The success of the New Atheist books has spawned an industry of book-length, pro-religion replies. I have read quite a few of them at this point, and have emerged far more confident in my atheism as a result. Some of the books, like David Berlinski’s The Devil’s Delusion, were obviously the work of hacks just trying to cash in. Others, like Alister and Joanna McGrath’s The Dawkins Delusion or John Haught’s God and the New Atheism were written by folks who I regard as serious scholars. That they failed so completely to make a cogent case against any of Dawkins’ (or Hitchens’ or Harris’) main arguments was vaguely comforting to me. Seriously, I could have written a better refutation of The God Delusion and I consider Dawkins a hero.

I had mostly washed my hands of the whole genre when I saw a reference to Keith Ward’s entry Why There Almost Certainly is a God at another blog. That blogger had referred to the book enthusiastically as the best of the bunch. I had previously read Ward’s book God, Chance and Necessity (Short review: Interesting, but unconvincing) and so figured he was worth listening to. Ward is a former professor of theology and philosophy at Oxford.

So I decided to check it out. I’m glad I did. Ward’s book is the best I have seen on this subject, and he is worth reading if just for the clarity of hs prose (not something you can count on from either philosophers or theologians). Surely if there were a convincing case to be made on behalf of the reasonableness of traditional religious belief Ward would be the one to present it. That he did not do so is telling us something about the hopelessness of the enterprise.

As a place to start, let us consider Ward’s strange interpretation of Occam’s Razor. Referring to the possibility of multiple universes Ward writes:

It has to be admited, however, that this is a very extravagant theory. It completely contradicts the principle of Occam’s Razor, which says that you should not multiply entities unnecessarily. One of Dawkins’ main motivations is to explain the complex in terms of simpler parts and general laws. But that motivation disappears completely if we have an infinite number of universes, and every possible combination of laws. Dawkins resists this conclusion by saying that `if each of those universes is simple in its fundamental laws, we are still not postulating anything highly improbable’. That sounds like a despearate attempt to save a failed theory. The hypothesis that every possible universe exists is the most extravagant hypothesis anyone could think if, and it breaks Occam’s rule of simplicity with a resounding smash. If the simple is good, then the fewer universes there are the better.

Skipping ahead a bit:

I agree with Dawkins that it would be preferable to have a simpler, less extravagant theory, if we could. Luckily, such a theory exists. It is God. If you introduce God, you can say that all Platonic turtles do exist, but they all exist in the mind of God, who is not a turtle at all.

This is all perfectly absurd, of course. By such logic we should prefer to explain disease via one demon over many bacteria.

The entities Occam encourages us not to multiply are not physical entities or even types of physical entities. It is assumptions or postulates that are to be minimized. You don’t invoke extravagant, implausible hypotheses when mundane ones will do. A corollary to Occam’s Razor would be that if physical entities and processes that are known to exist are adequate to explain something, you should not invent an all-powerful supernatural being to explain the same something.

We know our universe exists. The multiple universe hypothesis just says there is more of the same. (As an aside, we should mention that there are many multiverse hypotheses, and not just the specific one Ward considers). It can claim support from both inflationary cosmology and string theory, and it is worth noting that physicists have been seriously speculating about multiple universes since long before anyone noticed the anthropic principle had rheotrical value in arguments with atheists. Occam said not to multiply entities unnecessarily, but modern theories of physics are increasingly making multiple universe seem very necessary indeed.

And while we are at it, is there any particular reason to think there is only one universe? Whatever it is that makes universes, whether some sort of quantum fluctuation or an all-powerful God or something else entirely, could surely have made more than one. You can argue that this is all highly speculative since we have no direct evidence of those other universes, and I would agree. But since the God hypothesis suffers from the same defect I hardly think this is a strong point against the multiverse. Why is it simpler to think that there is one unique universe, rather than think that ours is just one of many universes, produced by some simple process to which we do not have access?

Against the more-of-the-same hypothesis Ward places the God hypothesis. This, he claims, is the simple, satisfying explanation for which we have been looking. Right, because what could be simpler than a disembodied, eternal intelligence capable of bringing worlds into being with an act of its will?

This is where I really part company with religious people, Ward included. They seem to think it is the most natural thing in the world to hypothesize into existence an entity with the powers typically attributed to the Christian God. Ward writes,

The God hypothesis says that there is a consciousness that does not come into being at the end of a long physical process. In fact it does not come into being at all. It did not just spontaneously appear out of nothing. It has always existed, and it always will. There is something that has thoughts, feelings and perceptions, but no physical body or brain. Such thoughts and perceptions will be very different from human thoughts.

And skipping ahead:

Could there be an unembodied mind, a pure Spirit, that has knowledge and awareness? I can see no reason why not. The God hypothesis has at least as much plausibility as the materialist hypothesis . Both are hard to imagine, but neither seems to be incoherent or self-contradictory. Either might be true.

I can think of some reasons why not. For starters, the idea of an unembodied consciousness is flatly contradicted by everything we know about consciousness. It looks like an oxymoron to me.

Regardless of the philosophy of mind to which you adhere, it seems absolutely clear that for us physical creatures a lot of complexly organized matter is essential to consciousness. No complexly organized matter, no consciousness. Thoughts and ideas may themselves be non-material entities, but as far as we know they require a physical substrate in order to exist.

Then there is the idea that God, while being himself immaterial, can interact with matter to the point of being able to bring whole universe into existence. This, again, is something utterly contrary to everything we know about intelligence. Here in the purely physical world something as simple as telekinesis is, as far as we know, impossible. There is a deck of cards on the desk in front of me, but I can not budge it with the power of my mind alone. How then does God interact causally with the material universe?

It is natural forces and processes that are constantly surprising us with their fecundity and creative prowess. Intelligence, by contrast and to the extent that we have experience with it, is utterly indequate to the task of creating universes and fiddling with fundamental constants.

Then there are all the trappings that come along with intellgence. The inevitable boredom that comes with insufficient stimulation, the search for meaning and purpose, the need for the company of beings like ourselves. Apparently God is not afflicted with any of these problems. How does God keep from getting bored? How does He find meaning to His own existence? How has the sheer monotony of eternal existence not driven Him mad? How does He withstand the awesome loneliness of being the only one of His kind?

I do not know about you, but if I have to spend twnety-four straight hours in my house I start going stir-crazy. Even your average dog has enough brainpower to get bored. But not God.

Anything is more plausible than the existence of such an entity. It is simply incredible to me that Ward can so casually describe the idea of an eternally-existing, omnipotent, disembodied super-intelligence as a satisfying final explanation for the universe. There is nothing satisfying about it. The very idea of something existing eternally and necessarily is already highly unsatisfying. Can you really inagine something that cannot not exist? That we seem to be stuck with it nevertheless pretty well guarantees that there is no ultimately satisfying explanation for the universe.

At least materialism only relies on entities and forces I know exist, and says that the sorts of physical forces that have adequately explained ninety-nine percent of everything in our lives are also adequate for the remaining one percent.

Ward’s explanation says that not only am I stuck with the manifest absurdity of eternal, necessary existence, but the thing that has always existed is itself a conceptual mess and is something that is incomprehensible and contrary to all of our experiences.

It is not that atheism or materialism are easy to believe as ultimate explanations for anything. They just make the fewest demands on my credulity.

Ward has partially anticipated me, of course:

The first question is whether a pure consciousness, without any material context or basis can exist. I confess that I cannot see much force in the statement that a pure consciousness is impossible. There is no contradiction in the idea. We can think of being aware of trees, people, thoughts and feelings without having a physical body.

Really? You can picture having thoughts of trees without a physical body? I certainly can not, and I frankly do not think Ward can either. Thoughts of trees depend on having had experiences of trees, which requires a whole physical apparatus for receiving and processing information from my surroundings. What is it, exactly, that is doing the perceiving and the information processing if I lack any physical body?

And an immaterial consciousness influencing a physical universe?

Somteimes people ask, `How can such a pure mind, even if it is possible, cause matter to exist?’ But the proper answer to that question is to ask how anything, physical or otherwise, can cause — bring into existence — anything at all! We simply do not know how anything can cause anything else. For a mental state to produce a physical does not seem any more difficult than for one physical state to produce another, or for a physical state to produce a mental state. All causal relations are a mystery to us.

It would seem that Ward’s completely satisfying ultimate explanation for the universe leaves a rather large explanatory hole right at the beginning. Sure, he says, we don’t know how mental states can bring matter into existence, but we don’t know how physical states can do that either!

This is not much of an answer. Quantum mechanics tells us that pairs of virtual particles are constantly coming into existence (and usually disappearing almost immediately) so our confusion over precisely how notwithstanding it would seem that physical forces can bring matter into existence. I am happy to grant, though, that the best answer we can currently give regarding the origin of matter in the universe involves a shrug of the shoulders.

Ward’s answer also leaves us with the difficulty we discussed earlier. All the mental states in the world will not move that deck of cards on my desk. The question is not simply how an immateiral intelligence can bring matter into existence, it is how that intelligence can manipulate the matter once it exists. All of our experience tells us such things are impossible. (For some reason I am picturing Patrick Swayze in Ghost right now).

But let us go along with Ward for a moment and assume that the God hypothesis is reasonable. Here is part of what he has to say on the subject of religious revealtions. Please forgive the lengthy excerpt, but I think it is worth considering in full.

We know that there are many fraudulent claims to have seen apparitions. There are many cases of people who are deluded into thinking they have been abducted by extra-terrestrials or are really Napolean. So we are wise to be careful. But if there are fraudulent and deluded claims, it is logically possible that there could be genuine claims by people who are not immoral, or who are not in general ‘mad’ (suffering from mental beliefs that make them unable to run their lives effectively or happily.)

If there are genuine communications from God by means of mind-constructed visual images or ‘words’, we might also want to say that the information they convey should extend knowledge and should have important spiritual significance. If the Virgin Mary just said, ‘The cigars up here are great,’ we might well wonder if we were not, after all, having a vivid daydream. But if she said, `I am alive and will pray for you,’ that might convey the significant truth that those who have died on earth (or at least some of them) do exist in some form after death and do care about us.

I am not saying that all visions of the Virgin are genuine. Nevertheless, having made as many reality checks as we can, we must conclude that a claim to see an apparition made by a sane, moral, rational, critically aware person has to be considered as a candidate for a genuine communication of truth from God. That is only so if belief in God is not ‘mad’. It has to be a reasonable postulate. If it is, it may well be confirmed by visions or voices.

In most religions, some visions or inspired words are considered to be ‘revelations’. This is a rare and definitive communication of importnat spiritual and moral truth about God, through a human intermediary or prophet. It seems highly probable that, if there is a God, there will be some such communication of God’s nature and purpose. There will be revelation, or a finite communication of divine truth through a medium of great beauty, wisdom, moral insight and spiritual power. It may be a text or a person, or a text communicated through a person who has an especially close relationship to God.

Again, we have to judge as well as we can whether a person has such a close relationship to God. We wil examine their lives for moral heroism, inspired wisdom, spiritual peace and joy, a sense of union with the supreme Spirit, and liberation from self. But it is reasonable to think that some humans will have an especially close and intense knowledge and love of God, or that God will take some human lives and unite them closely to the divine in knowledge and love. They will become the channels of divine revelation of what God is and of what God desires and for the world.

I agree completely. If we believe God exists it makes perfect sense to think that he would at times communicate with us poor humans. He would want us to have some indication that He is there. Let us take that as a working hypothesis.

Why, then, is He so stingy with his revelations? Why are so few of us so honored? If, as Ward suggests, revelations should extend knowledge, why does it seem that claimed revelations so rarely do so? Where are the revelations containing scraps of scientific insight, or a warning of some impending catastrophe? Why do we only get vague nonsense like “I am alive and I will pray for you?” How about, “Basic sanitation will help you prevent disease”?

It gets worse. Not only is God very stingy with his revelations, but He also gives different and contradictory revelations to different people at different times. Moreover, these misunderstandings play right into a great many human weaknesses, like our instinctive xenophobia, thereby leading to an almost endless supply of war and bloodshed. God could have communicated with us in ways that were unambiguous. Instead He has chosen to do things in a way that seem guaranteed to lead to tremendous human suffering and waste. Is this consistent with an all-good God who wants his creations to know the truth about His will and His purposes?

Throughout the book Ward tries very hard to pretend that he is just building a purely logical case for God based on what we know of the world and on some reasonable extrapolations and assumptions. But the more you read the more you realize he is just rationalizing ideas he wants dearly to believe. There is no sound basis for going from, “Something must exist eternally and necessarily,” to “That something must be an omnipotent being.” Having made that leap, there is absolutely no basis for thinking that being is omnibenevolent. Having made both leaps, he then dutifully tries to explain why the sheer relentless awfulness of human and animal existence does not pose a challenge for his theory. He wants to create room for religious revelations, so he invents a lot of argle-bargle about what God would or would not do, and simply ignores the enormous harm that has been done by God’s unwillingness to communicate clearly what He wants from us.

In short, he is making it up as he goes along.

There is much more to say, but we will save that for a different post.

Comments

  1. #1 AL
    August 27, 2009

    Some of these claims of divine revelations are similar in content to the kinds of letters Carl Sagan (who mentioned them in The Demon-Haunted World) used to get from people claiming to have contact with aliens that were far greater in intelligence and wisdom than us mere humans. If Carl Sagan wrote back to these people asking them to ask the aliens for an answer to some vague question like “what is the meaning of life?” or “should humans be kind to each other?”, he’d always get a very lengthy bit of supposed wisdom from these Higher Beings. But when Sagan wrote back asking for answers to some verifiable question, such as “how do we cure cancer?” or “can you give a proof of the Goldbach conjecture?”, the aliens were suddenly very short on wisdom.

  2. #2 argystokes
    August 27, 2009

    I would venture that Ward doesn’t anticipate or address the point that disembodied mind cannot necessarily affect matter because he considers it self-evident that disembodied minds regularly do that very thing. If the mind is not constrained by the physical properties of the brain, then every time we do anything, it is the result of the mind acting on our physical bodies.

  3. #3 The Science Pundit
    August 28, 2009

    Whenever I hear a theist claim that gØd is the most parsimonious explanation for anything (gØd isn’t even the most parsimonious explanation for gØd as far as I see it), I know that I’m dealing either with somebody who doesn’t understand the principle well, or somebody in such deep denial of reality that their cognitive dissonance has led them to fantastic rationalizations.

  4. #4 mrcreosote
    August 28, 2009

    “Why, then, is He so stingy with his revelations?”

    God: I send you Galileo. I send you Newton. I send you Darwin. I send you Einstein. I send you Hawking and Dawkins. WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT???!!!

  5. #5 386sx
    August 28, 2009

    Like my granpappy would say, that’s an awful big “If”. And Ward’s got a ton of them. They just keep coming, one right after the other. For somebody who can’t get past the first “If”, he’s got a whole mountain of “If’s” built right on top. What a pile of baloney.

  6. #6 Paul Orwin
    August 28, 2009

    This seems like typical invocation of quantum mechanics to explain something “mysterious” (reminds me of Penrose’s theory of consciousness, and by extension of the underpants gnomes).

    Full disclosure, I am not a physicist, and I don’t claim to be. However, I know enough to understand that one of the multiverse ideas is the “Many Worlds” hypothesis (although I think there are a number of multiverse ideas), is an interpretation of the collapse of the wave function that is, as far as I understand, completely mysterious. In other words, the picture of the universe given by QM says that when two particles interact, the result is a superposition of states defined by Schrodinger’s equation, while the picture of the universe based on classical mechanics and relativity says that when two things interact, something happens. Both of these things are unequivocably true, but one doesn’t follow from the other. I hope all of that makes sense. The QM based many worlds idea says that in fact when two particles interact both things happen, and the universe splits into two (I hope this is right!!). I think this also explains why time exists, sort of, because you look back upon only one set of results of these splits, whereas the ones in your future haven’t happened yet; but you’d have to ask Sean Carroll (the blogger physicist, not the developmental biologist) about that:).

    In any event,this is a perfectly reasonable answer to the question “What is the collapse of the wave function?” Now, whether it is a scientifically answerable question is another thing altogether, but it has absolutely, positively nothing to do with the existence or non-existence of god. Although, now that I think of it, a halfway decent god would have designed a much better universe.
    By the way, who thinks Occam’s razor is a valid technique for arguing whether something is true or not? It’s either true or it’s not. If it’s complicated, then it’s complicated. If you have two hypotheses to explain something, then you test them to see if they are right. If you can’t test them, then you can talk about it until you are blue in the face, and it just has no bearing whatsoever on the physical universe or anything it it. Obviously, this is not a very pro-religion sentiment :)

  7. #7 Anton Mates
    August 28, 2009

    (As an aside, we should mention that there are many multiverse hypotheses, and not just the specific one Ward considers).

    It sounds like he’s considering something like modal realism; is that correct? If so, that’s a bit unfair, since modal realism is hardly a “typical” multiverse hypothesis considered by scientists or philosophers. It’s also by far the easiest to attack on parsimony grounds, though proponents have their own lines of counterattack there.

  8. #8 RBH
    August 28, 2009

    How has the sheer monotony of eternal existence not driven Him mad?

    Reading the Old Testament, it seems apparent that it has driven him mad.

  9. #9 Mogens Michaelsen
    August 28, 2009

    “Regardless of the philosophy of mind to which you adhere, it seems absolutely clear that for us physical creatures a lot of complexly organized matter is essential to consciousness…”

    Our own consciousness is clearly intimately connected to our brain, so we know that HUMAN consciousness depends on complex organized matter. But that doesn’t mean, that there cannot be other kinds of consciousness, only that other kinds of consciousness are radically different from human consciousness, if it exists.

    “…No complexly organized matter, no consciousness…”

    Maybe it is more correct to say: “No complexly organized matter, no complex consciousness?”

    “…Thoughts and ideas may themselves be non-material entities, but as far as we know they require a physical substrate in order to exist…”

    If thoughts and ideas are non-material entities, it follows that non-material entities are actually able to interact with material entities (the brain). So it is not true, that only material entities can interact with material entities.

    The real problem is how non-material entities (e.g. human thoughts) interact with physical reality. I cannot answer that myself, but I find it very likely, that this interaction cannot be based on ordinary causality.

    In my opinion, the problem with traditional religion is, that the concept of “God” is too anthropomorphic.

  10. #10 Erin
    August 28, 2009

    I would argue, Mogens, that for a thought to exist, it must be housed within a material entity. It’s ultimately always encoded in someone’s brain, and thus a part of it. It doesn’t truely exist outside of the brain, it just is able to jump from one to the next.

  11. #11 NewEnglandBob
    August 28, 2009

    Ward’s book is supposed to be “the best of the bunch”?

    I guess when the bunch is a rancid rotten mess, the best still smells.

    Reading this review had me laughing at Ward’s lack of logic and lack of common sense. Once again, his book is yet another attempt to return to the seemingly ‘prefect world’ of one’s childhood.

  12. #12 Rixaeton
    August 28, 2009

    “That is only so if belief in God is not ‘mad’. It has to be a reasonable postulate. If it is, it may well be confirmed by visions or voices.”

    I think this is the most telling thing I can relate to from Mr Ward’s work :) I would have thought that, no matter how plausible a delusion is or sounds, it is still a delusion. Having visions or hearing voices sounds more like a treatable mental condition than proof in the supernatural.

  13. #13 valhar2000
    August 28, 2009

    Having visions or hearing voices sounds more like a treatable mental condition than proof in the supernatural.

    If you talk to God, you are religious; if God talks to you, you are insane.

    — Gregory House, M.D.

  14. #14 Alex
    August 28, 2009

    The problem with God as an explanation for the origin of the universe is that it is, like all supernatural explanations, an empty relabelling of ignorance. An explanation has to contain within it the reasons things turned out this way rather than some other way. Religious people have shown throughout history that no matter what, God can be the answer. Let’s stop pretending it’s an explanation without direct evidence of the properties of such an entity that actually do explanatory work.

  15. #15 SLC
    August 28, 2009

    Quantum mechanics tells us that pairs of virtual particles are constantly coming into existence (and usually disappearing almost immediately) so our confusion over precisely how notwithstanding it would seem that physical forces can bring matter into existence.

    However, unlike, apparently the multiverse notion or string theory, the existence of the quantum vacuum, which is what Prof. Rosenhouse is describing in the above excerpt, leads to observable effects. Thus, the interaction of an electron with the quantum vacuum is responsible for its anomalous magnetic moment. The interaction of nucleons with the quantum vacuum may also be responsible for the sign reversal of the mass difference between the neutron and the proton.

    Re Paul Orwin

    Mr. Orwin is referring to the notion of quantum entanglement, which is one of the reasons why physicist Lawrence Krauss says that nobody understands quantum mechanics. Or as physicist Steven Weinberg puts it, quantum mechanics is a totally preposterous theory which, unfortunately, appears to be correct. The only reason that anybody accepts quantum mechanics is that it has enormous explanatory power, exceeding almost all other scientific theories that have been proposed.

    Re Mogens Michelsen

    In my opinion, the problem with traditional religion is, that the concept of “God” is too anthropomorphic.

    But that’s one of the philosophical problems with quantum mechanics, and to a lesser extent with relativity, which are intimately entangled with the notion of intelligent observation.

  16. #16 Mandrake
    August 28, 2009

    “How has the sheer monotony of eternal existence not driven Him mad?”

    He can’t, which is why He created Pong, then Atari…then Wii and XBox. The Evolution of Video Games.

  17. #17 WTFWJD
    August 28, 2009

    If there is a cosmic consciousness, it is an blithering idiot. Signalling is limited to the speed of light. Over the age of the universe, the Primal Idiot’s first thoughts are still propagating outward. Obviously, the cosmic consciousness lacks self-awareness.

  18. #18 eric
    August 28, 2009

    SLC: But that’s one of the philosophical problems with quantum mechanics, and to a lesser extent with relativity, which are intimately entangled with the notion of intelligent observation.

    Uh? AFAIK photons make perfectly good observers in QM – no intelligence needed.

    Morgen: If thoughts and ideas are non-material entities, it follows that non-material entities are actually able to interact with material entities (the brain).

    Well, that first if is a pretty big one. But granting that premise, it is still a very long leap from ‘interact’ to causality. These non-physical entities could simply be side effects of material cognition. Heck – they could be its waste! Internal combustion engines produce CO2, but this does not mean that CO2 moves the car.

  19. #19 Blake Stacey
    August 28, 2009

    If you need an extra rule to forbid the additional universes, then the multiverse is parsimonious. (That eternal inflation seems to be a natural consequence in the models of cosmology we build based on the data we’ve got means that this is a possibility one should keep in mind, even if the case isn’t clinched yet.) Sheesh. Why don’t the people who are so enraptured by what physics and cosmology supposedly tell them about their God actually take the trouble to learn any physics? You’d think they’d be motivated enough.

    Watch Sidney Coleman lecture on quantum physics, and read the Wikipedia article on relational quantum mechanics. At the first sentence you don’t understand, realize you don’t know enough about the subject to pontificate about it, and go back to school!

    Grumble, grumble.

  20. #20 qbsmd
    August 28, 2009

    Then there are all the trappings that come along with intellgence. The inevitable boredom that comes with insufficient stimulation, the search for meaning and purpose, the need for the company of beings like ourselves. Apparently God is not afflicted with any of these problems. How does God keep from getting bored? How does He find meaning to His own existence? How has the sheer monotony of eternal existence not driven Him mad? How does He withstand the awesome loneliness of being the only one of His kind?

    Have you read Asimov’s “The Lasst Question”? There is a copy here.

  21. #21 qbsmd
    August 28, 2009

    Somteimes people ask, `How can such a pure mind, even if it is possible, cause matter to exist?’ But the proper answer to that question is to ask how anything, physical or otherwise, can cause — bring into existence — anything at all! We simply do not know how anything can cause anything else. For a mental state to produce a physical does not seem any more difficult than for one physical state to produce another, or for a physical state to produce a mental state. All causal relations are a mystery to us.

    For mental states, I believe some religions consider the universe existing within the mind of their god, sort of like that god is a computer running the universe as a simulation. That at least seems consistent.

  22. #22 qbsmd
    August 28, 2009

    But if there are fraudulent and deluded claims, it is logically possible that there could be genuine claims by people who are not immoral, or who are not in general ‘mad’.

    Does anyone follow the logic here? It looks like a pure non sequitur to me.

  23. #23 Tacroy
    August 28, 2009

    Ward’s fundamental problem seems to be that he subscribes to the notion of mind-body dualism, despite the massive amount of evidence against that position. It’s intensely weird to me that so many people can believe such a thing in this modern age of brain surgery and Prozac.

    Once you accept that your body really is all there is to you, that you don’t have some ghosty part vaguely floating over your shoulder and doing your thinking for you, the question of whether or not God exists becomes meaningless – after all, if there is no part of your mind that will exist after you die, there can be no afterlife. If there’s no afterlife, what purpose does the God theory serve?

  24. #24 Avi M
    August 28, 2009

    Jason, I’d like to hear your thoughts on one point that came up while reading..

    Whenever Occam’s razor is mentioned, it goes back to the question “which of these two is the simpler”. I think we’ve reached a point where we need to actually define simplicity. For example, Dawkins mentions how when he brings up Occam’s razor, he gets the answer “well, let’s just define god as simple..”

    Back to what you wrote – you mentioned how disease is caused by (many) baccteria as opposed to being caused by (one) demon. You said this (at least this is my understanding) to demonstrate that its not numbers which determine complexity/simplicity. I think I disagree with you. I think that if demons were the cause of disease, this would infact be a much simpler theory (in the loose sense of “theory”) than the one of baccteria. Just think how long it takes doctors to study how to cure baccteria-caused diseases and how long it takes witch-doctors to study how to cure diseases.
    The reason why the theory (again, in the loose sense) of baccteria is better than the theory of demons is becase it is true. Not because it is simple. It is not simple at all.

  25. #25 James W
    August 28, 2009

    Mogens Michaelsen @9

    If thoughts and ideas are non-material entities, it follows that non-material entities are actually able to interact with material entities (the brain). So it is not true, that only material entities can interact with material entities.

    The real problem is how non-material entities (e.g. human thoughts) interact with physical reality.

    Hmmm… I think that you have a bit of a dodgy premise here based on some imprecision in Jason’s language (and thus also your own).

    I would argue that when discussing this sort of thing, people need to distinguish between entities (or objects) and behaviours. It seems to me that things like thoughts and feelings are best categorised as behaviours of a perfectly physical system – the brain. There is no need to reject “ordinary causality” as you do.

    Now… how does the brain give rise to these behaviours? I have no fricking idea at all. No idea if anyone else does either. But I see no reason to use our ignorance to justify an appeal to the supernatural.

    [disclainer – I do not claim the supernatural can’t exist per se; only that it is no better than ignorance, and thus a useless category].

  26. #26 Skeptico
    August 28, 2009

    For insight into why god is so stingy with his revelations, see What Would Jesus NOT Do? from NotStampCollector. It’s a YouTube video, but well worth a look.

  27. #27 Skeptico
    August 28, 2009

    Avi M:

    Occam’s Razor doesn’t actually say “choose the simpler.” It doesn’t even include the word simple – that’s a modern
    (incorrect in my view) interpretation. Clearly “goddidit” is the simplest explanation for everything. Occam’s Razor says don’t invent unnecessary assumptions. If we know bacteria causes one disease, then Occam’s Razor says different bacteria (possibly thousands of different ones) probably cause other diseases rather than have us postulate they are caused by one demon.

  28. #28 BillE
    August 28, 2009

    Just a thought… is there a message in the fact that atheists, by in large, are politically liberal? Is atheism an offshoot of believing strongly in government? Does the liberal mind reject one God, while embracing their new “Socialist” god? Doesn’t this indicate that the atheist has a “faith” as strong as any Christian? And if so, doesn’t it seem hypocritical that an atheist shows disdain for a Christian who has faith, when the atheist has such a strong faith themself?

    Believe in Jesus Christ. He is the only way to salvation and liberty. There is no other name under heaven by which you may be saved- none!

  29. #29 Blake Stacey
    August 28, 2009

    Is atheism an offshoot of believing strongly in government?

    No.

    Gee, that was simple, wasn’t it?

  30. #30 Divalent
    August 28, 2009

    I’m not sure this “popularization” of theological arguments is such a good thing for theology. It’s one thing to have such ruminations taking place in the rarefied halls of academia clothed in the mysterious and obtuse language of the high priests of the art. It’s another to have those arguments expressed in the plain language of the ordinary person, where their patent illogicality stands clear.

    The initial response from the theologists to Dawkin’s The God Delusion was to dismiss his arguments as having missed the solid core behind modern religions, although that core was never elaborated on (the Courier Reply). This second wave of responses, with their attempts to describe that solid core, are instead revealing it to be the flimsy shell that it is.

  31. #31 qetzal
    August 28, 2009

    Wow, BillE!

    Atheists are mostly liberal, so that proves atheists worship socialism in place of God?

    If that’s what belief in Jesus Christ does to one’s rational capacity, I’ll pass.

  32. #32 JimV
    August 28, 2009

    Re: #28: No, the answer to why most atheists are liberal (assuming that is true and I hope it is), is that reality has a well-known liberal bias, and atheists deal in reality (not faith).

    The good news is that #28 is by far the worst comment so far, and I’ve seen much worse in my time.

    (My favorite comment so far is Tacroy’s #23, which gets right down to the nut, as Hunter S. Thompson used to say. #25 is great also.)

    Nitpick to Mr. Ward: actually, as I understand it from years of Sunday School, “God” created not one universe but at least three: this one, Heaven, and Hell; all of which operate under different laws of physics.

  33. #33 Blake Stacey
    August 28, 2009

    Our friend BillE is exhibiting a pattern we’ve seen before: conflating two different meanings of the word believe. If we ask, “Do you believe in Santa Claus?” we’re asking whether or not you think Santa Claus exists. However, if we ask, as the song does, “Do you believe in rock and roll?” we want to know if you think rock and roll is beneficial. One could acknowledge that rock and roll exists but think it detrimental to America’s Youth (TM), as untold numbers of stuck-up, self-appointed moral guardians have done over the past half-century. For that matter, one could disbelieve in Santa Claus — that is, hold that Santa Claus is fiction through and through — while still maintaining that teaching kids that Santa brings their presents is a good idea, part of a healthy upbringing.

    One can “believe in strong government” whether the government which actually exists is strong, weak or in between. “Believing” in strong (or weak) government is a statement about what one thinks is best for society.

    When atheists say, “We don’t believe in God,” we don’t mean, “God exists but he’s bad.” That’s the premise of Preacher and His Dark Materials, which, like all the assorted Bibles of the world, are works of fiction.

  34. #34 eric
    August 28, 2009

    is there a message in the fact that atheists, by in large, are politically liberal?

    Um…you don’t need a hidden religious belief to explain why an atheist might prefer the party that most strongly supports church/state separation. Next thing you know, you’ll be seeing a conspiracy theory behind the trend in pacifists preferring anti-war representatives.

  35. #35 speedwell
    August 28, 2009

    How does BillE explain atheists like myself who think that government worship (believing that government is, by nature, the highest good for everyone; that government can be trusted to take care of all of our needs; that government decisions are always right and its decrees should never be questioned) is as bad as any other religion? I’m not using the L-word to describe myself anymore because I find myself in agreement too often with those who maintain each human being does have a responsibility to the society they find themselves living in, but I am far, far indeed from the sort of liberal BillE thinks of as being the pattern of the typical atheist.

    Way to hedge, there, stupid, by the way. “By and large?” LOL.

  36. #36 jason
    August 28, 2009

    “It is not that atheism or materialism are easy to believe as ultimate explanations for anything. They just make the fewest demands on my credulity”

    Great line. I’ll be stealing this one thanks!

  37. #37 Owlmirror
    August 28, 2009

    Believe in Jesus Christ.

    Hm. Define, “believe”, here.

    For that matter, define “Jesus Christ”.

    He is the only way to salvation and liberty.

    Define “salvation”, here.
    Define “liberty”.

    There is no other name under heaven by which you may be saved- none!

    Explain how this sentence differs from the gibberings of a paranoid schizophrenic crazy person. Concentrate specifically on how a name can save anyone, versus a person. And also define “heaven”.

  38. #38 Jeffrey Shallit
    August 28, 2009

    People who are god-soaked believers have no problem believing in their supernatural being, because they have spent a good portion of their lives thinking about their deity and talking to him. To them, it has a reality. For those outside these traditions, it just seems like crazy nonsense. That’s why people like Ward can say stuff like “Could there be an unembodied mind, a pure Spirit, that has knowledge and awareness?” and for him, and people like him, it seems completely reasonable. For others, though, it just seems idiotic.

  39. #39 qbsmd
    August 28, 2009

    Jason, I’d like to hear your thoughts on one point that came up while reading..

    Whenever Occam’s razor is mentioned, it goes back to the question “which of these two is the simpler”. I think we’ve reached a point where we need to actually define simplicity. For example, Dawkins mentions how when he brings up Occam’s razor, he gets the answer “well, let’s just define god as simple..”

    Back to what you wrote – you mentioned how disease is caused by (many) baccteria as opposed to being caused by (one) demon. You said this (at least this is my understanding) to demonstrate that its not numbers which determine complexity/simplicity. I think I disagree with you. I think that if demons were the cause of disease, this would infact be a much simpler theory (in the loose sense of “theory”) than the one of baccteria. Just think how long it takes doctors to study how to cure baccteria-caused diseases and how long it takes witch-doctors to study how to cure diseases.
    The reason why the theory (again, in the loose sense) of baccteria is better than the theory of demons is becase it is true. Not because it is simple. It is not simple at all.

    Posted by: Avi M

    Treating complexity as synonymous with information and simplicity as the inverse of that, you can use information theory to define these things. I don’t work with information theory, but if you follow blogs like this long enough, you pick some of it up. One definition of information is the minimum size of program necessary to generate the information your looking at. By this definition, a theory involving a multiverse is only trivially more complex than one involving a single universe, because you can just say “take whatever caused that universe and run it n more times”.

    Instead of referring to a demon as a single “simple” thing, think about all the functions one would need to perform to cause a disease: analyze how human bodies work, and subtly disable parts of them, follow people around in order to emulate the transfer of a disease from one person to another, etc. With germ theory, you only need a single organism that evolves to survive inside of different hosts in different ways.

    Similarly, imagine the size of a program necessary to emulate the behavior of a creator god. We can’t even emulate human level intelligence; programmers try to emulate functions of insects or other animals with far simpler nervous systems. Then compare this to a relatively small number of basic particles and the laws of physics that apply to them.

  40. #40 Siamang
    August 28, 2009

    How utterly disappointing.

    This is really the best they’ve got? Really?

  41. #41 bobh
    August 28, 2009

    “That is only so if belief in God is not ‘mad’. It has to be a reasonable postulate. If it is, it may well be confirmed by visions or voices.” #12
    I use visions and voices to confirm Gods existence but I need to define that God exists in order to accept that the visions and voices are not a sign of mental illness. Tautology

  42. #42 Tulse
    August 28, 2009

    If there is a cosmic consciousness, it is an blithering idiot.

    All hail Azathoth!

  43. #43 Benjamin Nelson
    August 28, 2009

    You can picture having thoughts of trees without a physical body? I certainly can not, and I frankly do not think Ward can either.Thoughts of trees depend on having had experiences of trees, which requires a whole physical apparatus for receiving and processing information from my surroundings. What is it, exactly, that is doing the perceiving and the information processing if I lack any physical body?

    This was one of Berkeley’s arguments, which of course led up to his idealism. Unfortunately, I don’t see the connection between the imaginable, which is the subject of the first two sentences (italicized), and a plausible causal origins story, which is the subject of the last two (bolded). So Jason has done a bit of a bait-and-switch here, unless he thinks that the two are codependent in some yet to be established way.

  44. #44 Blake Stacey
    August 28, 2009

    That’s why people like Ward can say stuff like “Could there be an unembodied mind, a pure Spirit, that has knowledge and awareness?” and for him, and people like him, it seems completely reasonable. For others, though, it just seems idiotic.

    Indeed. As long as Ward and friends are attributing to Mind abilities which we’ve never observed minds to have — that is, as long as they’re making stuff up — why not say that the Universe was created by a causally potent version of the number 7?

  45. #45 Blake Stacey
    August 28, 2009

    Unfortunately, I don’t see the connection between the imaginable, which is the subject of the first two sentences (italicized), and a plausible causal origins story, which is the subject of the last two (bolded).

    Um, no. All four sentences are talking about the need for physical matter in order to perform computations.

  46. #46 H.H.
    August 28, 2009

    When discussing the reliability of divine revelation, why does Ward only rule out fraud and insanity, which he defines as “suffering from mental beliefs that make them unable to run their lives effectively or happily?” What about just plain old delusion? Plenty of sane people misapprehend and misreport their own experiences. The vast majority of UFO reports, Big Foot sightings, and claims of the miraculous are not made by people we would deem clinically insane, but merely credulous. Considering Ward asserts that a communique from god could be as nondescript as a “mental image,” is it any wonder that credulous people could honestly believe themselves to have experienced such a communication?

    I agree with Ward that if there are genuine communications from God, they should be evaluated on their content. Specifically, the content must be such that no human mind could be able to conceived of it unaided. Empty pablum like “The Virgin Mary say ‘hello from heaven, be good y’all, peace out!'” is exactly the sort of content-free nonsense we would expect if these visions were fraudulent or products of honest delusion. I suspect Ward realizes as much. But since iron-clad divine revelations of the type beyond reasonable dispute haven’t actually ever occurred in all of human history, he’s forced to make a case much more mundane messages, which could be legitimate. Maybe. Perhaps. At any rate, we can’t prove they aren’t.

    As you write, Jason, when these sorts of glaringly deficient arguments are all the serious theologians can muster, it really does illustrate the hopeless of the theist’s case. I just don’t understand how a serious scholar can present such a case in the first place. Mustn’t Ward realize how flimsy an argument he proffers? Isn’t he the least bit conscious of his tremendous failure? It’s like all theologians just throw everything at the wall and, even after seeing last every iota slide onto the floor, shrug their shoulders and exclaim “but I still have faith that my position is true.” Arg! How can an honest intellectual abide such behavior, even in themselves?

  47. #47 Jr
    August 28, 2009

    I agree with the information theory interpretation. Not that this is what Occam meant exactly but it makes the most sense.

    So theories should have low Kolmogorov complexity, not have as few entities as possible. I do not find the God hypothesis to have low complexity on that score. Whether the multiverse idea is any good I will keep silent about.

  48. #48 Tulse
    August 28, 2009

    I just don’t understand how a serious scholar can present such a case in the first place. Mustn’t Ward realize how flimsy an argument he proffers? Isn’t he the least bit conscious of his tremendous failure? […] How can an honest intellectual abide such behavior, even in themselves?

    I’ve learned a new term from Fred Clark that seems to cover this phenomenon, taken from Catholic theology: “vincible ignorance” — the state of ignoring that which one should know. It’s a form of willful blindness, of intellectual dishonest.

  49. #49 abb3w
    August 28, 2009

    Jason Rosenhouse: The entities Occam encourages us not to multiply are not physical entities or even types of physical entities. It is assumptions or postulates that are to be minimized.

    More formally post-Occam: the product of posited rule length and initial starting information length. (doi:10.1109/18.825807)

  50. #50 Pierce R. Butler
    August 28, 2009

    … book-length, pro-religion replies. I have read quite a few of them …

    Sounds (ahem) excruciating.

    Do any of these apologists address the obvious human tendency toward superstition, and offer a better method of distinguishing their particular ism from same than “the Babble says so”?

  51. #51 SLC
    August 28, 2009

    Re eric

    Actually, I would argue that photons are pretty stupid. In the two slit experiment, an unobserved photon passes through both slits. If, however, an intelligent observer places detectors behind both slits, he/she will find that the photon passes through one or the other. As an old physics professor of mine once said, the photons go where the electromagnetic field associated with light tells them to go.

  52. #52 Koray
    August 28, 2009

    Silly logical arguments. If you’re going to try to see if your favorite entity’s existence is logically implied, check if your logic is sound first: try to see if you can also reason that a hierarchy of gods (a la Zeus et al.) can be implied by a similar logical argument. Try a society of gods, competing gods, complementary gods (yin/yang?), reproducing gods, etc. Just picking Abraham’s skydaddy and pontificating is, well, …

    Revelation, if it had happened, would have been the single most important event in human history. Bigger than World War 2, the invention of the wheel, writing, fall of Rome, what have you. Nothing compares to it with regards to consequences. Why do they need a logical argument if they claim to have an event like this?

  53. #53 Neil Ostrove
    August 28, 2009

    Re 22:

    But if there are fraudulent and deluded claims [to have seen apparitions or communicated with G-d], it is logically possible that there could be genuine claims by people who are not immoral, or who are not in general ‘mad’.

    Does anyone follow the logic here? It looks like a pure non sequitur to me.

    One convenient way to test the logic is to change the simple terms.

    But if there are fraudulent and deluded claims [to have squared the circle or trisected the angle], it is logically possible that there could be genuine claims by people who are not immoral, or who are not in general ‘mad’.

    Doesn’t follow. Logic, you’re doing it wrong.

  54. #54 eric
    August 28, 2009

    SLC:Actually, I would argue that photons are pretty stupid.

    The point is that QM observers consist of other interacting matter, not just people. Thus there is no ‘intimate entangelment’ with the concept of intelligent observation. Intelligence of the observer is not a factor in any QM equation and is not necessary. And thus there is no philosophical problem.

  55. #55 Scotlyn
    August 28, 2009

    If the Virgin Mary just said, ‘The cigars up here are great,’

    This is so going on a T-Shirt!

    Thanks for an excellent post. Definitely punched home the absurdity of an immaterial mind making matter…

  56. #56 H.H.
    August 28, 2009

    BillE:

    Just a thought… is there a message in the fact that atheists, by in large, are politically liberal?

    Yes. It’s that atheists, by and large, are realists, and reality has a liberal bias.

  57. #57 CW
    August 28, 2009

    How utterly disappointing.

    This is really the best they’ve got? Really?

    Isn’t that exactly why we’re all here not-collecting-stamps together?

  58. #58 Anton Mates
    August 28, 2009

    SLC<

    If, however, an intelligent observer places detectors behind both slits, he/she will find that the photon passes through one or the other.

    But if a dumb-as-hell observer does the same thing, and doesn’t even bother to hook the detectors up to a readout, the photon does the same thing. Evidently it’s the physical detectors that matter, not the person who set up the experiment.

  59. #59 Anton Mates
    August 28, 2009

    Mogens @ #9,

    If thoughts and ideas are non-material entities, it follows that non-material entities are actually able to interact with material entities (the brain).

    Not really–at least, not in a two-way sense. Thoughts and ideas could be epiphenomena, in which case they’d be dependent on material entities but would have no effect on the latter.

    I assume that Jason thinks that thoughts and ideas are either material themselves (or at least are properties of material systems), or are epiphenomena.

  60. #60 Badger3k
    August 28, 2009

    I think it may need to be said that Occam’s Razor also deals (IIRC) with when two competing hypotheses of equal value (the evidence goes both ways), then the one that has the fewest extra assumptions (or whatever) is the better of the two. Given the lack of evidence for the supernatural, it’s not even on an equal footing with materialism/reality. Occam need not apply in any case, even though it can be used.

  61. #61 qbsmd
    August 28, 2009

    Just a thought… is there a message in the fact that atheists, by in large, are politically liberal? Is atheism an offshoot of believing strongly in government? Does the liberal mind reject one God, while embracing their new “Socialist” god? Doesn’t this indicate that the atheist has a “faith” as strong as any Christian? And if so, doesn’t it seem hypocritical that an atheist shows disdain for a Christian who has faith, when the atheist has such a strong faith themself?

    Believe in Jesus Christ. He is the only way to salvation and liberty. There is no other name under heaven by which you may be saved- none!

    Posted by: BillE

    I know I shouldn’t feed the troll, who seems to have run away anyway, but people just seem to be having so much fun with it, and no one has brought up this point:
    Atheists’ political positions seem to range from liberal to libertarian, in other words, varying on economic policy, but liberal on social policy. I think this is because almost all conservative social policies can only be justified with religious assumptions: banning abortion (or stem cell research) requires the belief that an embryo has a soul, preventing assisted suicide requires a religious prohibition on suicide, creationism would never be an issue without religion, conservative opposition to gay rights and other sexual issues are the same, etc.

  62. #62 Your Name's Not Bruce?
    August 28, 2009

    Should it not be easy for an omnipotent being to give everyone on earth the same revelation at the same time? To spell things out in chains of craters on the moon, or better yet stars and galaxies? Shouldn’t an omnipotent entity be able to unambiguously demonstrate its existence to everybody, everywhere? Oh, right ; this is one of those “mysteries” we’re supposed to swallow on “faith”.Instead we are presented with “holy” texts which are limited to the level of human knowledge prevalent at the times of their origination. Why should I trust such a book’s explanations for how the universe works when it is completely ignorant of wombats, bacteria and nuclear fusion?

  63. #63 amphiox
    August 28, 2009

    It bears mentioning also that Occam’s Razor only applies to a situation in which two opposing theories explain/describe the phenomenon in question equally well. Only when the theories are identical in explanatory power is the one with fewer assumptions chosen as preferable. If the theories are not equal in explanatory power, you choose the one that explains things better, and you don’t even consider parsimony at all.

    “God did it” has less explanatory power than any theory possessing more than one data point of evidence in its favor, and equal explanatory power only to “I don’t know”, and is more parsimonious only in the sense that it takes 1 fewer letter to write it out in english.

  64. #64 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 28, 2009

    Thanks Jason for doing the heavy lifting! It is appreciated.

    the “Many Worlds” hypothesis (although I think there are a number of multiverse ideas), is an interpretation of the collapse of the wave function that is, as far as I understand, completely mysterious.

    As “the collapse of the wave function” is a POV of some QM interpretations, mostly Copenhagen type, it is IMHO not the best formulation here.

    Decoherence is observable and is starting to become accepted, and IMHO then interpretation neutral. It also clarifies this part of the theory.

    By the way, who thinks Occam’s razor is a valid technique for arguing whether something is true or not?

    Not that it invalidates your argument, but this is actually a bit more iffy than that.

    Yes, it is definitely better used as a “beauty” measure on equally predictive theories. No, it also contains mechanisms that makes a theory a teeny weeny bit more likely correct:

    1. A simpler theory is less likely to be messed up.

    2. One can IIRC show that, everything else equal, parsimony leads to on average one (!) fewer reversal of pass/reject when data changes. I.e. a simpler theory turns out to be ever so slightly (very slightly!) more robust to both collection of and mistakes in observations.

    [I have a reference somewhere, but I can’t seem to find it right now.]

  65. #65 Benjamin Nelson
    August 28, 2009

    Blake@45, of course that’s Jason’s answer, and of course it is not fit to answer the questions unless it seeks to beg them. Read the context again to see what Ward had in mind. We see multiple occurrences of words like “think”, “picture”, etc., which don’t presuppose the answer we want to arrive at.

  66. #66 Marko
    August 29, 2009

    Two words about the anthropic principle and supposed fine tuning for your googling pleasure: “Stenger MonkeyGod”.

    And two arXiv references: Fred Adams’ arXiv paper showing that 25% of the sets of fundamental constants allow for stars to undergo fusion (arXiv:0807.3697v1 [astro-ph]); and Harnik shows that it might even work without the weak force (arXiv:hep-ph/0604027v1).

  67. #67 Blake Stacey
    August 29, 2009

    Read the context again to see what Ward had in mind.

    I did. Ward asserts that consciousness can exist in a way in which it has never been observed to exist, and attributes to it whatever properties he sees fit. If that’s what he likes, well, “some people juggle geese”.

  68. #68 Benjamin Nelson
    August 29, 2009

    Not quite. In the first two sentences of Jason’s quote (and the entirety of the paragraph that Jason is responding to), the subject is what is imaginable about some idea (consciousness). This plays out with the help of the most traditional of philosophical sophisms, the appeal to logical possibility. Here, words like “can” are used in the most ephemeral sense, entailing only something about what the speaker takes to be the point of the concept, and nothing at all about how the concept jives with real or empirical possibilities.

    In conclusion: “Dear Buddha, I want a pony and a plastic rocket.”

  69. #69 Aaron
    August 30, 2009

    I’ve counted almost 57 books( and counting!) that attest to “respond” to the four published by the “New Atheists”.

    I kid you not.

  70. #70 qbsmd
    August 31, 2009

    I’ve counted almost 57 books( and counting!) that attest to “respond” to the four published by the “New Atheists”.

    I kid you not.

    Posted by: Aaron

    Richard Dawkins keeps a running list on his site. He refers to them as fleas because they are “parasitic” authors [who] have released books which use Richard’s name or titles to sell their own books.”

  71. #71 twilight
    August 31, 2009

    I wish more people criticizing faitheists would point out how culturally-retarded these arguments are.

    Even if you were to somehow logically prove the existence of “god”, how do you then go on to prove that he’s the god of the Jews written about in the bible who incarnated himself as a carpenter’s kid? Y’know, as opposed to, say, the Muslim formulation?

    Ultimately any “God exists” argument is empty, as it can never say who the god is which is doing all this existing. For all we know it’s the Great Green Arkleseizure. Or Ahura Mazda even.

    (I’m highly anti-Flyingspaghettimonsterist – it’s quite obviously just a cheap ripoff of Douglas Adam’s ancient writings.)

  72. #72 Eric Thomson
    August 31, 2009

    Tacroy said (#23):
    Ward’s fundamental problem seems to be that he subscribes to the notion of mind-body dualism, despite the massive amount of evidence against that position. It’s intensely weird to me that so many people can believe such a thing in this modern age of brain surgery and Prozac.

    I don’t think it’s that weird.

    Ultimately naturalists need a positive story, a biological mechanism to point toward and say ‘See, that’s how consciousness works.’ In arguments about phenotypes whose phylogeny is unclear, we can point to natural selection as a plausible mechanism. There is, as yet, no ‘standard theory’ of the biology of consciousness, no default consensus mechanism we can point toward.

    Because of this, even naturalists are presently forced to be speculative when it comes to specific mechanisms of consciousness. Hence, many dualists believe they are on equal footing (or better) with the naturalists.

    The following is a pretty standard argument strategy:
    “If the naturalists have no plausible story about how consciousness emerges from brain matter, then why should we take their word for it? They can’t even keep their stories straight. How is it supposed to work, Mr Neuroscientist?

    “Instead of theories, they give us predictions about what future neuroscience might show. I can do these keystone naturalists one better and give you a knock-down argument that consciousness cannot emerge from brain matter. [Insert boilerplate Zombie Bat Qualia argument here]. Why take the naturalists’ circumstantial evidence and faith in future neuroscience over my Zombie Bat Qualia argument?”

    Such lines of thought are not easy to rebut, partly because it is true that there isn’t an established theory of how consciousness emerges in brains.

    Ultimately, after providing the reasons (including evidence from neuroscience and psychology) for thinking that mental states are brain states, I think the best thing to say is something like:
    ‘In the absence of compelling data a good scientist is less confident, not more confident, in her conclusions. In that spirit, I’ll only say that time will ultimately reveal which general approach is more plausible, and which provides a better fit to the data.’

    I’m presently writing up such a look at the evidence, but frankly it is going to take a couple of years.

  73. #73 SmartLX
    August 31, 2009

    I look at the Occam’s Razor application this way when comparing God to the multiverse. A multiverse is multiple instances of an object we know exists in at least one case, while a god is a completely unprecedented entity in human experience.

    Put another way, if I see that my acre-wide cabbage crop has been completely razed, and in the corner I find one fat little rabbit and realise it couldn’t have done it alone, I don’t imagine that Bigfoot ate the rest. I wonder where the other rabbits are.

  74. #74 Glenn Davey
    September 1, 2009

    Why do we only get vague nonsense like “I am alive and I will pray for you?” How about, “Basic sanitation will help you prevent disease”?

    Actually, I believe there are passages in the old testament where the Israelites were given specific procedures on how to wash, dispose of their dead, quarantine their sick, and how to keep their food and environs clean.

    I’ve heard this one used to show that the Israelites were receiving advanced sanitation advice at a time when the Egyptians were still drinking mercury tonics and using human excrement as salve on open wounds.

  75. #75 Christophe Thill
    September 3, 2009

    “God: I send you Galileo. I send you Newton. I send you Darwin. I send you Einstein. I send you Hawking and Dawkins. WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT???!!!”

    Are you arguing that Dawkins’ argumentation for the non-existence of gods is divinely inspired? That’s pretty interesting. (Could be a great sceenario for a story…)

  76. #76 Collin Brendemuehl
    September 3, 2009

    I also read and reviewed the book. This is the Kalam cosmological argument spelled out, and supported with DDS.
    http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com

  77. #77 Andrew Hurst
    September 8, 2009

    I see no reason to posit a divine intelligence to explain the evolution of animal forms and intelligence. But science still has its limits, e.g., there is no logic to evolution any more than there is logic to explain mutations that fuel the evolutionary process (there is nothing necessary or predictable about evolution). Reason and logic are themselves constructs of human intelligence, but there is nothing definitively logical about the theory of evolution or divine creation. Evolution is little better for explaining our intelligence than a pre-existing intelligence.

  78. #78 Marvol
    September 9, 2009

    Re “Patrick Swayze in Ghost”, if you think about it for even a second, the impossibility of ghosts or spirits not interacting with matter, or more accurately, the material world, is totally impossible.

    What keeps these ghosts on the surface of Planet Earth? I mean, exactly on the surface? Can’t be gravity, right? What gets them moving? They can’t use Newton’s action/reaction like we do.

    Any “true” ghost would disppear from the face of our planet at the speed that Earth moves, left behind like a spurned interplanetary hitchhiker.

  79. #79 sbuck
    January 21, 2010

    there Is a better argument against atheism with a capital “A” but it looks like this isnt it!

    the reason Occams razor is AGAINST atheism is not because Atheism proposes belief in “more of the same old universes” – but I want to know HOW is it possible for them to come into existence? If you say “they pop into existence for no reason at all” then you believe in BOTH millions of universes AND the belief that “something comes out of nothing for no reason at all” – THIS is where Dawkins argument collapses!

    If I had to believe in “one God and one Universe” or “One universe, millions of other universes, AND you have to agree that things as big as universes can pop out of out of nothing for no reason at all”, logic is in favour of the former not the latter!

    For atheism to make sense, if must explain HOW universes appear out of NOTHING for no reason at all – THIS is the crux!

    eg “other universes collide” – well where did those colliding universes appear from? other universes again? An infinite series of collisions must come to end for our own universe to exist – logically impossible – an infinite series of event will never come to an end so our own universe could logically never exist.

    I am not saying this PROVES a god exists – BUT I think it is logically neccessary that SOMETHING must exist that is outside of all linear time…and this may or may not have a lot in common with a theistic god…..

  80. #80 James Cockram
    January 12, 2012

    It does seem that those in the atheist tradition are just all too happy to draw the conclusion that science and religion are opposites and that scientific research is the only postulate available to us. Once any scientific body actually manages to create an individual, thinking conciousness that is aware of its own existence then I’ll be prepared to listen. Until then, I like many other reasoned thinkers will staunchly carry on my belief that conciousness is beyond the remit of science. That being the case, common sense must prevail and my ‘I’ is something very personal to me.

    The Higgs-boson discovery will, in my view support this rationale as it suggests that the universe event horizon, consisted merely of light and whilst that explains the formation of matter, it doesn’t explain why the light ‘appeared’ in the first place. The answer to this question is not something I feel science can answer. Even if it can, how long need that go on before we accept there are things in existence that humanity cannot explain?

    I accept the right of the atheist to believe what they do but it is NOT the sole realm of the academic. Try Francis Collins book – The Language of God. He mapped the human genome for goodness sake…..not too many more qualified scientists on the planet! I know the religeous fraternity are pittied by ateistic view, and the reciprocate is also true; but ultimately, one side (denominations excepted) is right. I’m batting for the side that reasons that we don’t know everything yet, but that some people far in advance of my intelligence make a fantastic, reasoned case for God. I speak not of religion, that is humanity’s ‘best guess’ at the description of God, I take the non denominitive view that any approximation will be flawed but this does not denigrate His existence.

  81. #81 Raging Bee
    January 12, 2012

    James, that’s an awful lot of word-salad and non-sequiturs for a thread that’s been dead for over two years. What do you god-botherers do, troll the Intertubes looking for places to paste your screeds, without even taking time to look at the dates? How did you end up here, rather than a more recent thread on the same subject? Seems a rather desperate-sounding campaign to grab attention and pretend you’re relevant.

  82. #82 Anthony
    January 16, 2012

    Raging Bee;why then are you checking the posts on an ancient thread? Seems like a rather desperate attempt to check that God (rather than god)botherers are being properly policed. Might I also ask why you feel the need to be rude?

  83. #83 Wow
    January 16, 2012

    why then are you checking the posts on an ancient thread, Anthony?

    Seems rather stalker-ish of you. I would suggest you see a psychiatrist.

    And why do you have to be so dumb all the time?

  84. #84 James Cockram
    January 16, 2012

    ….he’s checking it because he’s my father and I mailed him to alert him to the post. I’d just read Keith Ward’s book and was looking for other views re: the topic. To be fair, I missed the dates but it did come up as Google result no.1….so not really trawling.

    As for your other comments; you’ve made some fairly alarming assumptions….I particularly like the ‘dumb’ one. He’s got honours degrees in Chemistry, Child Psychology and more recently, Theology. He taught science for many years and is now one of the enlightened that accept, whilst no certain proof exists, it is not in conflict to accept science and religion as both valid. He is a Church of England priest nowadays. If your ignorance on the subject is infact how your words suggest, I’ll happily provide you with some titles to balanced books on the topic, writen from both perspectives, as to make conclusions in one’s own mind, it is better to have a larger understanding of the thinking behind these things. It’s not a religous debate per se, it’s a theology debate; I take it you understand the difference?

    I have tried not to be rude, please extend me the same courtesy.

  85. #85 Wow
    January 16, 2012

    > ….he’s checking it because he’s my father and I mailed him to alert him to the post.

    Wow. That’s creepy.

  86. #86 James Cockram
    January 16, 2012

    So not a massively convincing argument from you ‘wow’. If you want engage in debate then I’m happy to oblige with an intellect deserving of at least a little more intelligent than a comment about the suspected motives rather than the subject itself. I’m at the beginning of a journey after a period of weighing up the evidence. I’m far from a ‘god botherer’ but rather someone who has taken the time to pay attention to what different writers, both religous and atheist, have to say. i suspect that your uninformed remark is perhaps a mask for your ignorance for the actual subject at hand? If not then feel free to engage me, by all means.

  87. #87 Owlmirror
    January 17, 2012

    [take 2, part 1]

    Until then, I like many other reasoned thinkers will staunchly carry on my belief that conciousness is beyond the remit of science.

    Because consciousness is magic?

    That being the case, common sense must prevail and my ‘I’ is something very personal to me.

    I’m not sure how being personal is relevant to it being magic or not.

    The Higgs-boson discovery will, in my view support this rationale as it suggests that the universe event horizon, consisted merely of light and whilst that explains the formation of matter, it doesn’t explain why the light ‘appeared’ in the first place. The answer to this question is not something I feel science can answer.

    Because the universe is magic?

    Even if it can, how long need that go on before we accept there are things in existence that humanity cannot explain?

    Cannot explain in principle, or cannot explain due to practical limits? I just recently argued on another thread that the universe is presumed to be comprehensible in principle, because the opposite case would be that the universe is incoherent.

    Returning to your above statements — Do you think that consciousness is incoherent?

  88. #88 Owlmirror
    January 17, 2012

    [take 2, part 2]

    Try Francis Collins book – The Language of God. He mapped the human genome for goodness sake…..not too many more qualified scientists on the planet!

    This is an argument from authority, a fallacy.

    Does Francis Collins, or anyone, give good sound reason and evidence for their religious beliefs? Not so far as I’ve seen. It all seems to come down to an emotional reaction of preferring some story. In some ways, it reminds me of fiction fandom, only with the added twist of denying that the fiction is fiction.

    I’m batting for the side that reasons that we don’t know everything yet, but that some people far in advance of my intelligence make a fantastic, reasoned case for God.

    Sorry, but they don’t. They commit logical fallacies; the opposite of reason. They provide no evidence in support of their assertions.

    I speak not of religion, that is humanity’s ‘best guess’ at the description of God, I take the non denominitive view that any approximation will be flawed but this does not denigrate His existence.

    Hm. Why do you think that this purported invisible person with magical superpowers does not seek to help refine the “flawed approximations” with communications or revelations that are consistent and supported by empirical evidence?

    Why do you think that this purported invisible person with magical superpowers exists at all?

  89. #89 Wow
    January 17, 2012

    > So not a massively convincing argument from you ‘wow’

    It was a comment.

    It was no more an argument than the post in 82 or 85 were.

    But I guess that language skills and reasoning are not your strong points, and that this is genetically derived at the very least in your case.

    Please, can you both stop pissing in the gene pool.

    Thank you,

    Humanity

  90. #90 Steven Kettering
    January 19, 2012

    I’m one of the ‘cowards’ that fall under the title of ‘Agnostic’ with no sustained opinion in either direction. I have trouble in imagining the supposed ‘truth’ of theistic argument but I also struggle to accept that science implemented and tested by a human brain, could ever unlock an answer to the question of what happened before the big bang. If there is no ‘ever existent intelligence’ then what in its’ place?

    However, what I find equally troubling it the hostiliy that resonates from many with the atheistic view. Some of the comments above are quite obviously designed to be insulting and dismissive of an individuals view. Clearly there are misguided people on both sides of the fence but equally, there are plenty of iq points on both teams as well.

    ‘Wow’ you are just plain rude and probably the best thing for you to do is shut up and go and play with the other angry kids. Humanity does not want you to speak for it, it would much sooner you grew up first, certainly before adding your seed to the gene pool.

    ‘Owlmirror’, I agree with the sentiment and thinking behind your reasoning but while atheism is in complete disagreement with theism, using terms such as ‘magic’ is so utterly counter productive to reasoned debate that perhaps a little more repect is in order. I doubt that many of the scientific community that hold faith, often use terms as such. Moreover, I think they take the view that there are facts that science cannot, even theoretically take even a wild stab at. If you were put onnthe spot and asked what ACTUALLy brought the universe into existence, would you be able to come up with a plausable answer that humanity could accept?

    Conversly, the counter argument is also powerful…..an unembodied super intelligence does stretch the mind somewhat and I am far from convinced. The only sensible conclusion, therefore for me, is that the one thing that should not happen is that both sides sit there and throw rocks at each other……it would seem to me that this is the most counter productive thing of all!

  91. #91 Owlmirror
    January 19, 2012

    using terms such as ‘magic’ is so utterly counter productive to reasoned debate that perhaps a little more repect is in order

    Whom, exactly, have I disrespected by using the term “magic”?

    When someone says that X is beyond the remit of science, or is a question that cannot be answered by science, what exactly are they saying about X? Why is “magic” not an appropriate term for what they are trying to assert?

    Is “incoherent” a better term?

    I think they take the view that there are facts that science cannot, even theoretically take even a wild stab at.

    If they are facts — and not something so incoherent that it cannot even be expressed at all — I don’t see why science is so limited as to not even be able to conjecture.

    If you were put onnthe spot and asked what ACTUALLy brought the universe into existence, would you be able to come up with a plausable answer

    My ignorance — or rather, the ignorance of cosmologists — does not mean that cosmologists cannot at least hypothesize, and see if their hypotheses can be tested in some way at some point.

    that humanity could accept?

    Right now, a sizable fraction of humanity does not accept parts of science for which we do indeed have evidence — like biological evolution. I don’t agree that the unanimous acceptance by humanity is a criterion that needs to be met in order for hypotheses to be plausible.

    Conversly, the counter argument is also powerful…..an unembodied super intelligence does stretch the mind somewhat

    It’s not just that it “stretches the mind”. The concept is very poorly defined, and is completely unsupported by any empirical evidence.

  92. #92 Wow
    January 19, 2012

    “However, what I find equally troubling it the hostiliy that resonates from many with the atheistic view”

    You don’t find, say, The Westboro Baptist Church hostile?

    You don’t find, say, “why then are you checking the posts on an ancient thread? Seems like a rather desperate attempt to check that God (rather than god)botherers are being properly policed” hostile?

    Or telling your daddy to say such to a mean old atheist on a thread hostile?

    I guess you pick and choose who you consider to be hostile to ensure you can maintain “a balanced opinion” that you’re allowed to have by your xtian friends…

  93. #93 Steven Kettering
    January 19, 2012

    I don’t disagree (necessarily) with what you say. I think ‘incoherent’ is a better word; ‘magic’ has connotations that frankly, I’m sure you’ll agree, makes mokery of what theists belive. I mean, simply put, it puts their beliefs in the same category as childrens story books. Whilst I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this is where you think they belong; there are lots of academics who would disagree and therefore to promote intelligent debte, it isn’t the best term.

    As for scientific fact, again I concur. But taking the theistic view, they would (and do) state that material reality, that which science is the investagtive tool of, is not necessarily the only medium of existence (and to whit, the explanation of conciousness is….IN THEIR VIEW). Granted, this requires a sizeable chunk of ‘thinking outside the box’ in very literal terms, but as a hypothesis this surely deserves merit, bearing in mind that the formation of the universe appears to have formed out of nothing. ‘Nothingness’ is simply a concept that is incoherent, isn’t it?

    My seat on the fence is considerably more comfortable at this point!

  94. #94 Wow
    January 19, 2012

    > ‘magic’ has connotations that frankly, I’m sure you’ll agree, makes mokery of what theists belive.

    However, they believe in Magic.

    That’s what a miracle is.

    > they would (and do) state that material reality, that which science is the investagtive tool of, is not necessarily the only medium of existence

    Except existence has to take place in material reality: that’s where our bodies live.

    Note that not one of them can say why there is another medium of existence, only that there must be one.

    There is no pony.

    > Granted, this requires a sizeable chunk of ‘thinking outside the box’

    Nope, it requires not thinking. It’s rather like the RCC decision on the existence of Purgatory: it was required because without it, prayers and the money for alms would be useless without it. Either a dead person:

    1) goes to hell. There’s no remission there, they’re already toast.

    2) goes to heaven. why then pray for them?

    It’s not thinking outside the box, it’s not thinking at all.

    > bearing in mind that the formation of the universe appears to have formed out of nothing

    And egg beating formed out of nothing (And goes back into nothing) when you whisk an egg (then stop). This doesn’t mean that there must be some “essence of egg beating” that goes on after you stop whisking an egg.

    > ‘Nothingness’ is simply a concept that is incoherent, isn’t it?

    No. But english is a multi-functional language with many redundancies. Go and ask a genuine cosmologist and they’ll tell you what it means for The Big Bang.

  95. #95 James Cockram
    January 19, 2012

    Personally I would not take issue with you ‘Wow’ regarding hostility in denomonations, even hostility by individuals within supposed non hostile denominations. My view isn’t that any one religion, or denomination of a particular religion, behaves properly or isn’t hostile. Human beings aren’t perfect but also remember here that you threw the first stone (without wishing to draw on a parable!).

    I’d like to reiterate that I stumbled on the thread after reading Keith Ward’s book and it was the FIRST returned result. I grant you that it looks odd to rekindle an old thread but that is coincidence/my lack of noticing and not some pseudo weirdo action.

    My father plays a role in my belief because he is a sounding board for me. I believe him to be a good sounding board because a) he is my father, b) he is a scientist, c) he is an ordained priest. As someone with an opinion on the subject, likely to give me an honest ear, I don’t think I could ask for more. Accepted his view is tainted by his religion, but that is a conculsion he has drawn through 30 years of teaching science PRIOR to arriving at his belief set.

    Steven, thankyou for your olive branch, that is exactly correct. Religion is peppered with idiots, they are human beings and we range from the moronic to the genius. Is it any surprise that there are morons within religion? Is it of equal surprise to suggest that there are intelligent people within religion, morons within science and WORST of all, people with strong opinions on BOTH sides of the fence who actually know nothing about the subject!

    There are huge anaswered questions, many of which science will undoubtedly answer but the ultimate question is something that I’m in doubt that scientific empirical evidence can answer. This is not ‘magic’ per se, it is just, in my view, something beyond a human brain to comprehend. At this point, the theistic answer is God, but this shouldn’t be confused with ‘a magic wizard looking down on us’. Maybe a better parallel is that if there is a designer, he would be outside of his design; much as the architect of a house would not be part of the house. My personal view of God is nothing to do with His personality, wishes, desires etc but simply a bridge between why there is something rather than nothing.

  96. #96 Wow
    January 19, 2012

    “but also remember here that you threw the first stone”

    Really?

    I think not.

    “There are huge anaswered questions”

    Have any been answered by religion?

    “Maybe a better parallel is that if there is a designer, he would be outside of his design;”

    Why? We’re not outside our design, so it’s not necessary. And how did it make this design come about?

    Magic.

  97. #97 James Cockram
    January 19, 2012

    “but also remember here that you threw the first stone”

    Really?

    I think not.

    …was drawn from your initial response to my post:

    James, that’s an awful lot of word-salad and non-sequiturs for a thread that’s been dead for over two years. What do you god-botherers do, troll the Intertubes looking for places to paste your screeds, without even taking time to look at the dates? How did you end up here, rather than a more recent thread on the same subject? Seems a rather desperate-sounding campaign to grab attention and pretend you’re relevant.

    But this is really getting us nowhere is it? Particularly as you presumably used the term ‘magic’ after reading how the ‘Agnostic’ chap had suggested it was a phrase with connotations?

    The suggestion is, my friend, that the God hypothesis strives to bridge the gap to the ultimate question. Any humanisation of His behaviour post ‘creation’ (and I am NOT a materialist in the creation sense of the word….I do subscribe to the 13.7 billion years univarsal existence etc) is irrelevant to the hypothesis. It is reasoning as to how it came about. Written publications such as the Bible/Quaran etc, seek to personalise Him but that is not the point I am arguing. There must, to my way of thinking be a reason (scientific, divine or whatever) as to why there is not just one big fat void of nothing. Change the word ‘God’ to the word ‘Reason’ or whatever else. If there is no answer to the question then surely there would be ‘nothing’?

  98. #98 Wow
    January 19, 2012

    “…was drawn from your initial response to my post:”

    Ah, so you mean “not me”, then:

    “James, that’s an awful lot of word-salad and non-sequiturs …
    Posted by: Raging Bee | January 12, 2012 11:54 AM”

    Gosh, you are dumb as a sack of nails, aren’t you?

  99. #99 Wow
    January 19, 2012

    “The suggestion is, my friend, that the God hypothesis strives to bridge the gap to the ultimate question”

    The answer to which is “42”.

    Now, define the question.

    “It is reasoning as to how it came about.”

    No need for this God hypothesis.

    “as to why there is not just one big fat void of nothing.”

    There is. But you need a lot of education in theoretical science to understand what that nothing is in cosmology.

    Calling it “god” is not even a short-cut. It’s avoiding the effort of thinking.

    “Change the word ‘God’ to the word ‘Reason’ or whatever else.”

    Reason didn’t create the universe either.

    How about “Coleslaw”?

  100. #100 Steven Kettering
    January 19, 2012

    ….and you ‘Wow’ are clearly a sack of s**t, proud of his brave nature to insult, degrade etc from the safety of your keyboard! You make me sick and I refer to my prvious comment about growing up!

    If mommy didn’t put you across her lap then perhaps daddy should take a strap to you, but I rather suspect with all that pent up anomosity to people you don’t know; there lies beneath that ruffled exterior, the heart and mind of an Oedipus complex unsatisfied.

    You my boy (and a boy I’ve little doubt you are) are a moron.

  101. #101 Wow
    January 19, 2012

    “proud of his brave nature to insult, degrade etc from the safety of your keyboard”

    Says godbotherer after: “and you ‘Wow’ are clearly a sack of s**t” and whining about “the hostiliy that resonates from many with the atheistic view”

    and then going on to do more.

    Sad muppet. Lonely life for it.

  102. #102 Boris
    January 19, 2012

    “If mommy didn’t put you across her lap then perhaps daddy should take a strap to you,”

    Ohh, sounds like fun, Steven! Where’s the party? Will there be authoritarians there? Will we get to appeal to them? Will we be spanked if we’re not appealing, or better yet, even if we are?

  103. #103 Owlmirror
    January 19, 2012

    ‘magic’ has connotations that frankly, I’m sure you’ll agree, makes mokery of what theists belive.

    Not necessarily.

    However, if theists protest against the term, I have no problem with discussing which one they prefer — and what that term means.

    I mean, simply put, it puts their beliefs in the same category as childrens story books.

    There are people who believe in magic — and some who take it seriously enough that they might be well be offended by you putting their beliefs in the same category as children’s stories.

    Whilst I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this is where you think they belong; there are lots of academics who would disagree and therefore to promote intelligent debte, it isn’t the best term.

    Oddly enough, even academics who believe in God tend to be oddly evasive about defining what exactly it is they believe exists, and why. They have their own word games that they play, which often makes their points unintelligible. So they certainly cannot be said to be promoting intelligent debate.

  104. #104 Owlmirror
    January 19, 2012

    But taking the theistic view, they would (and do) state that material reality, that which science is the investagtive tool of, is not necessarily the only medium of existence

    Is the immaterial incoherent?

    Granted, this requires a sizeable chunk of ‘thinking outside the box’ in very literal terms, but as a hypothesis this surely deserves merit, bearing in mind that the formation of the universe appears to have formed out of nothing.

    Now, “nothing” is a term that can definitely be argued with, there. I’ve read enough cosmology to know that cosmologists do not all posit that complete nothingness preceded the universe, but rather, that some basic things (for want of a better term), like time, and certain laws of physics, did exist beforehand, and may very well exist eternally.

    ‘Nothingness’ is simply a concept that is incoherent, isn’t it?

    I think it’s more that “nothingness” is difficult to define. If it’s meant in the sense that absolutely nothing at all exists, not even time or the laws of physics (for example), it might well be impossible for complete nothingness to exist.

    One implication of some variants of theism — that some theists and agnostics find hard to understand — is that it is indeed impossible for complete nothingness to exist.

    Unless they are saying that their eternal God is exactly the same as complete nothingness, which would indeed be incoherent.

  105. #105 Owlmirror
    January 19, 2012

    [take 3, part 1]

    There are huge anaswered questions, many of which science will undoubtedly answer but the ultimate question is something that I’m in doubt that scientific empirical evidence can answer. This is not ‘magic’ per se, it is just, in my view, something beyond a human brain to comprehend.

    Do you think it’s comprehensible in principle, though? If not, why not?

    At this point, the theistic answer is God, but this shouldn’t be confused with ‘a magic wizard looking down on us’.

    Yet in many cases, that putative magic wizard is very close to what people mean by God.

  106. #106 Owlmirror
    January 19, 2012

    [take 3 part 2]

    Maybe a better parallel is that if there is a designer, he would be outside of his design; much as the architect of a house would not be part of the house.

    No, that’s not a good analogy, I think. Human designers and architects evolved from organisms that were not designers and architects.

    Did God evolve from something else?

  107. #107 Owlmirror
    January 19, 2012

    [take 3, part 3]

    My personal view of God is nothing to do with His personality, wishes, desires etc

    Why do you think that a personal pronoun — indeed, a personal masculine pronoun — is appropriate to refer to God? Why do you think that God has personality, wishes, or desires?

    but simply a bridge between why there is something rather than nothing.

    This does not work.

    Is God literally completely nothing? This is incoherent.

    If God is not literally completely nothing, then did God come from literally completely nothing? If so, then you still need a bridge from literally completely nothing to God.

    If you posit that God exists eternally, then there never was literally completely nothing, So God cannot be a bridge from something that didn’t exist.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.