Saturday, April 11, 2009

Playing God's advocate?

We'll get back to my steak-bagel lament next time. First, in honor of the holiday, I figured I'd post a few thoughts about religion and such. Maybe we can get a nice little discussion going.

Saw Bill Maher's Religulous the other night, and though I found it immensely entertaining and provocative, I'm getting a bit tired of the smugness of the atheistic lobby and its habitual tendency
to promote evolution as if Darwinism somehow invalidates the idea of God.

Let's talk this out a bit. I ask you to consider that the only condition that could've always existed, way back before the origin of the Universe-as-we-know-it, is nonexistence. That is, nothingness. There couldn't always have been matter. That makes no sense. Matter had to come from somewhere. Which means that at some critical point, nothing had to become something. And if you can't explain how that metamorphosis occurred, don't presume to lecture the rest of us about evolution.

I don't want to hear about the Big Bang Theory. Where did the ingredients of the Bang come from? This strikes me as a little bit like explaining a wet spot on the carpet by saying, "Well, there was a puddle in the upstairs hallway that leaked through the ceiling." Don't you want to know how the puddle in the upstairs hallway got there? I don't care if matter from Andromeda took a leisurely cosmic trek over to the Milky Way; that still leaves us with the problem of how the matter got to Andromeda. And so on. For a small glimpse of the hubris and blithe dull-wittedness of those who argue for the legitimacy of the Bang, take a look at this thread, and in particular the last line of the so-called best answer: "We can't know what happened before the big bang, so there's no point in thinking about time before it." Excuse me?

Science is full of these circular non-answer answers. For another excellent example, try this. It makes perfect sense...unless you're also curious about little things like, say, where the light came from. Or where did energy come from? (I know, I know: "It was always there, waiting to become useful in powering cell phones and vibrators, and also as a too-easy answer to questions about the origins of the Universe...")

Let's move on to the origins of life, shall we. You say chemicals combined to produce life? Tell ya what. I'll order you up whatever chemicals you need, as well as a warehouse or two full of all the sophisticated equipment your heart desires. Go ahead: Whip me up something that lives. Not just that, but whip me up something that self-replicates.
And you can't use as your raw material something that already is alive, or is a component of living matter (i.e. as in cloning). Nope. You must start from scratch and make me a living thing. Until you can do thatuntil you can synthesize life, or at least show me how you might be able to do it—don't pontificate to me about the origins of man.

Point being, I (sort of) understand how we got from 1 to 2 to 50 to 20,000 to 6 billion. How did we get from 0 to 1?
That is no small point, folks. It's not a minor lapse or a weak link in the chain. If you can't explain that, the whole paradigm collapses. There is no chain of causation. If you can't explain authoritatively what set the whole process in motion, you're not explaining a damn thing.

Here's a simple truth: Logically and scientifically, it is impossible for mankind to exist
. And yet here we seem to be/are.

Notwithstanding Chaos Theory, science is basically deterministic. Everything happens because of something else. A book standing on a desk doesn't topple unless something changes: a gust of wind, a subtle tremor unfelt to the rest of us. Inertia cannot become momentum without a change in the system; without some action. In the case of the Universe, where did that action come from? What was the primal force?


I have read just about all of the relevant books, and in fact I found myself mesmerized by the intellectual power of Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion. I do not dispute the possibility of natural selection and related constructs; given a near-infinite amount of time in which to work, I suppose nature could indeed sort itself out such that certain organisms are better adapted to survive and thrive, yielding further, more refined adaptations as they go. Over billions of years? Why not? That still leaves us with the fact that the watch is there, when there should be no parts with which to make it.


Ahh, but you say, the proponents of God have the same problem! Where did God come from! Not so. The concept of a Supreme Being exists apart from the realms of science and logic, therefore, arguments in support of God do not have to meet the same logical standard of argumentation as hypotheses rooted in science. The "explanation" can indeed be miraculous and even, by current scientific terms, nonsensical. So while there can't always have been matter, there very well could've always been a God, by some spiritual mechanism that is beyond our understanding, and that, by definition, is not "answerable" to logic or science.

Which is
as it happensthe point.

Happy Easter. ;)

39 comments:

Dimension Skipper said...

Well, I ponder these same questions from time to time. I'll let you know when I come up with some actual answers. But please don't voluntarily cease your respiration in the meantime.

For now I'll just say (fwiw)...

I "see" your space eye and "raise" you a cosmic finger.
__________________

Note: No deeper meaning or significance (to my comment, but as for the cosmological imagery, who knows?)... Just meant in good fun. And besides, I couldn't resist the opportunity for the obvious wordplay.

Also, I check the Astonomy Picture of the Day (APOD) site daily for such images myself. I always liked the Helix Nebula eye and also the "imaginary finger" which is part of this image of "massive stars in the Carina Nebula."

Darthcynic said...

Are you not being a little disingenuous in this particular piece? There seem to be some salient misunderstandings which I'll put to you.

"I'm getting a bit tired of the smugness of the atheistic lobby and its habitual tendency to promote evolution as if Darwinism somehow invalidates the idea of God."

Evolution does kind of invalidate any notion of a sky daddy that is actively tinkering away with his creation on a regular basis. Often 'God' is a short way of saying the Christian God and Evolution certainly invalidates a great number of that variant. Arguments can be made as to whether it removes a deity completely or not, but it does negate the active designer. Believers, particularly the Christians don't like the notion of a deity that just started it all in a pond of chemicals and then left. Also on a side note the term Darwinism is often used as a pejorative term for those who accept Evolution; granted that may be only my limited experience though.

"And if you can't explain how that metamorphosis occurred, don't presume to lecture the rest of us about evolution."

Evolution has nothing to do with the formation of the universe as we know it. Just because the exact details of the formation event have not been laid out, in no way prevents any certainty regards Evolution, nor does it mean you cannot talk of it. Evolution itself only enters into debates regarding belief or non-belief because it takes the active designer that the religious want out of the equation. It sunders the simple creation stories that many believers take as literal truth, and generates a span of years far in excess of the paltry thousands they think the good book indicates. If anyone wants to believe in literal creation stories and in a young earth, then they must get around the uncomfortable problem posed by Evolution and the rather large body of scientific work behind it. Were it just a matter of personal belief then no one, atheist or otherwise would care. Alas believers often want their belief taught alongside science as though it were a credible contender, an alternative scientific theory; believers often want their morals and chosen sky daddy enshrined in a country's laws. That is why Evolution so often comes up and why their is such a drive behind it, not smugness (though I am sure it can and is sometimes present) but a fending off of ignorance.

"This always struck me as a little bit like explaining a wet spot on the carpet by saying, "Well, there was a puddle in the upstairs hallway that leaked through the ceiling." Don't you want to know how the puddle in the upstairs hallway got there?"

Of course we do, thats science, but the explanation does explain where the wet spot came from, in time and with further scientific endeavor we may explain where that puddle came from — like a leaky pipe — and with even more time answer the questions that explanation throws up. All the answers for all questions are not going to suddenly appear at once and thats it, all done, scientists can pack their bags then go home, no more discovery to be made, we know it all. It is also not reasonable to demand such and if that cannot be achieved use it as an excuse to dismiss related or unrelated avenues of science. There is also a possibility that we will not be able to accrue sufficient information to definitively say what occurred in cases such as the Big Bang or what happened prior to that event. This is not a terrible problem to me, it does not stop us from attempting to answer other questions though it does leave believers with some places to hide their chosen overlord. On another side note, you link to Yahoo Answers in that paragraph; that's hardly the best place to go for scientific knowledge and not really any indictment on those who accept the Big Bang.

"Science is full of these circular non-answer answers. "

But they are not circular answers, they answer the question about a specific event. Like I mentioned previously, you cannot expect an explanation for the Big Bang to answer every question that might be raised about what went before. Science is partly about steps, you take a step at a time, not all at once, that is just not reasonable.

"Let's move on to the origins of life, shall we." & "Until you can do that—until you can synthesize life, or at least show me how you might be able to do it—don't pontificate to me about the origins of man."

The origins of man is a completely different question than the origin of life. The processes of Evolution are more than able to answer the questions of human kinds origins; meanwhile work continues on the other. Yet again, just because one question remains unanswered does not mean the other may not be spoken of. I think the reasons for speaking out on Evolution and our origins are covered, it is not pontificating but educating and combating those who would seek to make a mockery of science education, and foist their fairy tales upon us all.

"If you can't explain that, the whole paradigm collapses. There is no chain of causation. If you can't explain authoritatively what set the whole process in motion, you're not explaining a damn thing.

Here's a simple truth: Logically and scientifically, it is impossible for mankind to exist. And yet here we seem to be/are."

No, no it does not, there is no collapse, sorry but that is just plain wrong. You can explain everything about the world around you and how things work without ever needing to definitively explain the origin of the universe. By that rationale we would have nothing and still be in caves trying to work out how it all began before we moved on to anything else. It is by observation, developing technology, research and formulating theories that we expand our knowledge and our ability to explain things. That knowledge base then grows and grows, we can explain our origins, we theorize as to how the verse formed, we may yet explain that and on it goes. At no point does it all collapse, electricity stop flowing, just because we have not answered every question. The demand for an authoritative explanation for the origin of everything is essentially a religious argument deployed to create a hidey hole for their sky fairy. 'Your science cannot explain everything, HAH!, therefore god exists', it's just daft. Nor — I might add — is it logically or scientifically impossible for mankind to exist, unless you would care to explain why?

"Ahh, but you say, the proponents of God have the same problem! "

Well actually they do have the problem, there is not one set of rules for science and a nice belief friendly set for the superstitious. I realize that believers have a facility to engage in this two tier system, but that does not absolve them or their claims of the same rigor that is applied to scientific explanations. Whatever the deity is, it does not exist in a realm apart from science and beyond scientific explanation or logic. That is a common fallacy often deployed by believers in deities — or any kind of woo really — to try and hide their god from prying eyes. You claim something then you must prove it, evading like that is not allowed, it is answerable to science and logic.

I apologize if I have misunderstood the aim of this post, and if there are any errors in my reasoning above I reckon they shall be illuminated in very short order.

Oh and happy Easter :)

Anonymous said...

Matter comes from inside you Steve, and it happens because you like it.

Elizabeth said...

Stirring the pot even on Easter, aren't you, instead of packing your lovely basket full of goodies and rushing to Church... Tsk tsk, Steve.;)

Seriously, though, I had a discussion on that very same topic with my older kid, who's a budding astrophysicist and was just telling me about his recent cosmology class. (He says he's tried to impress some girls recently -- and they were, indeed, saying that they too took cosmetology...)

Anyway, my ever important question, never answered since my early childhood -- but what is OUTSIDE of the Universe? -- apparently belongs to the unanswerable category. It appears that the issue of multiple dimensions interferes with our knowledge: there may be so many of them that our ability to imagine and grasp, intellectually, the reality of physical Universe is seriously compromised. Just like an ant walking on a wire, we may have an understanding of the few dimensions that define our physical existence here (my child tells me that the experts have settled on six, for practical purposes -- six?!), but we simply cannot comprehend anything that goes beyond that. And it appears, as the experts say, that there is indeed stuff beyond that. Of which we have no clue or no possibility of gaining a reasonable clue (other than through intuition and, who knows, perhaps mystical experiences and other channels that go beyond intellectual skills).

Personally, I do not see how evolution invalidates the possibility of God's existence; IMO, these two can be quite compatible, if we set aside the childish interpretations of God and his/her/its interventions in the creation of life (you know, those six days 4,000 years ago or such). So, who knows. These are fascinating questions and the search for answers, even though futile, has the potential to open our minds to (at least) the wonders of our existence here (and then some).

Now, I think a space eye and cosmic finger need a hand reaching for the light, of all things.

Elizabeth said...

Go ahead: Whip me up something that lives. Not just that, but whip me up something that self-replicates. And you can't use as your raw material something that already is alive, or is a component of living matter (i.e. as in cloning). Nope. You must start from scratch and make me a living thing. Until you can do that—until you can synthesize life, or at least show me how you might be able to do it—don't pontificate to me about the origins of man.

LMAO! This is so funny, Steve -- your phrasing here, I mean. And yes, very true and on point, indeed.

Happy Easter to you and yours -- and all SHAMbloggers out there.

P.S. WV: comeba -- cosmic amoeba?

Rational Thinking said...

"So while there can't always have been matter, there very well could've always been a God, by some spiritual mechanism that is beyond our understanding, and that, by definition, is not "answerable" to logic or science."

Ah me, what could have been is always the greatest mystery.

Interesting subject. I never cease to be amazed at those who are utterly convinced that they know what's going to happen when they die. I have no problem with people believing they know ... but it's not the same thing, is it?

Have you read Dan Dennett's book - Breaking the Spell? Arguing (in part) that there might an evolutionary advantage to religion?

It's like the old conundrum of whether a tree falling in the forest makes any noise if there's nobody there to hear it - could God exist if man weren't there to believe in him/her/it?

Playing devil's advocate over the pond;-)

acd said...

Isn't it possible that the science and logic we utilize now simply are not advanced enough yet to grasp the concepts that would answer your questions? If that's the case, then it doesn't make the current scientific theories invalid just because we haven't found all the answers; it's a continual process.

For example, before microbiology, people might think (if they were dissecting a human) that organs are the main unit of composition in the body. Then we discover there are actually little things called cells that make up those organs. And one could ask, "Well then what makes up the cells?" And as science progressed, we gained greater technology to see smaller and smaller components. At any point during that process, the current knowledge was not irrelevant just because we didn't have the whole picture. It's something we build on.

When it comes to the creation of the world and human beings, we're moving back in time in our explanations of each step, and as we gain more knowledge, we get closer to explaining the very beginning. There is value in knowing that C comes before D, and B comes before C, even if you haven't found out about A yet. Again, it's a process. We build on what we know.

Steve Salerno said...

Evolution has nothing to do with the formation of the universe as we know it?

I thought it was all supposed to be a continuum. The whole point of science--as I understand/understood it--is what one might call a chain of custody: A reproducibly yields B, which yields C, which yields D, etc. If you can't postulate/demonstrate that chain--from the beginning--then of what value is the rest of it?

Take, for example, a (presumed) crime scene. You find a body. It's inert; it has been bleeding. You see what appear to be a single bullet wound in the head. But do you know what really occurred? Was it a homicide? Was it self-defense? Was it a suicide? Has a crime even been committed? Was there a criminal?

Knowing what exists now, or even what existed back in the Ice Age, does not tell us how any of it got here. Do we even know that the life experience we have now is reproducible? If we regressed back to, say, the time the first paramecia did whatever paramecia do, and moved forward from there, how do we even know we'd end up with what we have around us now? Without knowing the beginnings, can we really predict the ends?

Dan said...

Please tell me how this blog entry doesn't miss the point of Religulous. The movie has very little to do with atheism v. theism. It has to do with destructive preoccuppations with the gods of today's religions in a world that is getting closer to the precipice of doom.

RevRon's Rants said...

"Evolution itself only enters into debates regarding belief or non-belief because it takes the active designer that the religious want out of the equation."

In my opinion, this very misstatement is at the crux of why the "argument" breeds such polarizing - and frequently arrogant and dismissive - dialog. Evolution per se (that was for you, Steve) addresses the adaptation of life forms in response to survival-critical environmental stimuli. The concept neither establishes nor disproves the existence of a creative entity, simply because it does not extend its theory to a point prior to the initial appearance of matter. Due to the structure of scientific theory, that point, prior to physical existence, is off limits. Think of it as being like human research into making the internal combustion engine more efficient; the research does improve upon a design, but the design itself was already available, ripe for the tweaking.

Perhaps if we humans were more concerned with constantly expanding our awareness of truth, rather than forcing our personal *beliefs* on each other, there wouldn't be any conflict at all; only a cooperative effort to understand that which is beyond our capacity to quantify. And this applies to all believers - even those whose belief is expressed as a refutation of beliefs.

I find I'm most comfortable with the notion that there is a divine entity, but rather than an anal-retentive and dominant, watching over and controlling, a true omnipresent which has "manifest" by distributing the essence of that divinity among all creation. I'd think that the initial manifestation of a divine idea into matter would probably be accurately described as a Big Bang. :-)

Having set the wheels in motion, as it were, there remains little need for further intervention, if such intervention were even possible. Try to get 10 people to agree on what kind of pizza to order, and you'll have some idea how difficult it would be to direct the activities of the infinite number of variables which the sum total of all matter in the universe represents. And to those who would argue that such a feat would not be beyond the abilities of an all-powerful God, I would suggest you ask yourself if such profound micromanagement represents the best and highest use of a God's energies. Even in the incredibly limited scope of my comprehension, I can see the waste in such a plan. In addition to everything else, a God - even a domineering, petulant one - would have to be the consummate engineer. Even a cursory study of the machinations involved in the simplest life forms is testament to the efficiency of the processes.

I'd suggest that if there is an observant entity, watching over its creations, that entity would probably see our either-or posturing as a source of amusement, and nothing more.

athol kay said...

I watched Religulous and I enjoyed it too. I didn't get a feeling that Atheism was smug about evolution explaining away God, I got a sense that Atheism sees believing in God as a kind of mass psychosis that is leading us to disaster.

You general point in the post is valid in an abstract sense. Even so, organized religion of any kind seems like the orginial SHAM, so best avoided.

Elizabeth said...

A small correction (via my offspring in-the-know): we are apparently settled on 11 (yes) dimensions, not six. Those six are folded into the original four which are the ones that we are aware of -- and then there is the extra dimension of time. Hope this clears up any possible misunderstandings. ;)

Steve Salerno said...

Dan: I would agree with you if we were confining ourselves to Bill's strident monologue at the end. However, you can't seriously deny that Maher spends most of the film itself making True Believers look like a bunch of simple-minded rubes, can you?

Dan said...

Steve, I can't argue that Maher uses hyperbole to make his point; and, in that sense, creates an opinion piece instead of a documentary. But, the god he talks about is the god(s) of religion not the God of existence v nonexistence. If the god of religion tended to be a God of peace and sustainability on earth, I don't think Maher would have made the film.

I am not an atheist; but, I think the debate about the origins of the universe is moot unless more religionists get to an Omega point quite soon.

Thanks for your blog,

Dan

Anonymous said...

In considering creation, do you discount yourself as creator and originator?

acd said...

Steve, I still don't understand your concept of invalidating all evidence without proof of the initial cause. To use your example, how are we supposed to know how the crime started if we don't even know there was a crime (meaning if we didn't find the body first)? That's how we learn. We see the effect of something, then go searching for the cause. Otherwise police would just ignore any reports of dead bodies--"Nothing we can do. We weren't there to see how it started, so why bother?"

Steve Salerno said...

Dan: Thank you for weighing in.

Acd: I think you miss my point. Or perhaps I was unclear. What I'm saying is, if we find a body--and we are unable to determine how it got that way (as is the case with the world as it exists, and questions of how it got that way)--then what is the point? Where can the investigation really go? What conclusions can it draw? Or, to revert to the example I use in the post itself, what difference does it make if we know the floor is wet? So the floor is wet; fine. But until we know how it got that way, we really know nothing except that the floor is wet.

Anonymous said...

The bit about matter not always existing and God could have smacks of special pleading to me. I'll have to think about it more, but I'm not buying it off-hand.

When it comes to the Big Bang, some cosmologists are actively talking about pre-bang possibilities. But, a the end of the day there isn't a clear answer. I'm perfectly fine with that.

For me the biggest divide between believer and non-believer is that I find and honest "I don't know what came before that point" to be far more satisfying than "god did it." One is honest and curious. The other is made-up and the end of inquiry.

I think I finally need to register soon...
Dave

Sarsabu said...

That evolution invalidates the existance of God is a fine theory. However trying to reconcile the two is so much more fun.

Ratio said...

As to whipping up something that lives and self-replicates, what about Artificial Intelligence? Isn't that touted as a new form of life?

Just a thought.

RevRon's Rants said...

"For me the biggest divide between believer and non-believer is that I find and honest "I don't know what came before that point" to be far more satisfying than "god did it." One is honest and curious. The other is made-up and the end of inquiry."

Dave, I agree with you, but with a bit of further qualification. We've all encountered "non-believers" who were every bit as rabid in their arrogant dismissals as the worst of the "believers," and who regard any deviance from their perspective as a sign of ignorance (or worse). Both extremes insist upon the end of inquiry, which is ultimately borne of the individuals' insecurity with their own worldview. Engaging these folks is as productive as herding kittens, and not nearly as entertaining.

On the other hand, I've encountered many people - both spiritually driven and those who do not accept the existence of anything beyond their physical selves - who are equally curious to better understand the mechanics and source of existence. It is this kind of person who makes the exchange of ideas both challenging and enjoyable.

RevRon's Rants said...

"As to whipping up something that lives and self-replicates, what about Artificial Intelligence? Isn't that touted as a new form of life?"

At this point, AI is only a theory and a goal - not a new form of life, but rather an *idea* of what might be. Also, even if AI is ultimately achieved, it will have done so only after extensive effort on the part of its creator (humans), and will likely not have a clear comprehension of the nature of that creator. A true 21st century koan... :-)

Anonymous said...

"I'm getting a bit tired of the smugness of the atheistic lobby and its habitual tendency to promote evolution as if Darwinism somehow invalidates the idea of God."

I've never understood the atheist smugness - in 1996, Pope John Paul II proclaimed that the theory is 'more than just a hypothesis' and that evolution is compatible with Christian faith. He pretty much said that evolution was God's method.

Some of the more fundamentalist religions hold evolution to be mutually exclusive to "the truth"; but Roman Catholics embrace evolution.

Lana said...

Had to laugh when I saw my word verification: imism

"I Am" ism

I was going to comment that I really, really want to know what "caused" Big Bang, but maybe now I do know :-)

Chad Hogg said...

I must agree with Darthcynic and ACD to a point. The objective of science is not to perform an investigation per se, but to develop theories that help to explain phenomenon, test them, and thus incrementally add to the sum of human knowledge. One does not need to know an ultimate cause to be able to say something meaningful, correct, and useful. This may look like a "circular non-answer answer" to you, but that is just is because it intends to answer a different question than you are asking.

If one discovers that the wet spot on the carpet was caused by a puddle on the floor above leaking through the ceiling, it would certainly be wise to next turn your attention to the cause of the puddle. But that does not mean that the knowledge you have gained is worthless. At a minimum, you can now clean up the puddle. Perhaps this leads you to build a drainage system on the upper floor in case there are any further puddles. Perhaps someone else has been working on explaining the appearance of puddles and your ideas can be combined into a unified theory.

I do understand, I think, what you are saying: that if people are trying to disprove the existence of God using this science, then it is inadequate to answer the question. On that point I agree entirely. Anyone who would even make an effort to try to disprove the existence of God scientifically is as absurd as someone who thinks they can prove the existence in some similar way. The ontological argument (essentially what you are advocating here) is no proof either.

I find it humorous that Darthcynic provides just an example of the type of smugness that you are talking about while trying to dispute it: "sky daddy", "chosen overlord", "fairy tales", "sky fairy", etc are all intentionally inflammatory. There are plenty of ways to strongly disagree with someone without mocking them.

Keith Throop said...

Darthcynic said...

"Well actually they do have the problem, there is not one set of rules for science and a nice belief friendly set for the superstitious. I realize that believers have a facility to engage in this two tier system, but that does not absolve them or their claims of the same rigor that is applied to scientific explanations. Whatever the deity is, it does not exist in a realm apart from science and beyond scientific explanation or logic. That is a common fallacy often deployed by believers in deities — or any kind of woo really — to try and hide their god from prying eyes. You claim something then you must prove it, evading like that is not allowed, it is answerable to science and logic."

Actually, if the Christian God exists -- as I believe he does -- then He is by definition a being that is supernatural, who exists independently of the natural world. And, as you have rightly suggested, science is shut up to the study of the natural world. To suggest, then, that the existence of God must be within these same parameters is to make a pretty big category mistake.

Now, this does not mean that we cannot discuss the existence of God with reference to logical argument or scientific data, but it does mean that we cannot think of such data -- particularly scientific inquiry -- as sufficient to describe Him.

Of course, Christians who assert the existence of God also assert that He is the source of logic and the creator of the natural world, so logic and natural laws certainly will not contradict His nature, even if our finite understanding of such things prevents us from grasping all the complexities of an infinite being.

Steve,

Just thought I would chime in for a moment. I may not always agree with things that I read on this blog, but I usually enjoy reading it and often learn something.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

'science is shut up to the study of the natural world.'

Biology? physiology? botany? neurology? anatomy? medecine? astronomy? ecology? chemistry? physics? linguistics? etc ad infinitum.

Science IS the study of the natural world, the natural world being THE only available thing to study.
Darwin, a devout christian, was a botanist. He found no contradiction to exist between his faith and his scientific endeavour.
It is a sign of a less developed (in both the religious and secular sense) mind that a contradiction exists at all.

Pasquale said...

Hi Steve;

First things first, happy easter.

I guess following on from your posting and subsequent discussion I have to admit there are, for me, only two things that can be said. One, is that you are allowed one absurdity. That being that something came from nothing. Even in an infinite game, such as existence, there is always a first move.

The other thing is that if one can't explain origins, perhaps one should instead look at destiny. In short I guess it doesn't really matter where everything came from, what's important is where it's going. And as far as anyone can tell it's very much an unknown.

I wouldn't get too fussed about people on both sides of the creationist, evolution devide. After all I take solace in Hamlet, where he says there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. So we should approach the subject with both humility and and a sense of awe at the mysterious.

Cheers Pasquale

Keith Throop said...

Anonymous said ...

"Science IS the study of the natural world, the natural world being THE only available thing to study.
Darwin, a devout Christian, was a botanist. He found no contradiction to exist between his faith and his scientific endeavour.
It is a sign of a less developed (in both the religious and secular sense) mind that a contradiction exists at all."

First, I don't think there is any disagreement between us about whether or not science is the study of the natural world. I think that was the very point I was making. But this does not mean that the natural world is all there is, which is another point I was making.

Second, Darwin was far from "a devout Christian." During his lifetime he denied the truth of the Bible and the deity of Christ, for example, which are both core beliefs of historic Christianity. This is why he is typically and rightly regarded by Christians as an apostate, that is, a person who at one time acknowledged the Christian faith but then later denied it.

Third, when I said that "Christians who assert the existence of God also assert that He is the source of logic and the creator of the natural world, so logic and natural laws certainly will not contradict His nature," I was also agreeing that science should not contradict belief in the existence of God.

But, of course, not all that passes for scientific knowledge is really such. For example, to say, based upon what science has been able to demonstrate thus far, that there cannot be a God, is to begin making metaphysical statements that are beyond the bounds of scientific inquiry, as you yourself have defined it. I think this was the real point Steve was making, and I think he was right. He was pointing out that those who try to say that Darwinism -- or any current view of evolutionary theory -- "invalidates the idea of God" cannot rightly make such a case. Those who try to do so are acting as though scientific study (as they understand it) can justify such metaphysical assertions. Again, this is to make a pretty big category mistake, and I am pretty sure this was the main point of Steve's article.

Anonymous said...

What do buddhists say about something coming from nothing?

RevRon's Rants said...

"What do buddhists say about something coming from nothing?"

Perhaps that the very concept of "nothing" is an illusion, since its definition is in direct correlation to - and dependent upon - a "thing." Or perhaps that the "something" is merely a quantification based upon our limited perception and comprehension, and thus, an illusion.

In short, the "answer" a master would give to such a question would be in the form of a paradox, its ultimate function being to prove that asking the question is sufficient in and of itself, and need not be answered.

Elizabeth said...

Sorry to veer off topic, Steve -- this is an ungodly comment that has nothing to do with Easter or the origins of life (or Universe), but it relates to your relatively recent post on "Ashley Madison" of the "life is short, have an affair" persuasion.

Some of us thought "Ashley Madison" was highly questionable; well, check this one out:

Keeping Up With Being Kept

By RUTH PADAWER
Published: April 10, 2009

AT FIRST GLANCE, the Web site SeekingArrangement.com seems like any other dating site. Most of the men are looking for fit, sexy women, and most of the women want nice guys who can make them smile and laugh. But if eHarmony or Match.com is a chatty social mixer, Seeking Arrangement is a down-and-dirty marketplace where older moneyed men and cute young women engage in brutally frank transactions. They’re not searching for longtime soul mates; they want no-strings-attached “arrangements” that trade in society’s most valued currencies: wealth, youth and beauty. In the cheesy lexicon of the site, they are “sugar daddies” and “sugar babies.”

There’s the 18-year-old from France asking for $5,000 to $10,000 a month from “a mentor who can provide me with the finer things in life and keep me happy!” And the 49-year-old investor from upstate New York willing to pay $5,000 a month for a “daytime playmate” for “intense connection without commitment.” Critics say the site is at best a convenience store for adulterers and at worst a virtual brothel, but Brandon Wade, Seeking Arrangement’s 38-year-old founder and chief executive, is unperturbed by the criticism. “We stress relationships that are mutually beneficial,” he says. “We ask people to really think about what they want in a relationship and what they have to offer. That kind of upfront honesty is a good basis for any relationship.”
Read more here:
http://tinyurl.com/cjafcy

Anonymous said...

But isn't the 'void' important in buddhism? I wondered if they ever said that the void was equivelent to the state before the big bang, or some such?

RevRon's Rants said...

Anon 6:18 - I think you're hitting pretty close to the mark, but no Buddhist worth their salt would ever give such a straight answer to your question. Probably tell you that the "void" was your question, the instant before it was asked. :-)

Anonymous said...

Oh those salty buddhists.
So would a buddhist maybe say, if she wasn't very salty, that space and he void are one and the same and the big bang comes out of us, not something we are separate from?

I know, I know, finger pointing at the moon. Walk it don't talk it.

notreallyalice said...

Evolution is the origin of species, not the origin of life. Big Bang is cosmology, not biology.

Also, to use "Oh yeah, well how do you explain THIS??" as evidence of a god is, well, stupid. At best it's an objection, not anything close to an argument. To be ignorant about the origins of the universe means we are ignorant, not that we get to make something up. Scientists (and other people who prefer evidence over speculation) do not get to say, "Because I do not know how that happened, the explanation I make up is as likely as anything else."

Evolution is not cold hard proof that there are no god, although it makes certain kinds of gods even more improbable (if not outright impossible). And in the same way, ignorance about origins is not proof that there is a god, much less proof that it was the cause of everything.

And... did you quote Yahoo questions in your argument? Seriously? If you have questions about the Big Bang, ask a cosmologist, not Yahoo.

Steve Salerno said...

NRA: Do you really think we can separate cosmology from biology? I mean, they're not related? It would seem to me that they're intimately (and necessarily) related. You can't talk to me about evolution if you can't tell me how we got to evolution in the first place, or where the raw materials for evolution came from. Otherwise I could simply turn around--as many have--and say, "Yeah, well God made all the raw materials for evolution, so there! And if He wants to suddenly cause apes to begin evolving into chickens, He can just snap his fingers." How do you rebut that argument if you don't have a concept of evolution that takes us all the way back to the Bang and before?

RevRon's Rants said...

"if He wants to suddenly cause apes to begin evolving into chickens, He can just snap his fingers."

Even if we accept the notion that creation was effected by a Divine entity (and I do), if the evidence of evolution teaches us nothing else, it is that there is an orderly process to the emergence and adaptation of life forms & species, just as there is with every other process we have so far been able to document & quantify. The evidence of such orderly progression indicates to me that there is an equivalent consistency across the realm of creation, and that even what we refer to as "miracles" are examples of that same orderly process, yet borne of processes which we do not understand, or which we have yet to learn how to observe, much less measure.

The point of this (yeah, there is a point) is that I don't believe it is within the power - much less, the desire - of that divine entity, to simply "snap his fingers" and turn a monkey into a chicken. We humans are finally learning that we can't manipulate one process without having a significant effect upon others. Perhaps that's one of the important "spiritual" lessons that science has to teach us. The same entity that created (or was manifest as) spiritual laws also created (or was manifest as) physical laws.

That simple snap of the fingers - were it feasible for it to occur - could well initiate the domino effect that ultimately brings about those mythical "end times." Even I can see what a profound waste such a foolish act would cause. And (thankfully) I'm not driving the bus, and must assume that the grand cosmic bus driver knew what he/she/it was doing.

RevRon's Rants said...

"To be ignorant about the origins of the universe means we are ignorant, not that we get to make something up."

NRA - Dismissing another's conclusion outright, when there is no incontrovertible evidence to support that dismissal, constitutes "making something up." This is a fact that many of the "skeptics" seem to ignore.

Lacking empiric evidence, we are frequently left to rely upon our own individual logic and understanding in forming our beliefs. The greatest act of stupidity is to dismiss the possibility that anything can exist beyond the horizon of our understanding.