Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Intelligent Design?

Neil Tyson is a brilliant scientist. He uses logic and reasoning extremely well. There are numerous videos of him on YouTube that show how great a speaker he is. This following is one of my favorites: (thanks, Tommy) BTW: it kind of relates to my previous post, but I didn't see this video until tonight.

20 comments:

Tattooed & Atheist (T&A) said...

"An entertainment district in the middle of a sewer system"

Tyson is brilliant! He's right, no engineer would do this! But god did...

Jeff said...

Tyson is humerous, but he is rather selective in what he reviews. Richard Dawkins, during a taped interview (I have a link on my blog) with Alister McGrath notes, "it is such a privilege to be born at all" and that his and McGrath’s births were "improbable events." Even Dawkins stands in awe of the fact we are here. The difference is that he chalks it up to luck, whereas McGrath and folks like myself see something else.

One doesn't have to be a young earth creationist to believe that we have a designer. I happen to lean toward an old earth/progressive view of creation (to use Genesis-related terms). But, the more I learn about evolution, the more I see the strength of its theory. But evolution and God are not mutually exlusive concepts, as Francis Collins would point out. Nor, in my view as well as many others, does evolution conflict with the Genesis account of creation.

Check out the brief YouTube clip, located in the link below, from a debate between Dinesh D'Souza and Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens makes somewhat of the same conclusion as Tyson, but D'Souza gives the Cliffs Notes version of design. (Sorry...I have not yet picked up how to imbed links into comments).

http://news.aol.com/newsbloggers/2007/10/24/the-dsouza-hitchens-debate-you-be-the-judge/?ncid=NWS00010000000001

Summer Squirrel, FCD said...

Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving comments!

I love Tyson. I reviewed his latest book on my blog several months ago.

Fortunately I'm of those people that never saw a designer in nature. The theory of natural selection makes complete sense to me and would fall apart if a designer were introduced into the mix. That's not just my opinion.

Cheers!

Harry Nads said...

Summer Squirrel,

Thanks for visiting and welcome!

I, too, feel that if there was an 'Intelligent Designer" he/she/it would have done a much better job at designing humans and the earth.

Lui said...

"But evolution and God are not mutually exlusive concepts, as Francis Collins would point out."

Well, they don't have to be, but evolution certainly makes God superfluous.

Jeff said...

Lui,
RE: "evolution certainly makes God superfluous."

That is an interesting claim... please explain. As I have stated, I lean toward evolution, but to the best of my knowlwege, it only explains a process, it cannot answer why or how we are here (i.e. how life initially began).

Tommy said...

Jeff, but that is the whole point of what Tyson was talking about. He spoke of how many great minds, when they came up against the limits of their knowledge, they invoked god to explain what they could not. Until someone came along and figured out what they could not.

As Tyson says, Intelligent Design is not a philosophy of discovery, it is a philosophy of ignorance.

Jeff said...

Tommy,
Thanks for the admonishment to be careful of a “God in the Gaps” trap (I respond toward the end of this post). I am curious, however, about the selection of your picture. JRR Tolkien once said that Faramir was the one character in the Lord of the Rings trilogy that was most like him. Interestingly, Tolkien was the one who helped C.S. Lewis reconcile his questions about God and the Bible (Lewis at the time was an atheist and had decided that the Christian faith of his up-bringing was intellectually untenable). Anyway, back to the point at hand.

Immanuel Kant once said, “Two things fill me with constantly increasing admiration and awe, the longer and more earnestly I reflect on them: the starry heavens without and the Moral Law within.” Ironically (given Kant‘s view of God), the two phenomena that he notes above, I see as pointing to a Creator.

Morality-
God is not required for a person to make a moral judgment (there are many non-theists whose behavior/actions can be considered moral or good). But, a higher authority is required for an action to be considered inherently moral or evil. A humanistic concept of good/evil is only temporal and thus changes. I do not believe in God simply because I to not like the alternative of subjective good and evil. Quite the opposite. There are things that are intrinsically wrong (mala in se). If there are acts that are wrong, in and of themselves, how can good and evil be subjective? We can never argue that evil acts by brutal people (such as Hitler or child rapists) are good. Such evil cannot change with the times, nor should it. If there is inherent evil, the standard must be set by an entity beyond you and I.

Beauty in Mathematics and Science-
There are many constants in place on our planet and in our universe that are vital to life. Given the preciseness of the constants, some would argue that the existence of life sits on a razor’s edge.

Dr. Francis Collins notes, “Altogether there are fifteen physical constants whose values current theory in unable to predict. They are givens: they simply have the value that they have. This list includes the speed of light, the strength of the weak and strong nuclear forces, various parameters associated with electromagnetism, and the force of gravity. The chance that all of these constants would take on the values necessary to result in a stable universe capable of sustaining complex life forms is almost infinitesimal…In sum our universe is wildly improbable.”

Astronomer Dr. Martin Rees once said, “The expansion speed, the material content of the universe, and the strengths of basic forces, seem to have been a prerequisite for the emergence of the hospitable cosmic habitat in which we live.” He notes that if there were the slightest tweaking of the numbers, “The universe as we know it would not be here.” Further, the mere placement of our plant within our solar system and within our universe is strikingly fortuitous (despite what Tyson notes). Along these lines, Richard Dawkins once said, "It is such a privilege to be born at all" and that his birth was an "improbable event."

Additionally, the mathematics and formulas behind many of these scientific principles are extraordinary beautiful. Some have even called them, “elegant in their simplicity.” The more we dig into science and mathematics, the more we see beauty at the most infinitesimal levels. Nobel-prize winning physicist and atheist Steven Weinberg once said, “Sometimes nature seems more beautiful that strictly necessary.”

Back to your point about “God in the Gaps,” which Dr. Collins also comments on: “Faith that places God in the gaps of current understanding about the natural world may be headed for crisis if advances in science subsequently fill those gaps…There are good reasons to believe in God, including the existence of mathematical principles and order in creation. They are positive reasons, based on knowledge, rather than default assumptions based on (a temporary) lack of knowledge.” Similarly, I would note that I let the evidence lead me to my conclusions, rather than the other way around.

Lui said...

I said: "evolution certainly makes God superfluous"

Jeff replied: "That is an interesting claim... please explain."

Certainly. Evolution makes God superfluous because it provides a fully satisfactory explanation for how we got here, and it has no need for divine intervention. Evolution is a fact: there is a vast multitude of evidence for it and we are understanding more and more about how it works; it has been directly observed. It is a fully naturalistic process, and it alone gives a GOOD answer to the question of how complexity arose. Invoking God as an ultimate explanation only magnifies the problem, because an entity capable of doing all the things that have been traditionally ascribed to God is the very antithesis of a simple explanation. It requires far more explanation than what it deems to solve. Evolutionary theory does without all that fluff, and gets to the heart of the problem: showing how cumulative change can lead from simplicity to complexity. With God, you have monstrous complexity to begin with. It is a spectacularly unparsimonious explanation, and one that science has no need for.

Lui said...

“The expansion speed, the material content of the universe, and the strengths of basic forces, seem to have been a prerequisite for the emergence of the hospitable cosmic habitat in which we live.”

Much has been made of the "fine-tuning" argument for the existence of God. The idea is that the basic laws of the universe are so finely "adjusted" that life could not have arisen in any other conceivable universe, and that it took a divine "fine-tuner" to set all the constants to be just right.

There are problems with this, and it should not lead anyone to think that "science shows that God is more probable than his nonexistence." Quite the opposite, in fact.

The first problem is that God isn't the only explanation - as he is often made out to be - that could clinch the problem. A far more parsimonious explanation is that we live in just one of many universes, each one with somewhat different laws. Wildly speculative? Perhaps, but no more so than saying that a conscious entity lovingly fashioned the universe so that we could live in it. There is nothing in modern physics to rule out the multiverse hypothesis, and while it may be "complex" in the sense that it invokes a large number of universes (I'm paraphrasing Dawkins here, so please excuse my plagiarism), it neatly solves the problem because the underlying constants may be very simple; we just happen to live in one of the universes in which the laws of nature are such that we are here to talk about them, otherwise we wouldn't be. In that sense, we are here by "chance", but since we had such an enormous number of universe to play with, it was likely that in SOME universe, the conditions would be just right for the eventual, gradual emergence of life. By necessity, we just happen to live in that universe. It is no coincidence that when we look up at night we see stars, for it is within stars that the elements that are essential to life are forged. Star formation might not be sustainable in a universe in which the laws of physics were somewhat, so the essential elements would never get produced. It may well be that the particular laws in our universe are highly improbable, but an entity that did the fine-tuning would itself be even more improbable. Now you might say that there is no direct evidence (or any evidence whatsoever) for the existence of other universes, but if you're going to say that the laws of nature are evidence for God, why can't they be evidence for a far simpler explanation, one that has no need for a being that can hear prayers, administer intervention and guidance, wreak miracles, and design universes? The latter is a flabby explanation in that it invokes something that would itself need a monster explanation in its own right. It is also not clear why the regress of explanations should terminate when we reach God, but I have a sense for why it would be popular to subscribe to that view.

The second problem is that what we call "life" is really life as we know it. We do not know what other types of life - if there are any - could emerge in universes with different constants. We would need to rule out their emergence before we could definitively say that life in our universe is the only type of life that could conceivably arise.

The third problem - the one Tyson pointed out - is that the universe doesn't seem to be fine tuned for the emergence of life anyway, and certainly not for the emergence of humanity. For one thing, most of the visible universe seems to be relentlessly hostile to life, because of the extremes in temperature, radiation etc. It is only within a vanishingly small proportion of the universe that life can arise. Step outside the atmosphere and we would die within seconds without the aid of special equipment. Within the atmosphere, it hasn't exactly been all smiles and sunshine either; volcanic eruptions, meteorites strikes, ice ages (the very sorts of things one would EXPECT in a universe that has no regard for our safety and that doesn't in any sense care about us) - all of which have precipitated extinctions. At the end of the Permian period (just before the Mesozoic era) about 95 percent of life was extinguished. Anatomically modern Homo sapiens has only existed for the last 200,000 years or so years. 3.5 billion years of evolution (the first 2 billion being exclusively played by by microbes) seems like a supremely convoluted route to producing us; certainly, our emergence wasn't guaranteed. We are here due to a combination of natural selection and luck, the latter consisting of environmental contingencies that had a big role to play in the subsequent shape of the tree of life. If the Cretaceous/Tertiary event hadn't wiped out the dinosaurs, one of their lineages might have gone on to evolve intelligence, and they would be thinking the exact thing many of us are: that the universe was made for them. They might also scoff at the idea that mammals could ever evolve intelligence if the history of life had been different. No, God (or their version) must have chosen them to live. You can see my point here.

Evolution is itself the very sort of thing one would expect in a God-less universe: it is indifferent to suffering and is opportunistic. It leads to ruthless exploitation, manipulation, parasitism, (please note: this is a statement of how nature is, not of how we would like it to be, and it certainly isn't a statement of how we should behave) all geared towards the propagation of genes. It co-opts existing structures to modify their function, and in this sense is more like a tinkerer than a clever engineer. Evolution has no foresight, and can only use the materials at its disposal. Things like cancer (a side effect of having DNA as our genetic substrate), mortality, vestigial organs that are prone to infection/complications, infanticide, sexual antagonism, biological arms-races between the sexes and between predators/prey or parasites/hosts, genomic parasites that spread themselves for their own sake rather than because they confer advantages to their hosts, viruses (the genomes of which have become integrated into our own, exemplified by the observation that entities known as ERVs - endogenous retroviruses - constitute about a quarter of ours, having accrued over evolutionary time) the maintenance of harem systems in many species despite the waste this confers to groups as a whole: these are the types of things that are readily and elegantly explained by and even predicated by evolutionary theory, and they are explained and predicted because they function according to mechanical regularities tempered by stochastic factors that can be modelled mathematically or simulated. My point is that they need not have any "ultimate purpose" in any religious sense for them to do what they do; in fact, including God in the equation adds another layer of complexity that just isn't required.

Jeff said...

Lui,
Thanks for the reply. I have to say that I am still not persuaded that evolution provides an adequate explanation as to how we got here initially…only how life evolved from less complex to more complex. Dr. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and certainly no right-wing Young-Earth creationist but in fact an evolutionist, retorts in a much more eloquent fashion that I have: “If humans evolved strictly by mutation and natural selection, who needs God to explain us? To this I reply, I do.” Collins feels that the “claim that science demands atheism…goes beyond the evidence…[T]hose who choose to be atheists must find some other basis for taking that position. Evolution won’t do.” As I have stated before, you do not need to defend evolution with me…I am sympathetic to what it teaches. Where we part ways are the inferences that one deduces from such a theory, including, but not limited to, that it makes God superfluous.

As to your point about the Anthropic Principle (I assume this is what you mean by the multiverse hypothesis). This is definitely an interesting hypothesis to consider and one that deserves much more research. But, to date, there is still significant debate. Many physicists even equate its tenants to having “metaphysical” implications, not to mention the fact that, as you put it, “there is no such evidence” for multiple universes. Further, what evidence do we have that there are an infinite number of universes? Even if it is shown one day that there are multiple universes, who is to say that there are only two or five or twenty-two. The entire cornerstone to your argument is that there are an infinite number, but there is no scientific basis to this presupposition. You are asking me to assume much more than a parallel universe. Here is an interesting link on the subject: http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/teleo.html

I am somewhat confused by your statement that the universe (i.e. space) is “hostile” to life. Just because there are places (such as outside Earth’s atmosphere) that are dangerous to humans does not lend credibility to the non-existence of God. If humans were born with the ability to enter outer space (short of building a rocket or a shuttle), but lacked the means to survive, I would be a little more sympathetic to such an critique. Perhaps I am missing your point here. The one statement that you did mention in this section that I was most sympathetic to was your reference to disasters and why they occur. Earlier in my life, this was an issue that caused me much consternation (i.e. why God allows suffering). I touch on this subject here:

http://three15.blogspot.com/2007_08_01_archive.html

Not to get all theological here, but the bottom line, in the eyes of Christians, is that humans, through choice of our own, did not want to follow God, our creator. Such rebellion had ramifications that impacted the entire world. It had the effect of putting diesel into a gasoline engine. Such an act (sin) wasn’t meant to occur (but it allowed to occur because we have free will) and this mucked things up in the process. Water is essential for life, but causes floods. Plate tectonics serve a geological purpose, but cause earthquakes and volcano eruptions. Because of the rebellion of the human race, we see such events in our lives.

You also state that “Evolution is itself the very sort of thing one would expect in a God-less universe…” Such a statement includes a wide variety of presuppositions. For one, you assume that you know what a perfect universe would be like to compare our current existence. But where do you get your standard of perfection? It is interesting that while you militate against the concept of a god, you certainly seem to know a lot about what type of world he would create if he were real.

You also note that evolution “is indifferent to suffering and is opportunistic. It leads to ruthless exploitation, manipulation, parasitism, (please note: this is a statement of how nature is, not of how we would like it to be, and it certainly isn't a statement of how we should behave).” The question I would pose here is where you get your idea of “should behave.” Without an objective moral arbiter, we have no right to say what anyone “ought” or “should” do. While a certain act may cause harm to others, your concept of “should” does not have a leg to stand on; it is simply your opinion. Humans may have animalistic instincts, but we have the unique ability to override and suppress urges that we consider wrong, or evil. This idea of a Moral Law is what I was referring to in my earlier post. Such a Law (which you appear to elude to and we are all aware of) in my mind raises serious implications about the existence of a creator. Let me say again that God is not required for a person to make a moral judgment (there are many non-theists whose behavior/actions can be considered moral or good). But, a higher authority is required for an action to be considered inherently moral or evil.

I will leave you with this quote, ““At this moment, it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” Astrophysicist Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers.

Harry Nads said...

The proof that man has evolved even in the slightest is reason enough for me to believe there is no God. If God (according to the Bible) is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfect... then he would have created an 'evolved man'- not an un-evolved 'caveman'.

Also, he would have created man that would not need food or water to sustain life. That man would be immune to any disease. In fact, disease would never have been created. Also, this man would be able to survive without needing to breathe oxygen and be able to withstand extreme temperatures (or God should have created Earth with non-extreme temperatures.)

If man were truly created 'in the image of God' (which no one knows what that really means), then we would not need a physical body at all. God doesn't eat, sleep, breathe, walk, talk, or see in only the visible spectrum anyway if he exists. Because the need for any of those is thrown out the window if it was only God that existed before anything else. I imagine he would be more like a thought (the best way I can think to describe it.)

See my post "Does God have Legs" to see what I am trying to say at this ungodly hour of the morning.

Jeff said...

Harry,
You say if God existed, He would have created a perfect human being. I would agree...because He did. But, as I mention during my previous post, however, we as humans have messed everything up by following our own desires (sin). In the mind of a Christian, the introduction of sin created a whole host of problems, including many of the ones you describe. (Like diesel fuel in a gasoline tank).

As is relates to being made in the image of God and why we breath, eat, drink, etc., I think you will find the link below interesting. A local philosopher and former college professor hosts a daily radio program here in Phoenix. He recently touched on the exact subject you mention. I am sure you are aware that Pope John Paul II wrote a long series of thoughts on "The Theology of the Body." A link to the Pope's thoughts, as well as others are noted within this link.

http://andrewtallmanshowtopics.blogspot.com/2007/11/theology-of-body.html

Lui said...

“I have to say that I am still not persuaded that evolution provides an adequate explanation as to how we got here initially…only how life evolved from less complex to more complex.”

No one knows how life originated, but we have no good reason to think that God is a good hypothesis. The God hypothesis has failed in everything else.

“Dr. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and certainly no right-wing Young-Earth creationist but in fact an evolutionist, retorts in a much more eloquent fashion that I have: “If humans evolved strictly by mutation and natural selection, who needs God to explain us? To this I reply, I do.” Collins feels that the “claim that science demands atheism…goes beyond the evidence…[T]hose who choose to be atheists must find some other basis for taking that position. Evolution won’t do.” “

It’s not so much that it demands atheism, it’s that atheism is the only reasonable position to take given the evidence at hand. In no area of science is God the leading hypothesis. The more we look, the less reason we find to suppose that God is behind it all. So why bring him in at all?

“As I have stated before, you do not need to defend evolution with me…I am sympathetic to what it teaches. Where we part ways are the inferences that one deduces from such a theory, including, but not limited to, that it makes God superfluous.”

It certainly makes God superfluous in the biological realm, and it provides a more general point: that complexity arrives late in the universe, not early. A being capable of doing what its followers say it can do is the very antithesis of simplicity. Hence, one is adding unnecessary complexity to a problem unless they can show that that complexity is required. So far, this has been done.

”As to your point about the Anthropic Principle (I assume this is what you mean by the multiverse hypothesis). This is definitely an interesting hypothesis to consider and one that deserves much more research. But, to date, there is still significant debate. Many physicists even equate its tenants to having “metaphysical” implications, not to mention the fact that, as you put it, “there is no such evidence” for multiple universes. Further, what evidence do we have that there are an infinite number of universes?”

Let us concede that we have none (for all I know, that’s probably actually the case); my point is simply that it’s still a far more parsimonious explanation than supposing that an intelligent being (for which there is also no evidence) endowed with the capacity for emotion and wreaking miracles is the ultimate cause.

“Even if it is shown one day that there are multiple universes, who is to say that there are only two or five or twenty-two. The entire cornerstone to your argument is that there are an infinite number, but there is no scientific basis to this presupposition.”

There is no scientific basis for supposing that God did it. On the other hand, there is nothing to rule out multiple universes, and it has the potential to trivially resolve the fine-tuning problem. So you would need to rule out that more parsimonious possibility before saying that God is a better explanation, because God is by far the more exotic possibility.

”I am somewhat confused by your statement that the universe (i.e. space) is “hostile” to life. Just because there are places (such as outside Earth’s atmosphere) that are dangerous to humans does not lend credibility to the non-existence of God. If humans were born with the ability to enter outer space (short of building a rocket or a shuttle), but lacked the means to survive, I would be a little more sympathetic to such an critique. Perhaps I am missing your point here.”

I hear all the time people say things like “the universe is exquisitely fine-tuned for life.” The points raised by Tyson show that we should be wary of this, because it is almost completely dangerous to life. Only in a tiny, tiny fraction of it can life be sustained, and even then it’s in danger of things like mass extinctions. Exactly what should be expected in a universe that doesn’t care about us.

“The one statement that you did mention in this section that I was most sympathetic to was your reference to disasters and why they occur. Earlier in my life, this was an issue that caused me much consternation (i.e. why God allows suffering). I touch on this subject here:

http://three15.blogspot.com/2007_08_01_archive.html”

It’s easy to make up reasons after the fact for anything (and this presupposes God’s existence, with no evidence) to explain away why bad things happen, but it’s more parsimonious to presume that there is no God.

”Not to get all theological here, but the bottom line, in the eyes of Christians, is that humans, through choice of our own, did not want to follow God, our creator. Such rebellion had ramifications that impacted the entire world. It had the effect of putting diesel into a gasoline engine. Such an act (sin) wasn’t meant to occur (but it allowed to occur because we have free will) and this mucked things up in the process. Water is essential for life, but causes floods. Plate tectonics serve a geological purpose, but cause earthquakes and volcano eruptions. Because of the rebellion of the human race, we see such events in our lives.”

This is completely irrelevant and has nothing whatsoever to do with science, because what science shows us is that these things were happening well before the emergence of human beings. They have nothing to do with sin. You can’t talk about science to make your argument look respectable, and then ignore its findings when it suits. Again, you’re adding another quick fix to get around the problem, but you cite no evidence.

”You also state that “Evolution is itself the very sort of thing one would expect in a God-less universe…” Such a statement includes a wide variety of presuppositions.”

It doesn’t; it simply states something that automatically and logically follows from what we know about evolution: it’s a naturalistic process that has no need for intelligent intervention. It can happen with or without God, but since it doesn’t NEED God, the simpler scenario is to suppose that God is absent from its workings. So it doesn’t in any way affirm God (though again, you can add another quick fix to make God’s presence “scientifically” respectable again. These fixes, though, are starting to get piled on pretty high, and you haven’t yet provided actually evidence to suppose that God even exists). Hence, we leave him out of thew picture until good evidence is found to bring him into it.

“For one, you assume that you know what a perfect universe would be like to compare our current existence. But where do you get your standard of perfection?”

I’m not thinking about perfection, I’m thinking about the fact that the world isn’t perfect, that we have a good scientific account for why it isn’t, and that to bring in God would be to bring in an unnecessary layer of complexity.

“It is interesting that while you militate against the concept of a god, you certainly seem to know a lot about what type of world he would create if he were real.”

I don’t; the onus isn’t on me to show God’s non-existence or the type of world he would have created if he was real. It’s on you to show that he does exist, because you seem to think that the evidence somehow shows his presence. But in order to do that, you’ve had to rely on quick fixes to retrospectively explain away why we shouldn’t just presume that it was all the result of natural processes, which is all that the evidence has ever shown.

I know, though, about the type of world that would give rise to life and human beings if God wasn’t involved in the process, and it’s type that we have. It’s been studied in great detail by thousands of scientists, and I see no reason to suppose anything other than nature and her laws being played out. Again, the non-existence of God is the more parsimonious position to take, whereas an insistence on God’s existence requires a long series of fixes.

”You also note that evolution “is indifferent to suffering and is opportunistic. It leads to ruthless exploitation, manipulation, parasitism, (please note: this is a statement of how nature is, not of how we would like it to be, and it certainly isn't a statement of how we should behave).” The question I would pose here is where you get your idea of “should behave.” Without an objective moral arbiter, we have no right to say what anyone “ought” or “should” do.”

Okay, I should just say now that I’m not really that excited about getting embroiled in this debate about morality, because Christians often seem to harbour an extremely arrogant attitude towards ethics, which is basically that only they have a “basis” for it (and yet, the most irreligious counties in the world are the ones that suffer from the least social dysfunction. Surely atheists have SOME basis for their morality?). This is an argument I’ve encountered so many times that I know that those who ask it are normally more interested in scoring debating points against atheists rather than formulating a good moral philosophy of their own. Often, they lack a proper conception of what morality even is, mistaking it for something that we do so that God won’t punish us. I fear that it would be a waste of time engaging in this debate, but I will say this: my view of ethics is grounded in empathy and an awareness that other people are sentient beings endowed with the capacity for hurt and joy like me. I know what it feels like to be hurt and to feel joy, and I treat others in accordance to that knowledge. I also know that actions have consequences, and that I have purely selfish reasons to treat others well (because I would be setting a precedent that would come back to hurt me if I violated other people’s trust and acted in ways that did them harm). Unless you mean to tell me that if you didn’t believe in God, you would find nothing wrong with murder and rape, then your argument is frankly worthless, because you don’t actually believe it yourself. I don’t believe that you can find no compelling reasons why humans should treat one another with compassion and respect unless they’re being threatened with eternal hellfire by an angry God who is constantly monitoring them. That’s a rather miserable and frankly immoral world view that probably very few actually subscribe to, but it is popular in debates because theists think it to be a knock-down argument. So not only is the idea that I have no “basis for my morals” patently false, the alternative that you’re presenting is actually not one bit better, and has nothing at all to do with morality, but rather sycophancy to a divine being. It gets the understanding of morality precisely nowhere.

“Humans may have animalistic instincts, but we have the unique ability to override and suppress urges that we consider wrong, or evil.”

Morality evolved, and there is plenty of evidence to show that non-human animals are also endowed with empathy, for good evolutionary reasons. Given that we have the power of foresight and can calculate the consequences of our actions, we are given extra room to manoeuvre.

“Let me say again that God is not required for a person to make a moral judgment (there are many non-theists whose behavior/actions can be considered moral or good). But, a higher authority is required for an action to be considered inherently moral or evil.”

The idea of something being “inherently” good, in the sense that it is good for reasons “out there”, outside of human beings, is meaningless, because it places the basis for human goodness in a non-human medium. In other words, “good” simply amounts to God’s whim, nothing more (it’s no wonder that horrible things like Abraham’s attempted murder of his son can be considered “good”, even though someone who tried that today would be arrested for child abuse and attempted murder). It’s no wonder that Christians are powerless to object to the atrocities in the Old Testament, often ordered by God. I have seen them make endless excuses, often trying to deflect the question by focusing on my supposed lack of a basis for my ethics. It just doesn’t wash, and I’m not going to get embroiled in this debate because as far as I’m concerned, Christians are no more moral than anyone else, regardless of the criterion one employs for defining morality. The religious criterion, as I see it, is in fact immoral and archaic.

”I will leave you with this quote, ““At this moment, it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” Astrophysicist Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers.”

A popular sentiment, but needless to say, I think it’s rubbish. It presupposes that just because there are things that science may never be able to answer, that “therefore” religion is better qualified to do so. Not once has this been proven correct. It's just something that theists like to believe in order to compensate for the abysmal track record of religion's truth claims.


To sum up, we have the following:

The universe is vast, most of it is inhospitable to life (at least as we know it), and there are processes going on it that have no need for any intelligent guidance. In tiny pockets of the universe, some of these processes have given rise to complex entities known as organisms. These processes, too, have no need for divine guidance, and we know this because they have been studied extensively and no evidence whatsoever has been found to suppose that such intervention is needed. None of these facts in any way affirm God. If anything, they make him unnecessary. We also know that complexity comes after simplicity, and that a being that is capable of designing life or setting the constants of a universe in order that it will produce life must be more complex than the things he is being brought in to explain. This entity will thus need more explanation than it solves. While we don’t know the answer to the fine-tuning problem, we have a naturalistic possibility that would trivially solve the problem, though we have no direct evidence for it. On the other hand, we have a very unparsimonious, theistic alternative, for which we also have no direct evidence. Given that the difference is one of parsimony rather than empirical knowledge (plus that there is nothing to rule out the multiverse hypothesis, and it has the added benefit of escaping from the ultimate-complexity problem that the God hypothesis is stuck with), the more reasonable possibility is the former, naturalistic one, and we tentatively accept it, until evidence for God is presented.

In short, we made God in the image of man, not the other way around.

“You say if God existed, He would have created a perfect human being. I would agree...because He did. But, as I mention during my previous post, however, we as humans have messed everything up by following our own desires (sin).”

So humans were punished for doing what God designed them to want to do. Adam and Eve (who, by the way, didn’t exist, and there is not a shred of evidence to suggest otherwise) were thrown into the world, completely innocent, and they were expected to know that constituted sin? And for their “sin”, God punished the rest of humanity to come? That hardly seems like a compassionate God to me.

“In the mind of a Christian, the introduction of sin created a whole host of problems, including many of the ones you describe. (Like diesel fuel in a gasoline tank).”

I can’t really believe you actually think that, especially since you claim to have no problem with evolution. Presumably, you also have no problem with the idea that parasites have been around for millions of years, that mass extinctions have occurred, and that disease is ancient and precedes humanity?

Lui said...

Correction: "Hence, one is adding unnecessary complexity to a problem unless they can show that that complexity is required. So far, this has notbeen done."

Jeff said...

Lui,
Family obligations and work have prevented a timely response.

Where to start…

First of all, nothing I have written has been intended to win “debating points.” Quite frankly, I could care less about “winning” any conversation with you, as if I were a member of a opposing high school or college debate team coveting a trophy to carry back to my alma mater. In my mind, conversations like ours should transcend such shallow and meaningless endeavors. I cannot speak to the encounters you might have had with Christians in the past, but obviously, some who claim to share my religion have attempted to engage you in such a selfish manner. Let me say, shame on them. My motivation is this: I see statements in the blogoshere that are false, as they relate to God. My intent is to offer up an alternative viewpoint for a person to ponder. I hope the argument (for lack of a better word) proves to be persuasive enough for them to reconsider their negative view of God -- at a minimum, to plant a seed, so to speak. Some of the greatest minds of Christianity initially came from the worldview of atheism, not the least of which is C.S. Lewis. Believers with such backgrounds add needed diversity of thought and new insights to others who may be lifelong theists and have never wrestled with the difficulties of doubt. With that said, let me get back to the subject at hand.

Your initial critique of my comments related to how evolution makes God superfluous. In my opinion, you have yet to adequately defend such a dismissive statement partly because you are requiring more from the principles of evolution (and science for that matter) than it can supply. Science was never intended to prove or disprove God, so your assumption errs from the outset. You are obviously willing to embrace in philosophical and theoretical concepts that are not grounded in 100% science (i.e. multiple universes, which I address again momentarily). But if a philosophical construct involves God, then this is not allowed. You wrestle with the concept of God as if He were something you can measure and predict based on an experiment--He is not.

Further, much of your dismissal of God lies in your notions of what a god should or would be like, despite the fact that you have no basis to judge a god’s actions other that what you think he would or would not do (there is not a god, but IF THERE WERE he would not do such and such). You also cite Ockham's razor as a reason to not bring God into the equation (interestingly, Ockham was a theist). However, you are assuming that God is more complex (“exotic” is also a term you use) than the idea of order and human cognition coming out of blind nothingness. The non-existence of God necessitates equally vast complexity, if not more so, than the idea of God. Again, because science cannot 100% prove God in such matters, it is dismissed a priori. I am flabbergasted that you would state that we must wait until we prove/disprove multiple universes before we can consider God a possibility (if such an endeavor is humanly possible). To answer another question along these same lines: While complexity follows simplicity (as you note), at the exact moment of singularity--‘the big bang’--all known laws of physics have been said to not apply. Why would Ockham’s razor apply at this incredible moment?

As I have said earlier, while science cannot prove or disprove God, it allows us to catch glimpses of our creator. From the Moral Law to the fine tuning of the universe, to, dare I even mention it, the revelation handed down via Christ and the Bible, one is on more than reasonable ground to believe a god could exist. These glimpses, while not equivalent to the flashing lights when driving into Las Vegas, are significant enough for me to ask for a better explanation than, “we are just pretty lucky.” To me, the revelation from the Bible and the historicity of Christ adds the confirmation that I need (perhaps we should save such a discussion for another day, lest we end up writing endless responses to one another that lose sight of how this conversation began).

To the subject of morality. While you note that you prefer not to engage on this subject, you proceeded to spend much of your time here. You need to be honest, however, and concede that in response to my comments you put words in my mouth that I never wrote, nor ever inferred. I did not said you, or any atheist, couldn’t be moral or good. I said that God is required for there to be an objective standard for morality and human rights. The very fact that we find there are certain acts committed by humans that are so heinous, that they violate everything we know to be good, raises questions about how such standards came to be. While you believe that our morality evolved, similar to our biology, I have seen no reasonable evidence to support this claim. If morals evolve, then anything we call good or bad is now open for discussion. There are crimes that should never be open for discussion. If there were no God, this does not mean that I would run around the next day murdering and raping. However, I would have no basis to say that that the heathen who barges into my home to do the same is evil, in and of itself (American law refers to a Latin term on this subject, mala in se). As Norman Geisler once said, "In order for moral evil to be present, a moral agent and a moral law must also exist." Who else can that moral agent be but God? Selfishness and a heard mentality may partly explain morality, but evolution does not explain why humans commit acts of kindness unknown to anyone that do not benefit us. Secondly, why do we risk our safety to help people outside of our group (as did Mother Teresa and Oskar Schindler)?

You also infer that God’s standard of right and wrong (in the eyes of a Christian or Jew) is arbitrary and capricious. This is an interesting question offered by Plato many years ago, called the Euthyphro Dilemma. Simply put, Plato asks if an act is right because God says it's so, or does God say it's so because it's right. Thomas Aquinas argued that the dilemma is false. "Yes, God commands something because it is good, but the reason it is good is that good is an essential part of God's nature. So goodness is grounded in God's character and merely expressed in moral commands. Therefore whatever a good God commands will always be good." As I stated, it important to point out that someone does not have to be religious to do "good" things, like feed the poor, although, most outreach centers I can think of that offer such assistance are part of a larger church ministry. Yes, Christianity has much to answer for, but the benefit to the world (the fruit, so to speak) has been much greater.

In closing, I must note that the quote that you criticize as “complete rubbish” relating to ‘scientists meeting the band of theologians’ was offered by an agnostic, not a theist. Robert Jastrow is a world-renowned astrophysicist and one the top minds of our time.

I have benefited our exchange, Lui. You certainly are a bright individual. Best of luck with your continued studies.

Lui said...

"You wrestle with the concept of God as if He were something you can measure and predict based on an experiment--He is not."

I happen to disagree with you. The existence of a God could in principle leave its mark in phenomena that could be measured, and that, in the absence of any naturalistic explanations for such phenomena, could give credence to the notion of a being or entity operating outside the laws of nature. Anyway, it seems that what you're doing is diametrically opposed to this general recommendation. You are using the fine-tuning of the universe as a reason to belief in God. The fine-tuning of the universe is something upon which science can throw light. There is at minimum a glaring inconsistency in saying, on the one hand, that God cannot be detected by science, whilst using the findings of science to bolster the case for him. There is another inconstency in your argument: you claim that, since i have no prior criterion for judging God's work, that I cannot say that evolution is something we would expect to find if there is no God. But what criterion do you employ when you imply that the fine-tuning of the universe is a reason to suppose if that God is behind the universe? What if the multiverse hypothesis were confirmed? Would that in any way sway you to think that God is less probable? On the other hand, what if it was found that evolution is in fact a hoax, and that the world really was formed in a few days? Or that Christian prayer is consistently correlated with higher healing rates than Muslim prayer or Judaic prayer? Would you see these things as not being bonuses in favour of the God hypothesis? So I'm interested in knowing what criteria you employ, because if anything at all can be retrospectively fitted to affirm God in some way or other, then you are adopting a non-existent criterion, or one that morphs to fit in with whatever the evidence comes to hand is saying.

Furthermore, my argument was never about science definitively proving or disproving God. It is ultimately about probability; there are things that could in principle raise our confidence in the God hypothesis, and things that could in principle lead us to suppose that nature by herself will suffice. But if anything counts as evidence for God (or at least doesn't disprove him) then what criterion are you employing to imply that the evidence affirms his existence?

"However, you are assuming that God is more complex (“exotic” is also a term you use) than the idea of order and human cognition coming out of blind nothingness."

I don't know what you mean by me assuming that human cognition came out of blind nothingness; I don't actually hold such a view. I believe that there was a long, cumulative process involved before human cognition arrived on the scene.

"The non-existence of God necessitates equally vast complexity, if not more so, than the idea of God."

I don't see how that can possibly follow. Science is striving to find ultimately SIMPLE explanations for the existence of the universe; complexity comes later. God, on the other hand, cannot possibly be a simple explanation, because he is deemed capable (by his believers) of intervening in human affairs, wreaking miracles by suspending the laws of nature, designing universes, and having emotional states. A naturalistic account of the universe would have it that the universe exists due to some fundamental symmetry in which something is more stable (in some sense that physicists represent with their mathematical formulations) than nothing. In fact, the physicist Victor Stenger has said that it would count as evidence for God if there was nothing rather than something, because nothingness would necessitate the intervention of an outside force in order for it to be maintained. It is also likely that the total energy of the universe is zero so it would not have required any energy from an external source to bring it about.

"Again, because science cannot 100% prove God in such matters, it is dismissed a priori."

Actually, I reject God because the evidence keeps saying that the universe is perfectly capable of managing itself. There is no need for an a priori dismissal.

"I am flabbergasted that you would state that we must wait until we prove/disprove multiple universes before we can consider God a possibility (if such an endeavor is humanly possible)."

I didn't say we have to wait for confirmation of other universes to consider God a possibility. I only meant to say that, GIVEN the two possibilities, it would pay us to be wary of automatically favouring the God hypothesis as though it were in some way more satisfactory or likely than the other speculative scenario. As I said, there is nothing in modern cosmology to rule out the multiverse hypothesis, and in the absence of direct observations in favour of it or the God hypothesis, we can say that we have two possibilities: one that is genuinely simple (in the sense that it posits chance and fundamentally simple constants for each universe, albeit with a large NUMBER of universes) and one that is genuinely extravagant (in that it posits the existence of a sentient being who has our interests at heart and who experiences emotional states, can read billions of minds simultaneously, etc). I think you would admit that we can't directly see God, so why is the God hypothesis any better than the multiverse hypothesis?

"While complexity follows simplicity (as you note), at the exact moment of singularity--‘the big bang’--all known laws of physics have been said to not apply. Why would Ockham’s razor apply at this incredible moment?"

Because we're talking about ultimate explanations. If you're going to say that God did, what reason do you left for saying so? Why not absolutely anything else that can be conjured up?

"While you believe that our morality evolved, similar to our biology, I have seen no reasonable evidence to support this claim."

There is plenty of evidence to show that animals - including our closest living relatives, the non-human primates - have behaviours that strongly suggest the presence of empathy. Call this proto-morality. That at least gives us a reason to think that morality is grounded in natural events; it obviously doesn't explain everything. But we're working on it, as scientists like to say.

"However, I would have no basis to say that that the heathen who barges into my home to do the same is evil, in and of itself (American law refers to a Latin term on this subject, mala in se)."

It depends what you mean by "in and of itself". I think you're looking for something "out there", onto which morality can be tethered. But such a thing doesn't exist, nor does it need to. Morality is to do with things that cause harm to other people; it is pretty much a part of the definition of morality. That might seem "arbitrary", but it's no more arbitrary than assigning morality to God's whim. In the latter case, what reason do we have to be good other than that God wants us to act in certain ways? (and why does he want us to act in that way? Why should a perfect being want anything from an imperfect creation, let alone get angry at them for erring?) I think that people in general have a big problem with accepting that something can be both reducible and important at the same time; they imagine that only something that can't be reduced could qualify as important, something that is "beyond" us. The basis for my actions - to the extent that they can be said to fall under the rubric of morality - is three-fold: I have strong reasons to believe that other people are endowed with the same mental states as I am, and I know what it's like to be in a distressed state, so I do not wish such a state to be inflicted on someone else though my actions, and I avoid behaviour that would be conducive to such an outcome. Secondly, and arguably not even distinguishable from that first point, is that I understand that there is a big difference between a rock and a person: a person is a highly-arranged, exceedingly elaborate piece of chemistry, which has reached another level of abstraction in its relations to the world via its acquiring of concepts and meanings. It has intentionality and representations of that world (and of itself), and one of these representations manifests itself as subjective experience. Third, I have purely selfish reasons to help others, even to go out of my way to help them, because I want to live in a world where others would do the same for me, and if I avoid such commitments, I set a precedence that will eventually find its way back to me and cause me harm. In a sense, morality is "out there", but it's distributed among millions of conscious agents. It is not really the sort of thing that could be tethered to a concrete, non-human entity in the way you want.

"Who else can that moral agent be but God? Selfishness and a heard mentality may partly explain morality, but evolution does not explain why humans commit acts of kindness unknown to anyone that do not benefit us. Secondly, why do we risk our safety to help people outside of our group (as did Mother Teresa and Oskar Schindler)?"

These are intriguing questions, and clearly more study is required to get to the bottom of them. The mistake you make is to think that God is the only possible explanation there could ever be. In hundreds of other cases throughout our history, humans have been mystified by some thing or other, and have thought that only supernatural agency could provide the explanation. To be sure, there are many things we still don't understand, but we emphatically should NOT feel the urge to assign them to God. Why do we keep giving God the benefit of the doubt, when he has not only failed so often in the past as better explanations came to light, but is continuing to fail today, often becoming something so abstract and wishy-washy as to lose its original meaning?

"You need to be honest, however, and concede that in response to my comments you put words in my mouth that I never wrote, nor ever inferred."

I would like to know where I put words in your mouth, because all I did was to try to refute your supposition that atheists have no real basis for saying that something is wrong or not. I was not implying that you think that atheists cannot behave morally; I brought up the issue of secular societies merely to demonstrate that atheists obviously have SOME standard by which they judge things to be moral, even if you don't happen to agree with the validity of that standard, and that such a standard works well enough.

""Yes, God commands something because it is good, but the reason it is good is that good is an essential part of God's nature. So goodness is grounded in God's character and merely expressed in moral commands. Therefore whatever a good God commands will always be good.""

That explains precisely nothing. It gives us no grounding whatsoever in deciding whether something is good, for it is merely a rehashing of the problem that was posed in the first place. In this quotation anyway, Aquinas gives us no criterion at all for judging what goodness even is, apart from that it's some feature of God. Okay, it's a feature of God...but what is it? Why should we find it compelling? If God drowns the world in a flood or sanctions the mass murder of a tribe that has rejected him, and then one of his apologists feigns to call that "good" on the grounds that whatever God does is good, then you have merely defined good in purely Godly terms (whatever that might mean), which resulted in things that should repel and disgust us to our very core. It ends up having nothing to do with ethics, and becomes an exercise in making excuses whilst dodging the central question that YOU hold up to be difficult for atheists, despite making no headway yourself. Frankly, I want nothing at all do with a brand of goodness that is exclusively dependent upon the whim of a celestial tyrant.

"In closing, I must note that the quote that you criticize as “complete rubbish” relating to ‘scientists meeting the band of theologians’ was offered by an agnostic, not a theist. Robert Jastrow is a world-renowned astrophysicist and one the top minds of our time."

I concede that (I have no reason to doubt it), but I still think it's nonsense. I also wonder whether he was bending over backwards to say something nice about religion (as is common in this culture of embracing "diversity" for its own sake, and of not offending anyone's religious sentiments), or whether he was employing poetic prose to get at something he feels is important. Einstein talked about "God", not in the sense that Christians do (he didn't believe in a personal God), but, oddly one might think, in a naturalistic sense, to express his feelings of wonder and awe with the universe.

In short, I don't know why he said that, but it might be worth my while to find out.

Lui said...

I think I know where some of the confusion might have originated; it might have been when I said the following:

"There is no scientific basis for supposing that God did it. On the other hand, there is nothing to rule out multiple universes, and it has the potential to trivially resolve the fine-tuning problem. So you would need to rule out that more parsimonious possibility before saying that God is a better explanation, because God is by far the more exotic possibility."

I think you thought I was saying here that we should absolutely rule out the God hypothesis completely until we can either definitively confirm or disconfirm the multiverse hypothesis. I only meant to say that there are more economical, naturalistic possibilities to the theistic one and that God is not the default position to take, by any means.

Forte said...

"Quite frankly, I could care less about “winning” any conversation with you, as if I were a member of a opposing high school or college debate team coveting a trophy to carry back to my alma mater."

Quite frankly, then, why are you even debating? It looks as though you have your mind very well made up , in the face of extraordinary evidence to the contrary. What you have is faith. It is a "belief".
I "believe" that there are purple flying elephants. Does that make it so? It does not follow.

I do not feel sorry for your ignorance. You are self-taught.

Binismom

Jeff said...

Binismom,
Might I suggest reading a little further into the section I wrote rather than stopping at the sentence that you cut and pasted. My "point" is not to debate. As I noted to Lui, "My motivation is this: I see statements in the blogoshere that are false, as they relate to God. My intent is to offer up an alternative viewpoint for a person to ponder. I hope the argument (for lack of a better word) proves to be persuasive enough for them to reconsider their negative view of God -- at a minimum, to plant a seed, so to speak. Some of the greatest minds of Christianity initially came from the worldview of atheism, not the least of which is C.S. Lewis. Believers with such backgrounds add needed diversity of thought and new insights to others who may be lifelong theists and have never wrestled with the difficulties of doubt."

I hope that clarifies my intent. To your other statements, should you have something substantive to add to the conversation rather than name-calling and insults, please do so. While I might disagree with Lui, I respect him for his willingness to exchange thoughts and not trite cut-downs. To imply that I came to the position I hold via some sort of "blind faith" is a poor assumption on your part, to say the least.