1/5/09

Atheism and Science - The Magus

FYI: this post has been moved here.

33 comments:

  1. "She may, at this point, describe cause and effect relationships:"

    Or she may simply not bother, and instead apply her negative capability in order to just enjoy the show without any irritable reaching after facts and reason. I love a good fantasy and being in suspense and uncertainties as much as anybody.

    "The Judeo-Christian, whose thinking is not restricted by adherence to an absolutely materialistic worldview"

    It is a misconception to think that atheists' thinking is restricted. The fact that I happen to think that nature is "only" physical does not at all prevent me from thinking about alternative possibilities. Far from it - we have this amazing simulation engine behind our foreheads, capable of simulating all kinds of fictitious realities and fantasies, so there is nothing at all restricting me from thinking about non-materialistic realities. To wit, if we couldn't even think about it then I would have no frame of reference to know what you're talking about (although I personally don't think you actually know what you're talking about either, but at least the concept is equally nebulous to both of us, so we can have an isomorphism between us and refer to the same "thing").

    "The atheist must believe, by faith[1], that the phenomenon will someday be explained by purely materialistic means because surely, scientists are working on it."

    Another misconception. There is nothing that atheists are required to believe. We're all individuals, we can all think for ourselves. I have personally stated many times on this blog that I don't require answers right here and right now for everything. I'm perfectly capable of living with uncertainty regarding the grandest mysteries of nature and the universe. I don't have to believe anything, and I certainly don't have to pin my hopes and beliefs onto utterly unknowable fantasies about our relation to the universe.

    Now, you started this article with an atheist parodying a caricature of a theist. So far you're doing a fair job yourself of caricaturing atheists. Like when you say this:

    "an atheist thinking takes place well within the box: beyond a certain parameter no considerations are allowed in and no thoughts are allowed to express themselves."

    This is of course total nonsense; atheists are usually free-thinkers. You either don't know what you're talking about or are deliberately caricaturing atheism and science here.

    "Overall, we see that the unrestricted thinking of the theist allows her to consider whether there is something behind the observed phenomenon whereas with regards to atheism and science,"

    "Unrestricted thinking" is hardly a virtue. There has to be some sanity-checking along the way. Keeping an open mind is a virtue, but not so open that your brains fall out.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Adonais, what you said. In addition: Mariano, you say:

    The Judeo-Christian may conclude, merely by observing the phenomenon, that the magus is a person or exhibits characteristics of personhood such as volition; making decisions, conceiving plans and carrying out actions, etc.

    So far so good.

    The atheist must be convinced that the phenomenon was an accident, a coincidence, a happenstance, an arbitrary, odd and rare coming together of known or unknown natural forces that just so happened to coincide and cause something to come about unintended, unplanned and uncaused.

    Excuse my French, but wtf? Atheists are just as capable as Judeo-Christians, Muslims, and Cargo Cultists are at recognizing volition, personhood, and all the rest of that stuff. Indeed, we wouldn't be able to function as members of a civilized society otherwise. The only difference for atheists is that our explanation for the existence of these useful concepts is different than that of theists: for theists, personhood and volition are gifts of God; for the informed atheist, personhood and volition are evolved entities.

    But just because they are evolved entities doesn't mean that their products are "unintended, unplanned and uncaused". Intentions and plans are also evolved entities; causality is an observed feature of our Universe.

    I'm not sure why so many Christians don't get this point (I've had very lengthy debates on this issue), but perhaps it's because of an unexamined dualism in their worldview: something can only have purpose, say, if the purpose exists all the way down: purpose is considered, in this worldview, to be a primordial quality or property that something (some being) either has or doesn't have.

    But this idea is like the defunct concept of "élan vital": that something is alive by dint of possessing a certain mysterious something. Now we know that life obtains when we have certain kinds of order or organization, which are the result of long evolution under the right (probably very rare) circumstances. "Purpose", and "volition", and "personhood", are exactly the same: they don't consist of some kind of mysterious "stuff", either physical or supernatural, but are rather kinds of order, possessed (so far- computers are catching up) only by evolved living things.

    And while certain aspects of the evolution that produced life on Earth are "accidents" and "happenstance", natural selection is anything but "accidental". Having volition and being able to form plans is a decided advantage in fitness, so it's not surprising that it evolved.

    Thus, your analogy is uninformed.

    cheers from sleety Vienna, zilch

    ReplyDelete
  3. Atheist: "I don't know how it's done! It's a good trick! But seeing as all previous magic tricks were not real magic but merely illusions, I'm gonna keep trying to figure it out. Maybe eventually I'll know how to do it."

    Christian: "You atheists are so narrow-minded! Don't you see?! It could be REAL magic!"

    Atheist: "Umm, er, maybe. But stage magic usually has an explanation. Let's keep trying to figure it out."

    Christian: "Well, we have failed to find a good explanation, so the only reasonable alternative is that it's REAL magic!"

    Christian's conclusion: the magician used real magic to pull a rabbit out of his hat.

    Atheist's conclusion: it's almost certainly an explainable illusion, but he doesn't know how it's done.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I haven't posted in awhile, but I read this blog everyday so don't worry (that's a relief huh?).

    I'd be interested in the example of where a supernatural explaination for anything turned out to be scientifically useful?

    ReplyDelete
  5. SJ, if the supernatural never contributes to the various fields of science, what interesting conclusions would you draw?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hey S.J.- it's a big relief to me that you're following this blog. Otherwise, who knows what might happen?

    Josh- while I can't answer for S.J. (especially politically), I would say for my own part: if the supernatural never contributes to the various fields of science, the interesting conclusions that I would draw are these: religion has no place in public school science classes or in other people's bedrooms.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I don't know what you mean about religion being a part of the bedroom.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Josh- then you don't know any gays.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Zilch, moral statements about how we ought to treat someone (gay or non-gay) are not scientifically verifiable. If I were to say "You ought not intrude on the private lives of consenting adults" and you told me to prove my ought-statement scientifically, I would be at a loss. As would anyone. Which is why your proposition...

    1) If a belief is not scientifically verifiable then it ought not to foist itself into the bedroom.

    ...is self-defeating. I'd suggest that you radically revise your standard of acceptable beliefs in the social web.

    ReplyDelete
  10. While it is not your analogy, it still falls short.

    Let me start by saying no intellectually honest scientist can say with any certainty that 'a god' didn't make the initial state of the universe.

    However, through scientific method, utilising tools such statistical probability and falsification we can with great certainty tell you that anything like a literalist version of the Christian God does not exist.

    Do not be alarmed, this is also the case for Allah, Zeus or Quetzacotle and the tens of thousands of other gods that have been worshiped. Remember you're just like atheists, except we go one god further.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Remember you're just like atheists, except we go one god further.

    Are people still using that zinger? It isn't as if our beliefs are exactly similar same an extra deity stapled on to the side. For us the universe is fundamentally designed and nearly everything that exists either has a specific ends-based function or had a specific ends-based function.

    I think it's time to retire that old line, don't you think?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Josh said...

    "Are people still using that zinger?..

    I think it's time to retire that old line, don't you think?"


    I think it would be retired if it wasn't relevant. For example you said:

    For us the universe is fundamentally designed and nearly everything that exists either has a specific ends-based function or had a specific ends-based function.

    Explain how this is not fundamentally similar to modern Islam?

    As I said I don't have a problem with your fundamental design of the universe theory, provided you believe setting wheels in motion is "design". I do have a problem with your assertion that this somehow justifies the Christian God or any other organised religion notion of a god.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Josh- I suspect our differences on this point are primarily a matter of where we draw lines for certain definitions. For me, "science" is a very large field, embracing what we learn from history and what we feel: it's the approach that makes something "science", not the subject matter. Seen this way, morals are also under the purview of science, and we are all scientists to some extent. Even the writers of the Bible were unknowingly being scientific in a way, by looking at societies and trying to devise rules that would help them work, to keep the human animals happy and healthy. I realize that this is a big stretch for the word "science", and I don't insist upon it: I'm just pointing out that you can't reasonably draw hard and fast lines here.

    I also don't subscribe to the hoary philosophical dualism of "is-ought". Is and ought are points along a continuum: we can think of "oughts" as being highly complex evolved entities bridging the biosphere and the ideosphere. Morals are "is" too: they exist as encoding in genes, patterns of neuronal discharges, and spoken and written words. Where exactly do you draw the line between "is" and "ought"?

    ReplyDelete
  14. Personally I like zingers. But not the coconut rasberry ones.




    (thought I'd contribute something intelligent)

    ReplyDelete
  15. @Vagon
    Remember you're just like atheists, except we go one god further.

    "For us the universe is fundamentally designed and nearly everything that exists either has a specific ends-based function or had a specific ends-based function."

    Explain how this is not fundamentally similar to modern Islam?


    Believing in God as Creator is common amongst abrahamic religions. This similiarity is in conflict with your "zing". We differ in recognition of His later emanations and their implications. You can even put deists in the same category.

    ReplyDelete
  16. tremor said..

    Believing in God as Creator is common amongst abrahamic religions. This similiarity is in conflict with your "zing". We differ in recognition of His later emanations and their implications. You can even put deists in the same category

    I assume you're Christian. Jesus is not the God of the other religions. Your trinity is a distinct and different God by its first definition.

    You must concede that you don't believe Jews can go to heaven by Yahweh and you don't believe Muslims can go to heaven via Allah.

    You don't believe in their Gods. You think their God's are different and impotent and mythical. Im sure you realise that 'zinger' is intended to make you reflect on your own version of a deity.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I assume you're Christian.
    I hope I am ;).

    Jesus is not the God of the other religions. Your trinity is a distinct and different God by its first definition.
    You've just repeated what I wrote: we differ in what we find to be God's intervensions. In result we also see Him in different light.
    According to Catholic Church Trinity is beyond human's comprehension and Father - Son - Spirit is only a metaphor.
    Those who don't believe NT (although there are some passages in OT viewed by us as trinitarian) won't believe in Trinity.

    You must concede that you don't believe Jews can go to heaven by Yahweh and you don't believe Muslims can go to heaven via Allah.
    No, I don't have to and I won't. I believe exactly in opposite - we believe in the same God, but describe Him different.
    Neverless even atheist can be saved and go to heaven.

    You don't believe in their Gods. You think their God's are different and impotent and mythical. Im sure you realise that 'zinger' is intended to make you reflect on your own version of a deity.
    I think that 'zinger' doesn't fit what I believe.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I wrote: "You must concede that you don't believe Jews can go to heaven by Yahweh and you don't believe Muslims can go to heaven via Allah."

    Your replied "No, I don't have to and I won't. I believe exactly in opposite - we believe in the same God, but describe Him different. Neverless even atheist can be saved and go to heaven."

    Apologies I made an assumption based on your Christianity that you would ascribe to John 14:6. Seeing as you don't believe "no man can cometh unto the Father, but by [Jesus]" I'm wondering why do you pick and choose from the bible?

    ReplyDelete
  19. Apologies I made an assumption based on your Christianity that you would ascribe to John 14:6. Seeing as you don't believe "no man can cometh unto the Father, but by [Jesus]" I'm wondering why do you pick and choose from the bible?

    No need to apologize. I agree in 100% with John, however I don't think it means that to be saved you have to be Christian. Consider for example Mat 25:31-46, Jam 1:27, Rom 2:14-16 or 8 beatitudes.

    ReplyDelete
  20. @tremor

    I think we may be tied in semantics. I need to understand what you are saying your beliefs are.

    Do you mean that a non-converted Muslim can go to heaven? This is what I would read from the Bible.

    ReplyDelete
  21. *Just realised that didn't read well. From my reading you have to be a Christian to go to heaven, thus a non-convert cannot make it there.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Adonais; Zilch; Martin; Scary Jesus; Vagon;

    Thank you all so much for your thoughts and taking the time to write in.
    Martin and Vagon I have not had occasion to interact with you much, if at all, and wanted to say welcome and glad to have you along for the wild ride :o)
    Be aware that I list the names as I did above so as to designate to whom I am responding in turn and then I repeat the names below as I go.

    Adonais;
    I am glad that we can agree that this “Freethough” vs. Christian thought claim made by people such as Dan Barker is fallacious.
    In order to qualify as an atheist you are required to lack a belief in god(s).
    Keep in mind that I have had contact with very many atheists and very many are just as I expressed in my post—thus, I was not merely caricaturizing.
    Please consider the atheist response to, for example, the ever amounting evidence of the universe’s fine-tuning. What is it? “Wait, don’t know enough yet, someday we will be able to explain it away as what we already believe it to be: a purely accidental fortuitous happenstance.

    Zilch;
    I think that you may have misunderstood. I was correlating the magus with God and the trick to the creation (universe, life, etc.). It seems that you are misapplying my reference to volition and personhood.

    Then I think that you are over stuffing the concepts of “unintended, unplanned and uncaused.” You may believe, without evidence, that volition/personhood evolved but that was certainly “unintended, unplanned and uncaused” since there is no forward looking entity. Natural selection is blind and does not manipulate bio-organism’s towards any intended end. If the rudiments of volition/personhood help you survive then your traits carry on and may unintendedly end up functional volition/personhood. There is no plan or intent although we could argue that dumb cause is cause after all.

    Now, if you mean that once a bio-organism possesses volition/personhood they can then carry out actions that are intended, planned and caused this is agreed since that is the very definition of volition/personhood.

    My point was that the Christian extrapolates from the trick, to the magus—from the creation to the creator by recognizing volition/personhood in the magus’ trick.
    The atheist restricts their thoughts so as to only consider the trick—the magus must be “accidents” and “happenstance” once we are talking about natural selection acting upon life we are getting way ahead of ourselves in the context of my post.

    Martin;
    I do not know what to say, it is as if you did not read the post. The atheist and Christian seek material explanations but the Christian does not stop there but quite logically sees the work of the magus who designed the trick. The atheist thinks that the trick just happened to happen, “It’s just there and that’s all”—Bertrand Russell

    Scary Jesus;
    Just because you took the very, very odd step of turning a method that is meant to dissect and reduce objects into bite sized observable parts and turned it into a worldview or your ultimate epistemology does not mean that reality has to bow to your chosen method. As anyone who functions in a field outside of “science” (whatever that may mean to you – Zilch, at least in part, defines science as “what we learn from history and what we feel”) from historians to accountants if their work is validated only through the scientific method and they will think that your question was a joke.

    The scientific method itself is premised upon the concept of an ultimate supernatural explanation. It was formulated on the premise of a rational God who made a rational creation populated by rational humans who could uncover the material causes for material effect which take place within the material realm which God created—this, most certainly is scientifically useful.

    Vagon;
    You are quite right: Christians believe in 100% more gods than atheists.
    Yet, lumping tens of thousands of gods together is a fallacy that violates natural theology.
    I would like to comment on the relevance of this to the question of Islam but am afraid that this is something that I will be posting on in the relatively near future and I am sorry to say it but I must—please check back later or send me your e-address and I will let you know when it is up.

    aDios,
    Mariano

    ReplyDelete
  23. Mariano- you say:

    Natural selection is blind and does not manipulate bio-organism’s towards any intended end.

    Agreed.

    Now, if you mean that once a bio-organism possesses volition/personhood they can then carry out actions that are intended, planned and caused this is agreed since that is the very definition of volition/personhood.

    Also agreed.

    My point was that the Christian extrapolates from the trick, to the magus—from the creation to the creator by recognizing volition/personhood in the magus’ trick.
    The atheist restricts their thoughts so as to only consider the trick—the magus must be “accidents” and “happenstance” once we are talking about natural selection acting upon life we are getting way ahead of ourselves in the context of my post.


    I'm not quite sure I understand you here, but I think you're saying something like this (correct me if I'm wrong): "The Christian sees evidence of volition in the trick, and thus looks for the person with volition who created the trick. The atheist only tries to explain the mechanics of the trick, since volition is an accident of evolution." Fair enough?

    If so, that is a caricature. As I said, atheists are perfectly capable of looking for creators or designers, when there is evidence for their existence. But since there is no evidence for the existence of a Designer of the universe, and there is plenty of evidence that entities can and do evolve, and that all kinds of behavior can also evolve (even in computer simulations, which are presumably not guided by God), then the default assumption is that volition is an evolved entity too.

    cheers from snowy Vienna, zilch

    ReplyDelete
  24. @Vagon
    God's law is written on everyone's heart. Every good deed will be rewarded and every bad - punished. God is in special way present in people in need, weak, powerless. Helping them is like helping Jesus. Everyone can be merciful, make peace, have pure heart, be rightous. Also suffering will be rewarded. What exactly excludes muslims from having opportunity of going to heaven?

    ReplyDelete
  25. Mariano - Looking forward to it, I'll keep checking the blog for when its up.

    ReplyDelete
  26. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Deleted previous post because of a cutting error :(

    @tremor

    I like your outlook, its not like most mainstream church going Christian views in my experience.

    What exactly excludes muslims from having opportunity of going to heaven?

    From my understanding it is lack of faith in Jesus as God and the use of works to reach heaven. If you like I can list the scriptures.

    ReplyDelete
  28. @Vagon
    I'll try to deal with some arguments I can recall ad hoc. If you can come with more - go ahead.

    I have already presented my view, that people, while not knowing Bible, still can meet Jesus. Firstly - in other men that need help. Secondly by recognizing Creator from his creation (like Greek philosophers, Simone Weil pointed to some striking similiarities between Christian concepts and Plato's thoughts). Thirdly - thanks to moral laws written in everyone's mind. So "no man can comes to Father except through Me" may be interpreted as an urge to follow God's voice in our heads, doing good to poor, weak and powerless, because those deeds we'll be judged rather than worldviews. And remember, that

    "Whoever is not with me is against me" (Mat 12:30) deals with concept which is also present in a story about judgement - there's no such a thing like being neutral towards Jesus. As J 14:6 (and other similiar statements) it is not about being formally part of this or that organization but following Him, whatever way His will was revealed.
    BTW "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." (Luk 12:48) - one that knows God's will better and has better tools to follow it will be put to more strict judgement. Bible is such a tool.

    "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." (J 3:5) A key to this sentence is to know what kingdom of God. It's not heaven, but God's kindgom on Earth, His true Church - people following His will, all those blessed with 8 beatitudes (note that all of them fit also to Jesus).
    Water symbolizes purification and spirit - spiritual birth and reunion with Holy Spirit - The Love.

    There's also calvinist concept - faith as a key to heaven. You don't have to be theologian to realize that such view is incompatible with what was said so far. So what does mean "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (J 3:18)? Let's look at another verses: "(19) And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. (20) For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed." Christian or not, everyone is exposed to moral law encoded deep inside and will either follow it, getting close to God and uncovering it further, or not. However when a person confronted with Jesus teaching turns away from Him - recieved much and much will be required. But because that person is in denial the outcome is already known. God doesn't condemn people - people, having free will, do that.
    Talking about faith vs deeds: how to recognize false prophets? By their fruits. How to recognize true Jesus' desciples? By love. How was Paul building his authority amongst neophites? By example of good deeds.

    I don't want to leave the impression that presenting my private views I'm off the mark with my church. According to Catholic Church unbaptized and not familiarized with Bible might be part of "spiritual church" and saved after death (based mostly on Rom 2) including unborn children.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Zilch;
    Perhaps I should ask: what would you consider evidence for the existence of a Designer of the universe.
    By the way: I am very weary about computer simulations as they do have a God—the programmer. I read Prof. Dawkins’ account of his biomorphs and he does not even seem to realize that that he, as the programmer 1) stacked the deck and 2) intervened upon his creation in order to guide it towards his desired end.

    Vagon;
    Just so that you know: since I am not the only one with admin permissions to this blog I am not the only one who can delete comments. I know that blogger puts up a generic statement, “This post has been removed by the author” but it is not necessarily the author but an admin. I am not sure that a “cutting error” is nor why the comment was deleted—just FYI.

    aDios,
    Mariano

    ReplyDelete
  30. Hmmm, what would I regard as evidence for a Designer? Hard to say, but one thing that comes to mind would be, say, the simultaneous appearance of all kinds of organisms in the fossil record, with no evidence for their having evolved. Or maybe some predictions in a holy book that are not explainable: for instance, if the Bible predicted general relativity, or even just the existence of Neptune.

    About programs: Dawkins knew very well that he "stacked the deck" and exercised selection himself; he says so explicitly in The Blind Watchmaker. Nevertheless, his simple program showed the power of mutation and selection working together. Keep in mind that Dawkins' Biomorph program is now twenty-three years old, and a great deal of progress has been made in the meantime. No, creatures with volition have not yet evolved, but there's no theoretical reason they could not.

    Calling someone "God" who writes an evolutionary program is misleading: the programmer creates the world, but does not perform the evolution, and often these newer programs produce results than no one expects or can duplicate otherwise. Evolutionary algorithms are now routinely used in engineering, and commonly surpass human engineers. I wouldn't call the programmers "Gods" here, if their creations do things they cannot forsee or do themselves.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Zilch;
    As to what you would regard as evidence for a Designer—done.
    1) The Cambrian explosion.
    2) Various cosmological predictions.

    aDios,
    Mariano

    ReplyDelete
  32. Mariano: just how is the "Cambrian Explosion" evidence for a Creator? As you must know from your years of study, while it's not known for certain what, if anything, the CE means, there are several plausible theories about it. My feeling, from my admittedly limited studies, is that the fifty-million year long "explosion" was primarily a result of life having passed a threshold in complexity that allowed rapid diversification, especially the fine tuning of the Hox genes. But that's just speculation. What's your explanation?

    And what are your "various cosmological predictions"? That the Earth was created before the Sun, as in Genesis?

    ReplyDelete
  33. Zilch;
    Oh, well, in that case, fo'git'abow't since virtually anything that we will ever discuss has several plausible theories attached to it.

    As to the “various cosmological predictions” I will post on it soonish.

    aDios,
    Mariano

    ReplyDelete