The recent discussion of reviews of The God Delusion has been interesting and remarkably civil, and I am grateful to the participants for both of those facts. In thinking a bit more about this, I thought of a good and relatively non-controversial analogy to explain the point I’ve been trying to make about the reviews (I thought of several nasty and inflammatory analogies without much effort, but I’m trying to be a Good Person…). Unfortunately it requires me to explain a bit of physics… Please, please, don’t throw me into that briar patch.

Some people say that the last really significant thing Einstein did in his career was a paper with Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, called “Can quantum-mechanical description of physical reality be considered complete?” (Wikipedia’s EPR paradox page points to a pdf version here). In the paper, they point out that for a particular sort of quantum state, there are strong correlations between measurements made on two different particles, even though quantum theory says that the state of the individual particles is indeterminate. One interpretation is that the measurement of one particle determines the state of the other, but these correlations should be observed even if the time difference between the measurements is too short for information to travel from one measurement position to the other at the speed of light. Einstein referred to this as a “spooky action at a distance,” a wonderfully colorful phrase that physicists are contractually obligated to drop into every discussion of the EPR paradox. It’s also the origin of the title of the Classic Edition post on the subject that I put up a little while ago.

Einstein favored a type of theory now known as a “Local Hidden Variable” (LHV) theory, in which each particle in the pair has a definite state that is not known to the experimenter. Other people, most notably Neils Bohr, held to the orthodox quantum interpretation that the state is completely indeterminate until a measurement is made. This was thought to be nothing but an abstract philosophical debate, until John Bell came up with an ingenious theorem that allowed people to make a testable prediction about what would happen in certain types of EPR experiments. Bell showed that there are perfectly general things you can say about the correlations you would expect to find in a LHV theory (that is, without specifying the details of any particular theory, the mere fact that it has local hidden variables puts certain limits on the possible outcomes), and that for certain experiments quantum theory predicts results that are outside those bounds.

In the 1980’s, Alain Aspect did a series of experiments to test Bell’s theorem, which earned him a spot in the Top Eleven Physics Experiments of All Time, and proved that LHV theories can’t possibly describe reality. Or, rather, they almost prove that LHV theories can’t work, which is the whole point of this post, but you’ll have to click below the fold to see why…

Aspect did three experiments, each more sophisticated than the last, but each experiment left a loophole. The loopholes get smaller as you go on, but to the best of my knowledge, they haven’t been fully closed.

The first experiment sets up the basic parameters. Aspect and his co-workers used an atomic cascade source that they knew would produce two photons in rapid succession. According to quantum mechanics, when these two photons are headed in opposite directions, their polarizations are correlated in exactly the same way as the EPR states. Each photon could be polarized either horizontally or vertically, but no matter what polarization it has when it’s measured, the other will be measured to have the same polarization.

Since the goal here is to measure correlations between polarizations, Aspect set up two detectors, with polarizers in front of each detector, and measured the number of times that the two detectors each recorded a photon for different settings of the polarizers. Their results showed that the measured correlation was nine standard deviations outside the limits Bell’s theorem sets for LHV theories, which means there’s something like one chance in a billion of that happening by accident.

So, LHV theories are dead, right? Well, not really. There’s a loophole in the experiment, because the detectors weren’t 100% efficient, and there was some chance that they would miss photons. Since the experiment used only a single detector and a single polarizer for each beam, they could only infer the polarization of some of the photons– a vertically polarized photon sent at a vertically oriented polarized produces a count from the detector, while a horizontally polarized photon produces nothing. In some cases, then, the absence of a count was the significant piece of information, and was taken as a signal that the polarization was horizontal when the polarizer was vertical.

This leaves a small hole for the LHV theorist to wiggle through, as it’s possible that either through bad luck or the sheer perversity of the universe, some of those not-counts were vertically polarized photons that just failed to register. If you posit enough missed counts, and the right counts being missed, you can make their results consistent with LHV theories.

So, they did a second experiment, to close the detector efficiency loophole. In this experiment, they used four detectors, two for each photon, and polarizing beamsplitters to arrange it so that each photon was definitely measured. A vertically polarized photon would pass stright through the beamsplitter, and fall on one detecotr, while a vertically polarized photon would be reflected, and fall on the other detector. Whatever the polarization, and whatever the setting of the polarizer, each photon will be detected somewhere, so there are no more missed counts.

They did this experiment, and again found results that violate the limits set by Bell’s Theorem, this time by forty standard deviations. The probability of that occurring by chance is so small as to be completely ridiculous.

So, LHV theories are dead, right? Well, no, because there’s still a loophole. The angles of the polarizers were set in advance, so it’s conceivable that some sort of message could be sent from the polarizers to the photon source, to tell the photons what values to have. If you allow communication between the detectors and the source, you can arrange for the photons to have definite values, and still match the quantum prediction.

So, they did a third experiment, again using four detectors. This time, rather than using polarizing beamsplitters, they put fast switches in each of the beams, and sent the photons to one of two detctors. Each detector had a single polarizer in front of it, set to a particular angle. The switches were used to determine which detector each photon would be sent to, which is equivalent to changing the angle of the polarizer. And the key thing is, the switch settings were changed very rapidly, so that the two photons were already in flight before the exact setting was determined. A signal from the detector to the source would need to go back in time in order to assign definite values to the photon polarizations, which isn’t allowed for a LHV theory.

This version of the experiment, like the other two, produced a violation of the limits set by Bell’s theorem for LHV theories. The violation is smaller, only five standard deviations, because the experiment is ridiculously difficult, but it’s still not likely to occur by chance.

So, LHV theories are finally dead, right? Not really, because the experiment only used a single polarizer for each detector. This re-opens the detector efficiency loophole, and lets LHV theories sneak by in the missed counts.

Aspect quit at this point, though, because closing both of these loopholes at once would require eight detectors to go with the fast switches, and, really, who needs the headache? More recent experiments have improved the bounds, but to the best of my knowledge, none have completely closed all the possible loopholes (and there are plenty of them).

There aren’t many people still seriously pushing LHV theories these days. Pretty much everyone regards Aspect’s experiments as having settled the EPR question in favor of quantum theory, and more recent experiments have only squeezed the range of possible LHV theories down further. While it’s theoretically possible to find some local hidden variable theory that would fit the current limits, it would require such a fortuitous arrangement of detector efficiencies and spooky actions that nobody really thinks it would work.

The point is, though, that those loopholes are still there. Any responsible treatment of the subject has to acknowledge them. And, more importantly, anyone who wants to design a new experiment to test Bell’s theorem needs to account for those loopholes. Tightening the existing bounds is all very nice, and there are much more efficient ways to do the experiments these days than what Aspect did back in 1982, but those aren’t breaking new ground. The loopholes that are left seem faintly ridiculous, which is why you don’t find many people working at closing them, but they’re there, and you need to deal with them.

And that’s the analogy to Dawkins and the things Eagleton and Holt said about his book (I bet you were wondering whether I had forgotten about that…). The modern versions of the “ontological argument” for God may be awfully intricate, but they’re not really any worse than the loopholes in experimental tests of Bell’s theorem (in fact, divine intervention is probably about as credible an explanation of the results as some of the proposed loopholes). Ridiculous and complicated as they may seem, those are the arguments that need to be addressed, in the same way that a new Bell’s theorem experiment would need to deal with the faintly absurd loopholes that remain in the existing experiments.

I don’t personally find the various loopholes all that convincing– when I lecture about them, I refer to the messages from detector to source as being carried by invisible quantum gremlins– any more than I find the “ontological argument” credible. Intellectual honesty demands that those loopholes be addressed when discussing the results, though, and intellectual honesty demands that somebody writing a book that purports to dismantle the arguments for the existence of God deal with the strongest modern versions of the “ontological argument.” If Dawkins does blow that off, as both Eagleton and Holt claim, then he’s failed to meet his obligations as an author, and they’re exactly right to call him on it in their reviews.

Comments

  1. #1 MartinM
    October 25, 2006

    Sure, anyone proposing a new experiment should be dealing with the latest loopholes. But anyone, say, pitching this whole entanglement business to a lay audience who had never heard any of it – as you just did – would presumably – as you just did – cover the basics first. Indeed, a basic introduction might not even get to any of the loopholes, much less the newest, shiniest versions. And that’s precisely because said loopholes are generally viewed precisely as you view them – they’re necessary to deal with, but most people expect them to be closed eventually.

    So there are new, shiny versions of the ontological argument. OK, those should be dealt with, by someone, at some point. But how seriously are they really taken? How many logicians expect them to hold up under closer scrutiny? If the answer is ‘very few,’ then perhaps this is a little too esoteric for what is, after all, a popular treatment.

  2. #2 CCP
    October 25, 2006

    what Martin said

  3. #3 Corkscrew
    October 25, 2006

    Where does one go about locating these shiney new versions of the ontological argument? All the versions I’ve seen in active use are ancient.

  4. #4 bob koepp
    October 25, 2006

    for information about the ontological agrument(s), a good place to start:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ontological-arguments/

  5. #5 razib
    October 25, 2006

    So there are new, shiny versions of the ontological argument. OK, those should be dealt with, by someone, at some point. But how seriously are they really taken? How many logicians expect them to hold up under closer scrutiny? If the answer is ‘very few,’ then perhaps this is a little too esoteric for what is, after all, a popular treatment.

    i read hartshorne & malcolm’s arguments and i think dawkins is a) aware of them (i think holt is misrepresenting the book) b) i think they are not convincing, but perhaps i’m a dogmatic atheist. and secondly, my undrestanding that most philosophers are not overwhelmed by their logical force to the point of being convinced about the existence of god. it seems an interest in the ontological argument (or other ‘proofs’ of god) is pretty parochial and the realm of professional atheists and religious philosophers.

    i might post again about the god delusion, but let me state that i was shocked at how familiar dawkins was with the literature. i speak as someone who has an interested in philosopohy of religion, history of religion and cognitive science of religion. holt’s review speaks to the fact he knows the first, but seems totally ignorant as the last. my own review of the book was mixed, but i think many of the critics are attacking dawkins’ persona and not addressing the book itself.

  6. #6 razib
    October 25, 2006

    and for what it’s worth, i was expecting to be totally irritated by the ignorance of dawkins’ polemic. i wasn’t. this is one book you have to read to comment on because the arguments in makes in interviews or has made previously are only a small sample.

  7. #7 Eric Wallace
    October 25, 2006

    I think you may be giving to much benefit of the doubt to Eagleton and Holt. I notice that you’re always careful to hedge (“If Dawkins does blow that off, as both Eagleton and Holt claim….”), but your tone in these recent posts is unmistakable. Eagleton and Holt are the “serious scholars”, and Dawkins is the knave.

    But I find it very telling that even as these reviewers assure us that Dawkins is fighting a strawman, they present no real evidence supporting their case. What are these “new improved” ontological arguments? Can I get a reference? A hint? Pretty please?

    I’m sorry, I’ve seen this tactic before, and it isn’t scholarly. It’s a rhetorical technique employed by dissemblers of all stripes.

    I find it entirely plausible that Dawkins is familiar with any number of variations on the ontological arguments, but finds them to be qualitatively equal. So he picked one and wrote about it. Maybe his reasoning was sloppy, I don’t know (here I have to humbly insert that I haven’t actually read his book). But I’m not convinced of that based on these reviews.

  8. #8 Uncle Al
    October 25, 2006

    “Last night I saw upon the stair,
    A little man who wasn’t there.
    He wasn’t there again today,
    Oh, how I wish he’d go away.”

    William Hughes Mearns, Antigonish, 1899
    The Psycho-ed (amateur play), Philadelphia, 1910
    Above by Glenn Miller & His Orchestra, vocal by Tex Beneke, 1939

  9. #9 razib
    October 25, 2006

    So he picked one and wrote about it. Maybe his reasoning was sloppy, I don’t know (here I have to humbly insert that I haven’t actually read his book). But I’m not convinced of that based on these reviews.

    dawkins book has serious flaws, but i think the reviewers tone doesn’t impart the character of the book, especially the first half. i think he picked st. anselm’s because it is the canonical form (and hartshorne and malcolm’s circumlocuations require a book length response, not a chapter in a polemical work). look at this comment from john farrell in the previous thread:

    It would never have occurred to him, I suppose, to read “Anselm’s Discovery” by Charles Hartshorne. Hartshorne basically shows how the ontological argument has been misunderstood by virtually everyone –Descartes, Kant, Hume, etc–since the Proslogium was written.

    this is verbal philosophy, not science. interpretation is very important, and philosophy of religion does not have the unequivocal punch of a mathematical proof, nor the empirical check of reality that natural sciences do, or even statistical truths offered by social science. one must ask as to the clarity of an argument if “descartes, kant, hume, etc.” “misunderstood” it? i think that perhaps dawkins flippant dismissal of the ontological argument was tactically a mistake seeing the responses that it elicited in reviewers, but i think it is not an unfair response. i suppose one could say the same about evolutionary theory, but i think the ontological argument is far more marginal in philosophy than evolution is in biology.

  10. #10 Chad Orzel
    October 25, 2006

    MartinM: Sure, anyone proposing a new experiment should be dealing with the latest loopholes. But anyone, say, pitching this whole entanglement business to a lay audience who had never heard any of it – as you just did – would presumably – as you just did – cover the basics first. Indeed, a basic introduction might not even get to any of the loopholes, much less the newest, shiniest versions. And that’s precisely because said loopholes are generally viewed precisely as you view them – they’re necessary to deal with, but most people expect them to be closed eventually.

    I should note that the non-Dawkins parts of this post are more or less transcribed from the lecture notes for the class I taught on this subject. I’m going to suggest EPR and Bell tests as a topic for next year’s Boskone, and I’ll probably give the same presentation there.

    I might skip the loophole explanation if I were talking about something else, and just explaining the Bell tests as a bit of background, but I doubt it. I certainly wouldn’t leave a discussion of the loopholes out of anything where I was just talking about Bell tests, because I think that would be irresponsible. If I did leave it out, and got called on it, I’d say that that’s a fair cop.

    Eric Wallace: But I find it very telling that even as these reviewers assure us that Dawkins is fighting a strawman, they present no real evidence supporting their case. What are these “new improved” ontological arguments? Can I get a reference? A hint? Pretty please?

    The last lines of the section I quoted from Holt’s review are:
    (For those who want to understand the weaknesses in the standard arguments for God’s existence, the best source I know remains the atheist philosopher J. L. Mackie’s 1982 book “The Miracle of Theism.”)

    Perhaps you might start with The Miracle of Theism, by J. L. Mackie, published in 1982?

    I give Holt and Eagleton the benefit of the doubt because there’s presumably some reason why they were picked to write the reviews for the Times and the London Review of Books. Those publications are not generally prone to assigning reviews to people with absolutely no background in the subject of the book to be reviewed– if anything, they tend to err in the opposite direction, and get reviews from people who know far too much about the topic, and come with a whole collection of axes to grind.

    Am I giving them too much credit? Possibly. I haven’t researched their backgrounds, so I couldn’t really say.

    (I also don’t care that much, really. The Dawkins stuff in this post is mostly an excuse to write about some of the coolest physics around…)

  11. #11 Eric Wallace
    October 25, 2006

    The last lines of the section I quoted from Holt’s review are:
    (For those who want to understand the weaknesses in the standard arguments for God’s existence, the best source I know remains the atheist philosopher J. L. Mackie’s 1982 book “The Miracle of Theism.”)

    Perhaps you might start with The Miracle of Theism, by J. L. Mackie, published in 1982?

    Well, I might if I were interested in the weaknesses of the arguments for God’s existence. One presumes that the “better” arguments in favor may be replicated within, but why not direct us to the source? Or give any kind of sketch of them?

    Anyway, I’ll defer to razib on the Dawkins stuff, since he has read the book, and is posting the best comments on it.

    The Dawkins stuff in this post is mostly an excuse to write about some of the coolest physics around

    Yes, the physics is cool. Any good references for Bell’s theorem?

  12. #12 Mark
    October 25, 2006

    First a disclaimer: I have read neither the book nor the reviews. However, I think there is a problem with the analogy. The physics loopholes are physically testable, at least in principle. An ontological argument for the existence of a deity (according to my hazy understanding) is a philosophical exercise in logic carried out using language. As such it is neither physical nor testable. I can see addressing the EPR loopholes when discussing physics, and I can see discussing the ontological argument when discussing philosophy, but I can see no valid reason to discuss the OA when discussing anything having to do with the physical world.

    I still have some money left on a bookstore gift card. I think I’ll go down and buy Dawkins’ book so I can talk about it.

  13. #13 Zed
    October 25, 2006

    Great job in explaining your point, I get it.
    I don’t think it is analogist and I still can’t get to the conclusion of the ontological argument. In the beginning of the argument there is no good evidence to suspect that there is a god. So how do you make the journey to the end and conclude there is a possible god? Your analogy starts with a something. 2 somethings in fact. Theology starts the argument from a fantasy, a nothing, filler for ignorance. I consider the loop hole to be ignorance but, the theologian is insisting it is a super natural god of some fashion. I fail to see the merit of his claim at the start to cause me to follow him to the end.
    Also in your analogy there is constriction of the loop hole over iterative experiments producing new evidence. Theology is reiterative with a stagnant loop hole and a conclusion that never changes.

  14. #14 DavidD
    October 25, 2006

    I agree with those who have said that physics and theology are too different to make analogies between them. My focus on that is the meaning of probability when it comes to these loopholes and the probability of God from the ontological argument. If one knows enough about a system, one can estimate or calculate exact probabilities and make reasonable inferences from that. Who can do that with any aspect of spirituality? Some try, such as the book a couple of years ago, The Probability of God, where the author combines a few probabilities of things such as natural morality, spiritual experiences and miracles to estimate the probability of God at 67%. I don’t trust that number any more than those who see the ontological argument as meaning God is 100% probable. Any number like that or a very low number from an atheist is a guess about a system about which nothing is known. It’s very different from probabilities physicists use.

    I wish it were common knowledge that there are situations where it makes more sense to say the probability of something is either 0 or 1, and I don’t know which it is. Something either happened, or it didn’t. Something either will happen, or it won’t. If I try to guess at a probability for some event like that in the absence of much knowledge, I’m just kidding myself. Any number I come up with means nothing.

    Consider a story many learned in school, The Lady or the Tiger. A hero is challenged with a choice. Behind one door is a lady and wealth. Behind the other door is a tiger and a horrific death. So the probability of each is 50%, right? Only who says the reality matches the words? Maybe the king is out to execute the hero without making the people mad. So there are really tigers behind both doors. Maybe the king just wants to see the hero sweat, and there are ladies behind both doors. Maybe in either case it’s just as well that our hero doesn’t suspect that the odds are nowhere near 50%. Maybe he doesn’t have the option of saying he’s not playing this game, so it doesn’t matter what he thinks about 50% being worth the risk or not.

    Maybe it’s my latent paranoia or too many hours watching TV, but I would think of the possibility that the whole thing is a scam. I spent some hours thinking about this once. What kind of questions would most likely get a “tell” from the king? Who else might have a clue? How many possibilities would I actually have beyond “left” and “right”? In those questions I do what comes to us naturally, thinking it’s up to me to solve the problem.

    What if I’m incompetent to solve the problem? The possibility of a good outcome is either 0 or 1, and nothing I do on my own will tell me which. Then I need help, because that 0 is a very bad outcome. If I can’t trust anyone in the room to help me, there still is God. If God is the only chance left, will anyone worry about the probability He exists?

    I wouldn’t worry. I’m used to closing my eyes, asking God for help, and getting help. It wasn’t impending death that first made me do that, but it was an impending failure. It might not be much help that I get, but after 17 years of doing things this way, I know there’s always help. So for me the probability of God is 1, even if my experience of him leaves a lot of unanswered questions, even though my experience, because it is subjective, doesn’t help anyone else in that dilemma that the probability of God is either 0 or 1, not something in between. There are already plenty of people who report an experience of God besides me. Mine adds nothing to our knowledge, just my knowledge.

    Objective experience of God in others certainly doesn’t help. All religions seem false to me in one way or another. Individuals are just as contradictory, both between themselves and regarding things I know objectively like science. I understand why people are atheists, especially those who grew up in science as I did. It’s not that atheists are so closed-minded. Notice the requests here from the skeptical for some good arguments for God, yet it is pointless to look for even more arguments. The words anyone uses about God are just more words, not anything that cuts open the universe to see if there’s more than science knows.

    The probability of God will remain an indeterminate 0 or 1 until God clarifies that for you. It’s not like physics, though it might help to find the right experiment to do on oneself to let God clarify His existence. Then you have to decide if God is trustworthy in what He tells you. Whom can you trust regarding that except God, maybe the more real God that you discover after you find something lacking in your first understanding of God? At least it’s like physics that way, one’s understanding does evolve. Those who hate evolution see that entirely differently, but their God is not who helped me.

  15. #15 Phil Thrift
    October 25, 2006

    Re: “A signal from the detector to the source would need to go back in time in order to assign definite values to the photon polarizations, which isn’t allowed for a LHV theory.”

    But is this merely the so-called temporal “double-standard” at work which says so?

    A Neglected Route to Realism About Quantum Mechanics
    http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/gr-qc/9406028

    Backward causation, hidden variables, and the meaning of completeness
    http://www.usyd.edu.au/time/price/preprints/QT7.pdf

    etc.

  16. #16 Dave Bacon
    October 25, 2006

    How did you write that entire article on loopholes in Bell’s theorem and draw an analogy with critiques of a book about not believing in God without ever mentioning the “great cosmic conspiracy” loophole in Bell’s theorem? Heh, just kidding, couldn’t resist :)

  17. #17 MarkP
    October 25, 2006

    Any probability calculation assumes (perhaps with good reason, perhaps not) some underlying distribution. We know rolling ten 6’s in a row with a fair die is highly improbable because we know a great deal about the die, and any reasonable intelligent person who examines it will draw a similar conclusion. The same cannot be said for whether god exists. Each advocate assumes a distribution that matches with the view he argues for, making it subtley circular. The best one can do is look at similarities between God (and religious thought in general) and other beliefs, belief groups, and belief systems, and draw general inferences. It might lead to a reasonable conclusion that God does not exist, and one might call it “improbable” in the layman’s sense. I certainly would. But it will never rise to the level of hard probabilistic calculations.

    Having read quite a bit of Dawkins, I would be very surprised if he disagreed with anything I said above. But I have not read TGD and will therefore not give an opinion on it, a habit I wish was catching.

    However, I have done my share of studying philosophy and the many arguments for God, and have seen many versions of the ontological argument, and would rank it as the 2nd worst argument for God there is, trailing only Pascal’s Wager. It borders on an idiot test for me, as in, if you really think this has value, I start to wonder if you’re an idiot. I do try to keep an open mind though, as many smart people have said idiotic things, this author included. If someone has seen a particularly impressive version of it, please post it. I’d love to see it.

    Nonetheless, until then, I see no great sin by Dawkins of dismissing this blithely, as I would have considered it a considerable waste of paper to have done otherwise. Sure, that carries political risk, since it will irritate and harden those who think the OA has weight. But (re my view above), I consider most of them beyond (pardon the unfortunate pun) saving, comparable to evolution deniers who begin with “where did matter come from?” or “what is the meaning of life?”.

  18. #18 thickslab
    October 25, 2006

    I don’t personally find the various loopholes all that convincing– when I lecture about them, I refer to the messages from detector to source as being carried by invisible quantum gremlins– any more than I find the “ontological argument” credible. Intellectual honesty demands that those loopholes be addressed when discussing the results, though, and intellectual honesty demands that somebody writing a book that purports to dismantle the arguments for the existence of God deal with the strongest modern versions of the “ontological argument.”

    You’re doing yourself a disservice by commenting on the book without reading it and by stubbornly declaring that you have no intention to. Dawkins doesn’t claim in The God Delusion to have proof that god doesn’t exist. What he says is that the likelihood of god existing is so vanishingly small that he might as well not. That’s the same point you make with your post here.

    To use your own words against you: If you blow off reading Dawkins’ book, then you’ve failed to meet your obligations as a writer, and people are exactly right to call you on it in their comments.

  19. #19 David Watson
    October 25, 2006

    Urgent Warning:

    There is only a 99.9999% chance of weather today. Please take any and all precautions to make sure that you are prepared for the possiblity that weather may occur.

  20. #20 thickslab
    October 25, 2006

    Chad writes: Perhaps you might start with The Miracle of Theism, by J. L. Mackie, published in 1982?

    And by the way … anyone who has taken the time to read “The God Delusion” would know that Dawkins himself refers to J. L. Mackie’s book for details of the refutation of the Ontological argument (among others.)

  21. #21 Evolved Gorilla
    October 25, 2006

    YOu talk big werds. Make my head hurt. I go crazy! Smash computer!!!!

    ROAAAR!!!!

  22. #22 fred
    October 25, 2006

    “The fool has said in his heart,there is no God.”

    Go ahead and discuss it and “prove” it to yourself if it helps you get to sleep.

  23. #23 projectshave
    October 26, 2006

    The existence of God doesn’t matter. Even if I concede to the Big Three arguments, there’s still no reason to believe and adhere to religion. How does one go from the Big Three to a flying monkey god? The Big Three arguments don’t point to any motivation or commandments from God. Why should I believe that God wants me to hate gays or kill infidels?

    Atheists should stop arguing about the existence of God. “God” is the name people give to the fog of ignorance on the borders of science. The real problem is religion. That should be a much easier target to take down.

  24. #24 Chad Orzel
    October 26, 2006

    Atheists should stop arguing about the existence of God. “God” is the name people give to the fog of ignorance on the borders of science. The real problem is religion. That should be a much easier target to take down.

    Actually, I think that religion is harder to take down, and I’ll post something explaining that cryptic remark later tonight or tomorrow…

    I think there’s a bit too much emphasis on the ontological argument here, which is largely my own damn fault, as I used it as a sort of shorthand for arguments for the existence of God in general, without making it clear that that’s what I was doing. It is, however, the one that Holt specifically mentioned as having more modern versions than Dawkins chooses to address. The point is more about the process of argument than that specific argument.

    And, for the umpteenth time, I’m talking here about the reviews of the book, not the book itself. Or, more specifically, I’m trying to explain why PZ Myers’s summary of Eagleton’s review as “How dare a scientist talk about religion” is a rather serious misreading of what the review actually says.

  25. #25 Perry
    October 27, 2006

    What is the current record for Bell violations, seems I’ve heard numbers on the order of a few hundred standard deviations. If I am recalling correctly, well, I think its pretty clear how a Bayesian quantum mechanic would lean! Or dare I say, anyone who knows how statistics work!

    If you are teaching, talk about the loopholes. Then teach them how science is done, we are never 100.000000000000000% sure of anything. Some more certain than others, but…you can use this to tell folks HOW SCIENCE IS DONE. And to use a buzzword common to academic administrators, teach the to “think critically”. Then of course you could also talk about how “critical thinking” is NOT something you can measure to the first significant digit, as with many or most administrative whirlwinds to blow strongly for some period of time! But that might be too cynical :-)

  26. #26 Arun
    October 29, 2006

    “The existence of God doesn’t matter. Even if I concede to the Big Three arguments, there’s still no reason to believe and adhere to religion. How does one go from the Big Three to a flying monkey god? ”

    You don’t, because you have pulled the Ramayana into your own (religious) context and so completely misunderstand it.

    Perhaps the following story will help – an author went about collecting the versions of Ramayanas in the Indian state of Karnataka. There were hundreds (first sign to you that the Ramayana is not a canonical, immutable text like the Bible). About one of the versions, there is this little nugget, – when Rama is banished to the forest, Sita wants to go along, and Rama tries to dissuade her. In this particular Ramayana, Sita’s clinching argument is – “In all the Ramayanas I’ve heard, Sita goes to the forest, so I win this argument!”.

  27. #27 Chad Orzel
    October 29, 2006

    “In all the Ramayanas I’ve heard, Sita goes to the forest, so I win this argument!”.

    That’s brilliant. Do you have a cite for it?

    I’m not sure it proves anything about religion in general, but I love the idea of religious epic metafiction…

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