues on its path. Rather then the straight line of a dimension, time is a loop, where the new is being woven out of strands pulled from the past.

    Time as consequence of motion means it has more in common with temperature, then space, which is not intuitive, but it is logical, as they are both descriptions of and methods for measuring motion. The brain of insects have been described as thermometers. On the other hand, our minds are mostly a function of narrative.

    One of the many anomalies of modern physics is that quantum uncertainty seemingly leads to multiple realities, but if it is information going from future to past, then it is the wave of future potential collapsing into the order of the past.

    Using time as a dimension is like dissecting an organism. It lays everything out there for you to look at and poke and examine, but it’s rather lifeless.

    To the extent time isn’t a real dimension, biological beingness is primarily a function of the present and secondarily a function of the individual. The elemental biological awareness is attached to the energy and moves toward the future, but our intellectual comprehension is information that is constantly receding into the past. Ultimately we are cells of a larger organism that is constantly moving on to the next generation and shedding the old like dead skin. It is our individual lives that start in the future and end up in the past.

  • http://meditations-on-an-eyeball.blogspot.com/ VanceH

    I like your post. It has a crispness usually not found in these sorts of discussions. You ask for a “meaning” of God. To me this is like asking for the meaning of a proton. A proton is or it isn’t—I don’t think it has a meaning. On the other hand, what God means to us as individuals I think is a very good question.
    Sean, when you make a tough decision, one that impacts your life and others I’d be surprised if you didn’t carefully weigh the data and the options. Often that final decision is not an easy one, but I suspect you’re careful and respectful in the process. For me that decision process has the added dimension that I believe God will guide me, if I listen, to make the best decision. I think that the physical realm and the spiritual realm are essentially orthogonal and non-interacting except for this one intimate point of contact. When I wrestle with issues of right and wrong I think it is an advantage to have access to the ultimate authority

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    How do I tell the difference between God guiding my decision and me simply contemplating the circumstances and deciding by myself?

  • Pseudonym

    This article (the one by Skinner, that is) confirms once again for me that a lot of Serious Theologians are really Deists, and just don’t realise it yet.

  • http://meditations-on-an-eyeball.blogspot.com/ VanceH

    Sean, before I attempt to answer your question. Do you agree that this is an alternate view of reality that offers a meaningful difference?
    Regarding telling the difference I don’t think there is an analytical way to tell the difference. I think this sort of differential analysis is outside the intimate point of contact I talk about. Personally it can be pretty obvious when I disregard God http://meditations-on-an-eyeball.blogspot.com/2007/06/gods-word-in-wal-mart.html
    I think most Christians really want some sort of proof that they are tapped into God (hence ID movement etc.). But I think God asks for the belief without proof (kind-of axiomatic)–and we have to embrace the risk we have massively deluded ourselves

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    I can’t agree that the difference is meaningful until you tell me what it is. If you can’t tell me what it is, then I don’t think it’s meaningful.

    “Proof” is beside the point, as nobody is asking for any.

  • Sam Gralla

    Hi Sean,

    People believe in God because of personal experiences and revelation. That is, they have a “personal experience”, and then there exists an infrastructure to tell them that the experience they had is the God of such and such revelatory text talking to them. Having made that connection, you don’t need a definition of God. Even though you don’t know what he is, you know he exists because he said he exists (in scripture). If you’re a philosopher you might try to make up a definition, but in the end its impossible. If you ever end up believing in God, it won’t be from a logical argument.

    -Sam

  • http://meditations-on-an-eyeball.blogspot.com/ VanceH

    Ok, point taken. The difference is that God’s insight/perspective on any topic is dramatically better than mine. An alternative selected that is aligned with God’s input is going to result in higher overall good (from a totally holistic standpoint).

  • http://grimhippie.blogspot.com Graeme

    What I believe “God” to be (and there’s no point in arguing it, because there is no evidence proving God’s existence or God’s non-existence) is a consciousness that exists beyond the boundaries of matter and energy. And I don’t mean beyond as in past the outer edge of the universe, I mean beyond in a way that the human mind can’t possibly comprehend. (Such as in a 4th or 5th dimension that we only exist on one plane of. There have been other explanations of that which are far better than what I can come up with, so just look it up.) Now as far as God interfering with our 3-dimensional surroundings, I don’t believe in inexplicable events and the reversal of death (re: Jesus), but I can accept changes to our universe by outside forces in higher dimensions.

    That’s what I believe God to *be*. But what He means? God means different things to different people. And there’s no changing that. If there was, then we’d all be identical people, because a person’s opinions and entire existence are changed by events that they experiences, and those experiences change what anything will mean to them.

    Now, the reason that you can’t prove or disprove God’s existence is really quite simple. You can’t test what you can’t perceive. If you can’t sense God with any of your six senses (smell, taste, touch, hearing, sight or proprioception (equilibrium or spatial orientation)) then how can you say for sure if He’s there or not? We can’t.

    And once we all drop the issue and accept that we’re all gonna be different, no matter the fuck what, then we can start along the path to not bloody arguing over pointless crap that you won’t know the answer to until you die. And we can start getting along as a society, hell even a world. (Sorry, went off a little there. But it’s all good, because we’re all different, and we’ve all got our flaws, and everything.)

  • http://grimhippie.blogspot.com Graeme

    Oh, and if anyone wants to talk to me about what I said… I just Stumbled this page and probably won’t be visiting back again. If you really, really want to talk about it contact me somehow…

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    I am not looking for reasons why people do or do not believe in God. I want to know what it means. What is the difference between “God exists” and “God does not exist”? To the world, not just to my belief.

  • Jason Dick

    I would have to say that I’ve asked for the exact same thing from theists in the past. And I’ve never gotten a good answer. Remember that you answer must have this property:

    We use the term “God” to describe a being which is (such and such). Due to this description, it is necessarily the case that (such and such) can be observed, or (such and such) cannot be observed, if God exists.

    For example, a valid answer (though a poor one) would be to say:

    God is a being who gives us eternal life in response to how we handle our lives here on Earth. As a result, when we die we will go to either heaven or hell. This will necessarily be different from a universe in which God does not exist.

    This is the sort of response that I would like to see (and I would hazard to guess that Sean would as well). But the problem with this response is that it isn’t really testable, because we can’t come back after death. So, what specific thing would be different in a universe without God as compared to one with God? What thing that we could look at or feel would be different?

  • Ralph Giles

    To elaborate on Sam@16, I think of God is a story we tell ourselves about some of our conscious experiences. So the difference between a universe with a God and a universe without is exactly whether the stories someone is telling about their experience include the word God (and associated mythology) or if the stories include some other words…which is to say ‘none’, in the sense Sean means. It’s a narrative thing, not a literal thing.

    That’s the objective difference, at least with the sort of belief that’s being discussed here. That so many insist that it is a literal thing is because that’s part of the story for most people, theologians and non-theologians alike based on the arguments I’ve seen over Dawkin’s book.

    It’s a deeply conforting story to most of the believers I’ve spoken too. Sean, perhaps that comfort is the strawman you’ve been attacking?

  • http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/ John Baez

    “God” means many things to many people. But to me – just me – “god” is a desperate attempt to take the awesome inexhaustible mystery of the universe – the fact that the deeper you go in any direction, the more you find – the blinding beauty and heart-rending tragedy of it all – and package it into a kind of “thing”.

    In my work I often experience this sense of awesomeness, of depths that pass beyond my understanding – in fact, that’s what I live for. But I don’t find it helpful to package it into a “thing”. After all, this strange “thing” can’t be a normal sort of thing in the universe, so it’s easy to conclude it’s either in some other universe (say, “heaven”), or doesn’t exist at all, or exists in some very tricky sense. But all these alternatives are just distractions, as far as I’m concerned.

    So for me, saying that god “does not exist” is just as silly as saying that god “does exist”. They both take me further from the mystery of the universe into the realm of petty squabbles.

    But, if we imagine that certain – not all – people talking about “god” are actually trying to convey an experience of the hair-raising awesomeness of reality, its shattering majesty, some things they say might make more sense. To take a few examples just from Christian theology:

    No one has seen or can see God. (John 1.18)

    He lives in unapproachable light. (1 Timothy 6:16)

    The true knowledge and vision of God consists in this—in seeing that He is invisible, because what we seek lies beyond all knowledge, being wholly separated by the darkness of incomprehensibility. (Gregory of Nyssa)

    God is infinite and incomprehensible and all that is comprehensible about Him is His infinity and incomprehensibility. (John of Damascus)

  • http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com James McGrath

    I’m approaching this from the perspective of panentheism, since it doesn’t seem to make sense to me to separate God from everything else and make “him” just one being among many. For me, the question is not “does God exist” because I am talking about all of reality in its highest level of transcendence and organization. If God is being itself rather than a being, then there is no real doubt that being exists. The question is about the character of this all-encompassing reality.

    Since we’re talking about a reality that transcends us, we use metaphors and symbols. One analogy that I’ve used before is of two cells in a human body having a conversation. One says “I look around and there is nothing but cells. We’re born, we die, that’s it”. The other says “sometimes I think we’re all part of one big cell”. The latter is being ‘cellulomorphic’ (rather than anthropomorphic, we tend to be), but isn’t it also intuiting something that is in a genuine sense a correct perception of the nature of its existence, even though it cannot describe that transcendant reality adequately?

  • Chris W.

    Here’s the difference between “God exists” and “God doesn’t exist”. People sometimes have out-of-body experiences. This could only happen if God exists.

    Oops, maybe not

  • jeff

    reality as just a bunch of stuff obeying some equations

    Hmmm, interesting. It seems you inadvertently used the word “obey”, illustrating your own point (freudian slip?). That would make God equivalent to math. I agree – nothing to be gained by it. If “God” cannot be defined as something uniquely distinct from other ordinary concepts, then “God” is a meaningless word. Although… it’s still curious why all this “stuff” conforms to equations. If you’re a believer, I guess that’s a religious question.

  • Jason Dick

    “obey” here isn’t a Freudian slip. It’s just the language used in physics.

  • Phil

    General comment: These debates are hurting the desmination of science to people who are not normally exposed to science. Besides the “preach to the choir crowd” the people to whom these books are aimed are most likely science illiterate. Why not spend this energy to make them science literate before we reopen ancient debates?

  • http://members.localnet.com/~jse885 Scott Roberts

    I define God as non-spatiotemporal, conscious, loving intellect that is the ground of spatiotemporal existence (note the lack of an article — God is these attributes, not a being with these attributes). I came to believe in this God when I realized that ordinary human consciousness transcends space and time, that the experienced “now” is not a point but extended over space and time, which I think is impossible if consciousness is assumed to emerge from spatiotemporal activity. I realize this argument does not convince others, but it convinces me, especially since it agrees with what mystics have been saying for millennia (and it provides an interpretation of the quantum measurement problem).

    Some differences that this makes:
    1. The pursuit of a theory of consciousness that attempts to explain it in terms of spatiotemporal activity is hopeless. Rather one should look for explanations of spatiotemporal activity in terms of consciousness (e.g., that space and time are produced in the act of perception, like color, taste, etc.)
    2. It makes survival after death a possibility.
    3. It implies that there is something wrong with us in that this ground is not obvious to us (Christians call this Original Sin, Buddhists call it avidya (ignorance), Vedantists call it maya), but I believe mystics when they say they experience this ground, that it is possible to overcome this wrongness.
    4. That it is of utmost importance, individually and socially, that we acknowledge and deal with (3).

  • tytung

    The difference, I think, would be that a universe with god is more meaningful than one that without. It gives a sense of purpose. Is this a meaningful difference to you? What kind of difference you’re looking for? A physical difference?

  • Anne

    I’m not a believer, but how is this for a “difference”?:

    God has no observable effects at all. But belief in God has observable effects; a society of people who all believe in God is more successful (in the historical sense of conquering and exterminating rather than being conquered and exterminated) or more good (in terms of keeping its people happy) than one that doesn’t.

    I don’t seriously think any theologian believes this. And, more to the point, it’s a property of cultures and institutions, not beliefs. The Catholic church, as an institution, historically had more political power than most princes, and could thus produce happiness and misery. Its theology is only barely relevant, coming in in places like papal infallibility.

    If this is the case, then I would say “God does not exist, but it’s useful to believe in Him anyway.”

  • http://www.sunclipse.org Blake Stacey

    tytung:

    People can have a “sense of purpose” without thinking that the Cosmos was arranged for their benefit by an intelligence bigger than but somehow akin to their own. Love will do that to you, for example. And people can have a “sense of purpose” if they believe that the Cosmos is a stage for human family drama, whether or not that’s the case.

    Personally, I think we do ourselves a grave injustice by attaching to our sense of heartbreaking wonder the name of a bad Bronze Age dream, a petty tyrant and thunder-tosser with a taste for blood and an unhealthy interest in others’ sex lives. For every claim by prophet or scribe that “He lives in an unapproachable light,” there are far too many verses which claim to have penetrated that light and found the adamant within:

    If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:6)

    Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. (1 Timothy 2:11-2)

  • Jason Dick

    In response to Scott Roberts, who posted:

    1. The pursuit of a theory of consciousness that attempts to explain it in terms of spatiotemporal activity is hopeless. Rather one should look for explanations of spatiotemporal activity in terms of consciousness (e.g., that space and time are produced in the act of perception, like color, taste, etc.)

    Well, then, we can get drunk. Ergo consciousness is naturalistic, as deviations in consciousness can be imposed via physical means.

  • archgoon

    Quick followup question: What does it mean to be ‘Christian’?

  • John Merryman

    The practical problem with the concept of “God” is that we tend to reductively define unity in terms of the unit. Oneness in terms of one. The universal state as singular set. Even science re-enforces this tendency with Big Bang theory, that the entire universe is a singular narrative unit that was born and will eventually perish. It is natural for us to think in terms of structure, since that is what our intellect perceives, yet process is continually creating and consuming structure. So to the extent we are one, it is as process, not structure.
    The concept of meaning is inherently static and reductionistic, so reality has no meaning, in the sense that it can be reduced to some hard nugget of mathematical formalism, or spiritual divinity. Reality has purpose in that everything is a dynamic and wholistic aspect of everything else.

  • Andrew

    That God is a person is not a straw man:

    “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you (Isaiah 66:13)”

    “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Mt 7:11)”.

    These are simplistic ideas. But I don’t think God was concerned in the Bible with the theological equivalent of string theory (or whatever). Just as it is useful to ordinary human beings to think of objects having position and momentum, it is useful to the ‘average person is worshipping in Church on Sunday’ to think of God as a person. God is beyond our full understanding, but by His grace, we do know a little about Him. And that little is enough for practical Christian living:

    Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen (1 John 4:20).

  • 386sx

    No one has seen or can see God. (John 1.18)

    How does he know that, and why is he talking as though he’s so sure about what he’s saying, and why are you quoting that person?

    He lives in unapproachable light. (1 Timothy 6:16)

    How does he know that, and why is he talking as though he’s so sure about what he’s saying, and why are you quoting that person?

    The true knowledge and vision of God consists in this—in seeing that He is invisible, because what we seek lies beyond all knowledge, being wholly separated by the darkness of incomprehensibility. (Gregory of Nyssa)

    How does he know that, and why is he talking as though he’s so sure about what he’s saying, and why are you quoting that person?

    God is infinite and incomprehensible and all that is comprehensible about Him is His infinity and incomprehensibility. (John of Damascus)

    How does he know that, and why is he talking as though he’s so sure about what he’s saying, and why are you quoting that person?

    Blah blah blah…

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Sean said, “I can imagine two possibilities:”
    “One is that God is a logical necessity. But I have no trouble imagining a universe that exists all by itself, just obeying the laws of Nature”

    Is that a bit like saying I have no trouble imagining a universe without strings, or the theory of a landscape and the multiverse, or the MegaVerse of universes.

    And of course others may feel this universe does not ‘need’ dark energy, or there could be some other physical (material/particulate) explanation why some galaxies may appear to be drifting apart.

    “The other possibility is that there is actually some difference between the universe with God and the materialist universe”

    Well if you have a multiverse, the idea or concept of heaven in a universe other than this universe, is not that ‘alien’. That is of course even allowing for the fact that you need to go as far as a landscape of universes or the multiverse, outside our own universe, to find conditions which are inherently different from those we know. For in all honesty and speaking truthfully we have absolutely no ‘proof’ of what the conditions may be in another galaxy six billion light years away in the ‘observable ‘ universe.

    But all that aside Sean, the simple concept is between believing there is life after death (in la-la land or disneyland or wherever) or there is nothing after death, to which you clearly subscribe.
    That is the only One thing you need to keep believing or disbelieving as the case may be, and at least for now, the definitive answer certainly seems to be beyond ‘contemporary’ science.
    However let us not forget that simply believing is not error-proof proof of truth or existence, and disbelieving is not error-proof proof of lack of existence, whether we are talking strings, dark energy or the ‘spirit’ – after all speculation, fiction, science fiction, the internet, theoretical physics and the imagination are filled with things that do not exist.

  • 386sx

    John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him.

    Okay, you can see the spirit but you can’t see the god then. Alrighty then, I’ll go and look up some more stuff from this “John 1.18″ fellow and see if he agrees with you on evrything you say about other stuffs too.

    Balh blah…

  • http://www.gregegan.net/ Greg Egan

    John Baez (#23) wrote:

    But, if we imagine that certain – not all – people talking about “god” are actually trying to convey an experience of the hair-raising awesomeness of reality, its shattering majesty, some things they say might make more sense.

    I’m sure most thoughtful religious people include the “shattering majesty” of reality in their definition of God. The problem is, by any sensible definition of “religious” and “God”, they also mean something more. Is it really such a petty squabble for those of us who don’t believe in that something more to wish to be clear about the distinction? It’s not silly or empty to assert either “God exists” or “God does not exist” when you use the word with any reasonable degree of linguistic precision based on its traditional associations.

    I wish we had a good word in English that meant only “the shattering majesty of reality”, so atheists could make it abundantly clear that they’re aware of this majesty, but don’t imagine that it’s due to anything that resembles a person in any way. But what atheists absolutely should not do is say “Well, I’m going to use the word ‘God’ to mean ‘the awesomeness of the universe’”. This is helpful for selling lots of tenth-rate pop-science books with “God” in their titles, and for winning the Templeton prize, but even when it’s not plain venal and dishonest it’s linguistically sloppy.

    Honest users of the word “God” mean a being that possesses consciousness of some kind. Maybe vastly different from ours, “greater” than ours, whatever … but if you don’t think God ever had so much as a thought in its mind, you need to pick another word for what you’re talking about.

  • Anonymous

    Sean, there’s a straightforward definition of God. Start by listing every possible conception of God that you have a compelling argument against.

    Well, God’s not any of those things, OK?

    Didn’t you get the memo?

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    It doesn’t mean anything, because any viable notion of God that is not contradicted by experiments/observations is not well defined enough to be able to make a difference.

    The same can be said about the notion of a physical universe apart from a purely mathematical universe, as discussed here recently.

  • Haludza

    Stop being so obtuse 386sx.

    Greg Egan, did the word ‘awesomeness’ come close before it
    became used to describe hot dogs and novelty lamp shades?

  • Tom

    It is quite interesting to hear scientists talk about god. Almost as much so as religious people talking about science!

  • carey

    I like what Ann @31 said. I see ‘god’ as a philosophical place-holder. If you try to pin people down by asking for a clear operational definition which is testable, they simply cannot provide one. But humans are animistic to the core, and we must wrap the universe in a story, so the narrative center becomes (ta da!) god. But human stories are really about humans, even if the central actor is super-human, and so they incorporate our in-group out-group distinctions. So religions distinguish their in-group from the hated out-group by using ‘god’ as a shibboleth – and I mean that literally (witness the many heated discussions over the true name of god, eg, ywh -v- allah etc). Using the right name and adhering to the dogma are required signs of group membership.

  • jeff

    Well, then, we can get drunk. Ergo consciousness is naturalistic, as deviations in consciousness can be imposed via physical means.

    Getting drunk alters your perception, not your consciousness. You still need your consciousness to perceive that you are drunk. No matter how drunk or stoned you get, short of becoming unconscious, there always seems to be an “I” underneath everything.

  • http://egregium.wordpress.com/ Christine

    I think my comment is going into your anti-spam.

  • bob

    I think Quasar put his finger on it — it’s about avoiding the reality of death. Any conception of God will do as long as he/she/it relieves us of death.

  • http://www.sunclipse.org Blake Stacey

    Where does consciousness go when you sleep, then?

    The argument “consciousness is special because you always have it until you don’t” is not particularly persuasive.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Some may want to read or reread my explanation of how our awareness could perhaps survive death of the body (summary: the process making your mind could run somewhere else, in a suitable system in a diverse multiverse.) Some say that “isn’t testable” because you couldn’t tell everyone else. Well, it is testable (even if not fully) because *you* can find out. Would you say a prediction about what will happen in one million years is “not testable” because we won’t be around to find out? That isn’t what really matters, as long as someone or some sentient entity can appreciate it. It is ironic (and the hard atheist ideologues avoid such ironies and flies in the scientistic ointment) that survival actually is testable, but the wording of spoken conversations last year is not (because of how randomness and quantum uncertainty destroy even the ability in principle to find out. Sure, there are memories (maybe – but what if those people died?), but that is not very precise and reliable.

    I am also still waiting for some “clarity” of explanation of what the wave function “really is”, especially the oft neglected (!) question of how unreliable detectors (what’s what most are anyway, right?) “affect” the wave function. For that matter, I am still waiting for good answers/rebuttals to most of the points I have been making about this general subject of knowledge/God/reality in various threads.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Blake: consciousness is special because of the having of qualitative feelings, sensations, not just conceptualizations and information (*to us*.) Some rather dishonest philosophers (“feigners of anesthesia”) deny or evade this, but it’s the primary fact of life (not anything about “the material universe” or our supposed constraint by a specific program – science – designed to find out certain kinds of things about the workings of the world, not be a uniform program for knowledge or speculation or philosophizing entire.)

  • fh

    What he is saying is that God is beyond rational discourse. Then you say “can you explain that to me in the terms of rational discourse”, and the answer is of course “no”, and you have a wonderful case of two people talking past each other.

    For what it is worth, modern atheistic philosophy does know non-(words/things/concepts) that can not be given a definition of the form you ask for.

  • http://www.sunclipse.org Blake Stacey

    Andrew quotes 1 John 4:20.

    Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.

    But what about Luke 14:26?

    If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

    You can tell this bothers people, because in some more recent translations, “hate” gets changed into “love to a lesser degree”. For example, the Good News Bible says, “Whoever comes to me cannot be my disciple unless he loves me more than he loves his father and his mother, his wife and his children, his brothers, and his sisters and himself as well.” But the Greek word miseo really does mean “hate”, and in every verse where it appears, it clearly indicates the exact opposite of love. Should Luke 16:13 also be retconned to say that we must love Mammon a little less than we love God?

    Greg Egan says,

    I wish we had a good word in English that meant only “the shattering majesty of reality”, so atheists could make it abundantly clear that they’re aware of this majesty, but don’t imagine that it’s due to anything that resembles a person in any way. But what atheists absolutely should not do is say “Well, I’m going to use the word ‘God’ to mean ‘the awesomeness of the universe’”. This is helpful for selling lots of tenth-rate pop-science books with “God” in their titles, and for winning the Templeton prize, but even when it’s not plain venal and dishonest it’s linguistically sloppy.

    This is why I describe quantum mechanics as Loki playing dice with the Universe. Come on, Loki may be subtle, but he’s not malicious, right?

  • ike

    Let’s take 19th century deterministic physical theory – the ‘clockwork universe’ model – as a starting point. The religious establishment rebelled against that because it left “no room for God” other than as some kind of supreme original architect.

    Then along came quantum theory, relativity and chaos and now we have the probabilistic – statistical model of the universe. Stephen Hawking pointed out that even if we do ever come up with a grand unified theory of everything, the equations will be chaotic and will be of little use for many predictive purposes, right?

    Einstein didn’t like this too much, thus the famous “God doesn’t play dice with the Universe” statement.

    So, in the current view of things, “God” could go around interfering with probabilistic outcomes for specific events – and you’d never be able to tell the difference. The same goes for Maxwell’s Demon – a little demon that is somehow able to acquire information about the world without interacting with it, and then is able to alter conditions to affect outcomes.

    Which can all be summed up as: “If God played dice with the Universe, he’d win.” Thus, believing in God is not any different from believing in Maxwell’s Demon – it’s an untestable hypothesis. Thus, for the question posed by Sean – “What is the difference between “God exists” and “God does not exist”?” – the answer seems to be: nothing.

    You can attribute any given probabilistic outcome to the laws of chance, to God, to Maxwell’s Demon – it doesn’t really matter. If you look at a large number of outcomes, you find they follow certain rules, and it you like you can attribute those rules to nature or to God or to whatever you like – and you can keep checking to make sure the rules are obeyed, and you might even find circumstances where you have to revise the rules. Thus, Dawkin’s fixation on the issue seems like a waste of time and effort.

    For most people though, religious belief is an attempt to find meaning in what they view as a cold, impersonal world where death is the inevitable outcome.

    However, look at a growing plant – isn’t that meaningful all by itself? A solar energy converter constructed using an internal evolved genetic blueprint that creates incredible (and still not completely understood) complexity out of sunlight and simple elements and molecules? Then we’ve got the universe itself to look at – I mean, go and take a long, long look at the Hubble Ultra Deep Field shot. Think about that for a while. It’s a lot more fascinating than religion, isn’t it? What’s out there?

  • Pingback: Science After Sunclipse

  • CarlN

    Sean,

    You are not going to get a good answer to this question. People believing in god has no clear idea what god is or means. This is of course because god does not exist. It’s like asking small children to describe Santa. You are going to get all kinds of stories.

    Carl

  • Jason Dick

    Neil,

    Fortunately, some part of ourselves surviving our deaths [i]is[/i] testable, as it makes a very specific prediction. The relates directly back to my previous statement on getting drunk. Specifically, what it means is that if there is a part of ourselves that survives our deaths, then that part of ourselves must necessarily also survive any damage to our bodies. If it doesn’t survive that damage, then it certainly can’t survive our death.

    Now, then, we would need some determination as to what it would mean for us to survive our own death. What, exactly, would survive? Well, there are two components, really, our memories and our personality. For this survival of a piece of ourselves to have any meaning at all, then some portion of either our memories or our personality would have to survive. But our memory can be lost when the brain is damaged in the wrong places. And our personality can be altered, in a myriad of ways, due to the introduction of chemicals (i.e. getting drunk), or due to damage to any number of locations in the brain. So no, because there is no component of ourselves that is immune to such damage, there is no component of ourselves that can possibly survive our own demise.

  • http://members.localnet.com/~jse885 Scott Roberts

    Well, then, we can get drunk. Ergo consciousness is naturalistic, as deviations in consciousness can be imposed via physical means.

    A response to this from my viewpoint is that nervous systems, and alcohol, and the effect of the latter on the former, all have non-spatiotemporal reality (their quantum reality?) that is turned into spatiotemporal reality in the act of perception. Which is to say that no experiment (leaving out mystical disciplines) can distinguish between the two viewpoints, so both viewpoints are metaphysical, not two competing scientific theories. But the choice of which viewpoint one adopts does have consequences, which is the point relative to this post.

  • http://www.shnakepup.com Jacob

    Greg Egan, earlier, said:

    I wish we had a good word in English that meant only “the shattering majesty of reality”, so atheists could make it abundantly clear that they’re aware of this majesty, but don’t imagine that it’s due to anything that resembles a person in any way…

    I recently heard of a word that might be what you’re looking for: “numinous”. As far as I know, there’s no real religious connotation to it, and it’s a pretty neat sounding word anyway.

    I’ve seen it used as a noun before too, so instead of a careless atheist saying “God” they could say “the numinous”.

  • jeff

    Where does consciousness go when you sleep, then?

    This is getting a bit off-topic, but let me just say this: Some might turn that around and say, “where does the universe go when you sleep or die?” Positivism can lead you down a strange path: http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/27640

    The argument “consciousness is special because you always have it until you don’t” is not particularly persuasive.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s “special” – I think “suspicious” is a better word. It seems to underly everything that is known or can be known about reality. It is a box from which there is no escape. You can never be someone else. Which may lead you to ask to the why-am-I-me question, i.e. why should reality be experienced as you, and not as someone or something else? Stand on a hilltop on a starry night and imagine all the other consciousnesses that must be out there in the vastness of the universe. And yet, the universe seems to have a preference for viewing itself through your eyes? Why?

    consciousness is special because of the having of qualitative feelings, sensations

    This is another thing that bothers me. I’m not sure that qualia can be reduced to math or physics, which are purely descriptive in nature. Information about your consciousness, received through your consciousness, is not equivalent to the actual experience of your consciousness. I believe others (Wigner?) have also made this point.

  • http://egregium.wordpress.com/ Christine

    [recovered from spam filter -- sean]

    What is the difference between “God exists” and “God does not exist”?

    Dear Sean,

    Perhaps some insight (although not a precise answer to your question) can be found in the very well written and thoughtful treatise by Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution.

    In special, the last chapter of that book deals with the “affirmation of something” as compared to its negation (a nice point of view worthy of mentioning that is also useful to your post “Why is there something rather than nothing?”). Bergson argues that those are not as symmetric as they would appear (specially when seen from a purely mathematical point of view). Rather, negation is a second degree affirmation, not the opposite of it, or the absence of it. So the point is, perhaps your question does not embody two absolute and opposite conditions, and therefore cannot be given a unique or even meaninful answer distinguishing those conditions.

    It was a pleasure for me to find Bergson’s book. It’s simply brilliant. Yes, one could have arguments against some of his points, but there is no way to deny that his arguments are quite subtle, original and important to address.

    I wrote previously about whether I was looking for God, in reply to a commenter. I would have to re-write it in accordance the novel insights that the reading of Bergson gave me (when I wrote that post, I had not read Bergson’s book). But in any case, I believe you will not find a reasonable answer to your question easily.

    Best regards,

    Christine

  • Robert

    God, to my mind is a mathematical calculation.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    See update above.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Hi Jason Dick, interesting argument.

    So basically all stem cell research and promises of cures, even to brain damage or loss of ‘memory’ – are irrelevant. The proverbial cow dung or pie in the sky.
    Are you suggesting the best way to assure ‘death’ of the criminal mind or any ‘evil’ mind would be a bullet in the head, are you suggesting that anyone who dies burnt in a fire (or is cremated) can’t possibly pass into the afterlife.

    Hmm, that reminds me how some people in the dark ages used to think decapitation was the best way to ensure no one could come back to haunt you. Or the old myth that if you had any part of your body missing (except the foreskin, and perhaps your teeth too) you could not enter heaven.

    I don’t think you have demonstrated that there is nothing survives death, any more than anyone 50 years ago demonstrated that neutrinos do NOT exist. And the whole idea of CERN and the LHC is to find stuff we cannot currently find or measure – things which nevertheless may or may not be ‘predicted’ by theory.

    Now, I am not suggesting that anything CAN or does survive death, or what form it takes. I AM suggesting you cannot prove nothing survives death, or that you cannot prove that suddenly you do not go into a parallel universe, or even a parallel state (call it heaven, nirvana, or cuckoo land) on some distant galaxy, almost or even at the speed of light – the actual time it takes to get there, whether millions or billions of light years, seemingly irrelevant to the equation.

    And of course Sean could argue, that even if there is an afterlife, it is still not proof of God – because the afterlife could simply be Nature’s Way – and Cosmic Karma is as predictable as Particle Physics. Who knows?

    Maybe what happens after death is as irrelevant as what was there before the big bang, to the observable universe. But I am increasingly of the persuasion that the ‘observable’ universe is only the ‘visible’ portion (and possibly a very small portion) of the whole universe delimited by the Cosmic Event Horizon, there is no falling off the edge of the flat universe at the cosmic event horizon. But hey I too, am free to believe or disbelieve what I will – am I not?

  • spyder

    Wow, 64 comments and not one mention of Shiva or Thor, Vishnu or Viracocha., Aphrodite or Xi Wang Mu. Interesting that so many who profess their deep faith in their “god” can so comfortably reject another’s expression of faith in her/his own (and please don’t be so silly as to suggest that these are just other names for “your god, they definitely are not).

    As for the discussion on consciousness, reviewing some of the contemporary, extensive, philosophical discussions might be valuable, if one is seriously interested.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    PS – lol to your update.
    Indeed it must be quite liberating (if not comforting) for the old & the dying to know that their disease ridden or decay-ed bodies have simply reached the end of their particulate journey. And their lives whether they are remembered or not, was meaningless and to all intents with no more purpose than any other group of atoms wondering aimlessly or with purpose, around the universe simply obeying the laws of physics as described mathematically (mathematics a language constructed and comprehensible to the human Mind).
    Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    SPYDER, I have not suggested I have any particular God or that other gods may or may not be different manifestations of the same god, though string theory would mathematically postulate that to be possible.

  • Jason Dick

    Quasar9,

    Technically, we can’t prove that that reality isn’t an illusion, that we aren’t Boltmann brains who just popped into existence, had a single thought, and popped right back out of existence again. That’s why I don’t ever talk about proof (as I’m not a mathematician). But the problem is, the sheer variety of changes one can make to a person’s personality through physical changes to the brain just ensures that it makes no sense whatsoever that there is a component of ourselves that is survives our death.

    Consider this situation:
    Imagine that you are heterosexual, and there is a particular form of brain injury that will cause you to become homosexual.

    Now imagine that there is another person that was born homosexual, while there is a similar brain injury that would cause that person to become heterosexual.

    With these two cases, what survives death? The homosexual personality, or the heterosexual personality? Consider, after all, that objectively speaking, there is no preference between the two points of view (the rest of the universe really doesn’t care whether your sexual desires are conducive to you having children or not). And yet the change could be affected by a physical change in the brain, and furthermore this is an aspect of ourselves which we consider an integral part of our personal identity. So no, I don’t see how the idea of life after death is in any way coherent, and thus just can’t be correct.

    But this really just underscores the catch-22 that theists are in, along with others who believe in various supernatural. Either you place your beliefs in something that is empirically testable, and in so doing put your beliefs on the line, or you define your beliefs in such a way that, even in principle, they could never be tested, and in so doing make your beliefs functionally identical to those of the materialist. I think Sean is spot-on when he describes these “high-minded” ideas of god as category errors. But what’s worse is when a person claims to have a “high-minded” idea of god, and then starts making claims about the nature of reality that are testable, such as whether or not we survive our own deaths.

  • randor

    “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.”
    — John Lennon

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Hi Jason Dick,

    I have deliberately attempted to avoid the word God, since that clearly opens up the whole other can of worms of ‘which’ god, or ‘whose’ god we are talking about, or to answer Sean’s question: Which or what god to disbelieve in.

    As to your argument, I do understand where you are coming from.
    You are not the same ‘persona’ that was in your mother’s womb, nor the same ‘persona’ that crawled, wore nappies and learnt to walk & talk. Nor the same ‘persona’ that grew up to be the various people you have been or become in your adult life. You may choose to become or believe something totally different tomorrow than you are today. And aside from the mental state, you have also undergone all the normal physical changes and the natural multi cell deaths that the body undergoes at its various phases of growth, change and decay. And yet all the while I presume there is a thread that you hold onto that is you, or you identify as you. Clearly like actors we play different roles throughout our life (son, brother, father, uncle, …) but there is something that we generally hang onto that we identify as I.

    That may be something very personal (based on personal experiences), which others cannot ever wholly know or see – and in some cases may be based on experiences or memories which we may even wish to forget.

    And of course as you point out, there are those who either thru disease, trauma or injury have lost some part of themselves (some or all their memories), and there is also the onset of alzheimers, which would posit that if there is degeneration of the brain, there is increasing difficulty in identifying ourselves, never mind recognising others. Mind you these are things which medical science and medical research genuinely hope to be able to ‘prevent’ and even ‘repair’ whether it is possible or not, remains to be ‘seen’.

    But returning to my point – we cannot possitively discount that there is more to the human being than the physical (ie: what we know to date) any more than we can discount that there is more to the universe that we do not know, than we really care to admit. After all we like to know things, ironic really since any knowledge no matter how absolute, is simply ‘temporal’ knowledge that can so casually be mislodged or lost by a careless blow to the head.

    But no matter how liberating Sean suggests dismissing that there is anything more to us – what you see is what you get – I would find it irrational to dismiss that there is or may be a Spirit (soul or Onion call it what you will) that contains or can contain the sum total of our experiences & memories, good and bad. Those we may wish to hold onto or even those we’d wish to forget, those we’d like to hold onto but can’t prevent losing, since there is nothing that categorically can prove there is nothing after death – until we pass that particular stage or phase. As to what comes out the other side, I shall not speculate further here – since clearly I could only possibly ever hope at best to speculate on what may or may not be.

    You need to recognise, that just as Sean can justify the universe by what we ‘know’ what is observable & measurable – there are ‘physical’ things we cannot quite observe or measure yet. Things we theorize or speculate about, whether it be Strings, Dark Energy or Gravitons… which may turn out to be true and exist (or not) and lead us onto further things we do not know.

    But my original argument in reply to Sean was
    If there is life after death, then that would be something that would change the universe we know (as we know it). I did not presume to be able to prove it.

  • John Ramsden

    As fundies seem to be less of a baleful influence on education and legislation in the UK than the US (although muslims are increasingly vociferous), we can generally afford to take a less combative and more dispassionate stance on religion.

    What querulous atheists forget, or sweep under the carpet, is the huge evolutionary advantage religion has had, from the dawn of mankind to the present day. Dawkins of all people, as a biologist (I think?), should at least concede that, although not having read his book I don’t know whether he did.

    Despite the veneer of civilization, under the skin we’re all the same hairy-assed dark-souled savages, whose instinct honed over literally millions of years is to accept and look up to one boss, and however this is sublimated today in various forms of hero worship, or even abstract ideas, the same applies now as much as ever.

    One advantage of religion is to render that boss a nebulous mysterious entity rather than a person. Yes, maybe sovereigns and chief priests and so forth have claimed to rule by divine right; but they know and everyone knows that all, including the ruler, are answerable to this higher power. The problem with atheists is that in the absence of a God they presume to take on the role of God themselves!

    Yes, I’d concede that religious societies haven’t always been on their best behaviour, as in the Crusades for example. But look at the French Revolution, or Stalinist Russia, or the Chinese revolution, or Pol Pot’s Cambodia, all the work of idealistic atheists, and bathed in the blood of countless millions, far more than any religious wars.

    Sean, few are anywhere near as educated and trained in logical thought as yourself or the average poster here, and if everyone suddenly turned atheist, as you appear to wish, I guarantee you’d be on your knees before a statue of the Virgin Mary, begging her to intercede in stopping the horrors that would ensue!

    In any case, we live surrounded by lies and deceptions great and small. Why bother to wear clothes if the weather is not inclement? It would be more rational to save wear and tear and the effort of washing clothes to walk around stark bollock naked where practical. Also, why this insistence that everyone matters? In truth, hardly anyone matters a fig in the grand scheme of things, even distinguished scientists. If any of us dropped dead tomorrow, someone else would take our place, and any achievements we might have made could be made by others.

    The point is, what is one more white lie (even if as an atheist you believe it so) if it makes the vast majority of believers feel and act as better people. Hell, if chanting round a mouldy old tree stump, as our druid ancestors did, improves one’s spirit and outlook, I’d go and join them.

    Apologies for length of this post, and hopefully it makes some sense. Truth is I’m as pissed as a mattress, having polished off several G&Ts, and will probably regret it tomorrow. ;-)

  • http://www.gregegan.net/ Greg Egan

    Jacob (#59) wrote:

    I recently heard of a word that might be what you’re looking for: “numinous”. As far as I know, there’s no real religious connotation to it, and it’s a pretty neat sounding word anyway.

    I’m personally allergic to this word, but other people’s mileage might vary. There’s an Australian atheist radio broadcaster who uses it a lot, but I’ve also heard members of the Woo crowd using it to distinguish their refined feelings from those of Evil Reductionist Scientists.

    Dictionary definitions include “1. having to do with a numen 2. arousing elevated or religious feelings.” (A “numen” is “a deity; a divine power or spirit”). So I suppose there’s just room for a non-religious meaning in the “elevated feelings” half of meaning 2. It would be nice to have something with less baggage, but I can’t think of any good candidates myself.

    Haludza (#43) wrote:

    did the word ‘awesomeness’ come close before it
    became used to describe hot dogs and novelty lamp shades?

    It probably did, but we’ve well and truly lost it now. I could cope with surfers and skaters in the 1980s who initially were at least using it for things that genuinely impressed them, but I was recently told by a customer service officer at a finance company that the fact that I’d sent him a fax was “awesome”. I don’t think he was actually in awe of either the technology, or the content of my fax.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Jason Dick,

    It is worth bringing up issues of our changing personality making it hard to say what should survived death. However, your argument above that brain damage in effect disproves survival is fallacious. If the brain is damaged, then the “program” running on *that machine* is impaired while that “machine” is running at all. That doesn’t keep the “program” from running on a completely different “machine”, which was my point (and which is testable, if enough of you can survive to think, “Wow, I’m still around somehow.”)

    As for what version of your changing personality should survive, well that depends on how the system works (how it was “built”, no apologies …) But consider this: why do you consider your “self” to survive the changes in your personality over time? Why does it matter to worry about your own experiences years from now, when your mental processes will be different? Maybe the idea of “process” is not good enough, and there is a persisting unstructured whole behind the changes of the mind. That whole might not even be individualized, in the sense of being the same “one” behind each person (not n monads per n sentient beings.) This is the great insight of many Eastern religious traditions, and I have experienced it (quite beautiful) even though I am not sure it is true.

    Finally, talk about God interfering in the world (whether overtly or through quantum cracks) is not the most important question, but rather concerning the why of the world, the grounding of existence (versus mere Platonism), and its being life-friendly in terms of both laws and experiential realness. Sorry, but thinking this particular world could just “exist” self-sufficiently without deeper cause is like thinking the number 23 among all numbers just happens to be made into “real” brass numerals somewhere. And if they all exist, its chaos.

  • John Merryman

    I suppose this is repetitious, but I’ll try keeping it simple. As John Ramsden point out, the general concept of God is of a top down authority figure, but absolute isn’t apex, it’s basis. So the spiritual absolute would be the essence of awareness, not an ideal form of it. What is to say that it isn’t the same element of being peering out of all life and evolution is multiplying complexity? As individuals, we are constructs in the first place and our sense of individuality is a function of mental focus. Because we view a potential deity as top down in order to maintain social and civic order, we assume it is intentional, but if it is bottom up, raw awareness, then it is aspirational, which is a good description of conscious behavior.

    Currently humanity is top predator in the eco-system, but if life on this planet amounts to a single organism, then humanity has the potential to be its central nervous system.

    Atheism is a form of reductionism, but life is wholistic.

  • Jason Dick

    But Neil, in this case the program is the machine. There is no difference. This makes the whole idea of an immutable soul nonsensical.

    Also bear in mind, Quasar9, that I am not trying to prove anything. That is impossible. I’m merely trying to show that you need to make up completely unevidenced (and indeed, unevidenceable) entities that don’t make sense when examined in order to support the idea of life after death. That makes life after death exceedingly unlikely to be correct.

    Finally, as Sean argues quite well, talking about God as the “grounding of existence” or the “why of the world” is completely meaningless. Might as just drop the word entirely.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    John – it’s an Ouroboros thing. The absolute is basis, but also apex because it is the “plenum”, the opposite of nothing. All that can be advanced is latent within it. People who can believe (with good reason, of course) that “space” itself is spontaneously a field of every kind of particle shouldn’t find the idea of God so difficult to at least entertain (and that’s all I’m asking them to do, not have it “proven” to them.) I think God is like the ultimate generalization of what the virtual sea is in more particular and limited form. It has intelligence, not as process, since all that can be thought is wrapped up in that omnifarious superspace. (That includes all grounds for evaluation and the rules for validity of same, so God is not even-handed in attribute towards good and evil etc. if one is following this line of thought.)

  • http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/ John Baez

    Greg Egan wrote:

    I’m sure most thoughtful religious people include the “shattering majesty” of reality in their definition of God. The problem is, by any sensible definition of “religious” and “God”, they also mean something more.

    Really? Any sensible definition? I think it’s better to discuss thoughtful people’s ideas on a case-by-case basis, instead of trying to quantify over all possible things they might sensibly mean. But never mind: you’re right that lots of them mean something more… different things in each case.

    Is it really such a petty squabble for those of us who don’t believe in that something more to wish to be clear about the distinction?

    If someone starts talking about god, you’re certainly entitled to press them on what exactly they mean – and it’s actually a good thing for you to do if they’re using vague talk to confuse or coerce people, as is so often the case.

    What I said – just to clarify – is that for me to say either “I believe in god” or “I don’t believe in god” would only lead myself away from what I’m interested in, into the realm of petty squabbles. They’re great ways to start an argument, but terrible ways for me to express how I feel.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Jason, I don’t see why you think the program is the machine. Most thinkers, either AI or traditionalists, would not agree. Why can’t it happen somewhere else?

    Finally, as Sean argues quite well, talking about God as the “grounding of existence” or the “why of the world” is completely meaningless. Might as just drop the word entirely.

    No, neither he nor anyone I know of argues that quite well or explains why I should consider it “meaningless” (which itself means, defensibly: ?) If you can reason abstractly at highest level and challenge whether it is sensible for a given particular like our universe to be the/an uncaused “given” that’s just here etc, then it is a game point and quite sensible to at least suspect that something fundamental and quite different from all this (even if not easy to define or imagine) is instead that which is “necessary”, and is a contingent necessity for the particular things like those of our world and its properties. You don’t have to care about that or think it “matters” (whether it does is, I say, a choice to make and not a fact anyway), but that doesn’t mean those of us who are interested should give up or follow your lead in what should be considered relevant.

    PS: Please read The Mind of God by physicist Paul Davies on this question in like vein (not per religious tradition.) It is indeed the modern classic.

  • http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/ John Baez

    Greg Egan wrote:

    I wish we had a good word in English that meant only “the shattering majesty of reality”, so atheists could make it abundantly clear that they’re aware of this majesty, but don’t imagine that it’s due to anything that resembles a person in any way…

    Jason wrote:

    I recently heard of a word that might be what you’re looking for: “numinous”.

    Greg Egan wrote:

    It would be nice to have something with less baggage, but I can’t think of any good candidates myself.

    I don’t think you’re going to find a word that means what you want but doesn’t attract a swarm of silly people to it like moths to a candle flame. Unless, of course, you make up the word and don’t tell anyone what it means!

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    Hmmm, Sean is getting money from…

    See the Google adds below “Paying the Bills” :)

  • Pingback: Evolution » Impromptu Carnival of Substantive Posts

  • http://www.gregegan.net/ Greg Egan

    Neil B. wrote:

    PS: Please read The Mind of God by physicist Paul Davies on this question in like vein (not per religious tradition.) It is indeed the modern classic.

    There’s only one pile of schlock more embarrassing than The Mind of God, and that’s The Physics of Immortality. (Well, OK, there’s also the sequel, The Physics of Christianity which is apparently even worse.) Davies spends hundreds of pages assuring us that the universe “has a purpose” and we were “truly meant to be here”, while simultaneously laughing at silly, unsophisticated people who imagine that “meaning” and “purpose” imply the existence of some kind of divine being with thoughts and intentions. He fully deserved to win the Templeton prize for the corruption of science with gibberish.

  • Jason Dick

    Jason, I don’t see why you think the program is the machine. Most thinkers, either AI or traditionalists, would not agree. Why can’t it happen somewhere else?

    Another example of why it can’t happen somewhere else is a look at what happens when a person has their corpus callosum severed:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_hand_syndrome

    For example, one patient was observed putting a cigarette into her mouth with her intact, ‘controlled’ hand (her right, dominant hand), following which her alien, non-dominant, left hand came up to grasp the cigarette, pull the cigarette out of her mouth, and toss it away before it could be lit by the controlled, dominant, right hand. The patient then surmised that “I guess ‘he’ doesn’t want me to smoke that cigarette”. This type of problem has been termed “intermanual conflict” or “diagonistic apraxia”.

    If it’s just a hardware issue, why is it that when certain areas of the brain are damaged, one person becomes two?

  • http://myspace.com/shampoomohawk Shampoo Mohawk

    …. did we already tackle the “Who/what created God” or “chicken/egg” question? It seems to me that this argument always boils down to the inability of the mind to suspend the notion of cause and effect or beginning and end in the analysis of the God question.

    More specifically, a previous commenter made the point that you could argue the existence of some feature that would not be present in a God-less universe. For example a “believer” might use the afterlife as proof that God exists. This is a poor example, but an atheist could always counter with the idea that, given the existence of the afterlife, there might also exist a scientific explanation for the afterlife. Given that the egg came first, someone could argue that there must of been a chicken to lay the egg, etc.

    What I am saying is that you could apply this to God itself. Given that God exists, could a scientist or even a theist argue that there must’ve been a meta-God that created God (similar to the infinite line of meta-genies in GEB)?

    It just seems like a fool’s errand to try to prove it one way or the other. I think it is beyond most people’s capability (including my own) to truly seperate this discussion from the idea of “God exists, there fore X exists.”

    This seems to me to be the point of Sean’s post. Show me what it means that God exists by telling me what would be different. Short of a booming voice from the sky or a burning bush, I am yet to be convinced.

  • http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/ John Baez

    Greg Egan wrote:

    Davies spends hundreds of pages assuring us that the universe “has a purpose” and we were “truly meant to be here”, while simultaneously laughing at silly, unsophisticated people who imagine that “meaning” and “purpose” imply the existence of some kind of divine being with thoughts and intentions.

    Since you’ve already suffered through this book, and I don’t plan to, maybe you can tell me: does he make any attempt to explain what he means by saying the universe “has a purpose”, or that we’re “truly meant to be here”? While some people may think they know what such phrases mean, it’s actually very hard to make them precise in any useful way.

    Davies doesn’t seem to bother with this over here. Instead, he merely asserts:

    If the universe is pointless and reasonless, reality is ultimately absurd. We should then be obliged to conclude that the physical world of experience is a fiendishly clever piece of trickery: absurdity masquerading as rational order.

    Of course what’s really “fiendishly clever piece of trickery” is this sort of argument, which is designed to manipulate our emotions rather than clarify anything.

  • Andrew Fung

    What is it about the existence of God that has some effect on the universe? … Some people clearly think of God in a way perfectly consistent with the supposed Dawkinsian straw man, which is fine on its own terms. Others take refuge in the Skinneresque stance that we can’t say what we mean when we talk about God, which I continue to think is simply intellectually dishonest.

    Sean,

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. At this point in the argument, it is no longer an intellectual debate. I think using the analogy of asking a mitochondrion or cell to provide a precise definition of a human being (per James McGrath) to conclude that one should throw up one’s hands at the prospect of describing measureable effects of god’s existence is a perfectly valid response. It reflects the awe inspiring, transcendent quality that many people see and intuit in the universe. However, in saying that the human intellect is currently, or perhaps forever, not up to the task, the stance is non-rational and non-scientific.

    Scientific thinking provides a way to stand awestruck before the majesty of the universe (per John Baez, Joel Primack, and many others). However, psychologically and socially, science leaves people cold. There is a huge unmet task of translating between science and culture.

  • http://grenouille-bouillie.blogspot.com/2007/05/another-theory-of-everything.html Christophe de Dinechin

    Sean,

    As illustrated by Max Tegmark, physics itself often pretends to give answers that are hardly satisfying. In my personal view, there is not much difference between a “level IV multiverse” and a simplistic representation of God. Both lack predictive power, both require one hypothesis or two per answer, and both claim to be “the ultimate truth”. But I think we can do better.

    So here are my two cents about God:

    1) The existence of God is a testimony. In other words, God talks to people in the Bible, saying “I am”. Jesus talks to people saying “I am the Son of God”. Now, you may decide to believe that or not, of course. But be honest: why do you believe I exist? Because I talk to you. Or… “the Verb”, in Bible-speak.

    Let me tell you a little story here. When I was about 14, with a group of kids, trying to answer some difficult religious question, one of the kids said “God told me…” and gave an answer that was quite amazing. And that guy was not the brightest in the class. So that same day, I decided there was no reason this guy could talk to God and not me, and I tried. I would say that I prayed for the first time. Well… it worked. For me, now, God is a personal presence. Of course, I know that this may be an illusion of my brain, but I know that on the exact same level as I know you may be an illusion of my brain. I cannot prove you exist, I cannot prove God exists, I still believe both of you exist.

    2) Describing is not explaining. If I open my hand, and the apple I was holding falls, “why does the apple fall”. The physicist’s answer would be “because of gravity”. But that really describes how the apple falls, not why it fell. A better reason why it fell is because I decided to open my hand. If you are a hard core materialist, you can then find another root cause: “yes, but then the reason you open your hand is because some chemical reaction in your brain caused a nerve influx…” OK, but why were things organized in such a way that my brain could take such a decision? “Carbon atoms were formed in stars eons ago,…” and so on.

    Such a dialogue has three logical ends: either there is some explanation (God, anthropic principle, whatever), or finite recursion will allow me to go to a point where no explanation is needed, or the recursion is infinite and we can keep arguing. Some “materialists” pretend that we have reached the point where no further explanation is needed. I personally find this intellectually dishonest.

    Hope this helps,

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Andrew, I think that the cell analogy is completely beside the point, in fact. I am not asking for the perfectly accurate Final Theory of God. Nor am I insisting that the ineffable be put in some overly constraining physicalist box. I am simply asking people who call themselves religious to explain what they mean. Even the poor mitochondrion, who might not be able to explain what it is to be human, should be able to explain what they mean when they say they believe in the existence of something called a human being.

    Then I would go on to say, to those who feel that our sense of awe and wonder at the universe should be sensibly identified with “God,” that that’s an incredibly bad strategy. It’s a move that blurs the distinction between metaphysical materialism and honest spirituality, in a way that is both philosophically backwards and pragmatically dangerous. These are important questions, and ones that are worth taking seriously and rigorously, rather than pretending that some human feelings in the face of a pretty impressive but ultimately purely physical universe can be lazily confused with sincere (even if misguided) beliefs in a higher non-physical power.

  • Sam Gralla

    Hi Sean,

    My point about why people end up believing in God was meant to illustrate that an honest religious person will agree with you that you can’t say just what He is. (But that person will go on believing Him having no idea what He is, because he knows He exists from scripture and personal experiences.) But as for the question “how would the world be different if there were no God,” I think you can get answers for this. No morality would be an obvious one. I would probably say no free will. I’m not sure what the spectrum looks like for actually religious people.

    -Sam

  • http://inertial-mass.stumbleupon.com Thomas E. Vaughan

    A friend of mine from graduate school reads cosmicvariance, and he suggested that I check out this thread. Coming in after more than 80 comments against the original post, I must say that you do have an interesting thread going here.

    From the original post:

    One view, “atheism,” is completely materialistic — it describes reality as just a bunch of stuff obeying some equations, for as long as the universe exists, and that’s absolutely all there is. In the other view, God exists. What I would like to know is: what is the difference? What is the meaningful, operational, this-is-why-I-should-care difference between being a sophisticated believer and just being an atheist?

    Because I am a Catholic, “the other view” has a particular set of meanings for me, regardless of whether I fit the description of the “sophisticated believer”. Still, I was trained as a physicist, and not only do I not see any real conflict between my religious view and modern science per se, but my religious view has “meaningful, operational” value, at least to me. By writing the following, I don’t mean to make assertions that I expect anyone here to believe; I merely hope that someone might find in them more than the passing interest that one has for an embarrassing display of foolishness.

    From my point of view, there are several this-is-why-I-should-care differences, but it’s hard to predict what someone else will actually care about.

    (0) God is the truth. There are several concepts X usually written as, “God is X.” God is the grand unification of certain things that appear to the human mind to be distinct. But I list X=truth zeroth because it has a special place. Anyone who believes in objective truth and seeks the truth believes in God and seeks God. Falsehood and deception are the enemies of God and of God’s followers. Logic and honesty are the friends of God and of God’s followers. One who worships God worships the truth, and vice-versa. Believing in this alone amounts merely to the assertions that objective truth exists and that honesty and logic are of the highest value. Although this by itself would seem insufficient to justify use of the word “God”, such an explicitly stated (though limited) expression of “God” could be useful as common ground for discussion with religious persons who attach more ideas to the word “God”.

    (1) God is existence itself. The very principle of being underlying everything that is, so that it can be. It is evident (at least to me) that there is a deep consistency between (0) above and the view of God as existence itself. But there is more in this particular view, in which the absence of God is the absence of existence itself and therefore the absence of everything. Nothing would exist without God.

    (2) God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. These attributes of God reflect the association of a Mind with God, and here is the root of the notion of creation. The Mind of God unifies everything in existence so that we may properly speak of it as “the universe”. The Mind of God organizes all of existence so that a created mind may comprehend the universe. Everything that exists is held in being by God’s thinking about it.

    (3) A human person is like God in a way that a chimpanzee or a tomato or a rock is not. This likeness gives the human person a dignity on which human rights can be firmly established. Of course, the obligation to protect the dignity of every human person from conception to natural death can be inconvenient, and so one might care to oppose the idea of God if it means that there might be some real obligation involved.

    (4) God has established true authority among men in history. The idea here is that some knowledge has been communicated to humanity in history by God. The content of the communication includes knowledge about the relationship between God and the universe, the relationship between humanity and the rest of the universe, relationship between God and humanity, and the relationship between a human and his neighbor. In order for this revealed information to be communicated reliably in every age, an authoritative and living institution has been established in the Catholic Church, which God imbues with a certain infallibility.

    (5) One way in which a human is unlike a mere animal is that the human being has an infinitely extended subjective awareness, part of which is experienced in the universe as we now see it. That part ends with the death of the imperfect body that lives in this imperfect world. After the death of the body, each human will be judged by God, and there are essentially two possible judgments, friend of God or enemy of God. Friend of the truth or enemy of the truth. Respecter of reason or distorter of the truth. Good or evil. Living one’s life amounts to choosing sides, and the choice has an infinite subjective value, for it is tied to whether the resurrected body will have eternal life or suffer eternal death.

  • http://www.gregegan.net/ Greg Egan

    John Baez wrote (#85):

    Since you’ve already suffered through this book, and I don’t plan to, maybe you can tell me: does he make any attempt to explain what he means by saying the universe “has a purpose”, or that we’re “truly meant to be here”?

    Not that I could discern. The book is a catalogue of the usual stuff: we should be impressed that there are physical laws at all, that various constants appear fine-tuned for life, that mathematics is “unreasonably effective” (aargh!), that we are capable of understanding cosmology and asking Big Questions. Because it’s easy to imagine universes in which none of these things are true, they must have been “meant” to happen. He ridicules the idea that this invites the question “Er, meant by whom?”, and assures us endlessly that there are no men with white beards involved, but offers no explanation whatsoever as to what he (as opposed to virtually every other English speaker in the world) means by the word “meant”.

  • charles

    Sean ,

    Please excuse my limited Latin :

    Opus est mihi Deo ;

    Opus est Deo me .

    I need God ; God needs me .

  • http://grenouille-bouillie.blogspot.com/2007/09/why-are-there-no-computer-science.html#whatif Christophe de Dinechin

    Sean,

    I realize that I forgot to answer the question “What is the meaningful, operational, this-is-why-I-should-care difference between being a sophisticated believer and just being an atheist?” Or, as you reformulated it: “how would things be different if God didn’t exist”

    My answer is about the same as if you asked me how would things be different if my wife didn’t exist…

    In other words, it’s all about love. I’m not the only one saying that. Pope Benedict’s first encyclical is called “Deus caritas est”, “God is love”. I thought it was worth another comment, because surprisingly, nobody else wrote it here, I’m afraid. God’s first name is “I am”, his last name is “Love”.

    BTW, since Blake Stacey was the only one arguing about love, let me answer him:

    But what about Luke 14:26?
    If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

    Just enough knowledge to be dangerous… How can you focus on the word “miseo” here and ignore the context (Luke 14:25-32)? Go ahead, look it up. Is there any doubt in context that Jesus was using a strong wording here to underline how difficult the path of faith is, not to request people to hate one another? And for the lazy ones:

    Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26″If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

    28″Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

    31″Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

    34″Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?

  • John Merryman

    Neil,

    The absolute is both everything and nothing, but that doesn’t make it an “ideal form,”

    There is no program that is perfect. What makes a successful program is how effectively it copies itself. To do this it becomes more complex until such a point that the complexity becomes counterproductive and then it resets back to an equilibrium point. It is a bottom up process, not top down structure. A good social example is between North and South Korea. In North Korea, it’s all about apex, the Dear Leader at the top, but in South Korea, it’s about whatever works. The structure serves the process, not the other way around.

    Structure is subject to entropy. It is constantly degrading and needs maintenance. This requires constant application of fresh energy and information, which also keeps structure from settling into equilibrium.

    Corporations are the structure in the process of capitalism. Individual companies come and go, as the process moves on.

    What religions have done is to provide a structural concept for the organic community in a world that is transitioning between tribal groupings and a world community.

  • A Muslim

    Hello Sean and everybody,

    Why is God needed for the universe? well, the cheapest answer is that, he is the cause of the fundamental laws of nature, their origin (wether it is string theory or something deeper)

    You might say well, our universe is not unique in the multiverse picture,
    I would say God would be still necessary for that picture as well, He is the cause of the existance of that multiverse. Frankly the multiverse is a beautiful idea and very profound and logical and i tend to beleive it, if it is the right picture (regardless of how we might be able to show that) I will be still beleiving in God, God caused the multiverse which evolved naturally and one of the universes happened to be suitable for life

    Of course you do not need assuming God’s existance when explaining data from some experiment in cosmology or particle physics or science generally

    It always amazes me when people argue about God’s existance, because I always wonder what kind of a proof would one need to beleive in God!
    One might want to see a miracle to beleive, If God exists let him make me fly, well, even if he made him fly or even made him talk to the dead and he beleived today the next day he would wake up saying I must have been dreaming, or was drunk or something, and so on. So Asking for a proof is eventually like saying I will never be convinced that God exists

    “And even if We had sent down unto them angels, and the dead had spoken unto them, and We had gathered together all things before them, they would not have believed, unless Allah willed, but most of them behave ignorantly”
    verse 111, sura 6, the holy quraan.

    May be if particle physicists discovered a mechanism or an underlying theory which would spit out yukawa couplings uniquely, they would beleive in God. But i guess later they would come up with something to avoide the necessity of God

    The reason why people try to avoide God’s existance, the way i see it (which has nothing to do with physics or science generally), is because once one assumes God exists then there are serious consequences for that, and one has to answer lots of other questions about religions and what God wants from us and salvation…etc, so it seems to me that people subconciously avoide assuming existance of God just to avoide all those bothering questions.

    So how does beleiving in god affect the universe around you? what does praying do for you ?
    Since atheists do not beleive in devine intervention, let me say the following
    we do not know what can heppen in the future, there are many possibilities, and life “now” can evolve into “many possible” lives in the future, may be in one possibility one is supposed to die in 3 days in an accident, but praying to God generally, might prevent that event from taking place by gettig sick for example, so it is devine intervention in that sense

    the reason people usually pray regardless of what religion they practice is that they want to obey their God, it gives them inner peace (it is nothing but meditation!) and that they will be rewarded, if not in this life, then in the hereafter

    One might say , God can’t exist otherwise why leaving all this miserly and evil taking place on earth without doing anything?
    well, earth is not supposed to be heavens, earth is earth, it is supposed to be this way full of hopes, losses, misery, sadness, happiness, death, birth, goods and evils
    For those who beleive in God, he is an absolute just, so no evil will be escaped unpunished, if not i this life then definitely not in the hereafter

    we all beleive in beauty, in good, in peace, in morals and justice etc, we all are afraid of death and of what happens to us after death, we share alot whether we beleive in God or not, things are built in in us, things can’t be explained by science, or the seen world, things can’t be explained by the multiverse.
    Things which mean that one should think more about God and his existance, just the same way one thinks about new physics from hints from the standard model!

    anyway
    sorry for the long post
    and may God guide us all

  • jeff

    Why should the mitochondrian “worship” the human being, and how would the human know, and what would he do if he did know? Perhaps things would be best for everyone if the little mitochondrian just minded it’s own business.

  • cecil Kirksey

    Sean:
    I haven’t read all the comments so this response may have already been made. I will explain to you God( god) if you can expalin to me how our knowable universe came into existance.. I mean from the very beginning if there was one. And if there wasn’t one why not? Thanks for any reply.

  • James

    Imagine there was once a common folk belief that people fall in love because little cherubs shoot them in the butt with invisible arrows. They believed this so strongly that most average people thought that the feeling of love was really the same thing as having an invisible arrow in your butt. Then the scientific revolution happens, and some people start saying that there is no reason to assume invisible arrows exist and that there is even no need to assume love exists, and hence that these things don’t exist. Lots of average people say, hold on, their beloveds light up their hearts and therefore love exists and hence invisible arrows exist. Other people, called theologists, are embarrassed by the what the average people say and so they say of course invisible arrows don’t exist but love certainly exists, just look into your heart. Then some of the more reflective science types say they don’t even understand the question of what it means for love to exist and that they’ll just keep singing and singing that Foreigner song and not even attempt to give an answer until someone can give them a clear question.

    Is this an accurate analogue of the discussion here?

    I’ve always been one of the Foreigner-singing types myself, but after writing this, I can’t help but wonder if I could do better.

    ps I didn’t read most of the comments above, so apologies if this adds nothing new.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    And the Universe created (or gave birth to) humans, so that they in awe and wonder should attempt to unravel the mistery & majesty of the Universe.

    These humans endowed with ‘intellect’ built optics to gaze at the remotest and most distant parts of the universe, and machines (colliders) to measure the component parts of said universe.

    “Then I would go on to say, to those who feel that our sense of awe and wonder at the universe should be sensibly identified with “God,” that that’s an incredibly bad strategy. It’s a move that blurs the distinction between metaphysical materialism and honest spirituality, in a way that is both philosophically backwards and pragmatically dangerous.”

    “These are important questions, and ones that are worth taking seriously and rigorously, rather than pretending that some human feelings in the face of a pretty impressive but ultimately purely physical universe can be lazily confused with sincere (even if misguided) beliefs in a higher non-physical power.”

    And of course there is much we still don’t know of the visible or observable universe. However, I repeat: If there is life after death, then there is clearly much we ‘cannot’ measure in the universe.

    If there is no life (existence, consciouness, awareness or call it what you will) then perhaps there is no ‘higher’ or non-physical existence. And yet oddly enough those who would have no time for things such as angels or demons (fallen angels) have no problem envisioning alternate lifeforms or ‘alien’ life in other galaxies or even from parallel worlds.

    We know science fiction & hollywood movies are not real, but they have physical existence – you’ll soon be able to watch the latest star trk movie with your own eyes. Do not believe that all your eyes (or rather your mind thru the eyes) see, nor disbelieve that anything you cannot see with your physical eyes (even aided by powerful telescopes or electron microscopes) cannot or does not exist.

    So what is Dark Energy, and does the observable universe as we know it, need dark energy to exist. Does it matter whether I believe or disbelieve whether dark energy exists.

  • Snarkalicious

    God is the thing all the athletes praise when they’ve won a game or a championship or some contest.

  • Snarkalicious

    If ‘god is love’ then how can atheists or other people love? Or are people like Sean and this sinner Dawkins incapable of love?

  • Snarkalicious

    Couple more possibilities:

    1) God is simply a word that has been so overloaded and redefined as to lose all meaning over the centuries. –> God is a cliche.

    2) God is in the eye of the beholder I guess. –> God is beauty.

  • Snarkalicious

    God is beauty. Unfortunately some people have really bad taste.

  • Whatever

    God is a psychological construct people use to explain things they don’t understand or are uncomfortable with understanding (like death). Everyone searches for meaning and some things are either not yet known, ultimately unknowable, or (even worse) we don’t like the answer. God solves those problems. A world with God is a world that you believe you can comprehend in an acceptable way. A world without God is too scary for some people, so He/She must exist in it. At the end of the day, God is about fear of the unknown.

  • Snarkalicious

    Shorter Whatever -> God is a crutch.

  • Snarkalicious

    God is the chief character in a nightmare tale that parents tell their young innocent children to scare the living hell of them so they behave.

  • Snarkalicious

    God is an excuse some humans use to see what would happen if they burn other humans to death.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com NB

    James, No, you have the wrong idea about this discussion (at the level of philosophical theology.) The cherub analogy is incorrect: we are not talking about God as an explanation for lightning etc, but for the universe itself and that is not the same logical ball of wax. BTW, we do not have explanations for the laws and “existence” (i.e., meta-explanations or The Meta-explanation) despite some pretentions by some. Muslim up ahead has well summarized the proper framing of the issue. (Muslim – pls. send your email or etc. to neil_delver[at]yahoo[dot]com if you are interested in some conversation about this – I am intersted in how such “higher philosophical theology” is and has been treated in Islam, thanks.)

  • http://www.sunclipse.org Blake Stacey

    Sean Carroll said, in the update:

    The only on-topic replies I can see that don’t fall into either of those camps are ones that point to some feature of the world which would exist just as well in a purely materialistic conception, and say “I call that `God.’” To which I can only reply, you’re welcome to call it whatever you like, but it makes no difference whatsoever. Might as well just admit that you’re an atheist.

    There once was a time when I called such a thing “Urszula”. And after that, I called it “Grace”, and some seasons later I spoke of “Laurel”.

  • Jason Dick

    NB,

    But the argument that a specific deity is the cause of the universe itself is nonsensical. It doesn’t mean anything, because you can’t make any concrete statements about how a universe created by this deity would be different from one not created by this deity.

    Well, let me rephrase that a bit. You could make certain logical conclusions about what a created universe would look like, but if you did you’d immediately find that it doesn’t remotely resemble our universe, so you’re forced to make no predictions and leave it at that. And in retreating from putting your belief on the line, you remove all meaning from the belief.

  • CarlN

    Guys,

    Forget about God. I’ve already shown how existence comes from nothing. Remember? Nobody could prove me wrong (just put their head in the sand). If I do it again, will you take the point or will you just go on pretending circular logic about god or any other eternal existence some time will do the trick? Cause it won’t.

    Carl

  • John Merryman

    The origin of the concept of God was of the tribal spirit and individuals came and went. A good book on the topic is Gilbert Murray’s The Five Stages of Greek Religion. From there it became an ego contest of ‘My God’s bigger then your God.’ Then my God is the only God and your God is a fake. To a certain extent this aspect is even playing out here, between the ‘I don’t need no damn God,’ vs. ‘God is everything.’ So how about God is absolute, which is both everything and nothing.
    Is God also infinite? or is that just the Holy Ghost?
    God of order(past). God of complexity(present). God of chaos(future).
    There is a point in one’s growth where the father goes from being the model one follows, to the foundation one rises from.

    I must say that I look up at the moon on a clear night, it’s another world. To the extent the discussion of God and all it represents has real meaning, it’s about communication here on the surface of this planet, between increasingly intelligent, but monumentally egotistical creatures who assume the universe revolves around them/us and our beliefs. The fact is any understanding of reality we are capable of is the roughest of sketches, as the more abstract it is, the more detail it distills out. We are reaching a point where either our ability to cooperate overcomes our inclination to compete, or we start that long slide back to where we came from.
    You want to know what God is? It’s money. The basic common denominator of material exchange. If we want a society that functions, then we are going to have to accept that money is a form of public utility, similar to roads, not private property. That means that since taxpayers pay for the monetary system and insure the banking system, the profits of that system should be public funds.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Neutrinos are elementary particles that travel close to the speed of light, lack an electric charge, are able to pass through ordinary matter almost undisturbed, and are thus extremely difficult to detect. Neutrinos have a minuscule, but non-zero, mass too small to be measured as of 2007. They are usually denoted by the Greek letter ? (nu).

    Neutrinos are created as a result of certain types of radioactive decay or nuclear reactions such as those in the sun, in nuclear reactors, or when cosmic rays hit atoms. There are three types, or “flavours”, of neutrinos: electron neutrinos, muon neutrinos and tau neutrinos; each type also has an antimatter partner, called an antineutrino. Electron neutrinos are generated whenever protons change into neutrons, while electron antineutrinos are generated whenever neutrons change into protons. These are the two forms of beta decay. Interactions involving neutrinos are generally mediated by the weak nuclear force.

    Most neutrinos passing through the Earth emanate from the sun, and more than 50 trillion solar electron neutrinos pass through the human body every second.

    But even if and when we can detect every elementary particle, component or string in the universe, will we be able to categorically state that nothing survives death, or that heaven is not sitting safely cocconed on some far off distant galaxy of the observable universe.

    Perhaps this universe is not the best of all possible universes, but simply the universe we ‘observe’ while we are in it – and there are other universes, in One of which, neither time ageing or decay exist or are of any consequence.

    After all have we given a name to that which is beyond the cosmic event horizon or beyond the ‘observable’ universe, and what proof do we have that what is beyond is an empty ‘nothingness’ or vacuum. Even a Torus is surrounded by ‘something’ on all sides.

    Since with current technology, science & knowledge we are unable to travel the length of our solar system in a lifetime, should we therefore conclude that interstellar & intergalactic travel is ‘beyond’ the human race’s capability. Or should we be prepared to admit that there is much we do not know, and there are advances we hope to make. But even when we think we know everything, or at least everything about the observable universe (including visible matter and dark matter) will be ever be any closer to the great Unknown.

  • http://cola82.blogspot.com Cola Johnson

    “Oh, oh yes! If only we could, you know, just make him understand how we view God! And of course, no matter what he says, he obviously doesn’t get it because he doesn’t agree with us!”

    Right. Because Dawkin’s is an idiot who doesn’t do his homework.

    /sarcasm

  • bob

    There is no salvation from death. No multiverse version either. Get over it. No personal self pre-exists birth and none survives death. We have to take Darwin seriously.

  • http://scipp.ucsc.edu/~aguirre Anthony A.

    Sean,

    Assuming that we do indeed jettison some schoolchild version of God as a big father-figure with a white beard (while admitting that lots of people sadly find the will to believe this), and want talk about what ‘God’ might mean in a more sophisticated way, perhaps an analogy is useful.

    Suppose I were to say ‘I believe in a platonic world of mathematical forms.’ Why might I believe this? I may have intellectual reasons for or against this. Or, I might be impressed with the opinions or beliefs of other thinkers I respect. Or, it might be experiential: when I *do* mathematics or physics, I might feel that I am ‘discovering’ rather than ‘inventing’.

    Now, is this putative belief testable? I don’t see how. Is it precisely defined? Probably not — and yet most people that think about this tend to understand what the ‘platonic’ versus ‘not platonic’ views are getting at, and tend to align with one or another. Meaningful? I think so: I certainly feel that believing this, or not believing it, means something; that is I do not think it is a purely semantic or meaningless distinction. Have deep, careful thinkers that I admire believed both sides of the issue? Yes. Does belief in this affect whether a given mathematical proposition is considered true? Nope. Would it influence the way I did mathematics, or which topics I studied (if I were a mathematician)? Maybe it would. Would it change the personal meaning or feeling I get while doing mathematics? Probably, yes.

    There was once an episode of ‘The Simpsons’ where Homer went bodily to this platonic realm and saw equations floating around etc. This sort of literal belief would be silly. But that does not mean the whole notion is empty or misguided. Again, this is just an analogy, and I should say that my putative ‘belief’ in Platonism oscillates week-to-week (e.g. I’ve recently been reading the very interesting ‘Where mathematics comes from’ by Lakoff & Nunez). But this helps me, at least, to have some idea by analogy of what people may be talking about when they talk about God.

  • jeff

    No personal self pre-exists birth and none survives death. We have to take Darwin seriously.

    Are you sure about that? You were dead before you were born, but that didn’t stop you from coming into existence. Could it happen again? None of us asked to be born (as far as we can recall).

    As far as I’m concerned, the absence of consciousness is equivalent to there being nothing rather than something, which may not be possible (see Sean’s previous posting). I don’t think death scares me nearly as much as the prospect of not being able to die. That is existential terror of another order entirely.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Jason Dick:

    Sorry, you are missing the point when you say, “It doesn’t mean anything, because you can’t make any concrete statements about how a universe created by this deity would be different from one not created by this deity.” First, that isn’t really true at that level, since the life-friendly properties of the universe (correct fine structure constant etc.) are in fact the very properties that move many to believe Someone was responsible for it (well, why do *you* think it just coincidentally has life-friendly properties, out of all logical possibilities? Please, no circular arguments or empty self-referential pleas to that not being a problem for you etc., whatever that means…)

    If you meant the universe should have been a paradise or etc. when you said, “You could make certain logical conclusions about what a created universe would look like, but if you did you’d immediately find that it doesn’t remotely resemble our universe,” – huh? How in the world can you know? An reply to the paradise problem is, absolute logical omnipotence is not there, but only an expression of “rules” or “ways” in general (to be expected from a “ground” not a structured agent.) It is clear when we look at properties that life-friendly framing is expressed, and that is good enough for most who think of it (anthropic reason for “creation” as per Paul Davies in The Mind of God etc.)

    Second, a major argument for God is that the universe is contingent and couldn’t exist without something more basic to express it (because it is a particular configuration, needing logical justification to separate it from other “logically possible worlds” to be blessed with the special trait of “existing” and them not…) Hence, the statement “…from one not created by this deity.” is missing the idea that such a universe couldn’t exist at all, even aside from what properties it had.

    Cola: I’m not sure wth you are saying. Really, Dawkins probably assumes any rational person would agree with him if only they did their homework. Do you really know whether he did his homework? From what I’ve seen, his grasp of the best of philosophical theology of the sort you would see here, about contingency, modal realism, etc, is pretty ragged – he’s more like an Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh of atheism (oh, their arguments about liberals being communists etc. sound good too, to uncareful people who like to despise opponents and feel driven to superior ideological assuredness) than he is a really good scholar who could hold his own against Paul Davies or Alvin Plantinga instead of the usual bumpkins.

    bob: Really, I can’t imagine why you are so sure. Based on what? (BTW, I didn’t say I was sure, I just offered a possibility – that’s all any of us has, pro or con.) And, it has nothing to do with Darwin. All Darwin says to us is that the genetics of life forms changes through generations, and selection picks out some more than others, etc. – that has nothing to do with what the universe came from, whether mental processes can “run” elsewhere, which itself does not matter whether they ever run anywhere else before this (as if there can’t be a first time.)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Anthony, I’m going to give the boring reply that I don’t think belief in a realm of Forms makes any more philosophical sense than does belief in “God as stand-in for the awesomeness of the world.” The belief may affect how you act, but a world with the Forms isn’t distinguishable in any way, in principle or in practice, from one without them. So in that sense it’s a great analogy!

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Anthony A: Very good point using the philosophy of mathematics as an analogy. Few realize that there are competing mathematical philosophies (which as you say don’t affect results per se, except possibly some infinite set issues or similar fringe problems.) There is constructivism, intuitionism, etc. People have various intellectual reasons for believing in these, and similarly for whether the universe is contingent or self-existent etc. (I still haven’t ever heard a good justification from anyone, that isn’t either circular or vapid, about why the hell this particular world with its laws should just happen to “exist” selected from other possibilities, like the number 23 in brass numerals as I say and not 17, 1, 5467, etc.) If the world is contingent, then “something else” has to make it real. Let’s remember that “not X” is a meaningful logical assertion, even though we may not be able to describe all or even any of the non-X things. That’s how some people get to God. If you think that’s too icy or whatever, then why don’t you believe in something fuzzy instead of complaining about those of us who like to think icy (but “pro” instead of “con”) thoughts? Actually, I think the fuzziness is there anyway because of the Plenum implications (look up that concept), but it wouldn’t have to be to get most of the good arguments.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    PS: Sean, you keep gravitating to “make the world distinguishable” in some sense, which is understandable for a physicist. But that isn’t what most of the argument is about, it’s about whether there could be a world at all without some ultimate First Cause to make so, and also whether it’s having the life-friendly properties it does is comprehensible or explicable without that Cause, etc. It’s really a deduction that you can’t test empirically, it is not science, it’s philosophy. Let each of them be what they are. Don’t forget either, that you have to use philosophy to argue that it should make a difference, etc. You are ultimately fighting metaphysics with metaphysics anyway.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    At the risk of pushy over-commenting, but I have to go soon:
    Greg Egan: You complain about Davies but don’t offer any reason why we shouldn’t be surprised by those meaningful properties of the universe (see my framing of that problem just above.) Well, why is it just like that? What have you to offer to answer that? As for his saying it doesn’t have to be like a person, that’s his point: the First Cause doesn’t have to be a “person” (although it could be in some sense.) That makes enough sense to me, as a conceptual approach. What are you offering either as genuine critique or better answers, other than talk-radio grade put-down bombast?

  • Moshe

    I like Anthony’s analogy, and maybe it is not that far from the discussion here. To extend it a bit let me suggest the following: I am pretty comfortable thinking that attributing “existence” to other branches of the wave function is a completely meaningless exercise in semantics (basically defining the word “existence”, which in this context has no prior restrictions to its definition, coming from example from the way the word is used in daily life). However, I also believe it when people say that the many world interpretation is a very efficient way to think about quantum mechanics, which leads to many insights and new discoveries. Maybe the analogy extends in that direction?

  • http://meadowsweet-myrrh.blogspot.com/ Ali

    This post was fascinating for me and has sparked what is slowly evolving into a thirty-or-so page response (which I’ll most likely be posting in series on my own blog), but for now, I wanted to quote a passage from Sokolowski’s “Introduction to Phenomenology” that I stumbled upon today and that I thought might be relevant.

    In this passage, Sokolowski is discussing the idea of “evidencing,” our activity as reasoning beings to allow the truth of things to disclose themselves to us. As he writes, “This activity is our achievement as transcendental egos, not simply our behavior as animals or our reaction as bodies embedded in a network of material causes. [...] We do something when intelligible objects present themselves to us; we are not mere recipients.” Obviously, for strict materialists, the idea of anything being ‘transcendent’ of material causes is suspect, although it is important to note that here is a philosophy which appeals to such a concept without any need to resort to a straw-man conception of deity (or any deity at all) and yet remains non-vacuous. Perhaps in the search for a ‘definition of “God,”‘ it would be easiest to explain to a materialist/atheist (noting that materialism and atheism are not synonymous) starting from this philosophical ground and working towards the spiritual, rather than trying to begin by debunking the straw-man theory and undertaking the difficult task of qualifying and “waffling” from there. But I digress. Sokolowski proceeds to discuss two common ways of “trying to escape evidence.” The following quote is part of his discussion of the second:

    “The second way of trying to evade evidence is to claim that the presentation itself is not enough to establish truth. We might think that a presentation gives us only an appearance or an opinion. We would then have to go on to prove the truth of what has been presented, and we would do so by giving reasons for it. We have to explain it; that is, we have to derive it from other, more certain premises, even from axioms, to show why it has to be the way it is. In this view, we do not know anything until we have proved it; we demand a proof for everything. [...]

    “This claim reflects the belief [my emphasis] that truth is reached by means of methodic procedures. Nothing is directly presented to us, but we can reach truths by reasoning to them. Descartes appealed to such method at the beginning of modernity, and he thought that method could replace insight. Even perception requires proof, he thought, because it involves an inference from the ideas we have to the putative causes ‘outside’ us that must have brought the ideas about. This confidence in method is part of the rationalism of modernity. [...] Such trust in method and proof is an attempt to master truth. It is an attempt to get disclosure under control and to subject it to our wills. If we can get the right method in place, and if our methodical procedures can be helped by computers, we will be able to solve many important problems. We will get a hammerlock on the truth of things, coercing consent in ourselves and in others.

    “[...] The rationalist may find the contingency of evidence unsettling and may reject the fact that we cannot master truth, but such is indeed the case.”

    This may be the heart of why you find any view of God more complicated than the straw-man approach to be vacuous and nonsensical. If a person’s underlying assumption is that spiritual reality, like the material reality according to Cartesian duality, lies ‘out there,’ outside of the mind–then appeals to the “evidencing” of the Divine, the disclosure of spiritual truths as well as logical and material truths to a reasoning being, may seem impossible. No! one might insist, Of course if there were a God, we should be able to “prove” it, to arrive methodically at a complete and satisfying definition based on previously established premises… The down side of the conviction that truth can be mastered by method is that anything too slippery and fluid for method is utterly beyond one’s grasp–not merely beyond one’s ability to understand, but even to conceive as being possible.

  • http://www.gregegan.net/ Greg Egan

    Neil B (#122):

    That small variations in some physical constants would be fatal to human life is an interesting fact that we’re currently very far from being able to say anything definitive about. We have only one example of a biosphere, and we have a massive amount of disagreement and uncertainty about the nature, origins, and universality or otherwise, of physical constants. Davies mentions the possibility of regional variations in physical constants, but then says “Well, this is too extravagant, I just can’t believe in these kinds of models.” He’s entitled to that opinion, but he gives no argument to support it. That’s a pattern that’s repeated throughout the book; alternatives that don’t point in the direction he wishes to go are dismissed as a matter of personal preference, not any empirical evidence or logical argument.

    The “unreasonable effectiveness” of mathematics is not unreasonable at all. Given that the universe has any regularity at all — without which it would not be able to support reasoning, memory, perception, etc. — it’s not remotely surprising that we have drilled to the core of at least part of that ubiquitous regularity and internalised it. Given that we’re made of exactly the same stuff as the rest of the universe, it’s no wonder that we’re both capable of and interested in mentally modelling its possibilities. Of course we happen to share a planet with a few billion species who didn’t invent differential geometry before its relevance to gravitation became apparent, but then they’re not arguing about the metaphysical implications of their failure to do so, as far as I can tell.

    I don’t have the time to re-read the book and give an opinion on whether Davies is really saying anything that coincides with or supports your personal views on the need for a First Cause. As far as I can parse your comments, you seem to be doing nothing more than positing an entity with some properties that you like, and declaring that, since it’s a “First Cause”, it’s exempt from any of the rules you invoke about other entities in order to make this “First Cause” appear to be necessary or useful in the first place.

    I’m happy to concede that there are many mysterious facts about the universe that we’re probably millennia away from understanding, and it might well be that there are facts about the universe about which there will always be mystery and disputation. Nothing that you’ve written in this thread, or that Davies has written in The Mind of God, contributes anything to the resolution of these mysteries.

    What I found most objectionable about The Mind of God, though, was not the fact that it was an unsupported catalogue of Davies’ personal metaphysical preferences. He’s entitled to all his preferences, and I suppose some people might be interested in reading them, just as some people are interested in reading some writers’ opinions of “The Fifty Greatest Movies”. The most objectionable thing about the book was the abuse of language. “Meaning” and “purpose” are words that belong to agents; God might well be posited as something very remote from a human person, but to deny God all the other qualities of agents, but then to ascribe to him/it the quality of giving “meaning” and “purpose” to the universe, is just nonsensical.

    But the argument by Davies that John Baez quotes (#85) is an order of magnitude sillier than anything I recall from The Mind of God. “Absurdity masquerading as rational order”? He seems to be suffering from some kind of Watch-maker syndrome; he can’t believe there can be mathematics without God The Mathematician, he can’t believe there can be order without a Divine Orderer … but at the same time he’s so intent on escaping from anthropomorphic mythology that he leaps to the opposite absurdity of taking all the human qualities he wants to find in the universe and then pretending that they can exist in some disembodied, agent-less fashion.

    Humans are doing just fine coming up with meaning and purpose for their lives. There are many things we don’t yet know about the infrastructure we’ve used to do this, and maybe many things we’ll never know, but Davies makes no coherent (let alone persuasive) argument for his proposition that the only way we’ve been able to do this is because “meaning” and “purpose” have been hard-wired into the deepest level of reality from the start.

  • http://meadowsweet-myrrh.blogspot.com/ Ali

    Honestly, what I would most be interested in from you, Sean, is a follow-up post about what kind of difference between materialism and “sophisticated belief” you would consider “meaningful, operational, this-is-why-I-should-care.” It strikes me as so odd that this is a question that plagues you. Surely issues such as free will, creativity, life-”meaning,” etc. all have very different responses depending on whether you believe in a strictly materialist, reductionist world, or a world that includes a spiritual side to reality. If anything, the reason there doesn’t seem to be a difference is because most materialists aren’t “intellectually honest” about the implications of their own philosophy. If they truly believed in a merely physical universe in which free will is an illusion and things like good music and wedding vows have meaning only insofar as they provoke chemical responses in the brain–then I would think they’d live their lives a bit differently (if they could find a point in living it at all). Instead, even the most diehard materialist still act in everyday life as though personal will, ideas, love, grief, art, etc. are all very “real” and are more than the sum of their material parts and causes. What is this universe you can imagine which consists of “just a bunch of stuff obeying some equations”? Does it have human beings in it, and if it did, how would they know it, and if they knew it, why would they care enough even to bother talking about it?

  • http://grenouille-bouillie.blogspot.com/2007/05/another-theory-of-everything.html Christophe de Dinechin

    Quasar9 wrote (in bold, #113):

    But even if and when we can detect every elementary particle, component or string in the universe, will we be able to categorically state that nothing survives death, or that heaven is not sitting safely cocconed on some far off distant galaxy of the observable universe.

    It’s obvious that something of Newton, Einstein, Descartes survived in the form of an infectious brain pattern we call “knowledge” or “laws of physics”. For Einstein, we even carry along many of his personal preferences (summation convention, “Gedankenexperiments” about elevators, and so on).

    So your statement that nothing survives death is clearly shortsighted.

  • http://grenouille-bouillie.blogspot.com/2007/05/another-theory-of-everything.html Christophe de Dinechin

    Jason Dick wrote (in different posts):

    But Neil, in this case the program is the machine. There is no difference. This makes the whole idea of an immutable soul nonsensical.

    In the case of computers, the program is not the machine. Similarly, there is a dynamic state of human bodies we call “life”, and most of us would admit that our memories, our beliefs, our interests are not entirely determined by the body itself. At the very least, they appear largely influenced by contacts with others, personal experience, and so on. So definitely, the program is not the machine even for humans.

    That does not prove that the soul exists, just that your argument is weak.

    Let me finish by pointing out that Christian belief is not about an immortal or immutable soul. That would not be too shocking. In the Catholic creed, the exact words are “eternal life” and “resurrection of the body”. The first one means that it’s not just immortality, it’s eternity, which I guess is at the very least a completely different perception of time. The idea of eternity is not an invention of theologians, it’s based among other things on “before Abraham was, I am”. The second one derives from the fact that Jesus appeared to his disciples in the flesh, not as a ghost.

    if there is a part of ourselves that survives our deaths, then that part of ourselves must necessarily also survive any damage to our bodies. If it doesn’t survive that damage, then it certainly can’t survive our death.

    I don’t even need computers to prove that reasoning wrong. Let me rewrite what you said in a different context: “If there is any part of that broadcast that survives the destruction of the radio receiver, then that broadcast must necessarily also survive any partial damage to the radio receiver. If it doesn’t survive the damage, then [the broadcast] certainly can’t survive the destruction of the radio.”

    The point I’m trying to make is that you implicitly use in your reasoning that very thing you are trying to demonstrate (i.e. the one-to-one identity you start with between “me” and “my body”)

    Another example of why it can’t happen somewhere else is a look at what happens when a person has their corpus callosum severed[...] If it’s just a hardware issue, why is it that when certain areas of the brain are damaged, one person becomes two?

    This example only proves that the brain is a highly redundant system. Computer clusters occasionally exhibit cluster split brain if you sever the right cable at the right moment. That certainly does not prove that the program (web server/consciousness) is an emergent property of the computer/body it runs on.

    We know from our daily experience that our bodies are designed for largely autonomous behavior. I can drive while thinking about something different, I can talk while I prepare a meal, and so on. That does not make me two. But that makes the notion of resurrection relatively nonsensical, except if you see it as resurrection of the body. As transfiguration highlights, this does not mean that this will be exactly the same kind of body. Who knows, maybe it will be a reconstructed virtual body in some giant computer in a distant future, maybe that’s what the Bible is really talking about :-)

  • http://Gisus.org Denise

    Read about how God’s throne is the ‘Precession of the Equinoxes’ and it’s four quadrants are the four horses of the Book of Revelation. It makes sense if you give it a chance. The seven stars are pole stars on this Great Clock in the heavens. See Gisus.org for more insights.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Hi Christophe de Dinechin,
    clearly things survive death in our universe, whether thoughts or works of art, or children and DNA, even the atoms and molecules of which one is composed of – whether you become worm food or are cremated – ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

    The surviving death – the afterlife, resurrection into an afterlife or reincarnation as a pig ready to be fattened and turned into sausage meat – is a little harder to prove and/or disprove.

  • http://frogsdong.blogspot.com DBK

    Skinner’s view seems less “sophisticated” than “sophistical”.

  • http://guidetoreality.blogspot.com Steve Esser

    Wow — Great post and discussion.

    I think God would make a difference if it provided an explanation for things a materialist worldview can’t explain. Of course, the “god of the gaps” strategy has a horrible record. Still, there are candidates for phenomena which may represent permanent/intractable gaps: I would list the existence of first-person experience, and the real existence of possibilities. We can posit a speculative metaphysics which can explain these (it’s my amateur hobby), but if you’re honest about it, I doubt this kind of philosophizing can get you to religious beliefs of the usual sort. Your last point, Sean, about the mistake in using traditional religious language in this kind of philosophical discussion is a good one and thought-provoking for me.

    Best regards,
    – Steve Esser

  • A Muslim

    Hello all

    some people wanted to continue this discussion, so

    my email is cern73 at gmail

    best regards
    mohammad

  • Michael Gogins

    I will try to briefly outline what (or who) God is by a process of triangulation from philosophy, biology, and history of religions.

    First, philosophy. Distinguish between “philosophy of science” and “philosophy of scientists.” Philosophy of science is the study of science by philosophers (who usually are not scientists). The philosophy of scientists consists of the formal or informal metaphysics of practicing scientists. The philosophy of science and the philosophy of scientists are related, but not the same. The philosophy of scientists is more important because it undergirds the success of science. The main assumption of the philosophy of scientists today, deriving most powerfully from Newton, is that purpose and meaning are not useful categories when it comes to formulating or testing scientific theories. The worth of this assumption is borne out by experience. However, it must not be forgotten that this is a metaphysical assumption, not an observation or a scientific hypothesis. Of course, in actually doing science, scientists do value and use categories such as truth, beauty, and so on. There is, therefore, a tension or even a contradiction between the thinking of scientists in doing science, and the philosophy of science which assumes the purposelessness of Nature. Why is this? Because scientists use categories that are _inherently_ more powerful than those that can belong to scientific theories or tests. This is related to various limitations of formal systems: scientific theories and tests are, or can be modeled by, formal systems. Scientists must model Nature as a formal system (or abstract machine), but they must inevitably reason about Nature using categories that are more powerful than that model, and there is _no way_ (this follows from physical limits on inference systems, see D.H. Wolpert) to empirically decide whether this reflects an actual transcendence (as Penrose, e.g., claims) or whether it merely reflects a limitation on self-reflection that projects itself as a myth (as finitists assume). At any rate, in this context, God is the assumption that the transcendence of categories in scientific reasoning over the categories in scientific models is an actual transcendence, not an apparent one.

    Biologically, religion can be considered from the social standpoint as the ultimate institution of identity, and from the individual standpoint as a process on a spectrum ranging from “creative thinking” through “schizophrenia” to “possession, out of body experiences, mystical experiences.” From the biological point of view, on the mechanistic assumption God is the instinct that drives humans to ritualize and valorize identity and which consciously manifests as religious experience, or on the transcendental assumption God is the transcendental reality that grants authentic identity and who appears in religious experience.

    In the history of religions, God is not a necessary category. Buddhists and Taoists do not use it. In the history of religions, God is the cause of religious experience as felt or interpreted in personal terms. But in my view, non-theistic religions suffer from paradoxes of impredication, e.g. Buddhists postulate “the emptiness of emptiness” which I believe is impredicable (takes too long to fully explain here). In my view, theism does not suffer from impredicability.
    Because different religions have critically different theologies and histories of God, and because all predate or violate critical thought, it is clear that no religion is epistemologically priviliged, and that therefore the common or surface meanings of their doctrines are in fact empty, or even idols. This proves that religious experience does not actually carry its own interpretation. The interpretation is socially constructed, and this process of construction is creative and therefore absolutely depends upon individual thought. In this view, God is the transcendental reality that is the “force of the question” in religious thought, just as the categories of thought actually used by scientists (beauty, simplicity, truth, etc.) reflect the “force of the question” in scientific thought.

    As a theist, I take it that God is the hidden beauty that lures men and women in every questioning, through an instinctual mediation.

  • http://www.qunat.org/pieterkok/ PK

    Asking for an operational definition of God is tantamount to having an experiment that proves the existence of God (that is what “operational” means). Given that believers tend to expect real actions (or inactions, for that matter) from people, including non-believers, I think it is very reasonable to ask for physical proof first.

  • John Merryman

    Michael,

    That is a verywell thought out outline, as are some of the other descriptions of religious function. I would argue that beauty isn’t the clearest isolation of the god factor. Beauty is a type of positive attraction, as opposed to the negative. This dichotomy of good and bad is the binary code for biological calculation. The most elemental forms of life have these essentially magnetic attractions and repulsions. What the real mystery is, is the awareness that makes this process something more then electro-magnetic forces. The atheistic assumption is that awareness is a property and function of advanced central nervous systems, but that doesn’t quite equate to a basic logical fact, that form follows function. Since our nervous system is form and its function is awareness. Religion falls for the same basic fallacy, in that it is continually wrapping itself in form in order to function.
    The individual brain may be a locus of consciousness, but it is still a field effect, both internally in that there is no obvious point in the brain where consciousness originates and externally, in that what is perceived and acted upon, is external input and output. Given we are the product of billions of years of evolution, yet as individuals, our lives are very short, it doesn’t seem illogical to assume we are multiple manifestations of the same field effect. Evolution, civilization and all the complex details seem, in the big picture analysis, an effort to establish and project awareness onto an otherwise mindless existence. So far as we know, all of life are branches of the same biological tree and that dimple in the middle of your stomach is similar to the one on the top of an apple. It is not therefore, in the field of biology, far-fetched to think of life on this planet as one organism.
    It is very easy though, given all the complexities, to miss the forest for the trees.

  • Jason Dick

    Neil B.,

    Sorry, you are missing the point when you say, “It doesn’t mean anything, because you can’t make any concrete statements about how a universe created by this deity would be different from one not created by this deity.” First, that isn’t really true at that level, since the life-friendly properties of the universe (correct fine structure constant etc.) are in fact the very properties that move many to believe Someone was responsible for it (well, why do *you* think it just coincidentally has life-friendly properties, out of all logical possibilities? Please, no circular arguments or empty self-referential pleas to that not being a problem for you etc., whatever that means…)

    Nope, not in the least. This argument utterly fails because we could not observe a universe any other way. It makes no sense to try to use this as a prediction, because no evolved intelligent life could ever observe a universe that wasn’t conducive to life.

    But, what’s more, an omnipotent deity wouldn’t be restricted by the laws of physics (else proposing such a deity would be pointless), and as such an omnipotent deity could actually create intelligent life in a universe and environment that are not conducive to evolution. If that were the case with us, we would have a clear reason to expect a creator. For a more “down to Earth” example, we should not be surprised that we live on a planet like Earth, one that is extremely conducive to life, because it is only on planets like Earth that beings like us can evolve naturally. We would be forced, however, to consider the action of some form of intelligence if we found ourselves living on Mars.

    So no, an intelligent creator doesn’t even predict that our universe should be conducive to life, as such a being could make life even in an inhospitable environment.

  • http://scipp.ucsc.edu/~aguirre Anthony A.

    Hi Sean,

    Anthony, I’m going to give the boring reply that I don’t think belief in a realm of Forms makes any more philosophical sense than does belief in “God as stand-in for the awesomeness of the world.” The belief may affect how you act, but a world with the Forms isn’t distinguishable in any way, in principle or in practice, from one without them. So in that sense it’s a great analogy!

    That is indeed a boring reply :-)

    I don’t think you can really claim that it (the Realm of Forms) ‘does not make philosophical sense’; rather, you are claiming that it falls into a category of things about which people argue about the reality. Of course, *everything* falls into this category, when looked at skeptically enough. The question, I think you would agree, is whether assuming the existence of something (e.g. other people, atoms, etc.) makes a description more sensible and consistent than assuming they are, e.g., all strangely coherent sense-impressions on a disembodied mind. Most platonists would, I think, hold that the realm of platonic forms is real for just the same reason as the physical world is: it (arguably) has things like coherence and objectivity.

  • Dominic

    Hi Sean,
    As a previous poster said, “if you list every possible conception of God that you have a compelling argument against – God is not any of those”

    More than that though:
    If you list every possible conception of God that you have a compelling argument for – God is not any of those either.

    Now, let’s get back to work!

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Jason, you are confused about the role and importance of “sentient observers.” If you are some kind of realist, it really doesn’t matter whether they could be there or not to “observe” (unless you are into consciousness collapse of the wave function – are you?) You are supposed to be able to consider (use imagination, abstract reasoning) what could or could not exist, what the implications would be, etc. The idea that we “only have this world to work with” is false – we have ever world we can think about, like what would physics be like if there were two or four large dimensions (see my blog), and BTW life is unlikely if it has other than three large dimensions. What if for example, a really cool string theory comes along and says most universes can’t have life because the laws of physics would be wrong – are you going to say, they can’t even exist because no one is there to observe them? Don’t “things” observe each other anyway in a crude sense? One thought: how can you understand that you will die someday, if you can’t be there to note “I am now dead”? Even seeing others, doesn’t give the direct access to your own case.

    As for omnipotence, that is not necessary (logically entailed) to the definition of First Cause. In any case, the fundamental problem of contingent existence, “selection” of possible worlds, etc, is more relevant anyway than details of what the world in particular could have been like. I note that the critics here of Davies either indulge in snark instead of failing to engage his actual arguments (similar to many of mine, most of which were similarly ignored), or they pick on a musing philosophical essay about inherently slippery concepts which isn’t supposed to be a formal argument anyway (the Templeton essay.)

    What really cracks me up is people saying such and such is “meaningless”, but they don’t agree with it, believe it exists, etc. If something is truly meaningless, you wouldn’t even “get” it well enough to object. That phrase is just a sort of trash tool, and I have shown weaknesses elsewhere (like all the things we can’t verify that are perfectly comprehensible, like details of the unrecorded past, or even talk of what will happen long from now that is yet unverifiable and won’t be for us as individuals, etc.) PS: Positivism was such a hilarious crock, just consider that “axioms” aren’t either synthetic or analytic, nor is the very school-defining statement that all statements are either S. or A., etc. This was supposedly the flower of rationalism, I gather. My favorite no-clothes question always is “What is the operational definition of saying that things exist while we aren’t observing them.? Well?

    In brief, you are letting post-modern/Wittgenstein philosophical defeatism and circumscription drag you down.

    PK: No, there is no need to ask for an “operational” test for God, it is a retrodictive philosophical argument. Do you appreciate the irony that the arguments saying there should be such proof, why we should believe this or that or not, what is “meaningful” etc. are themselves philosophy and not scientific experiments – so, why should we believe them?
    If you want to see how hairy prediction/retrodiction can get, in QM, check out this.

    Dominic: where do you get support for those characterizations?

    One problem in general: Most of those educated in science as such, think (why?) they are thus eminently qualified to do good philosophy. Well, it is clear that they aren’t as a rule. It is quite sophomoric, for example the complaint “‘Well if everything needs to be created, then who/what created God”? Yes, the schoolboy question, which is childish in the bad sense (shows naivety re a subject) instead of in the good sense (even a child sees there’s a real problem.) It has been appreciated for centuries that the issue of course is what if anything is self-sufficient, and whether this world is an example of such that a good thinker can frankly say “sure.” The good answer to the latter is no, as I have explained before (the particulars can’t be logically justified to have a special status like existence over other cases – like picking 2,214 to be made “hard” unlike other merely “platonic” numbers, etc.) One could even define God as, that which is self-existent and not contingent (understood after realizing this universe or any particular structure like it, or even collection of same, could not be), which means It can’t have a beard etc. (a particular feature) so It must be a sort of ultimate plenum, “the opposite of nothing” – c.f Hegel’s Absolute. Davies knew what he was talking about.

    OK, I admit I just as much “get off” laying down really heavy metaphysics to drop jaws and impress, as take it seriously – but that’s a partial scoop on the argument such as goes among insider circles. And don’t call it “mumbo jumbo” – remember, if you don’t understand it, you can’t even say that much. Tough.

  • Jason Dick

    Jason, you are confused about the role and importance of “sentient observers.” If you are some kind of realist, it really doesn’t matter whether they could be there or not to “observe” (unless you are into consciousness collapse of the wave function – are you?) You are supposed to be able to consider (use imagination, abstract reasoning) what could or could not exist, what the implications would be, etc. The idea that we “only have this world to work with” is false – we have ever world we can think about, like what would physics be like if there were two or four large dimensions (see my blog), and BTW life is unlikely if it has other than three large dimensions. What if for example, a really cool string theory comes along and says most universes can’t have life because the laws of physics would be wrong – are you going to say, they can’t even exist because no one is there to observe them? Don’t “things” observe each other anyway in a crude sense? One thought: how can you understand that you will die someday, if you can’t be there to note “I am now dead”? Even seeing others, doesn’t give the direct access to your own case.

    No, Neil, it is you who are confused. I never said anything about observation changing what is possible and what isn’t. The only thing I ever talked about is what we can conclude about the habitability of our universe. The answer is, quite simply, nothing. This is why the cosmological argument is nonsense, and it’s why any argument that the complexity of the universe implies a creator deity is nonsense. You simply cannot draw any logical conclusions about the mere fact of existence.

    What really cracks me up is people saying such and such is “meaningless”, but they don’t agree with it, believe it exists, etc. If something is truly meaningless, you wouldn’t even “get” it well enough to object. That phrase is just a sort of trash tool, and I have shown weaknesses elsewhere (like all the things we can’t verify that are perfectly comprehensible, like details of the unrecorded past, or even talk of what will happen long from now that is yet unverifiable and won’t be for us as individuals, etc.) PS: Positivism was such a hilarious crock, just consider that “axioms” aren’t either synthetic or analytic, nor is the very school-defining statement that all statements are either S. or A., etc. This was supposedly the flower of rationalism, I gather. My favorite no-clothes question always is “What is the operational definition of saying that things exist while we aren’t observing them.? Well?

    You seem to be misunderstanding the nature of consistent default positions. That is to say, when the evidence is lacking, we should have a default position as to what we should conclude. When it comes to a creator deity, such a thing must necessarily be so complex as to be extraordinarily unlikely, provided we have no evidence to point towards its existence. Thus, when you frame your definition of the creator deity in such a way that there can never be evidence in favor of its existence, you have automatically excluded it as being exceedingly unlikely.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    An answer to Sean’s question comes belatedly first:
    The difference God makes, whatever it “is”: if responsible for all being, then to be grateful that you can at least exist, however imperfectly and with no clear notion of what “more” there may be. So then not a mere “stand-in” for the awesomeness of the world, but the why of it, and that can be appreciated too. I think that’s a consequence, but of course it’s whether you want it to be.

    Jason, you still don’t explain why we can’t draw such conclusions, when you say “the answer is quite simply …” that shows you don’t really know how the “pro” position was framed and what to-the-point, in-kind rebuttals might be given. Like I said about the schoolboy question… And I really want to hear, why should our universe be like it is? Are you avoiding thinking about that? Why isn’t it different, how can the ultimate abstraction like “realness” be prejudiced in a particular way?

    Of course we should have a default position when “evidence” is lacking (could you explain what you mean by “evidence”? Can a good argument be evidence, or only “findings”?) That default is best given by foundational reasoning into the question. You show, again, lack of study by saying such a First Cause would have to “be so complex….” – It need not have any parts or structure at all, indeed should not, in order to be that FC. (I keep getting the impression you don’t study my arguments in adequate depth, and believe me, I don’t just make it all up myself. I understand if you don’t have time, but if so, you can’t really appreciate it.) Look at the “quantum vacuum” – it has no inherent structure or parts, but contains the immanence of all the various particles that come out of it as virtual pairs (and sometimes detectable results – Lamb shift.) Your critique is like an earnest classical (in the broad sense of the term, incl. pre- modern set theory etc, not just QM and relativity) attempt to rebut the modern world – it talks past the modern, it doesn’t engage it. The modern left it behind.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    It is not soul or mind, nor does it possess imagination, conviction, speech, or understanding. Nor is it speech per se, understanding per se. it cannot be spoken of and it cannot be grasped by understanding. It is not number or order, greatness or smallness, equality or inequality, similarity or dissimilarity. It is not immovable, moving or at rest. It has no power, it is not power, nor is it light. It does not live nor is it life. It is not a substance, nor is it eternity or time. It cannot be grasped by the understanding since it is neither one nor oneness, divinity nor goodness. Nor is it a spirit, in the sense in which we understand that term. It is not sonship or fatherhood and it is nothing known to us or to any other being. It falls neither within the predicate of nonbeing nor of being. Existing beings do not know it as it actually is and it does not know them as they are. There is no speaking of it, nor name nor knowledge of it. Darkness and light, error and truth—it is none of these. It is beyond assertion and denial. We make assertions and denials of what is next to it, but never of it, for it is both beyond every assertion, being the perfect and unique cause of all things, and, by virtue its preeminently simple and absolute nature, free of every limitation, beyond every limitation; it is also beyond every denial.

    — Pseudo-Dionysius, The Mystical Theology

    I trust that clears things up. See also here.

  • Jason Dick

    Neil,

    No, I’m not avoiding questions like why is our universe a certain way. What I’m trying to show is that certain ways of tackling those questions can give no coherent answers. It is, for example, a terribly interesting question as to why the entropy at early times is low, or why the vacuum energy density is tiny (if not zero), or why the physical laws appear fine-tuned. But any answer we make to these questions, if it is to be an answer at all, has to have some meaning. And positing a deity simply doesn’t have any, unless you can show, concretely, how your definition of a deity results in logical conclusions which are testable. A simple statement that a creator deity would be interested in producing a universe conducive to life, for example, is not only not a logical conclusion of the definition (the desire has to be assumed in the definition), but is untestable because no sentient life form can observe the converse.

    Now, one might argue that the truth may be untestable. And this is entirely possible (and may even be likely). Of course, not all of the truth is untestable, and it makes no sense to give up now and stop looking for testable answers. After all, due to the simple fact that there are vastly more incorrect answers than correct ones, we’ll pretty much always be wrong if we try to assume a truth that isn’t testable, either directly or indirectly.

    And finally, the “First Cause” argument for god is just so wrong on so many levels. It really comes down to what you mean by it. If you’re really intent on it having no parts or structure, then it makes no sense to call such a thing god in the first place, as it would have no intellect with which to select one universe over another, and most people think of a god as being an intelligent being. And if it has no intellect, then we might just be talking about a tunneling event or vacuum fluctuation. Why would anybody want to call something like that god?

  • John Merryman

    Jason,

    Intellect is mechanics and mostly classical mechanics. We don’t distinguish between what we are attracted to and repelled by in order to then make a decision. The decision is in the distinction. Intelligence is the process by which we order our world, but order isn’t necessarily conscious. A rock possesses some degree of order. A closed set settles into equilibrium. The real question isn’t that we are able to describe nature, but that we are able to perceive it in the first place. If God is defined as intelligence, why did it take so long for intelligent life to evolve? Presumably there is some elemental sense of awareness pretty far down the evolutionary scale and frankly there are a fair number of people who are about as susceptible to manipulation and being herded around as a bunch of cattle, so the notion of intelligence is relative. Hopefully our descendants will become more intelligent then we are, or there won’t be many. So the real question isn’t that nature is ordered, but that some of it is conscious. That consciousness is bottom up phenomena, not top down order. Did it begin spontaneously, or is it some eternal property that manifests when, where and how it can? We are not in a position to find out. The fact is though, that all life we are aware of does have the same root structure and it certainly appears far more concerned with propagating and preserving that source code then it is with the long term survival of any of its applications, no matter how smart or beautiful.
    Intelligence is effect, not cause.

  • CarlN

    Neil,

    You know very well by now that the “First Cause” is nothing. The only “thing” that need no cause.
    :-)

    Carl

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    If God is defined as intelligence, why did it take so long for intelligent life to evolve?

    Good question John Merryman,
    however that is no different from asking why did the universe (without a god) wait 13.7 +/- 0.2 billion years to create life (on earth)?
    And when did biological life become intelligent – and now one has to lose oneself in defining at what point matter with or without ‘life’ is intelligent, and/or has consciousness.

    As for human ‘memory’ -
    are we bordering on, or entering the realm of science fiction?
    Gamma Oscillations Distinguish True from False Memories

  • Jason Dick

    however that is no different from asking why did the universe (without a god) wait 13.7 +/- 0.2 billion years to create life (on earth)?

    Oh, well, that is easy. Our region of the universe, circa 13.7 billion years ago, was extremely hot and extremely uniform. Before any life could form, the universe first had to cool off, and then we had to wait for structure to form. Once structure formed (galaxies and the like), well, we still had the problem that nearly all of the matter in the universe was in either hydrogen or helium, something that would hardly be conducive to life. So we had to wait until the stars processed some matter, and that matter made its way into new stars, enough so that there could be rocky planets and enough of the light elements to form life.

    Once that happened, we had to wait some time longer for life itself to evolve, then for intelligence to evolve. So 13.7 billion years is no surprise at all. But it is worth noting that there may well have been other life that formed much earlier, in the denser regions of the universe where structure formed first.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Hi Jason,
    describing a process is not the same as answering why a process is thus.
    Put a seed in the ground and (under the right conditions) it germinates, does not tell us why the ‘right conditions’ are this or that, nor does it tell us the ‘why’ one seed produces apple trees, and another pears.
    Why did or does the observable universe (the one we are IN) proceed a certain way. Where did the laws of physics as we know them come from – there are at least 10^500 different ways it could (or may) have gone – though it seems clear there is One set of laws that produced the ‘observable’ Universe we are in.

    This Universe started randomly?, because it felt like it?, or because it had no choice?. And seems it is irrelevant to ask why it started ‘when’ it did, and not a hundred billion years later or a hundred trillion years before.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Jason:

    I don’t see why you don’t think I can speculate what is reasonable for ultimate mind to “want” – I would think more mind, makes sense to me. If you are saying, I just pick whatever It wants to be what we’ve got, well – that’s a sort of motivational critique, rather than you explaining why it is inherently a bad pick for a starting hypothesis (which is what matters.) I think my notion makes sense “to begin with”, I can’t disprove or have proved to me, that I am just making it easy for myself instead of starting with a good notion.

    A lot of the God argument is about “elimination” – I have said why the idea of this universe “just being here” and not others (and I don’t mean piddly variations of our physics, I mean anything at all like this – out of every way for any describable things to be and to happen) is absurd, and so on. So (making a long story short, but you need to study more of the history of the long story…) when you eliminate self-sufficiency, then “something else” is responsible. Plus I keep telling you, it’s retrodiction and not prediction (retrodiction is considered somewhat logically respectable.) As for it needing parts to have mind: that is a prejudice based on our case, it has mind in a timeless way holding all the ideas and their relationships, and is thus more than just the physical vacuum of our universe (restricted to our particulars, hence a “partial-plenum” instead of The Plenum.) Do I know? Heck no, and neither do you or anyone else. Of course we can’t prove it, you keep treating it all like science. Science is science and philosophy is philosophy, and we do what we can. It’s just like comparing apples and oranges.

    BTW, I thank Sean for posting this subject question and everyone commenting here (including, or even especially, those who didn’t agree with me) because I really get a kick out of arguing about these way-up-there metaphysical bafflers, throwing around mystifying concepts and using “plenum” and “modal realism.” It is like getting to race at NASCAR for a fan. If it turns out God isn’t real (whatever that means) and/or I can’t take me with me, I at least had fun wrangling about it. (If IT does, will I get special goodies for trying to prove IT exists? I don’t want or believe in nasty punishments, but I hope I can be smugly superior, with a wry “told you so” gleam or whatever we can do, to whatever is left of those who “didn’t get it” – for a while, anyway. ;-)

  • William W.

    Sorry for coming so late to the dance~

    To Anthony A.:

    If you believe that the world is a platonic realm of mathematical forms, that DOES produce an observable difference in the universe: namely, the sort of person you are. If your belief in those forms makes you a genius at math — or makes you an idiot at it — then the difference your belief makes in the world is directly related to the difference that you make in the world. Could you have the same relationship to math as you do with a different set of beliefs? Unlikely. The only question left is whether, on balance, it’s a positive difference.

    For my own part, I am not a scientist, but a philosopher. So far, the discussion in this thread has focused on a monotheistic interpretation of God. The “big three” religions may be monotheistic, but far from all of the worlds’ religions are; Hinduism, Shintoism, Buddhism, and mystical strains of Judaism are all polytheistic, not to mention modern neo-pagan religions.

    In my own theology, Deity arises from the stuff of the universe, not the other way around. Stretching back centuries, belief in the gods (little g) I honor has been part of the cultural subconscious of my ancestors. At the very least, (a qualifier I often use when discussing theology), worship of those same gods allows me to directly deal with buried forces in my id that would otherwise require lots and lots of therapy to reach. Thus, worshipping them causes me to gain uncommon self-knowledge and control over my own emotions, reactions and desires.

    Of course, that’s not the extent of my belief. I believe that humans and gods evolved in symbiosis with one another over the course of eons, that as the human mind grew more complex and riddled with psychological needs in greater numbers and strength, that so did the gods grow in power and majesty to fill the need that humanity created. I believe that they are powerful and do make themselves known to those who look. I call them by their old names: Freya, Thor, Loki, Odin and the others.

    They are not gods to be cowered before, for they love not cowards. There is an aspect to worship and religious ecstacy which is intensely individual and which can only be experienced through personal gnosis. Connection with the gods makes the divine spark inside of us stronger. More than that, connection with them highlights a way of life that is good to live, which I can rationally see is a good way to live, but which is made more powerful by the evocation of symbols buried in the subconscious.

    Could I have come to my way of life through atheistic methods? Certainly. In fact, I came to my current beliefs through a study of existentialist ethics, a la Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity. But remember that it was Sartre who wrote, “The Existentialist weeps that there is no God.” Once you have wept over the death of “God”, you have made a powerful space for “gods”.

    How would the universe be different if there were no gods? It’s analogous to asking how the universe would be different if there were no string theory. It’s a gap that something has to fill. Millenia of cultural evolution has given us gods.

  • http://meadowsweet-myrrh.blogspot.com/ Ali

    Sean (and anyone else interested), I have just finished a very long post on my understanding of the idea of ‘belief’ and, more specifically, religious belief in ‘God’. It is posted here, if anyone is still interested in this discussion and would care to read about my ideas. This is my sincerest attempt to answer Sean’s initial two-fold question, “What does it mean to have a ‘sophisticated, non-vacuous’ belief in ‘God’?” and “What is the difference between a universe in which ‘God’ exists, and a universe in which it does not?” I hope that, even if no one else hops on over, he shows me the courtesy, by reading, of giving me a chance to answer (even if I am not otherwise a regular commenter on this always thought-provoking blog). Thanks, all.

  • John Merryman

    Taking the liberty of posting this from Ali’s essay. As effective a description of the whole as is possible;

    But the mystics and seers, those who have begun the journey into experiential relationship with the Divine that belief initially makes possible, eventually abandon the framework of belief. The spiritual growth of the journey towards ‘God’ demands it, for in the end any name, word, image or idea falls short of the whole. For some, this step away from belief is painful; it presents itself as a crisis of faith, the long dark night of the soul. The mystic Sufi poet, Rumi, writes, “You cannot know your self and God’s Self; either die before God, or God will die before you, so that duality will not remain.” In The Gay Science, Nietzsche writes, “God is dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?” The straw-man belief in a simplistic, anthropomorphic ‘God’ cannot withstand the reasoning mind; but more than this, neither can it withstand the honest search for experience of the spiritual.

    Even for an atheist or a materialist, the inadequacy of a simple belief in ‘God’ to satisfy the spiritual and intellectual needs of the self-aware creature can be cause for anger, and even grief. This secret anger, I think, is behind demands such as Carroll’s for ‘believers’ to explain themselves, to justify their seemingly easy faith. These educated thinkers and scientists must certainly have noticed all manner of ignorance rampant in the world, and yet it is this supposed religious ignorance that galls them, that provokes attack. C.S. Lewis said of his atheistic youth that he lived “in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with him for creating a world. Why should creatures have the burden of existence forced on them without their consent?” It is this contradiction–that self-aware creatures seem to possess an inherent need for a ‘meaningful’ existence, and yet mere belief in meaning, mere belief in a ‘God’ which might bestow meaning, quickly ceases to satisfy–that incites the loss of faith, the loss of that simplistic belief.

    But that same self-awareness, the sense of longing and dissatisfaction itself, can also become the vehicle by which the mystic, the spiritual seeker, emerges from this dark night. One begins to realize that spiritual experiences–experiences of loss, longing and grief regarding the meaningful nonmaterial–persist even in the face of lost faith, even when we no longer have confidence in or use for the words and images we once used to describe and provoke such experiences. The mystic has abandoned ‘belief,’ and yet the life of the spirit continues. The frame has broken, and the workings of art spill over, off the canvas and into everything, everywhere. The line between observer and observed is erased. The Divine is no longer something ‘out there’ to be carefully packed away into definitions of ‘belief’ and carried around like a small worry-stone in the pocket of the faithful.

    To the mystic, all things are consecrated, everything is holy–divinity no longer means duality, separating out the sacred from the profane; it means union, the encompassing of all creation and creativity, all potential and activity, within the Divine. To speak of ‘God’ as the ‘ground of being’ and the ‘ultimate reality’ is to speak of spirituality beyond the framework of belief itself. Rumi, who knows that the risk of self-conscious belief is the death of ‘God’, continues, “But as for God’s dying, that is both impossible and inconceivable, for God is the Living, the Immortal. So gracious is He that if it were at all possible He would die for your sake. Since that is not possible, then you must die so that God can reveal Itself to you.” For we are not merely aware of the self, we believe in it. We see others and ourselves as defined creatures, defined by bodies and ideas, emotions and memories–we see “the burden of existence” as something thrust upon us, as if we were something else besides, and our first, simplistic ‘belief in God’ is our clumsy attempt at absolving us of the burden. This belief, too, must be broken open, so that the Divine that is existence, including our own, might be made manifest and experienced fully.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    OK, here’s the comment I put at Ali’s thread, the only one yet:

    Ali, very thoughtful and beautiful. Really, gives more “nourishment” than the sort of high-falutin’ “mumbo jumbo” about God proceeding from necessary existence, and about contingency and modal realism etc. ad mysterium that I’ve been throwing around at Cosmic Variance.

    I had an insight of a message from “God” once, which you can think of as an intuition about the Highest Good and by no means depending on God “really existing” as a Person or thing etc. It was:

    I am your eyes and ears,
    You are my hands and feet.

    Later I found similar sentiments had been experienced by Julian of Norwich and St. John of the Cross. It means, “God” gives or is our insight and conscience, but we must do the good in the world. No March on Washington: no civil rights will just fall from Heaven. If we screw this World up or let it get screwed up, it will be screwed up. Just maybe, we can “all” agree on that?

  • Jason Dick

    Quasar9,

    describing a process is not the same as answering why a process is thus.
    Put a seed in the ground and (under the right conditions) it germinates, does not tell us why the ‘right conditions’ are this or that, nor does it tell us the ‘why’ one seed produces apple trees, and another pears.

    I believe those answers would be found in the domains of genetics and evolution.

    Why did or does the observable universe (the one we are IN) proceed a certain way. Where did the laws of physics as we know them come from – there are at least 10^500 different ways it could (or may) have gone – though it seems clear there is One set of laws that produced the ‘observable’ Universe we are in.

    This is only if string theory is correct, but then there may actually be ways to search out the entire space of universes. And yes, there is one set of laws that produced our region of the universe. This doesn’t mean other regions aren’t different (which seems likely to be the case even if string theory isn’t correct). We just happen to find ourselves within one of region in which life is possible, among what are probably a vast number of regions.

    This Universe started randomly?, because it felt like it?, or because it had no choice?. And seems it is irrelevant to ask why it started ‘when’ it did, and not a hundred billion years later or a hundred trillion years before.

    We don’t know. And yes, it is irrelevant, except as a reference point to now. There is no such thing as absolute time, after all.

    Neil B.,

    I don’t see why you don’t think I can speculate what is reasonable for ultimate mind to “want”

    It’s not about speculating. It’s about concluding. In order for a definition to be useful, there must be natural conclusions that are not assumed in the definition. The problem is that typically with a god, you can’t actually make any deductions: every effect of this deity’s existence has to simply be assumed. This all flows right back to Sean’s point: unless you can present concrete, testable predictions of your deity’s behavior that flow naturally from its definition, your definition is meaningless. And when considering a creator deity, it really does seem impossible to make any such deductions.

    A lot of the God argument is about “elimination” – I have said why the idea of this universe “just being here” and not others (and I don’t mean piddly variations of our physics, I mean anything at all like this – out of every way for any describable things to be and to happen) is absurd, and so on.

    Yeah, but you’re just incorrect here. There is no reason yet to suspect that a natural universe is absurd. Firstly, we don’t know how the physical constants are related to one another at a fundamental level, and, as a result, we can make no concrete statements today about just how fine-tuned the universe is. Secondly, we have no clue how many regions of the universe have been born or will be born in the future: it could well be infinite. If an infinite number of regions either have or will be produced, then it really doesn’t matter how unlikely a universe conducive to life is: eventually one will appear as long as the probability is nonzero.

    Furthermore, since we already know that the universe is much larger than what we can observe, it is no leap at all to consider that the universe as a whole might be infinite (if inflation lasted only twice as long as necessary to explain our region, then the universe would have at least 10^90 times more volume than the region we can observe). Finally, if a region such as our own started naturally once by fully natural means, it stands to reason that other regions could also start through fully natural means. So, no, a natural start of our region of the universe is not remotely absurd. Anybody who thinks it is just doesn’t understand how little we know about the fundamental laws.

  • John Merryman

    Ali,

    I flipped through your blog for a plain email address, but there wasn’t one. So I’ll stick a note here. If you are looking for places to get published, here is one that might interest you.

    http://www.exterminatingangel.com

    They published a few of my pieces, so you might mention that I recommended you.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    So it seems we can conclude that in a Universe (with or without the god) we expect the laws of physics as we know them to create the right conditions for life to appear and evolve into humans who debate the origins and make up of the universe – and the purpose of life.

    It is clear that if there were a God, Sean would expect any Creator to be able to act in his creation – do simple things like change the motion of the planets on a whim, create and destroy life on a whim (other than by cataclysmic mass extinctions caused by floods, asteroids or other global catastrophes caused by objects in ‘predetermined’ or predictable collision trajectories, according to the laws of physics, impacting on Earth), and of course the ability to raise the dead, offer remission from cancer or replace lost limbs.

    Mind you what Sean was asking is what would be different about the universe (as we know it) if there were a God. In other words the old rational argument – if we cannot see, touch or measure it, it does not exist.

    In other words we can predict a higgs field, gravitons, dark energy or strings & m-theory, but we expect to be able to prove conclusively at some stage whether they exist or not. Whereas with ‘God’ and the ‘afterlife’ or ‘spirit’ world, clearly have no room in the ‘material’ world (by definition?) – and Sean would conclude that a God which cannot be detected, or cannot intervene in the Physical Universe is NO God, or does not EXIST.

    However the fact that we cannot detect or mathematically postulate or predict something does not mean it cannot exist, – and viceversa – the fact that we can mathematically postulate something, is no guarantee that it does indeed exist.

    So Sean, we remain inconclusively each in our own camp. But if there is an afterlife, and there is a Spirit World – then clearly the universe is different from how we see it, or at least one could safely say we don’t have the whole picture. And not being able to detect or measure something is clearly not proof that it does not exist, as you well know.

    PS – This argument is not meant to argue against the buddhist possibility that there may be a Universal Law (without the need of a creator god), but rather to argue that there may indeed be ‘stuff’ out there we don’t know, and cannot yet measure – whether parallel worlds and or ‘spirit’ world.
    And perhaps never will, after all it would be pointless if men armed with ray guns and spaceships or aliens and the USAF could invade & occupy Paradise, bringing with them disease, decay and death into Nirvana.

  • Jason Dick

    However the fact that we cannot detect or mathematically postulate or predict something does not mean it cannot exist, – and viceversa – the fact that we can mathematically postulate something, is no guarantee that it does indeed exist.

    No, but the fact that we cannot ever detect any observable difference that the existence or non-existence of something would entail means that that something is an utterly meaningless concept. There’s just not point in even saying something like that exists, as it’s rather like saying, for example, “Green noises exist.” Those words, when strung together, have no meaning whatsoever. So if you’re saying, “god exists,” but then don’t bother to say what you mean by “god” in any meaningful manner, then you’re not saying anything at all.

    And, by the way, nobody is saying anything remotely to the tune of postulation equating to existence. Obviously this is not the case. But at least something which, when postulated, provides specific predictions, then saying it exists has meaning. The statement, “X exists,” becomes intelligible when it would be different if it didn’t. And the question, “Does X exist?” becomes both meaningful and answerable.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Jason, what I am saying is that if there is an afterlife and/or “Spirit World’
    the universe is inherently more than we ‘perceive’ – we don’t have the whole picture – since by definition the spirit world is beyond the material world, or if you prefer beyond any ‘event horizon’

    Postulating that stealth bombers and/or such things as ‘invisibility cloaks’ are possible and do exist, is meaningless (to you) unless they reveal themselves and effortlessly destroy a country like Iraq (before breakfast), demonstrating massive air superiority?

    Just because Sean does not respond to a comment is not ‘proof’ that Sean does not exist, it simply means he is not inclined to comment or respond or get tangled in a circular argument.

    I for one would expect any God or even demigods to be powerful enough to be invisible, and above having to demonstrate their overwhelming superiority – in the manner that mere mortals such as US Presidents or British PMs like to.

    I would certainly expect the least of demigods to have more power at his finger tips than the President of the US, the USAF and the combined ourtput from US energy and industry. I would expect the least of demigods to be able to eat a bowl of blackholes for breakfast, as if it were a bowl of ‘cheerios’

    For all we know God is a Pizza Maker, and this universe is but a bit of dirt in the corner by the fridge of god’s kitchen – and can create Sean’s pizza-like universes to order. Would you like olives, anchovies or pepperoni on yours.

  • Andreas Östling

    I guess I agree with some things you say. But I find it impossible to understand what you mean is “liberating” with your position. You represent a world-view that says you had to write that blog entry, whether it was true or not. “Philosophically precise” seem to be the last thing this was.

    I want everyone to recognize that Sean makes his statements on just the same grounds as an astrologist, a creationist, a magician or Donald Duck, because the ground of all statements (on his view) are determined by how the interaction of particles happened to turn out. Having a physics degree or not doesn’t matter. Who could judge what is the most reasoned view?

    Not to mention that it religiously (existentially) turns him into a pathetic creature. Sean, if you want to know what the “non-strawman” God is, then one step would probably be to stop living a chaotic inconsistent life where you think you can transcend the interaction of particles and make valid inferences that are “better” than the results of other interactions of particles. Perhaps you are wrongly of in your materialism from the get go?

    People should be profoundly amazed that a talented physicist hold views like this. What makes a person behave so inconsistently? Well the determinist have his answer (he is determined to behave inconsistently). Personally I think he tries to dodge the non-straw man God, who quite frankly could be scary. But also a source of meaning where ones day to day life finally make sense in this complex and beautiful universe of ours.

  • Plato

    John Merryman:That we are imperfect examples of an ideal from which we have fallen.
    The problem with this logic is that the absolute is basis, not apex. So the spiritual absolute would be the essense of out of which we rise, not a model of perfection from which we fell.

    Using this “pyramidal sentence” the ideal is always from the peak, and “not the base” from which you think all physical substances of spirit emerge.

    Spirit, is different then the physical substance? Matter states and densities involved reduces spirits workings. Confines it?

  • Jason Dick

    Jason, what I am saying is that if there is an afterlife and/or “Spirit World’
    the universe is inherently more than we ‘perceive’ – we don’t have the whole picture – since by definition the spirit world is beyond the material world, or if you prefer beyond any ‘event horizon’

    Then what’s the point in even talking about it? I mean, unless you want to engage in fantasy or something of the sort. You’ve just defined the spirit world as being unreachable, so it might as well be a fantasy world for all we should care. Not that fantasy doesn’t have its value. I love good fiction. It’s just not reality, and we shouldn’t pretend it is so.

    Postulating that stealth bombers and/or such things as ‘invisibility cloaks’ are possible and do exist, is meaningless (to you) unless they reveal themselves and effortlessly destroy a country like Iraq (before breakfast), demonstrating massive air superiority?

    Huh? Camouflage is commonplace. But, more importantly, this is in no way intangible. For example, if you are a military strategist, your strategy may well change dramatically dependent upon whether or not your opponent has certain camouflage technology.

    Just because Sean does not respond to a comment is not ‘proof’ that Sean does not exist, it simply means he is not inclined to comment or respond or get tangled in a circular argument.

    Sean has demonstrated time and again his existence, through his writings and video. It’s the sort of thing that normal humans do every single day. But no deity has ever done this. No deity can ever have been shown to have presented any evidence whatsoever of its existence. And furthermore, many god concepts are built so that there is no possible way that anybody could detect their existence, while those concepts that are, in principle, detectable, have always come up empty. So what reason is there to believe? Besides wishful thinking, I mean?

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Jason, I do recognises or acknowledge your arguments, I do not expect you to renounce them or dismiss them as illogical, I expect you to try and see beyond the ‘limits’ you impose yourself.

    It would be one of the attributes of any deity to make themselves invisible and or undetectable, if for no other reason than because they CAN. But demanding a deity reveal itself or you would cease to believe in them, is something men & women of in a crisis of faith (and no faith) have faced since ‘time began’
    A bit like demanding the higgs boson reveals itself – by xmas – or you will cease to believe in it; or demanding dark energy ‘reveal’ itself or you will hold it to be fantasy and unreal, despite whatever apparent evidence. Of course some people do think strings are a figment of the imagination of some ‘physicists’

    However, stating that the spirit world is beyond the material world, is not the same as entering the realm of fantasy and or ‘free’ imagination. It is clearly stating that there is a realm above or beyond that which you can see or measure.
    Now to return to Sean’s post, can it act in this universe and does it change what we know of the universe. If it cannot act in this universe what is the point of it. But, suggesting that anything unexpected or unpredicted is simply a ‘spontaneous’ fluctuation or anomaly, or chaos – is avoiding the possibility that ‘external’ forces could be acting in this universe – whether they be simply particles in and out of other worlds, or more exotic causes.

    And returning to the world of matter – Star Trek may be well be only fantasy and Science fiction – but it ‘fuels’ the imagination, to search for ways in which we may be able to travel space, beyond our ‘present’ capabilities.

    Two thousand years ago someone talking about a silver machine flying at great speed (and breaking the sound barrier) would have seemed like fantasy. The fact that it is possible and can be done, you simply take as a ‘given’ now. Future means of travel, and energy sources are all inherently fantasy – until we either reveal the materials or the means to do it. You may say interstellar or intergalactic travel is ‘theoretically’ possible – but it is ‘pure’ fantasy with the knowledge we have at our disposal (or fingertips) today.
    So, should we stop fantasizing?

  • John Merryman

    Plato,

    Using this “pyramidal sentence” the ideal is always from the peak, and “not the base” from which you think all physical substances of spirit emerge.

    Spirit, is different then the physical substance? Matter states and densities involved reduces spirits workings. Confines it?

    So far as we can define it, consciousness is as much or more an emergent property of networks, rather then the apparent matter of which they consist. So in the context of what we are able to understand, it is a matter of direction, rather then source. We cannot pinpoint the source of this awareness, we can only say that it emerges in a less complex form and from there expands out and up to colonize ever more complex perceptions of material reality.
    As a network phenomena, the difference between the neurons in our individual brains and the interactions between individuals in a large social context is a matter of form, rather then function. Whether it is cells in the body, ants in a colony, or humans in society, it a relationship between parts and the whole.

    Since we are all motivated by this fundamental sense of self awareness, what is to say that it is only in the details and the mental focus that we are actually individuals manifesting this field phenomena, referred to as ‘spirit?’ Thus it is ‘bottom up essence,’ rather then ‘top down ideal.’

  • Jason Dick

    No, Quasar9, it’s about withholding belief until any evidence presents itself. Really, now, people are wrong all the time, and since the number of incorrect beliefs is essentially infinite, while there is only one set of correct beliefs, by holding beliefs for which there is no evidence, or worse, can be no evidence, you guarantee that you are wrong. This, then, is really about how much you care about being correct. If you’re fine with wishful thinking, if you don’t care that the things you believe actually exist but just like to believe them because it’s pleasing, then I guess there’s really nothing more to say. But I suspect most people actually do have a desire to believe what is true.

    Now, you gave the example of the Higgs. And let me just say that there is vastly more evidence for the existence of the Higgs boson than there is for any deity. The Higgs boson is a particle whose existence is predicted by a wildly successful and fantastically accurate theory, the standard model. And yet scientists who study this sort of thing will not claim that they believe the Higgs exists. They might claim it’s likely, but physicists studying it the world over fully accept the possibility that we are wrong. In fact, many scientists think that the most likely thing is that we are wrong, and that what we will find at the LHC will be completely unexpected. This is simply because that when we enter a new region of observation, we very frequently find that we end up being surprised. Science has found out just how wrong it is so many times that we have come to expect it. And yet science is based upon evidence. If we end up being wrong all the time by basing our beliefs upon evidence, how much likely is it that we will end up wrong by forming beliefs for which there is no evidence, or worse, for which there can be no evidence?

    Finally, you misunderstood what I said about fiction. It does have tremendous value, for a variety of reasons. But we should not pretend it is real.

  • John Merryman

    I started this post as a clarification of my previous post in the context of Sean’s update, but it took on some further themes and I’m running low on time, so I’m posting it anyway;

    This discussion has done an even better job than I had anticipated in confirming my belief that the “sophisticated” notion of God is simply a category mistake. Some people clearly think of God in a way perfectly consistent with the supposed Dawkinsian straw man, which is fine on its own terms. Others take refuge in the Skinneresque stance that we can’t say what we mean when we talk about God, which I continue to think is simply intellectually dishonest.

    The only on-topic replies I can see that don’t fall into either of those camps are ones that point to some feature of the world which would exist just as well in a purely materialistic conception, and say “I call that `God.’” To which I can only reply, you’re welcome to call it whatever you like, but it makes no difference whatsoever. Might as well just admit that you’re an atheist.

    Which some people do, of course. I once invited as a guest speaker Father William Buckley, a Jesuit priest who is one of the world’s experts in the history of atheism. After giving an interesting talk on the spirituality of contemplation, he said to me “You don’t think I believe in G-O-D `God,’ do you?” I confessed that I had, but now I know better.

    For people in this camp, I think their real mistake is to take a stance or feeling they have toward the world and interpret in conventionally religious language. Letting all that go is both more philosophically precise and ultimately more liberating.

    What Sean seems to be saying in the above quote, is that any concept of God that isn’t of the anthropomorphic variety, is simply closet atheism. This ‘with us, or against us’ model over simplifies a very complex reality. Atheism is its own subjective stance, not the objectivity Sean seems to assume. As three dimensions are not an objective description of space, but the coordinate system of the point these lines cross and a calendar is meaningless without a starting date, it is an objective fact that any frame of reference is inherently subjective. With its quest to order reality into one overarching theory and willingness to explore whatever avenues accepted theory allows, modern science is a direct descendant of the religious tradition of explaining what we don’t know in terms of what we do. While the monolithic tendencies of western theism lack the balanced dualisms of eastern philosophies, it was proven to be a politically potent model that has done much to provide the conceptual desire and impetus to the evolution of the modern world.

    The atheistic assumption is that there is an evolving process of complex interaction that developed chemically repetitive patterns, these morphed into biological feedback loops, which evolved conscious awareness as an adaptive trait. This because evolution appears to be a linear process from less complex to more complex structure and biological consciousness entails the most complex structure we find. These odds of this happening would seem vanishingly small, but with infinity to work with, still possible. We, seemingly alone in the local area of the universe, being evidence of that.

    So what is the alternative? That some guy up in the clouds unfolded a blueprint and started building? That some essential element of awareness exists as what might be described as another dimension and it happened to bisect these material dimensions at this point called earth, providing the vital function to the biological form? The old guy in the clouds might seem a bit timeworn, but it may be difficult for the current state of science to categorically deny the second, given the extent it postulates other dimensions, even universes to explain the circumstances in this one.

    Whether arising spontaneously or as eternal isolated property, consciousness is a field effect that manifests as singular organisms within a developing ecosystem. What we think of as individuality is an evolved structure of mental focus. While this may not be a politically popular description, it is biologically defensible, as any broad examination of the relationship between individuals and the group they are a product of, shows that what seem like clear distinctions vanish upon close examination. Whether neurons in the brain, or faces in the crowd, it is nodes and network. The often overwhelming tendency to go with the herd, whether out of positive hope, negative fear, or all the other ways our base emotions and impulses guide and control us is the bottom up mechanism of this situation. We are part of a larger whole. Admitting that and accepting it is necessary to gain some degree of control over these basic forces. Like guiding a balloon by rising or sinking to the level of the winds going the direction you wish, it becomes possible to guide yourself in this reality. There are any number of cross currents pulling us around and while there are directions we may want to go, such as working toward a more sustainable economic and ecological lifestyle, it is difficult to break out of the current patterns that seem bent on driving us over the edge of political, ecological and economic Armageddon. The fact is that there are larger processes at work here and periodic collapse is a vital part of the renewal process. When you want to start a new world order, it is actually helpful to have the old one self-destruct, even though it can be quite messy. The fact is that what we would like to think of as the norm isn’t sustainable and these currently destroying it, out of their own selfish desires to control as much as possible, are likely doing us all a long term favor. The old system is like a scab being pulled off of a wound, so that it can go on to the next stage and heal further. If one choses cynicism and corruption because it appears to have the upper hand, this hard and lifeless view is the direction that life is moving away from, not toward.

  • bob

    we are animals like all the other animals on the planet. Everything else is the human myth.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Justin, it is about suspending judgement.
    You disbelief because there is ‘no’ evidence
    I suspend ‘disbelief’ because it is possible.
    There is much we do not yet ‘know’ about the material world.
    And clearly much we do not know about the non-material world.
    Since A God can be ‘invisible’ and ‘undetectable’ – there can be no proof against the existence of god, anymore than there is of god’s existence.
    As to what people may or may not expect from god, or what people believe or do not believe about god – that is down to human error – it does not make the possibility in itself of the existence of God an error by default – nor by any scientific proof.

    There is no evidence that man can travel to other star systems, but I do not discount it as impossible – though I may not see it with ‘these’ eyes – I guess you could logically call that ‘blind’ faith too.

  • CarlN

    Quasar9, I suppose you also believe in Santa too, since no proof has been given for his non-existence?

    But seriously, without evidence, how do you choose which god to believe in?

    Given enough energy space travel to other stars is possible. That has nothing to with faith. We know what it takes. Very is very difficult, yes, but it is a bad example in this context.

    Carl

  • CarlN

    Sorry for that last sentence. Have had a couple of beers now.. :-)

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/05/liminocentric-structures-and-topo.html Plato

    More on name.

    John Merryman:

    Since we are all motivated by this fundamental sense of self awareness, what is to say that it is only in the details and the mental focus that we are actually individuals manifesting this field phenomena, referred to as ’spirit?’ Thus it is ‘bottom up essence,’ rather then ‘top down ideal

    I do find it difficult to believe this, and if I had to give perspective, how would I give an alternate view to the one you are saying?

    Hmmmm…..

    Damasio’s First Law
    The body precedes the mind.

    Damasio’s Second Law
    Emotions precede feelings.

    Damasio’s Third Law
    Concepts precede words.

    What is matter forming around the concepts/ideals? Should it not read Mind precedes body? And why not begin in spirit?

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    A man, blind from birth, is asking me what sight is, and if I can’t explain it to him, insists that I should agree that sight does not exist.

    Take someone who is your scientific hero. Most likely you cannot understand her/him. Yes, you can understand his results, and even sometimes retrace the steps she made to get to her deep and revolutionary result. But duplicating that act of creativity may be beyond you. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. But it is beyond explanation to you.

    Nextly, language is a shared medium and describes only what we experience in common. It cannot express what we experience purely individually. Inability to describe in words or explain universally is not a barrier to existence (for that matter, we cannot explain a lot of science or most of mathematics to most people). I think there are mathematical objects that cannot be approached by any algorithm. Existence transcends explanations.

    As to what practical difference God makes, would we even be having this conversation if God made no difference? That is, even a non-existent God which is some people’s delusion makes a difference to this world. How can you say it doesn’t? You’ll say, which law of physics is affected by this? None, but the world is not completely described by the laws of physics, in that you cannot deduce everything that is in this world using the laws of physics, you can at most constrain it. Very real people are performing real actions on this delusion of God, all within the laws of physics. It is an equally valid point of view to take people, and not the laws of physics, to be fundamental. The only universe of interest is that with the potentiality of having people in it.

  • Jason Dick

    A man, blind from birth, is asking me what sight is, and if I can’t explain it to him, insists that I should agree that sight does not exist.

    The blind man will, naturally, be incapable of understanding what it means to see at an intuitive level. But he would certainly be capable of being shown evidence for the existence of sight, as well as being capable of understanding the mechanism of sight.

    Take someone who is your scientific hero. Most likely you cannot understand her/him. Yes, you can understand his results, and even sometimes retrace the steps she made to get to her deep and revolutionary result. But duplicating that act of creativity may be beyond you. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. But it is beyond explanation to you.

    It’s beyond an intuitive understanding. Not beyond intellectual understanding.

    Nextly, language is a shared medium and describes only what we experience in common. It cannot express what we experience purely individually. Inability to describe in words or explain universally is not a barrier to existence (for that matter, we cannot explain a lot of science or most of mathematics to most people). I think there are mathematical objects that cannot be approached by any algorithm. Existence transcends explanations.

    Same thing.

    As to what practical difference God makes, would we even be having this conversation if God made no difference?

    This only demonstrates that the concept of God makes a difference. It doesn’t demonstrate that the being itself makes a difference. As to that, some definitions do make a difference, some do not.

    None, but the world is not completely described by the laws of physics, in that you cannot deduce everything that is in this world using the laws of physics, you can at most constrain it.

    Certainly the entire universe isn’t described by the laws of physics we know today, for we do not know all of the laws of physics. But there is no reason whatsoever to expect that there is anything that lies beyond the most fundamental laws of physics, whatever those might be.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    CarlN,
    we all know that Santa doesn’t ride a sleigh across the sky and bring children xmas presents down the chimney – (except in the movies & story books). Parents buy the xmas presents in shops – and place them under the tree.

    But the concept that little ‘elves’ or foreign workers in sweat shops in korea or China make barbie dolls and other xmas toys in time for xmas is not alien. The fact that transport and marketing brings those toys to shops in time for xmas (which starts in October?) is not alien. The fact that you can shop on the internet almost at the speed of light from just about anywhere in the world is a ‘reality’. Spammers try and do what ‘sceptics’ claimed Santa couldn’t do, which is to visit every home in 24 hours, but it takes a lot of anti-spam to prevent it happening.

    That god exists is ‘possible’
    Which gods exists and which god may be the greater god, are only arguments that are valid once you recognise there is a god. Which video or audio-visual reproduction system is the best or superior once you recignise that video and audio-visual reproduction is possible. Of course the ultimate god or god above gods requires there be one god greater or above all other gods, just like light contains all the colours of the rainbow.

    Travel to other star systems may be ‘possible’
    However since I am unlikely to see it happen with ‘these’ eyes, to all intents and purposes – according to you – ‘technically’ speaking it does not exist.

    Science (or science fiction) has no problems with the concept that you may be able to buy replacement organs ‘off the shelf’ to prolong life, that we may be able to manufacture drugs or treatments to slow down (or even reverse) ageing, or even at some point ‘download’ your personality, knowledge, memory, emotions and feelings onto a chip (and edit as required?) to transplant into another healthy body or golem off the shelf, should your present body become too damage by trauma, disease, ageing, radiation or fire … some even believe you can freeze the body – cryogenics – and be brought back to life.

    Seems man (generic humans) really would like to be ‘godlike’. Seems humans would like to be able to control the environment, the body, the mind and life. Seems humans are hardwired to seek something more (godhood?) – higher being, higher intellect or higher power – we just haven’t got the ‘knowledge’ yet.

    Seems humans are hardwired or predisposed to dellusions of ‘grandeur’ too, and some humans would like to base longevity on ‘ability’ to pay or god money. Yep, it’s an age old dellusion, that you can buy your way into heaven or paradise, and buy immortality (in the flesh) without having to wait for tiresome things such as ‘judgement of the dead’ resurrection or reincarnation.

    Of course not everyone would like to live for ever – gosh, what is left for man to do when he has done everything – but to experience death. But death is all around us and often too close, and often comes unexpectedly and much too soon, and most people would like to delay death (at least for now), and maybe ‘live’ for ever too.

    However I am not interested in convincing you that there is a god, or to argue ‘which’ or ‘whose’ god is the greater. Simply, that it is possible that there is a God – a God that clearly can exist independently regardless of whether you believe in god or not. And since one of the attributes of a god would be to be ‘invisible & undetectable’ man is unable to prove god does not exist, neither scientifically or philosophically. After all an Omniscient & Omnipresent god can see into the deepest (and darkest) recesses of the human mind (and soul).

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun
  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    On the goals of religions: Swami Dayananda Saraswati:

    The goal of an informed vaidika is freedom from a sense of limitation sensed on I.

    (Vaidika : one who follows the Vedic tradition.

  • John Merryman

    Plato,

    What is matter forming around the concepts/ideals? Should it not read Mind precedes body? And why not begin in spirit?

    What is required is a paradigm shift on several levels. First off, the real problem with monotheism isn’t whether or not there is some anthropomorphic entity pulling the strings, but that it exaggerates monolithic thought patterns and projects them on to the entire community. As individuals, we have what amounts to a one track mind. There is always only one thing we can effectively focus on at a time, otherwise the internal conflict is a mental disorder, otherwise known as schizophrenia. The larger reality is that there are any number of potential perspectives. This is why life organizing itself as a multitude of individual beings is such a successful adaptation. Not only are there multitudes of perspectives, but any particular position and especially those with any degree of clarity and force, enable, encourage and in fact require an opposite position as balance. Eastern philosophies are far more cognizant of this fact, thus the fundamental concept of yin and yang. The practical problem is that while it may be a more intellectually advanced understanding, it can be politically inconvenient. Looking at both sides of an issue tends to get one branded as wishy-washy and the less scrupulous opponent will punch you in the nose, as you examine his side of the argument. Campaign politics proves this on a daily basis. In fact, this political advantage is the basis of the success of the monotheistic model in the first place, from the old testament to Constantine’s vision of the cross as a war totem. The fact is that everyone is able and frequently does view themselves as both individual and as part of their chosen group. Just not at the same moment. Like a coin, there are two sides, but you can only view one at a time. Thus we have the current political standoff between conservatives and liberals, both defending various rights of individuals that they approve of and attacking those they don’t, while generally following the various scripts approved by their groups.

    I think this tendency towards one track thinking being required of their group often extends to the academic and scientific disciplines as well. The circumstance that comes to mind is cosmology. To be accepted professionally you had better believe in Big Bang Theory with the same depth of belief in the Holy Trinity being a Jesuit requires, yet there are quite a few problems with this narrative description of the universe and it has some rather extreme patches, such as Inflation Theory and dark energy to maintain it. But the fact is that basic political factors insist only the Big Bang model is acceptable. The reality is that the coin can be flipped over and many of the observations can be viewed from other perspectives and may well fit together in an entirely different fashion.

    Rather then get into issues that don’t have much bearing on this discussion, I’ll close with an example I described in my first post in this conversation(10), of how something viewed from one perspective can be flipped around and seen in an entirely different light;

    What is time? Consider; If two atoms collide, it creates an event in time. While the atoms proceed through this event and on to others, the event goes the other way. First it is in the future, then in the past. This relationship prevails at every level of complexity. The rotation of the earth, relative to the radiation of the sun, goes from past events to future ones, while the units of time/days go from being in the future to being in the past. To the hands of the clock, the face goes counterclockwise.

    So which is the real direction? If time is a fundamental dimension, then physical reality proceeds along it, from past events to future ones. On the other hand, if time is a consequence of motion, then physical reality is simply energy in space and the events created go from being in the future to being in the past. Just as the sun appears to go from east to west, when the reality is the earth rotates west to east.

    Time as consequence of motion means it has more in common with temperature, then space, which is not intuitive, but it is logical, as they are both descriptions of and methods for measuring motion.

    Here is another one; 1+1=2, right? Well, if you’ve actually added them together, then you should properly have one larger entity, so 1+1=1. We are just focused on how thinks come apart, not how they come together.

  • Jason Dick

    I think this tendency towards one track thinking being required of their group often extends to the academic and scientific disciplines as well. The circumstance that comes to mind is cosmology. To be accepted professionally you had better believe in Big Bang Theory with the same depth of belief in the Holy Trinity being a Jesuit requires, yet there are quite a few problems with this narrative description of the universe and it has some rather extreme patches, such as Inflation Theory and dark energy to maintain it. But the fact is that basic political factors insist only the Big Bang model is acceptable. The reality is that the coin can be flipped over and many of the observations can be viewed from other perspectives and may well fit together in an entirely different fashion.

    Wow, okay, you really went off on a tangent there. This is just so vastly far off-base it’s not even funny. First of all, the big bang theory has been wildly successful at a providing us with the correct results for a number of predictions. As a result, we can be certain that it is at least correct on an approximate level, provided we don’t try to extrapolate too far back into the past (where inflation takes over).

    But, more than that, many scientists have been looking at fundamental modifications to the theory. Essentially, the two assumptions of the theory are:
    1. The universe as a whole is nearly homogeneous and isotropic.
    2. General Relativity is correct on the scales of interest.

    Both assumptions have been and are being investigated in detail. For example, since we know that the region of the universe we can observe is simply not homogeneous and isotropic, we know that the first assumption is only an approximation, and it is a good thing to check and see just how good of an approximation it is. This is, as near as I can tell, ongoing work.

    Other scientists are investigating ways in which general relativity might be modified, something which would change the relationship between matter and the curvature of space, which could, potentially, explain the observed acceleration in lieu of dark energy.

    So no, you’re incorrect. There is no “blind faith” here, as it’s all strongly evidence-based, and scientists are questioning the fundamental aspects of the theory as well.

  • John Merryman

    Jason,

    I’ll do the larger discussion a big favor and drop the subject. I would be interested in your thoughts as to my observation about time, since it does tie into my points about how consciousness and intelligence relate and function.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Jason, in various replies to me and other commenters, you keep saying that something has to “make a difference” even to be intelligible. That is more the position of a school of philosophy, like positivism, than a logically necessary correlate of meaningfulness per se. As for positivism and its discontents, let me repeat below what I said earlier (that never got a substantive reply):

    What really cracks me up is people saying such and such is “meaningless”, but they don’t agree with it, believe it exists, etc. If something is truly meaningless, you wouldn’t even “get” it well enough to object. That phrase is just a sort of trash tool, and I have shown weaknesses elsewhere (like all the things we can’t verify that are perfectly comprehensible, like details of the unrecorded past, or even talk of what will happen long from now that is yet unverifiable and won’t be for us as individuals, etc.) PS: Positivism was such a hilarious crock, just consider that “axioms” aren’t either synthetic or analytic, nor is the very school-defining statement that all statements are either S. or A., etc. This was supposedly the flower of rationalism, I gather. My favorite no-clothes question always is “What is the operational definition of saying that things exist while we aren’t observing them.? Well?

    In brief, you are letting post-modern/Wittgenstein philosophical defeatism and circumscription drag you down.

    … there is no need to ask for an “operational” test for God, it is a retrodictive philosophical argument. Do you appreciate the irony that the arguments saying there should be such proof, why we should believe this or that or not, what is “meaningful” etc. are themselves philosophy and not scientific experiments – so, why should we believe them?

    In particular, in your reply of Oct 24th at 9:09 pm:

    In order for a definition to be useful, there must be natural conclusions that are not assumed in the definition. The problem is that typically with a god, you can’t actually make any deductions: every effect of this deity’s existence has to simply be assumed. This all flows right back to Sean’s point: unless you can present concrete, testable predictions of your deity’s behavior that flow naturally from its definition, your definition is meaningless.

    If a conclusion is logically related to, and a reasonable outgrowth from an initial assumption, it is not thereby “assumed” in the definition – otherwise, all good cause-effect arguments would be circular definitions. I “assume” (postulate, rather), as do many theological thinkers, that an ultimate Mind would want fraternity and companionship with other minds, and so that more beings can have experience. Since I don’t think such a primal Mind is omnipotent, but only a bestower of “reality” on selected possible universes (i.e., it “shines light” on select patches of what would otherwise be a sterile modal-realist panoply of model worlds.) It “breathes fire” into some equations and not others. A universe conducive to life is a reasonable outcome of such a God notion, an outcome you OTOH with your ideas can’t explain without either:
    (1.) Accepting the bizarre coincidence that constants very narrowly just right for life are inherently rational or physically appropriate for an existent universe, but not because of any design purpose.
    (2.) Or, multiple universes exist, and we are the lucky self-selection outcome. That could happen, but that produces embarrassing questions about why it should stop there and not include every imaginable thing (just fleshing out the Platonic world of everything in toto), the hypocrisy of complaining about unobservable God but accepting unobservable other universes, etc. As for different regions of space having different laws, I am waiting for any evidence at all that our own universe can be a substrate for more than one unique set of laws and constants. (Isn’t evidence what matters to you so much? But you were rather casually throwing off speculation about different laws in different regions once – since there’s no evidence, a purist of your school shouldn’t use the idea in argument at all…)

    Here’s something I think you still don’t get:

    There is no reason yet to suspect that a natural universe is absurd.
    Sure there is, if you understand the philosophical framing at the ground level. The natural contingency argument is something you either get or you don’t, in my experience. One way to start: draw an arbitrary shape (like an amoeba silhouette) and then ask yourself: could this*particular* shape be blessed, by some inherent logic, with a special non-predicate status like “exist”, and yet other shapes (like a somewhat different amoeboid outline, or triangles, etc.) not be? That is just plain absurd at a fundamental level. Once you realize that, you can’t go back. Some believe that all the possible “worlds” (descriptions) exist, but then the self-selection likelihood is that there’d be no distinct and coherent laws of physics in any world we found ourselves in. That’s because the class of *descriptions* in general is so much bigger than the class of descriptions with dependable law-like behavior (e.g., crisp 1/r^2 forces constant over time.) The alternative to that polymorphous mess is that Someone breathes that realness into some of those shapes (metaphors for ways to be) so minds can exist and strive.

    Dude – it’s philosophy, OK? Neither of us knows squat, you just think about which argument looks better to your deep insight. This is at levels of abstraction so high, the highest of all, that putting it in terms of our world’s physical properties and history of exploring of same is just not adequate.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Quick note about “meaningfulness” and testability: How can testability affect immediate comprehension in the mind? Suppose for example, that at first we thought some proposal was untestable. So, to some it’s “meaningless.” But then suppose later we find out it is testable after all (there are no classes of propositions which are inherently protected from error, so we could be wrong about such things like anything else.) But if “meaningfulness” depends on actual testability rather than whether we think it is testable, would we have experienced the meaningfulness before we knew it was testable? How can comprehension itself depend on something like testability, which capability might not even be known to the assessor of the idea? Finally, does that really comport with the original definition of “meaningful” anyway?

    Here’s a counter example: It has been shown that we can’t use known set concepts to prove whether the cardinality of the continuum (the set of real numbers, including irrational – shown non-equivalent to the set of rational numbers by Cantor’s diagonal argument) is Aleph sub one, the next cardinal number (sequential infinite set characterization) after Aleph sub zero (cardinality of the integers and rational numbers), or not. Hence, it uses German c as symbol. And yet, anyone familiar with cardinal arithmetic and trans-finite set theory attests there is a clear meaning to the question – it is not “meaningless” in any meaningful way. (Did it sound like mere gibberish to you, or just “jargon” that a student of the subject could appreciate?) Sure, we can’t find out, but that doesn’t make the question therefore “meaningless”, unless the latter was merely an inept ostensible synonym for the former. I suspect it’s an attempt to stifle thought about mysteries with a put-down, cashing in on the gate-keeping status of intelligibility in ways that aren’t warranted.

  • Plato

    John MerrymanRather then get into issues that don’t have much bearing on this discussion,

    Hi John,

    I was leading you to the point about Sean’s post.

    If God is in Spirit then what saids we are not far from understanding GoD by learning to understand our position of entanglement? All “forming aparatus(focus)” is as much as “if we set the ideal,” and all things that arose from “the idea” becomes manifested in the world around us.

    I would think I was still dealing with the larger discusssion? It has nothing to do with alignments of who said what, or governmental political parties.

    Yet as an “ideal” I might have choosen one.

  • Plato

    Sean:The trouble is not that such sophisticated formulations make our eyes glaze over; the trouble is that they don’t mean anything

    John,

    In what little I gave you, there is a deduction. It is about what God might mean.

  • http://www.dorianallworthy.com daisy rose

    What if you believed in a God who could be cajoled or bribed ?- one who wished to be flattered,pleased – sacrifice would be demanded – Here take him not me !

  • CarlN

    Quasar9, so from the range of possible gods you just choose one (more or less at random? Or the one your parents chose for you?), and stick with it, knowing that the probability that your god is the correct one is close to zero?

    I suppose you do not also claim to be a rational person?

    Carl

  • John Merryman

    Plato,

    I apologize, as I seem more inclined to get off topic then anyone else. That said, my distinction between consciousness and ideals is based on the point I made about time. Whereas energy goes from past events to future ones, the information created goes from being future potential to past order and the same distinction can be drawn between consciousness and the intellect. Our essential awareness goes from past events to future ones, but that which we perceive is constantly receding into the past. Now ideals are the templates by which we make sense of the process. As such, they are somewhere in the middle, as we keep pushing them out to define the future, as the details from which they are induced recede into the past.

    Think in terms of a factory; The product goes from being raw material to finished units, while the production line faces the other direction, consuming raw material and expelling finished product. Ideals amount to the blueprints used in the design of the product. The evidence we see of them is the finished units, but they are constantly being refined and updated by the process.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    CarlN, from the range of ‘possible’ universes
    you chose One, the one your parents chose for you (and you are stuck in it for now, whether you like it or not)
    Does that make you irrational? -

    I have not ‘chosen’ any god
    I have stated that it is possible A God exists,
    just like it is possible a big bang took place.

    No one (not you, not Dawkins, nor anyone else) can claim to have scientifically or philosophically disprove A God exists, any more than someone can ‘scientifically’ prove God does exist.
    You can choose not to believe in the existence of a god, or disbelief in the gods others have chosen – but you have no proof (and have not proven) that A God does not exist. Just like you have no ‘idea’ what is beyond the Cosmic Event Horizon – but you do not conclude that the other side of the Cosmic Event Horizon does not exist – else how is it you have a Cosmic Event Horizon.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    lol Daisy Rose,
    unless you are vegan or vegetarian, I suspect some animal will be sacrificed, to feed you tonight. In some cultures you can even choose, jow many chickens or which piglets, lamb or calf you’d like sacrificed for your next birthday bash.
    Don’t you just love those restaurants where they keep live fish and live lobsters and you can choose which one to sacrifice for tonight’s feast.

    Now I presume men & women do not think themselves gods or godesses (well actually some wonder around as if they were).

    It is not in the name of any god hundreds of thousands of Iraqies have been killed or sacrificed, but in the name of Son of Bush, American Freedom? and US Democracy. But I guess the Syrians prayed please god not me (us) let it be Iraq. But the only thing that saved Syria is that it did not have Iraqi Oil (rich pickings).

  • CarlN

    Quasar9, so I’ll prove there is no god.

    A god is supposed to be eternal, right? I have already proved the impossibility of something eternal. See the “why something rather than nothing” discussion.

    So a god is simply impossible. Of course. A god would not make any sense, anyway.

    Carl

  • John Merryman

    Carl,

    What is eternal? See my point about time.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Hi CarlN, an atheist mathematician can maintain the philosophical tenet that numbers and the relationships among them exist outside of time, and so are in that sense eternal.

    Augustine of Hippo wrote that time exists only within the created universe, so that God exists outside of time; for God there is no past or future, but only an eternal present. One need not believe in God in order to hold this concept of eternity: for example, an atheist mathematician can maintain the philosophical tenet that numbers and the relationships among them exist outside of time, and so are in that sense eternal.

    Theists say that God is eternally existent. How this is understood depends on which definition of eternity is used. On the one hand, God may exist in eternity, a timeless existence where categories of past, present, and future just do not apply. On the other hand, God will exist for or through eternity, or at all times, having already existed for an infinite amount of time and being expected to continue to exist for an infinite amount of time.

    One other definition states that God exists outside the human concept of time, but also inside of time. The reasoning for this definition is that if God did not exist both outside of time and inside of time, God would not be able to interact with humans.

    Related to the notion of eternal existence is the concept of God as Creator, as a being completely independent of “everything else” that exists because he created everything else. (Contrast this with panentheism.) If this premise is true, then it follows that God is independent of both space and time, since these are properties of the universe. So according to this notion, God exists before time began, exists during all moments in time, and would continue to exist if somehow the universe and time itself were to cease to exist.

    Related to ‘eternal life’, the biblical revelation first indicated that Man as a special created being is able to grasp the abstract concept in contrast with the lower animal world which did not have the ability to understand the concept of “eternity”.

  • http://zhogin.narod.ru Ivan

    Strugatsky Brothers have written many sci-fi books including
    “Hard to be a god”/(It is not so easy…);
    see amazon
    (another interesting book is the “Ugly cygnets”(/Rain time)).

    Trying to imagine possible development of
    “chips/computers” (~50 years old) on the next thousand years (that
    is not so much for cosmology, and not so great even for the
    history of humans), one can believe
    that, for really developed civilization (developed both in
    technical and in the moral aspect), it is quite easy (would be the
    desire!) to organize (for less developed fellows, like us)
    something like “doomsday” or “survival” (using another elemental base,
    sure, – in some reserves; there is a lot of room in 11-D space:).
    BTW, people arrange “wildlife sanctuaries” for “the wild
    nature” (however not trying to lecture democracy to ants:).

    Does it make great difference who is capable “to read” your thoughts,
    to influence them (washing your brains): the God, advanced
    fellows (“God’s children”), or aboriginal “oligarches/fat cats”
    (“godfathers”) ?

  • CarlN

    Guys,

    What is something eternal? That is something that has not started to exist, right?

    Carl

  • http://meadowsweet-myrrh.blogspot.com/ Ali

    John Merryman (re: #156), thank you very much for the recommendation. EAP looks like it might be right up my alley (no pun intended!). Also, I’ve now added an email address to the profile information on my blog’s website: meadowsweet.myrrh [at] gmail.com.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2006/12/against-symmetry.html Plato

    John Merryman:Eastern philosophies are far more cognizant of this fact, thus the fundamental concept of yin and yang. The practical problem is that while it may be a more intellectually advanced understanding, it can be politically inconvenient

    There is always the Taoist view of these differences, where a “middle line is walked” utterly being unaffected or being swayed from that middle position.

    It has become clearer what you are saying and I hope what I just wrote confirms this.

    How could one say “perfecting” and that this contact outside/inside ourselves is the understanding of our potential growth through learning. That we are indeed working toward what had already existed for us “before we choose to get entangled in the matters” to slowly “loose sight of,” has now circumscribed our perspective/view of our world?

    While this is going on and our emotive states can create this circumspection, depending on how traumatic or dense these emotive states are, we know that there is a lighter intellectual side to freeing ourselves from these states.

    Beyond that, there then is the understanding that such intellects can move beyond what is “lighter and freer” by realizing that what we were in the beginning, is just a return to what we have always been?

    While it may seem that this too is far from the topic, I would say it has very much to do with what God “is.”

  • CarlN

    Ok, we all agree that something eternal is something that has never started to exist. Also something that does not exist (except perhaps in our imagination) has never started to exist.

    From this, (although it is correct) it is of course too easy to equate “eternal” = “does not exist”. But it shows where we are going.

    However, in this case of disproving the existence of God by disproving the existence of anything eternal, we note the following:

    Given the information that X has not started to exist we can only logically conclude that X does not exist. We cannot assume that X has always existed.

    Knowing that Santa has not started to exist, it only makes sense to conclude from this that Santa does not exist. Same goes for God.

    More to come..

  • http://foranewageofreason.blogspirit.com Andrew Daw

    Nothing god-like is going to be found by a physicist. So you can ask how could such a thing be descovered by measurement and mathematical calculation? And again, the same could be said of an explanation of consciousness.

    Then it could be asked isn’t there something universal that can’t be explained by measurement and mathematical calculation? That is, how matter can remain in their naturally organised forms as atoms, molecules and living organisms and while the forces act just as they have been measured and described?

  • CarlN

    Andrew,

    Only self-consistent “things” can exist. So only realities that are logical and “mathematical” can exist. That’s why “forces” and matter are the way it is.

    Most descriptions given of gods are something that is not self-consistent, and certainly these gods do not exist.

    And of course, actually no gods exist. Logic tells us that.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2007/10/work-in-progress.html Plato

    More on name.

    “Your logic” used Carl was just as equivalent to my own postulation.

    We “use language/mathematics,” and from whence language/mathematics come?

    We could then go into circular reasoning, and John M. has already covered that.

    This is still about God.

  • CarlN

    Plato, math and logic “comes from” where the universe comes from. Nothing. Otherwise there would be circular logic indeed. See the “why something rather than nothing” discussion..

    Language comes from humans and is not relevant here.

  • http://zhogin.narod.ru Ivan

    CarlN (#196),

    and when your “iron logic” (“eternal” = “does not exist”)
    has started to exist ? (or is it “eternal” ?)

    “Hullo ! God is absent. Please leave your message after
    the beep.” (A joke from KVN-show)

  • CarlN

    Ivan, I did not say that is ” iron logic”, I said it was too easy, only happens to be correct. I was not finished.

    But let’s go back to the beginning then. We cannot use something existing to explain that something at all exists. That is circular logic. We can only “use” nothing to explain why something exist.

    So existence must come from nothing. That is “iron logic”.

    Nothingness takes precedence over existence. Nothingness does not need an explanation or a cause. Existence on the other hand, can’t be explained by existence. Trying to do that is circular logic. The explanation for existence cannot involve anything that exist. So existence has to come from nothing.

    But that is easy to understand:

    1. “When” nothing exists there are no hinders for something (universes) to start to exist. Any such hinders don’t exist “when” nothing exist.

    2. There are no conditions the need to be fulfilled for something to start to exist
    “when” nothing exist. Any such conditions don’t exist “when” nothing exists.

    3. No causation is needed for something to start to exist “when” nothing exits. Such need for causation does not exist “when” nothing exists.

    Something eternal cannot explain why there is existence on the other hand (instead of nothing). So something eternal cannot exist. The self-consistency of reality requires that there is an explanation for everything, including existence.

  • CarlN

    Ivan, I forgot to add:

    There is no logic, no math “when” nothing exists. Logic is “born” when something self-consistent starts to exist. Only self-consistent “things” can start to exist else its existence will conflict with itself. Reality is automatically “born” as something logical.

    Its iron clad logic all the way :-)

  • http://foranewageofreason.blogspirit.com Andrew Daw

    ‘Only self-consistent “things” can exist. So only realities that are logical and “mathematical” can exist. That’s why “forces” and matter are the way it is.’

    UJtter nonsense. You can’t mathematically describe consciousness nor its contents, such as the the smell of coffee or the taste of bananas or redness or beauty or moral values. So according to this reckoning they don’t exist.

    Also, you can’t mathematically describe the cause of quantum entanglement. But this is not to say there does not need a cause that that acts so as to maintain the effects of entanglement.

  • CarlN

    Andrew, of course consciousness and everything else can be described mathematically. But some things are more difficult and will take some more time. That is all.

  • http://foranewageofreason.blogspirit.com Andrew Daw

    Go on then describe consciousness or any of its contents mathematically or any conceivable means they might be so described. Its just the absurdity of the mathematician’s pretentions that can coceive of such a thing. Nor even can the property of the attraction of a force be described mathematically either. Nor has any mathematical formulae, just as such, ever explained anything.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    I noted before that for example, the collapse of the wave function can’t be described mathematically. It has various oddities, such as no reasonable way to be integrated into relativity of simultaneity, as well as problems under negative or unreliable measurements. (I saw an answer in the post about Higgs bump attempting to characterize the latter: an unreliable detector produces a mixture of collapsed and uncollapsed waves. But I thought “mixture” only applies to ensembles like a mixture of RH and LH photons: a given single photon wave function is always a coherent superposition (unless entangled and requiring further description) with a given phase difference, even if we don’t know what it is.)

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    Neil, the wavefunction doesn’t really collapse. After a measurement the observer ends up in a superposition of the different possible experimental outcomes.

  • CarlN

    Andrew, religion has never explained anything. It has only confused people very much. It seems you are a prime example. There you are, typing away on a computer and say that mathematics (physics) has never explained anything!

    Count, many worlds?

    Neil, there are a lot of collapse theories out there as well, Penrose, GRW etc.
    Check ‘em out.

    But we must be prepared to accept that reality is sometimes counter-intuitive (but never illogical or inconsistent). Remember, creation “from” nothing is very counter-intuitive but fully logical.

  • John Merryman

    Ali,

    You’re more then welcome. It looked like a good fit.

    Plato,

    Absolute is both everything and nothing, so sometimes the middle path is just a flat line on the heart monitor. The dualisms are inescapable. The circle is actually a spiral.

    Carl,

    The question of eternity confuses form with process. Existence is form, but time is process. Forms come and go as a function of change. If there was no change, there would be no process and no form, so finiteness is necessary for existence. Limits define and definition limits.

    God as absolute is both everything and nothing. So is God absolute, or is the absolute God? That is the real question.

  • charles

    To each of you I woud just say :
    Pax tecum
    Peace be with you .

  • CarlN

    John, no of what you say is coherent. It cannot be discussed at all actually. But that is what religion do to people. It is all fog, no logic.

    Carl

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2007/10/work-in-progress.html Plato

    We are after the Truth?

    SeanI am not looking for reasons why people do or do not believe in God. I want to know what it means. What is the difference between “God exists” and “God does not exist”? To the world, not just to my belief.

    John Baez:In my work I often experience this sense of awesomeness, of depths that pass beyond my understanding – in fact, that’s what I live for. But I don’t find it helpful to package it into a “thing”. After all, this strange “thing” can’t be a normal sort of thing in the universe, so it’s easy to conclude it’s either in some other universe (say, “heaven”), or doesn’t exist at all, or exists in some very tricky sense. But all these alternatives are just distractions, as far as I’m concerned.

    AliEven perception requires proof, he thought, because it involves an inference from the ideas we have to the putative causes ‘outside’ us that must have brought the ideas about. This confidence in method is part of the rationalism of modernity. [...] Such trust in method and proof is an attempt to master truth. It is an attempt to get disclosure under control and to subject it to our wills. If we can get the right method in place, and if our methodical procedures can be helped by computers, we will be able to solve many important problems.

    So it how we arrive at the truth that is important?

    CarlN tries to produce a logic that fails immediately by “contrasting nothing” in his argument. I think by doing this he cannot even begin to formulate any logic that would speaks to the truth?

    Could some one give some clarification here then as to the truth of my statement. If none given then his method to discern the validity of his approach “is wrong.”

    I then postulate that all things have existed forever. It is only our ignorance of what actually exists in reality that prevents us from understanding the full scope of our understanding of God within context of this reality.

  • John Merryman

    Carl,

    Sorry about that. Sometimes impressionism is just meaningless abstraction when one makes too many assumptions about the audience. It’s like trying for a Van Gogh and ending up with a Jackson Pollack. I’ll try clarifying…

    The absolute is both everything and nothing in that the universal state would be the equilibrium of all things. Such that if you add everything together, all the matter and anti-matter, all the particles and anti-particles, all the actions and reactions, al the yin and yang, it cancels out and you just have the void, the flat line on the heart monitor.

    To understand what I’m trying to say about the concept of eternity, you’d have to make some effort to think through my point about time being a function of motion, rather then the basis for it, because in that case time isn’t a line appearing out of the past and disappearing into the future, but the relationship between process and the finite units produced and which define it. Basically the relationship between the eco-system and the organism. In that sense, the very notion of beginning and end is a function of the definition of the units. The paradigm of definition, not a defining paradigm. Process is continually building them up and when it breaks them down again, using the energy, momentum, information, etc. to build the next generation of units, even if it is the next universe out of the crunch of the previous one. There are two directions of time, energy proceeding from one event to the next, while information goes from being future potential to past order.

    The question of whether God is absolute, or the absolute is god, is the distinction between monotheism, ie. God is of such monumental enormity that it is the universal state. As Pope John Paul ll put it, “The all-knowing absolute.” On the other hand, the absolute as god is pantheism, atheism, etc. That of all the things, frames, ideas, ideals, axioms, communities, mountains, pink unicorns, etc. that one might consider as representative of the larger reality, the absolute, that universal state, the fluctuating vacuum of energy in space, the void out of which the singularity arises, whatever, is the most basic.

    If I may be able to triangulate this somewhat, is there anyone reading this who might be able to offer some more insightful commentary, either in agreement or disagreement, other then it’s just too foggy, so that we might be able to pull Carl along in one direction or another?

  • CarlN

    Plato, it seems you have found some logical contradiction in my arguments, but it seems I’m too stupid to understand this. Can you explain this clearly?

    So you postulate the eternity? Well, I say you are postulating the impossible.
    Santa like God (Santa is eternal, mind you), has never started to exist. Santa like God, therefore does not exist. God is anyway the grown-up peoples Santa. ;-)

    Carl

  • http://meadowsweet-myrrh.blogspot.com/ Ali

    I’ve gotten rather lost in this conversation because I’ve only been checking back periodically and scanning the most recent comments, but I wanted to clarify that the passage I’m quoted as citing above (by Plato in #213) is from a discussion by Sokolowski about how phenomenology, as a philosophy, diverges from the more familiar Cartesian dualism in which “truth” is “out there” and our minds (which are trapped “inside,” as Sokolowski describes in the introduction: “the mind taken as this large, hollow sphere, light-filled but shading off into darkness, closed off from both the body and the world”) have no way of “knowing” anything about truth except through the methodology of reason. Phenomenology, instead, says that we can experience the truth of things, truth can be disclosed to us, that “the mind is a public thing,” not isolated from the world, but a “moment” of the world and the things in it (a “moment,” as a phenomenological term, is “a part that cannot subsist or be presented apart from the whole to which it belongs”).

    In short, I was trying to point out that there is more than one way to discover “truth,” and that, if ‘God’ exists, the truth of that existence can disclose itself through the mental and/or spiritual experiences of the individual human being, even if it cannot be “proven” through abstract reasoning. But of course, accepting the possibility that truth can disclose itself through experience as well as through logic means we have to get over the modern insistence that theory and ideas are more “real” than our actual immediate, everyday experiences of reality.

    We’d have to begin taking people–atheists and believers alike–at their word and asking them open-ended clarifying questions, instead of always assuming their ignorance or insincerity and asking questions merely to force them to fit their experiences into our preconceived notions as what counts as “real.” It seems to me that Sean started with a post that did, indeed, ask an open-ended clarifying question, but since then the conversation has taken a slightly more negative turn.

  • CarlN

    John, I’ve tried to get my head around this:

    “The absolute is both everything and nothing in that the universal state would be the equilibrium of all things. Such that if you add everything together, all the matter and anti-matter, all the particles and anti-particles, all the actions and reactions, al the yin and yang, it cancels out and you just have the void, the flat line on the heart monitor.”

    What absolute? What universal state? Are these “things” the result of some theory or is it imagination? Does not look like anti-matter balances for that
    matter either..

    Also what you about time and absolute God, you need to explain how you reach
    your conclusions, and I must say I’m not sure what the conclusions actually are.
    But I might be stupid..

    Consider this: (this is logic by the way, find the errors) Only two situations are possible

    1. There exits nothing
    2. There exists something

    Clearly situation 2 corresponds to reality, otherwise there would be noting to discuss. Why situation 2 instead of situation 1? Note that you cannot use anything existing to explain this. A situation, where for example a god exists, cannot be explained by anything exsisting, that god included.

    So only nothing can be used to explain existence (even the existence of any gods) since nothing does not require an explanation. Nothing does not exist. So existence must come from nothing. There are no other explanations possible.

    We cannot use anything existing to explain existence since that is circular logic.

    Carl

  • John Merryman

    Carl,

    Granted. I don’t assume that a frame exists which can explain everything. There is the point of reference that is my own awareness. I am, therefore I think. While thinking may be an attempt to make sense of the world, it doesn’t mean the world makes sense.

    Because the ground I stand on is unstable in many ways, I don’t have beliefs, I have suppositions. To the extent I’ve read physics and philosophy, one of the primary concepts seems to be that some form of equilibrium exists. This is not necessarily borne out by our experience, at least at the local level, or we would not exist, as everything would be cancelled out.

    But, as you point out, to explain existence without preconditions, we must start with nothing and build from there. So that means that there must be some universal state of equilibrium and existence is local fluctuations, possible because in infinity there is infinite potential.

    Now if you go back and consider my observation about time, you will see that by explaining it as a function of motion, rather then the basis for it, it removes the need to explain where the dimension of time came from and where it is going to.

    While this doesn’t explain the vacuum fluctuations of motion in space, it is one big step in the direction of putting everything back in the box of nothing.

  • John Merryman

    Ali,

    We experience life from past to future, but our comprehension of it is first as potential, then experience, then fades into the past.

    Our minds go from past to future. Our thoughts go from future to past.

    We live our lives from past to future, but our lives are first in the future and then in the past.

  • CarlN

    John,

    The assumption of equilibrium I think is false. Current data show that matter far exceed anti-matter in the observable universe.

    Also existence itself cannot be balanced by an “anti-existence”, which is logically impossible. Non-existence (nothing) is the logical opposite to existence, but “nothing” can obviously not balance out existence.

    There is an irreversibility here. “Something” can logically start to exist “from” nothing, but not the other way. There is at least no logical requirement that “something” that exist, should be able to be reduced back to nothing.
    There is a logical requirement that something comes from nothing but not the other way around. There is no need to explain “nothing” in terms of “something”, but the existence of “something” must be “explained by” nothing in order to avoid circular logic.

    Regarding time, what you say is similar to Leibnitz, and I think it is about right.
    Change cause time not the other way. This is what I wrote in “why something rather than nothing a few weeks back:

    ——
    Personally I think Leibnitz was basically right. Time is “generated” by motion or change. I think it should be like this:

    Forces (bosons)–>change–>time

    There is no time in a universe where nothing (careful with that word!) moves. So time is generated when things are forced to move. If the laws of physics could be recast to reflect this, some additional insights might be found. But maybe not.
    It might be completely equivalent.
    ——

    Carl

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2007/10/work-in-progress.html Plato

    Ali,


    It seems to me that Sean started with a post that did, indeed, ask an open-ended clarifying question, but since then the conversation has taken a slightly more negative turn.

    Ali, I believe this discussion can still be salvaged and referenced back to the post of Sean’s #20. Is this not a good starting point?

    While I am far from being the expert(logic and reason) you have supplied a framework with which to continue this discussion.

    Ali writes:Phenomenology, instead, says that we can experience the truth of things, truth can be disclosed to us, that “the mind is a public thing,” not isolated from the world, but a “moment” of the world and the things in it (a “moment,” as a phenomenological term, is “a part that cannot subsist or be presented apart from the whole to which it belongs”).

    I postulate, “that all things have existed forever. ” There had to be a way in which to include “all possibilities.” That they only indeed “await to be discovered.”

    Ali:But of course, accepting the possibility that truth can disclose itself through experience as well as through logic means we have to get over the modern insistence that theory and ideas are more “real” than our actual immediate, everyday experiences of reality.

    From a spiritual basis, these would be just as tangible “as experience,” because these “could be” the basis of expression “distilled from experience.”

    Ali:We’d have to begin taking people–atheists and believers alike–at their word and asking them open-ended clarifying questions, instead of always assuming their ignorance or insincerity and asking questions merely to force them to fit their experiences into our preconceived notions as what counts as “real.”

    For each of us “personally” it is always trying to accomplish growth. Recognizing this statement of yours , people to me, are generally asking sincere questions about what they are proposing. As scientists “the ideals here about methodology and the procedures of science are commonly understood at this “junction of time.”

    So as a “atheist or non atheist” Sean is I believe asking a sincere question.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2007/10/work-in-progress.html Plato

    “I’m a Platonist — a follower of Plato — who believes that one didn’t invent these sorts of things, that one discovers them. In a sense, all these mathematical facts are right there waiting to be discovered.”Donald (H. S. M.) Coxeter

    While John Baez gave us some indication about “the mystery,” I would allude to the understanding, that one would have had to come to “some point” to make this statement.

    You then arrive at “universality and possibilities” and yet, you have invited a solution in.

    So it is clear, as Arthur Koestler states, “True creativity often starts where language ends.

    By defining “logic and reason,” as a starting point, It can never be “in nothing” for nothing “is” nothing. It has to be “always” some “thing.”

    So yes, people like Lee Smolin might take a stance against what Platonism stands for. “Against symmetry?” and then builds accordingly. Yet what said the spiritual basis does not “pervade the understanding of all reality?”

  • CarlN

    Plato, I’m not sure whether the last one is for me.

    Consider: Reality must be self-consistent. Anything not self-consistent simply cannot exist because it would be in conflict with itself. So anything different from nothing (something that exists), must be logical anyway. Only logical “stuff” can start to exist anyway. No surprise our laws of nature looks like math. We know of nothing(!) else that could make the universe self-consistent.

    Nothing is nothing, but is it logical also? I suppose “nothing” can be viewed as logical since there is literally nothing that needs to be explained about it. And “it” needs of course not any causation either.

    But logic can only really exist when something starts to exist. And any universe that starts to exist (Big Bang!) must be logical and mathematical.

    This explains everything! :-)

    Carl

  • John Merryman

    Carl,

    The assumption of equilibrium I think is false. Current data show that matter far exceed anti-matter in the observable universe.

    You observed something as coming from nothing. That requires some initial equilibrium out of which balanced elements rise. The absolute zero of motionlessness. To break that equilibrium, there must be opposite forces separating. That we are not in contact with the opposite forces is another question, since if we were, the result would annihilate this reality.

    Also existence itself cannot be balanced by an “anti-existence”, which is logically impossible. Non-existence (nothing) is the logical opposite to existence, but “nothing” can obviously not balance out existence.

    Force can be balanced by its opposite. If not actively opposed, as in action causes reaction. The opposite of this existence isn’t non-existence, but the opposing forces which arise as a consequence of this existence.

    There is an irreversibility here. “Something” can logically start to exist “from” nothing, but not the other way. There is at least no logical requirement that “something” that exist, should be able to be reduced back to nothing.
    There is a logical requirement that something comes from nothing but not the other way around. There is no need to explain “nothing” in terms of “something”, but the existence of “something” must be “explained by” nothing in order to avoid circular logic.

    Entropy would seem to be “something” dissolving back into the larger equilibrium.

    Regarding time, what you say is similar to Leibnitz, and I think it is about right.
    Change cause time not the other way. This is what I wrote in “why something rather than nothing a few weeks back:

    ——
    Personally I think Leibnitz was basically right. Time is “generated” by motion or change. I think it should be like this:

    Forces (bosons)–>change–>time

    There is no time in a universe where nothing (careful with that word!) moves. So time is generated when things are forced to move. If the laws of physics could be recast to reflect this, some additional insights might be found. But maybe not.
    It might be completely equivalent.

    As I pointed out, if time is a fundamental dimension, then physical reality travels along it from past events to future ones, but if time is a consequence of motion, then the direction of the passage of time actually goes the other direction, as events go from being future potential to past circumstance. What these two directions do is to distinguish the actual physical reality that goes from past events to future ones, from the information of the events created, which go from future to past. If physics was to consider this, it might explain some of the current anomalies. Such as the problem of quantum uncertainties, where potentialities seem to cause multiple realities, as with Schrodinger’s cat being both dead and alive. As Ali points out, the modern insistence is on theory being more real then “reality,” yet these mathematical models are information, which goes from future to past, so it is simply the wave of future potential collapsing into the order of past circumstance.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2007/10/work-in-progress.html Plato

    CarlN:But logic can only really exist when something starts to exist. And any universe that starts to exist (Big Bang!) must be logical and mathematical.

    I was speaking to Ali in context of his post. I just had to include the logic in that assessment so he did not think this was separate from experience. But to your point.

    The mistake here as I see it, is the assumption about the start of this universe.

    Also, your statement should read,”something does exist” because your recognition of logic has to have already existed before you implemented it. I do not want to dwell much more on that point.

    This exercise for me is about what God means. This has been my effort is to try and explain this. When I talk about universality and possibilities, I am talking about where language/math ends.

    As pointed out John Baez recognized this already and called it a mystery, but he does not want to dwell on that beyond this. I do, and am saying that what that mystery is, is God, the universality, and the possibilities.

    While people concentrate and focus, they had to come to some “end” and “some point” that they throw themself to what next? Call tis the intuitive leap and the “work in progress” leads you to the “topic of intuition.”

  • jeff

    Change cause time not the other way.

    How can there be change without time? Change does not cause time, but embodies it. It’s a tautology – there can be no change without time and no time without change. Time, if it can be explained or is even real, comes from somewhere else.

    Only logical “stuff” can start to exist anyway. No surprise our laws of nature looks like math. We know of nothing(!) else that could make the universe self-consistent.

    “Math” as concept is not logically consistent on its own – see Godel.

  • CarlN

    jeff, time can only be measured comparing some motion against some reference motion. In universe without motion there is no time. Just like distance can’t be measured in a space without any objects (or fields) in it (that actually span the space.

    Godels theorem does not say that math is not consistent. It just say that in a finite
    mathematical structure, one can formulate theorems that can’t be proven or disproven within that structure. One needs to expand the structure in order to decide the truth of these theorems.

    Ultimatly it means that math cannot explain its own existence. That must be shown by an “outside” observation. This observation is that math also is created “from” nothing.

    Carl

  • John Merryman

    Jeff,

    Past and future don’t physically exist, because the energy required is incorporated as the present. If they did, it would require a universe worth of energy to manifest every moment. So what is more efficient(and logical); To have the energy changing form, erasing old as it creates new, or having all points in time existing in some additional dimension and we happen to be where we are? One is incredibly simple, the other incredibly complex. Just think for a moment about driving in traffic; If all points in time exist, then you are at all points on your journey down that road and so are all the other drivers and cars. How is it that you don’t blurr together? How could one moment be so isolated from the next, yet so connected?
    Time is a consequence of motion, similar to temperature, not the basis for it.

  • jeff

    jeff, time can only be measured comparing some motion against some reference motion.

    Time is more than just “change”. I can scan a number line and see 2 change to 3, 3 change to 4, and so on. Does that mean that time flows through the line segment? Is the fact that a sequence of events is ordered enough to create time and confer reality upon them? Not unless you take the view that consciousness is required to manifest time somehow by observing change.

    Some of this was explored years ago by the philosopher McTaggert and his A-series and B-series. He came to the conclusion that time was unreal. Modern cosmology’s view of time corresponds to McTaggerts B series (essentially a static timeline) and assumes that consciousness emerges somehow and creates a perception of time. I personally find this view unsatisifying – time is something more, although I still suspect consciousness is vitally involved somehow. But I still think the future is not a static line – it is truly unknown, otherwise there would be nothing to distinguish it from the past. In this respect, time resembles McTaggerts A-series.

    It is amazing that there no concept of “now” in physics. There are possible “nows” in relativity, but not an actual “now”. The only way to define “now” is by referencing your own consciousness. And yet we use the word everyday as if it had objective meaning.

  • jeff

    Time is a consequence of motion

    If time is a consequence of motion, then why is the measure of motion (“speed”) defined as distance over time?

    If you take the math view of the universe, time appears as primitive variable in all equations. It is never reduced to anything else, and is therefore not a consequence of anything else. At least not yet. It is – a mystery.

  • John Merryman

    Jeff,

    Temperature is a non-linear measure of motion, so “speed” would correspond to “heat.”

    “Equations” are intellectually linear.

    To refer back to my earlier point;

    If two atoms collide, it creates an event in time. While the atoms proceed through this event and on to others, the event goes the other way. First it is in the future, then in the past. This relationship prevails at every level of complexity. The rotation of the earth, relative to the radiation of the sun, goes from past events to future ones, while the units of time/days go from being in the future to being in the past. To the hands of the clock, the face goes counterclockwise.

    So which is the real direction? If time is a fundamental dimension, then physical reality proceeds along it, from past events to future ones. On the other hand, if time is a consequence of motion, then physical reality is simply energy in space and the events created go from being in the future to being in the past. Just as the sun appears to go from east to west, when the reality is the earth rotates west to east.

    Human activity is intensely linear and the more focused we are, the more linear our mindset, but is reality fundamentally linear, or is it just our interaction with our context? Is motion at its most elemental, temperature, ie. activity in space, or is it the sequencing of events, ie. time? The brains of insects have been described as a thermometer. Our minds are largely a function of narrative. Time may be elemental to us, but that may simply be a matter of our perspective.

  • CarlN

    Jeff, John,

    I have written earlier that in physics you are actually free to regard momentum as more fundamental than time.

    Naively stated: p = dq/dt , viewing p as fundamental, time is generated by dt = dq/p. Or dø/dt = Hø. Time is generated by dt= dø/Hø, H a constant hamiltonian. Not that any new insights are obtained from this. Just trying to make a point.

    And we might note that for observers without memory there is no time. Observers without memory cannot see any motion as they cannot tell a change in scene from one moment to the next. They have no concept of the past and cannot know there is a future. Only the present exists.

    So the human perception of time is totally dependent on our memory. This makes it difficult to get a “logical” understanding of what time “is”. But I still think time is something not fundamental. Time works very well in physics, we all know that, but I think it can be “improved” on. :-)

  • John Merryman

    Carl,

    Having discussed the issue over the years, I can tell you that whatever the various historical and logical conceptions of time may be, there are quite a few academics and scientists with significant personal investment in time as a fundamental dimension and they won’t let go easily. It’s “spacetime” and that’s that.

    A philosophic observation occurred to me today, that if time is a fundamental dimension, with life traveling toward the future, we don’t know what is in store and the sense is that we have little control over events, so we are simply consumers and we are what we consume. On the other hand, if reality is simply the present in motion and all we can know is the past receding, then we are what we produce and set free.

  • jeff

    Naively stated: p = dq/dt , viewing p as fundamental, time is generated by dt = dq/p. Or dø/dt = Hø. Time is generated by dt= dø/Hø, H a constant hamiltonian. Not that any new insights are obtained from this. Just trying to make a point.

    Well, of course, you can argue that these equations show observed or computed relationships and not “fundamentality” – the same is true in relativistic equations relating time, space, and gravity.

    And we might note that for observers without memory there is no time. Observers without memory cannot see any motion as they cannot tell a change in scene from one moment to the next. They have no concept of the past and cannot know there is a future. Only the present exist

    And that is really the issue. Is what we call time the past, present, and future (A-series)? Or is it a continuous static dimension (B-series)? If time is a static dimension (like our models say), then all times exist at once and everything is determined. Time would only be structural dimension of the universe. But if the future truly does not exist (yet), then time is something more, and is quite real. The uncertainty principle seems to argue for the second choice (A-series).

    It’s also very difficult to integrate the notion of “now” with a static time line. Which “now” on the line is real if all times exist at once? Why is it the one you’re experiencing? And if “now” is subjective, that would also mean that the past and the future are also subjective.

    To deny “now” is to deny consciousness, and to deny consciousness is to deny reality, since reality cannot ever be separated from your consciousness.

  • jeff

    Is motion at its most elemental, temperature, ie. activity in space, or is it the sequencing of events, ie. time?

    As normally understood, motion is a relationship between matter/energy, space, and (optionally) time. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems that you are turning things around and considering motion as fundamental, with matter, space, and time as consequences? But in your model, suppose that “motion” were instantaneous. Would time “emerge” then? That would seem to argue that time is indeed an element of motion, or at least on equal par with it.

  • John Merryman

    Jeff,

    But in your model, suppose that “motion” were instantaneous. Would time “emerge” then?

    “Instantaneous” is a concept based on time. The fact is that most motion is at the speed of light, which from our perspective may as well be instantaneous. The mind is like a factory and the product is individual thoughts. If it didn’t function by producing these flashes of perception, much like a movie consists of a series of individual frames, everything would just be a blur of energy. So our minds proceed toward the future, as these conceptual units fall away into the past. Just as the projector light goes from prior frames to subsequent ones, as these frames go from being in the future to being in the past.

    That would seem to argue that time is indeed an element of motion, or at least on equal par with it.

    Of course and so is temperature. Just as energy and information are two sides of the same coin. Part of the argument is against the concept of information, laws etc. as some type of Platonic ideal that exists “out there,” whether it is expressed or not. Time and temperature do not exist, except as functions of motion and motion could not exist without causing the effects of time and temperature.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2007/10/work-in-progress.html Plato

    John Merryman:

    Part of the argument is against the concept of information, laws etc. as some type of Platonic ideal that exists “out there,”

    That is part of the problem as I see it. You see these things as a “tangible part of reality” and yet there is no finer expression of them? You do not allow probability and possibilities as a “universal part of expression,” yet, we have these things in relation to the quantum world.

    Our focus defines and confines them, yet out of all these possibilities there is a instantaneous effect of our own causations in the life of expression. A ripple effect in the world.

    “Out there” and “inside” cannot go unlinked.

    The very presence of the finer forms of expression, force us to the reducible elements and we quickly find that this cyclical nature, if oft the recognition of those two sides of the coin. Yet, we are not apart from this?

  • joseph michael

    What if (*od was only an expression for the global consciousness of mankind? I had always assumed the story of Adam and Eve was about Adams first presumption of the world prior to Eve’s contemplation, where as he experienced a third-party perspective thought, a fundamental voice-of-consciousness that is experienced shortly after being given the gift of language. His subconscious speaks to him through his emotions, he is calm as he explorers the entire garden until he reaches a tree which makes him nervous… he makes a mental note of it, and after Eve precedes him, he teaches her, that all that he found in the garden, all but one tree felt safe to him; however, when she reaches the tree by her own and discovers no subconscious reaction, due to her predisposed thought of Adams God, that she mistakingly was bitten by a snake and rushed the fruit back to Adam as first testament, and fed him with his original sin,…. abstractly defining our voice of reason, one human consciousness….

    this is,

    -yo

  • John Merryman

    Plato,

    I’m in agreement with you. The ideal is a construct. The absolute is the essential out of which both form and function rise. Principles rise with the reality they define.

  • CarlN

    jeff, I checked out McTaggart, his A and B (and C!) series does not make much sense to me. It seems like he is reproducing the Zeno paradox once more. But he did say (just like me) that in a universe without motion there is no time. So time is unreal he says. That can of course be right (as I also suspect), but I’m not sure about the way he did it yet.

  • jeff

    CarlN: McTaggarts philosophy doesn’t settle anything one way or the other (nor does philosophy in general), and many don’t agree with his conclusions. But he does call attention to to some important ways of looking at time. Modern physics definitely corresponds to his “B-series”. But his A-series is the way most people think of time intuitively. He thought the A-series was self-contradictory due to the Zeno-like logic you mentioned. I should point out that there are other powerful arguments against the A-series, such as relativistic simultaneity (look it up if you’re interested). Again, philosophy can be helpful in defining and understanding problems, but not solving them – science is required for that.

    Much depends on the ontology of the future – does it “exist” or not? If it does, then the B-series is correct. If not, then there is a very real boundary between the past and the future that we call “now”.

    When you say “in a universe without motion there is no time”, I have no argument with that – except to say that I think it’s a tautology, since motion involves time. If you say that time emerges from “change”, then I think (depending on exactly what you mean by “change”) that it’s also a tautology.

  • John Merryman

    Jeff,

    Motion also involves temperature, but no one tries arguing that motion is based on a dimension of temperature.

    As for relativistic simultaneity, why wouldn’t that be possible in a reality that doesn’t have a dimension of time? I think it would make more sense, not less, if there is only the present.

  • John Merryman

    Scratch that. I was thinking of quantum entanglement. Still, time as a consequence of motion doesn’t make it any less relative. As I recall, one of the reasons time is relative is because atomic activity is affected by velocity and gravity, so that the rate of change is affected. Well guess what? Atomic activity is temperature, so temperature is also relative.

  • CarlN

    Jeff, regarding time, it is pretty clear to me that the future does not exist. And quantum indeterminacy would say it cannot possibly exist. Neither does the past. We only know that the past existed because of its “imprint” on the present, memory, fossils etc.

    Time in the physical equations seems to serve as an index that label the various “presents” in order to see how the “present” evolve due to motion or forces.

  • CarlN

    Back to God, time and eternity,

    Why is something eternal impossible? This includes God, math, physics and logic.

    1. Considering something eternal an explanation for its existence cannot be given. If we assume there is something eternal, a Theory of Everything becomes impossible. There will always be something we cannot explain the existence of. Since reality is self-consistent an explanation for existence must exist.

    2. For something eternal to exist, it needs to cause its own existence. This is impossible. Why? It first needs to exist to cause its existence and also it first needs to cause its existence to exist. So there is no “things” (gods included) that can cause its own existence. Neither can math or logic.

    3. For something to exist a sufficient reason must be afforded. Eternal existence
    outside of “time” does not help. A reason for its existence must still be provided.
    Nothing does not need any explanation on the other hand. Why something instead of nothing?

    4. We note that eternal “things” have something in common with non-existent
    “things”. They both have never started to exist. So in view of the above we can equate: Eternal = non-existent

    Santa does not exist because he never started to exist. Same for God. Not so for the universe which actually started to exist (Big Bang).

    Since nothing is eternal, and everything needs a start in their existence, we are forced to conclude that things that exist are created “from” nothing.

    What is the sufficient reason for existence?

    1. “When” nothing exists there are no hinders for something (universes) to start to exist. Any such hinders don’t exist “when” nothing exist.

    2. There are no conditions the need to be fulfilled for something to start to exist
    “when” nothing exist. Any such conditions don’t exist “when” nothing exists.

    3. No causation is needed for something to start to exist “when” nothing exits. Such need for causation does not exist “when” nothing exists.

    The self-consistency of reality requires that there is an explanation for everything, including existence. Existence comes from nothing. There is no other
    “place” it can come from.

    No wonder there is a start to our universe.

  • Garth Barber

    Carl, you obviously are convinced by your sequence on non-sequitors, do you realise others are not?
    For example:

    If we assume there is something eternal, a Theory of Everything becomes impossible. There will always be something we cannot explain the existence of. Since reality is self-consistent an explanation for existence must exist.

    1. The ‘Real’ world is self-consistent, it also exists, but I would maintain that its existence need not be explicable. Why must something that is self consistent also be totally explicable? You have made a step of faith in drawing a conclusion others would dispute. Godel’s arithmetic systems exist and are internally self consistent yet incomplete.

    It first needs to exist to cause its existence and also it first needs to cause its existence to exist.

    2. You contend that the existence of something needs to be caused. I would contend that a thing can exist without cause. How do you prove which statement is true? Without proof you are making an unprovable statement of faith, that others do not necessarily agree with.

    For something to exist a sufficient reason must be afforded

    Again, prove this statement.

    We note that eternal “things” have something in common with non-existent “things”. They both have never started to exist. So in view of the above we can equate: Eternal = non-existent

    As you say, “in view of the above”, so your argument completes the circle. Without your act of faith the argument becomes circular, for if indeed something can exist without explanation then there is also a difference between it and ‘non-existent things’: it exists whereas they do not.

    1. “When” nothing exists there are no hinders for something (universes) to start to exist. Any such hinders don’t exist “when” nothing exist.

    As we have argued on the thread “Why is there something rather than nothing”, my comment still stands: “Its not that your logical argument doesn’t provide an explanation of the existence of something from ‘nothing’, it’s that it can explain anything and everything from ‘nothing’.

    There is no structure, no discipline, and there are no rules in the explanation – it is this that I find to be no explanation at all. It gets me no further in answering the original question, though I concede that that is a personal opinion: you obviously find it profound, whereas I find it empty.”

    But then we agree to disagree!

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Well Garth, it depends on whether you want an explanation or not. You do not want an explanation since that suits you.

    1. How can something be consistent while not being explainable? If something cannot be logically explained, even in principle, it will be non-logical. That means again it will not be self-consistent.

    2. If a sufficient reason for the existence of reality cannot be given (even in principle), by the same argument the existence of reality will be illogical and contradict itself. So the conclusion is that there is a reason.

    The only way to break the circular logic around the question of why reality exists, is to realize that it comes “from” nothing.
    :-)

  • Garth Barber

    It is not that not having an explanation for something suits me, on the contrary I look for explanations, the point is however that you have not proved self-consistent systems always have an explanation, you have had to assume it.

    How can something be consistent while not being explainable?

    Are there statements in the language of Godel’s formal arithmetic systems that cannot be proven or refuted? Are those systems consistent? Then explain them.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth, we’ve been over this before I believe..

    “Godels theorem does not say that math is not consistent. It just say that in a finite
    mathematical structure, one can formulate theorems that can’t be proven or disproven within that structure. One needs to expand the structure in order to decide the truth of these theorems.

  • Garth Barber

    Absolutely, the Godel mathematical systems are consistent, they exist and yet are not complete. Whence comes the proof or refutation of a statement purporting to explain their existence?

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth, while math might be infinitely extended as an intellectual “game”, reality probably only “use” a finite subset such as logic. Gødel also proved that logic is complete:

    From Wiki:

    “Gödel’s completeness theorem is an important theorem in mathematical logic which was first proved by Kurt Gödel in 1929. It states, in its most familiar form, that in first-order logic every logically valid formula is provable.

    The word “provable” above means that there is a formal deduction of the formula. Such a deduction is a finite list of steps in which each step either invokes an axiom or is obtained from previous steps by a basic inference rule. Given such a deduction, the correctness of each of its steps can be checked algorithmically (by a computer, for example, or by hand).

    A formula is called logically valid if it is true in every model for the language of the formula. In order to formally state Gödel’s completeness theorem, one has to define what the word model means in this context. This is a basic definition in model theory.

    Put another way, Gödel’s completeness theorem says that the inference rules of first-order predicate calculus are “complete” in the sense that no additional inference rule is required to prove all the logically valid formulas. A converse to completeness is soundness. The fact that first-order predicate calculus is sound, i.e., that only logically valid statements can be proven in first-order logic, is asserted by the soundness theorem. ”

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    Carl,

    I am not talking about the provability of logical systems but the incompleteness of formal systems containing a certain part of arithmetic.

    In such a consistent formal arithmetic system, M, a statement can be constructed in the language of M which is neither provable nor refutable in M.

    You maintain that a self consistent ‘thing’ has to be explainable.

    I ask you to prove this statement for all self consistent ‘things’ and give an arithmetic system ‘M’ as a counter example. The fact that such systems are incomplete means that you cannot be assured in all cases that an explanation – a statement constructed in the language of M – exists, while the self consistent M might indeed exist.

    You then conclude that nothing can be eternal.

    As I think you are in error to think that all self consistent ‘things’ have to have an explanation, I think it is perfectly logical to accept the possibility of ‘things’ existing eternally, without beginning or end, they just ‘are’.

    Returning to the theme of this thread I think it is perfectly logical to accept the possibility that the universe, going through an endless cycle of ‘Big Bangs’ might be eternal.

    I also think it is perfectly logical to accept the possibility that mathematics, including incomplete arithmetic systems, are eternal, in the sense that they are always ‘true’ even if there are no human minds around to think so.

    Furthermore, I also think it is perfectly logical to accept the possibility of an eternal God to exist ‘eternally’. I define God as the author and guarantor of the laws of science – the agent that (constantly) “breathes fire into the equations, making a universe for them to describe.”

    In the last two cases I use the word ‘eternal’ to mean both ‘at all times’ and also ‘outside time’, i.e. on some higher than 4 dimension space-time manifold.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth, the point is that all propositions are true or false. There is no such things that are “undecidable” in principle. Consistency means that there is nothing undecidable. If something seems to be undecidable in system M, use a larger system that contains M. No problem.

    The intrinsic “unexplainability” of an assumed eternal existence just shows it cannot exist. You are forced into circular logic, showing that the assumption is wrong.

    Carl

  • JimV

    . If something seems to be undecidable in system M, use a larger system that contains M. No problem

    Goldbach’s Conjecture (GC): every even number greater than 2 is the sum of two primes.

    Before Gödel’s work, mathematicians believed that, in principle, either GC could be proved to be true, or a counter-example could be found to prove that it is false. Now we know there is a third possibility: it could just “happen” to be true – not for any provable reason but just because that for every even number greater than two, there happens to be be two prime numbers which add up to it. The only “larger system” which could be used to prove or disprove this would be to physically check every even integer. (At least this is my understanding.)

    Summary: I agree with Garth, on this point.

  • CarlN

    JimV, All physicists know that GR and/or QM must be modified or replaced because
    they are not compatible. Self-consistency of reality forces this conclusion.

    Limited human knowledge on some math issues should be no source of confusion on this point.

    No one in their right mind would think “oh well, GR do clash with QM but maybe that is the way reality is. Why should reality be consistent?”

    A reality that is not consisent is a reality that does not exist. However, there may be no limit to how much math that can be invented. No one can claim that reality actually “uses” all of this math. We don’t know how much “it” uses.

  • Garth Barber

    Carl,

    Garth, the point is that all propositions are true or false. There is no such things that are “undecidable” in principle. Consistency means that there is nothing undecidable. If something seems to be undecidable in system M, use a larger system that contains M. No problem.

    Are you claiming that the larger system that contains M is actually complete? Unfortunately it also fulfils the conditions of incompleteness as proven by Godel. Or do you envisage a embedded hiearchy of such systems, each higher system providing the incomplete explanation of the one below? “Turtles all the way down”

    The intrinsic “unexplainability” of an assumed eternal existence just shows it cannot exist. You are forced into circular logic, showing that the assumption is wrong.

    Again, even with the knowledge that formal lofical systems containing an arithmetic are incomplete, you are making an assertion on which your whole argument is based: “A self-consistent system with an intrinsic “unexplainability” cannot exist”.

    I say they can exist, ‘mystery’ is an inherent part of existence. So prove that it is your assertion that is the correct one.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth, as there is no limit to the amount of math that can be constructed, there is no limit to the amount of propositions that can be decided. We might view math as a sort of Hilberts hotell, where it is always room for more guests even if there is a guest in every room.

    Something that is without limit cannot be described as “complete” (in your sense of the word I guess). So this is the situation for math. But its self-consistency is not affected by this. Actually anything that is not consistent is not part of math by definition.

    Whether reality (the laws of physics) “uses” a finite or infinite “amount of of math” in order to “work” is of course an open question as well. Probably (hopefully) only a finite amount.

    Something that cannot be explained is something that is not logical. Something that is not logical is not consistent and its existence will conflict with itself. So it cannot exist.

  • JimV

    CarlN: we seem to be talking past each other. My point was simply that nowhere in his work did Gödel prove that there is always a “larger system” which could be used to resolve undecideable propositions; and unless you have such a proof, you are not entitled to have us accept your assumption. According to Gödel, by my understanding, there are things we are never going to know, and whether Goldbach’s Conjecture is true may be one of them. Whether an incomprehensible, undefinable, hidden entity exists or does not exist may be another.

    (My understanding is based on “Gödel Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” by Douglas R. Hofstadter, which I recommend highly.)

  • CarlN

    JimV, I believe I did not say that Gødel proved that there always are a larger system? But this is the assumption for all mathematicians who work on such problems like the Goldbach’s Conjecture. A proof (or disproof) will be found sooner or later. That there will always be some unresolved “conjectures” at any particular time does not mean a ting.

    What is interesting to discuss would be: Does nature (laws of physics) in any way depend on whether or not even numbers can be written as the sum of two primes?

    Suppose nature does need that even numbers are the sum of two primes. Since nature actually exist we see that the conjecture must be true even before we have found the mathematical proof.

  • Garth Barber

    Carl,

    your whole argument and its conclusion hangs on the assertion:

    For something to exist a sufficient reason must be afforded

    Prove it.

    I make the following assertion:
    ‘A thing can exist without there being a sufficient reason for its existence, it always has been in existence and always will exist’, it simply ‘is’.

    Disprove this statement.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth, no. It does not work that way. You prove it. :-)

    I have already proven my stuff:

    “1. How can something be consistent while not being explainable? If something cannot be logically explained, even in principle, it will be non-logical. That means again it will not be self-consistent.

    2. If a sufficient reason for the existence of reality cannot be given (even in principle), by the same argument the existence of reality will be illogical and contradict itself. So the conclusion is that there is a reason.

    The only way to break the circular logic around the question of why reality exists, is to realize that it comes “from” nothing. ”

    This disproves your stuff, by the way. :-)

  • Garth Barber

    Well actually I haven’t discussed ‘my stuff’, I have just tried to understand your position and given counter arguments and possible examples for the sake of our mutual enlightenment. The whole point of my last post was that I do not think you have ‘proven your stuff’.

    Firstly, given that you think you have a logically watertight case that proves everything had to come from ‘nothing’, that it just ‘jumped out’ of the void in full working order complete with a set of mathematics, physics, biology etc., I think actually the onus is on you to prove your assertions that lead to that conclusion.

    The assertion I find most problematic is your conviction that the self-consistency of a system requires the existence of an explanation of that system’s existence.

    This of course begs the question of what constitutes an explanation (“sufficient reason”) for existence. That notwithstanding, I can envisage a mathematical system, such as an arithmetic, that is self-consistent but the existence of which is left unexplained, for it is simply there (‘true’).

    Secondly, would not reality itself be self-inconsistent by your own argument because its existence had no ‘apriori’ cause or explanation? The fact that ‘in nothing’ there was ‘nothing’ to prevent it from coming into existence does not in itself constitute an explanation for its existence. That is why I found your conclusion absurd, in the sense of the argument being self-contradictory.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Ok Garth, let’s go over it again.

    We cannot explain existence using existence. That’s circular logic. We could choose to believe that stuff (like God or math or the universe) just exist like you do. That means we are taking a position (without any proof!) that no explanation is possible. This is what I would call stupidity (sorry!). Why on Earth should there be no explanation for a simple question “why something rather than nothing”?

    So simply avoiding the circular logic and refusing to accept the “no-explanation-possible”, one is forced to conclude that something comes “from” nothing.

    And again, a reality that can’t be explained (also meaning it is not self-consistent) does not exist.

    Well, prove that the no-explanation-possible theory is correct, and I’ll change my mind. :-)

  • Garth Barber

    Well, in order that I might answer the question about the possibility of a self-consistent system not having an explanation for existing, would you define what you consider does constitute a valid explanation or “sufficient reason” for existence?

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth, a sufficient reason for existence is that it starts to exist “from” nothing. This explains it. Simple as that. I’ve earlier shown how this is logical. Nothing can’t prevent it from happening. No causation is needed as such “need” does not exist “when” nothing exists.

    Postulating anything that has no explanation for its existence, where does that leave you? You end up believing in anything.

    We need a logical explanation for existence. Nothing else will do.

    You give your explanation, just keep it logical. Then you can convince me.

  • Garth Barber

    Carl,
    do you not see your statement: “a sufficient reason for existence is that it starts to exist “from” nothing. “, even if a logical deduction from your premise, conveys ‘nothing’?

    It is you who “ends up believing in anything” for ‘anything’ can also come from nothing, if there is ‘nothing’ to prevent it.

    I would see a sufficient reason for the existence of a physical object at a time tn the causal components at time tn-1 that formed the object at time tn.

    Let us look at concepts of time, here I have ordered events in a causal web along a time-like axis tn, tn+1, tn+2 etc. In the standard GR theory the existence of a singularity at t0 appears to mark a first instant and indeed the universe may have simply have started to exist “from” nothing.

    If that were so then one interpretation of the data might reasonably be, “What a miracle!”

    However this is not the only possibility.

    Many workers in the field believe that the existence of the singularity signifies the breakdown of the GR theory at this event, and as an alternative, suggest that through the Planck era quantum effects create a bounce, a tunnel from a previously existing universe. Thus the existence of our universe in its earliest moments is derived from the existence of a previous one, and that from an even earlier one ad infinitum.

    A further possibility might be to recognise different definitions and ways of measuring time itself. If We can define two physically significant times as follows:

    Sample two photons, one emitted by a caesium atom the other sampled from the peak intensity of the CMB radiation.

    The first, an “atomic” second, is defined as the duration of exactly 9.19263177×109 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom.

    The second, a “photonic” second, is defined as the duration of exactly 1.604×1011 periods of the radiation corresponding to the peak of the CMB black body spectrum.

    Both systems of time measurement are physically significant and agree with each other in the present era, although they will diverge from each other at other times.

    When compared to the atomic standard, the “photonic” clock in the linearly expanding model, extrapolated back to the earliest moments of the BB, diverges to (-) inifinity as atomic time t->0.

    Thus in this model we can recover “an infinitely old universe” within an apparently finite (as measured by an “atomic” clock) BB paradigm.

    Furthermore, if ephemeris time is that measured in the “photonic” system, as it is in a certain suggested alternatives to GR, then the Pioneer spacecraft will appear to have an anomalous sunwards acceleration of cH or 6.69×10-8 cm.sec-2; such an acceleration aP = (8.74±1.33)×10-8 cm.sec-2 is actually observed. (Allowing for drag and radiation non-inertial forces and uncertainty in H.)

    Thus in one time system the universe started to exist “from” nothing, and in the other it has always existed. Both descriptions of time lead to the same self consistent and ‘existing’ universe, but it the second perspective on time there is no explanation for the universe’s existence, it always ‘was’.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth, no I do not believe in “anything” as you know I say that only self-consistent “things” can start t exist. This also explain why the laws of nature looks like math (or actually is math).

    This universe might be the only self-consistent “thing” that can start to exist “from” nothing. But there may also be others, I don’t know.

    Nothing explains a lot! :-)

    Add to this the impossibility of eternal existence (for a number of reasons). One is that eternal existence has no explanation. If we insist on logic we are forced to reject it.

    Why eternal existence instead of nothing is the one you should explain.

  • CarlN

    Garth, we also now know that the universe will be expanding forever. There is no endless cycles of expansions and contractions. The universe started from nothing and will expand forever.

    This was a one off. Enjoy while you can. :-)

  • Garth Barber

    Carl,

    The universe started from nothing and will expand forever.

    This was a one off.

    That conclusion is model dependent. Cosmological models change with the season, wait for the next SNe Ia type discovery. However, even if this universe is expanding ‘forever’ it does not mean that there were no precedents to it.

    In the eternal inflation model, or in Smolin’s Cosmic Natural Selection hypothesis, such universes as ours are constantly budding off one another’for ever’.

    Actually I like the once off ‘universe’, it is a very Western, rather than Eastern way of looking at time, but then I am from the ‘West’ and that preference is probably just a prejudice of mine…

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth, it is not model dependent. It only depends on observations. And it fits very well with creation from nothing. We use Occams razor on the rest.

  • Pingback: More discussion about “The God Delusion” « My agnostic views

  • Garth Barber

    Carl,
    Your quote from the “Quirks and Quarks: Before the Big Bang” thread:

    Oh man, as long as physicists believe that there can be anything eternal explaining existence, how can we say to religious people there is no eternal god how (who?) created the universe?

    I thought I would respond in this thread as the subject here is ‘God’ rather than a discussion of the physical theorizing about the pre BB state.

    You seem to have an emotional commitment to your “it starts to exist “from” nothing” conjecture.

    First, as I was saying above, the majority of the effort today in pondering the origins of our present universe is to see it as having precedents. Most would think that an eternal universe in whatever form is actually more easy to hold from an atheistic point of view rather than one that had a definite beginning at a first moment of time. Fred Hoyle certainly expressed this opinion over the Steady State versus Big Bang controversy in the 1950′s and ’60′s.

    This is not necessarily the case, as in Stephen Hawking’s initial condition hypothesis: “The only initial condition is that there is no initial condition”, He conceived the topology of the BB itself as like that of the North Pole, “What came before the BB?” being the same sort of question as “What is north of the North Pole?” He used a concept of imaginary time to evade an actual singularity and to produce a spherically connected causal web. There does not seem to be much mileage in this approach at present, although it would be consistent with your argument.

    However, whatever our view on the origin, or otherwise, of physical time may be, it says nothing about the existence of ‘God’ or not. A significant theological movement today is that of Process Theology in which God changes with time.

    So in this view, if God is necessarily bound up with the physical universe, as the author and guarantor of its scientific laws, and if the universe ‘started to exist “from” nothing’, then a self-consistent God too could have started to exist from nothing, with the universe; for ‘nothing’ would have prevented it happening.

    I find that most religious believers are actually happier with the idea of a non-eternal universe, so your comment quoted above would not seem to apply.

    Regards,
    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth, I agree it is a good idea to look “behind” BB if there was any indication something was there. But there is not (yet at least). So Occams razor say it is childish to speculate about.

    The point is we do know that BB is the start of it all, coming from nothing. Anything
    else is excess baggage. Until observations might say otherwise.

    However, I a bit fed up of this now. As the quote shows! :-)

  • CarlN

    Garth, one thing more. Of course a self-consistent god could start to exist “from” nothing and then created the physical laws etc. That is almost OK. It is logical, but there is still some excess baggage.

    And again, anything eternal gives us no explanation. So it is not logical and must be rejected.

  • Garth Barber

    anything eternal gives us no explanation. So it is not logical and must be rejected.

    For all the reasons I have given above I do not agree with this conclusion, even though the universe, God etc., in fact, may turn out not be eternal.

    a sufficient reason for existence is that it starts to exist “from” nothing.

    Is not this an example of a ‘non reason’ rather than ‘sufficient reason’?

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth, I know my English language is not always clear. Sometimes my thoughts are not so clear also. :-)

    When something starts to exist (without anything causing it), it is caused by nothing
    (that exists).

    Can we say it is caused by nothing? The multiple meanings of “nothing” is confusing. We should not think of this as “nothing” doing an act of causation. Nothing can’t “do” anything.

    Nothing only affords a logical explanation for existence. Saying that nothing is a “sufficient reason” is misleading. Well, it depends on how the word “reason” is understood. Sorry! :-)

    Eternal “stuff”: As you know there are also other “reasons” for rejecting the eternal.

  • Leo

    GOD means “Great Ordinary Delusion” (contradictio in adjecto intended).

  • Garth Barber

    Leo: you are perfectly entitled to your opinion.

    And I am entitled to hold my opinion: “I define God as the author and guarantor of the laws of science – the agent that (constantly) “breathes fire into the equations, making a universe for them to describe.”

    In light of the recent discussion above such a God could be eternal, atemporal or temporal and “if the universe ’started to exist “from” nothing’, then a self-consistent God too could have started to exist from nothing, with the universe; for ‘nothing’ would have prevented it happening.”

    Regards,
    Garth

  • Chris H

    God is not one but a series of memes that are tied together by the word “God.” They have evolved in a way in western society that allows for these multiple understandings to coexist and reinforce each other but have no logical coherence. It makes it impossible to argue against “God” because if you argue against one conception, then people with another conception can say “no, no, no, you are misunderstanding it.”

    These memes are very resilient because they have had a lot of time for evolution. For a very long time, theology was the most discussed and debated topic there was. It made up the vast majority of printed work before the enlightenment. With that much focus, they became very refined in the intellectual circles. I would venture to say that the tenuous nature of most “intellectual” God memes is that part of intellectual discourse requires a measured nuanced approach. You can still see this in arguments made by people like Skinner.

    At the same time, God memes had a lot of time to develop among the “common” people. These memes were not as likely to be developed amongst equals but rather handed down from religious leaders. Although they were not as subject to debate, they still had to evolve in order to compete with other theologies and the current economic and political landscape. For example, the “holy father” meme works very well in an environment that is trying to promote the “divine right of kings” meme. The “hell” meme also makes a lot more sense if it was developed as something that was not necessarily subjected series intellectual debate, but rather as a meme that could be understood on a visceral level by the uneducated. You still see these memes in the evangelical fundamentalist community. They make zero rational sense but they were never meant to. Also, since they explicitly reject rationalism, they have a habit of spinning off even crazier memes like pushed by this guy.

  • Spirit O

    God is the highest ideal that a person should strive to be. How that ideal is defined is something that will be influenced by the experiences of one’s life. We are not born wise, but by living in a thoughtful mind we become so. This ideal is ‘not’ something that should be accepted on blind-faith from the recorded ancients, but something that evolves in a philosophically reflective process of trial and error from living a life of good intentions. The closest theological term that I will twist into this definition is that of the ‘Holy Spirit’. A better word is ‘Love’ (God is Love. Or rather, Love is God). This ideal is just that, the ideal that even a conscious God has to consider. A conscious God must be judged against this ideal.

    Now, I do believe there is a conscious God as well. But this God is not omnipotent. I believe that He thinks He is God, but can’t prove it. If people on earth can be deluded into thinking their God, then God can be so deluded as well … by a higher power that has not yet revealed Herself to Him, possibly. In the end, God must fear His own jugement if He does not do a good job of raising our family of humanity (and I’m sure you feel it looks like it’s been a disaster).

    As far a proving the existence of a conscious God. Well, only He can do that. No army of Christians professing their faith is reason enough to believe. God must account for Himself in a personal way to each person. To expect someone to base their believe on the written word of some ancient men is not reasonable or fair. Those words only amount to a statement of their faith. To believe them is only a faith in just them. It does not amount to having faith in God, just a hope. Besides, what does it mean to believe in something anyway? Is believing in God a question of thinking His existence is a fact of truth? Or does it mean that you ‘trust’ that He will be a good friend (i.e. I believe in you.)?

    What is my personal experience with this conscious God? I’m sure you can guess. Mental illness. But I hope you don’t think I am as crazy as that sounds. I do not believe I am God, but I do think He wants me to become as close to his equal as he can get me. No supernatural powers or nothing, but a right to demand some respect from him.

    Finally, I do not believe in hell. Everyone makes it. We are all pre-destined to get to heaven. Keep the faith. Keep doing your best. Regards.

  • Interested

    The question is there “hell” piques me more than is there “God”. I am comfortable with there is God and there is no God, and either way, my view of life is same. But is there hell, begs the question is there suffering – whether human earthly suffering of famines, wars, diseases, emtional pain, metaphysical suffering of fear of not going to heaven (? not quite sure how to put it). Yes there IS suffering but if anyone looks too much at it, perspective can be lost. If we can but know it, take small bite sizes, keep perspective and loosen attachment, to be detached in thought, word and deed, as far as humanly possible, then maybe we can lessen suffering for self and thus for others. Amen. Love.

  • Speedy Gonzalez

    Please Tell Me What “Santa Claus” Means
    Sweet holy mother of Jesus! Could there be a better case of complete mumbo-jumbo-confusion. Next step would be treatment at the Argument Clinic

    This is what you get when mixing objective/logical/scientific approach with religion/mysticism/feelings.

    What went wrong?
    1) Atheists cannot prove scientifically that God does not exist.
    2) Religious people cannot prove scientifically that God does exist.
    3) There is more than one official God/religion on this planet (historically; plenty).
    4) On top of that: Many religious people have their most personal interpretation of God.

    Well, Sean didn’t ask for scientific proof, did he? No, not explicitly. But if you ask; “how would things be different if God didn’t exist?”, and don’t accept woolly answers, you’re in fact asking for proof.

    You might as well ask; Please Tell Me What “Santa Claus” Means and get loads of inconsistent and meaningless answers.

    People are free to believe in Santa Claus or God, or anything else they prefer. The messy part starts when you mix non-logical things with the logical world of science, politics, economics, legislation, etc.

    (Many may disagree that politician like George W. Bush meet the criteria for the logical world, but that’s another topic. ;) )

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    I think that God, or really gods, spirits, totems etc, emerged with our capacity for language. Language gave us the ability to personify the natural world, rain gods, river spirits, the buffalo spirit etc, which had the ability to communicate information about the environment from generation to generation. We project our consciousness onto the world. God emerged from story telling, and ontologically has the same status as any character in a work of literature. The Bible is literature with lots of stories — some of them strange and violent.

    In our more recent history with civilizations the early spirits and gods of the forest became larger gods, often agricultural in nature, and the in the late bronze age the monotheistic idea emerged. In East Asia the whole idea of gods was largely abandoned. Yet Buddhism is filled with parochial “kitchen gods.” Monotheism has largely come to dominate the world, particularly through Christianity and Islam. This tendency to believe in gods or God has little to do with any philosophical reasoning, but that our brains may be wired in such as way that we easily slip into believing such things. We even do it in a temporary sense when we read or watch a horror story — and the movie “The Sixth Sense” was very good. I don’t believe in ghosts (a sort of god-like entity) in any way.

    In the ancient world there were the few who rejected the idea of gods, but largely people stuck to their gods. Lucretius argued forcefully against the god-idea, but Romans were very superstitious people. In today’s world there are far greater reasons, in particular the scientific world view, to at least question the existence of the supernatural. Religion has a terrible time with science. However, while science can win on the reasoning front, religion still has that emotional or psychological appeal. Religion seems to easily excite certain neural circuits in our brains.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Count Iblis

    In the virtual universe created by your brain, you are a God :)

  • Interested
  • Great Spaghetti Monster

    OK, here it is, actual evidence of My existence. Note my subtlety, in that I comment only long after anyone has any interest in discerning My presence through a comment issued well more than a Terran year from the original post, and months after the previous most recent comment. As usual, I’m having it both ways!

  • Great Spaghetti Monster

    Proofreading was never one of My attributes.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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