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October 23, 2007

Comments

Monica

Oooh, goodie, can I say it first? Great post, Jimmy!

CThomas

This is well presented so far, SDG. In my experience, the ultimate move tht materialists will make in the face of the sort of argument you're developing is to bite the bullet and say, in essence, "Fine. If it turns out that the basic moral intuitions we start with turn out to be illusions and all we're ultimately left with is subjective preference, then we'll just have to accept that. What you can't do is use this sort of argument to prove the existence of a God, because the structure of such an argument would be that if God does not exist then the moral situation would be intolerably bad. But that's a fallacious structure. We have to follow the evidence, and if it turns out that there is no God, and if it turns out that in the absence of a God we have no objective ground for our moral notions, then I guess we have no objective ground for our moral notions." I actually think this is a fair response by the materialist. I believe there are, in fact, good reasons for theism (and Christian theism, in particular), but I'm not sure it's fair to argue for theism based upon the need to ground morality.

But again, I like the way you're developing this, and I look forward to reading the rest.

Regards,

CThomas

Nihil

Societal rules are a very interesting topic, and I've thought about it in the past.

Value judgements are a necessity of life that cannot be escaped. The criteria determining the result of value judgements vary for each person: to some it is religious belief, to others it may be utilitarianism or another arbitrary ideal, to the bully it is personal pleasure.

Part 1 of SDG's post, and the thread that followed, was involved with the sources of these criteria. But as far as enforcing is concerned, personal preferences follow the same rule as moral beliefs, or any other kind of belief: they are exactly as strong as the power of the people holding them.

Thus, when the bully claims "I can do this, I like to do this, then why should I stop?" I cannot give him a reason why he should stop... in a vacuum.

*But* I can warn him that I don't like the fact that he's bullying a child - more importantly, the majority of the society doesn't like that. And the majority of society is able to force him to stop - with violence, if necessary.

Most people would want a society's collective rules of behaviour, what we call "law", to be dictated by some abstract principles (liberty, right-to-the-pursuit-of-happiness, etc.). But this would require that the majority of people (measured not according to sheer numbers, but to the power they wield)

1) be rational
2) put rationality at the top of their priorities

This clearly isn't the case. Most crimes, like theft or murder, are heavily persecuted, because they are only really liked by a small minority - the people who can commit them and profit from them.

Many of us would, for example, find it difficult to kill a person, even if it were to our advantage - we would feel terrible for a long period of time. This is probably caused by our education, which "hardwired" us to try not to harm other people if possible; there are also claims of a genetic contribution to this effect.
The cause, however, is irrelevant (stuff for Part 1); we are interested in the effect, and the effect is that most people never like anything in a murder - thus, they forbid this particular form of aggression.

By comparison, look at media pirating. Here, we have a large number of people who profit from the crime, and a minority who can suffer from the crime. In courts and parliaments, the minority has much more power and can push through punishing legislation; but they have much less power in everyday life. Thus, there is little or no societal pressure to punish pirating; you can tell everyone you know that you download pirated movies and it will be a while before you hit a person with such strong convictions that he'll report you.

Another example is slavery, or most forms of racism; here, while the people who liked the existence of slavery were a minority, they hold the majority of the power. In the American case, this balance held until the Civil War, when the power of the part of society which didn't want slavery (for whatever reason - economical, humanitarian, doesn't matter) physically overcame the power of the one which wanted it.

Going beyond the boundary of adult people, we see that animals and unborn children can generally be killed with impunity, as they hold practically zero power to object, and most people who do have power don't really care enough, since those attacks can't hurt them, and they are only disturbed by the most gruesome cases (e.g. animal torture, late-term abortion).

The most blatant of all such examples is probably international politics - a near-absolute lack ("near" is for the UN) of any arbiter to conflicts, with the most powerful players directly enforcing their own preferences. The Law of the Jungle, if you want.

My point? There can be a working society that is not based on a shared moral system - in fact, we're living in one.

Nihil

I have noticed quite a few syntax mistakes and badly-constructed sentences in the above post; I apologize for that. I should have posted while less tired.

Sifu Jones

Nihil, my response to you would be in the comments section of the first SDG post on this topic. It's the first (and so far only) one from me.

If you are interested.

Esau

Actually, if you thing along the lines of social darwinism, "bullying" serves an integral purpose.

The weak gets beaten to submission or else extinguished altogether while the strong prevails; thus, ensuring that only the strong of humanity is perpetuated into existence while those weak in society are eliminated for the greater good of humanity for its well-being and evolutionary development.

This is a sad thought, but one that many subscribe to since it is only by the strong (i.e., the 'well-fit' -- be it intelligence, strength, etc.) that humanity as a race can evolve to even greater levels.

Esau

Corrigendum:

Actually, if you think along the lines of social darwinism, "bullying" serves an integral purpose.


Mary

*But* I can warn him that I don't like the fact that he's bullying a child - more importantly, the majority of the society doesn't like that. And the majority of society is able to force him to stop - with violence, if necessary.

Having been bullied in school, I can assure you that the majority of society either doesn't know or doesn't care or finds it easier to blame the bullied. (Ever been punished for having been physically attacked by your classmates? It's not fun.)

Warn away. But telling people things in obvious contradiction of obvious facts is not a good way to get them to listen.

Jason

In the previous thread, I tried to argue:

1) *If* the materialist worldview meant that life were meaningless (which I don't think it does!), that still wouldn't mean that the materialist worldview was wrong because the evolutionary explanation can still explain why we would mistakenly think it was meaningful.

Because of point 1), the moral argument is not an argument for God's existence per se, but rather an argument for:

2) If God does not exist, the meaning we attribute to our lives is an illusion.

Let me now try to engage more directly with this second argument. Let's imagine along the lines of SDG's example above that there were a being with no conscience at all. Neurosurgeons removed the part of his brain that causes him to feel any qualms about causing harm to others. Further, he's interacting with people he'll never see again, so he has no prudential reason to respect them. Is he wrong to rape and murder them if God doesn't exist?

One form of this question is: does he have any reason from a first-person perspective not to rape and murder them? I think he still has some reasons: for instance, he presumably has a higher-order desire that his own life have a certain degree of unity. He has goals and reasons for pursuing those goals and he wants to regard those reasons as good reasons and not as arbitrary. In order to so, he would have to recognize that these reasons are objective in the sense that they don't depend on the particular pronoun involved in their statement. If he wishes to act on objective reasons in this sense, and if he would want others to be responsive to his desire not to be murdered, then he should likewise be responsive to their desires (for a much more detailed argument along these lines, see Thomas Nagel's The Possibility of Altruism).

Of course, he might even reject this reason. He might be perfectly comfortable being a "wanton" and simply doing whatever he feels like doing at the spur of the moment. I would agree that if such a creature existed, he would have no first-person reason to act morally and he would never be punished for the horrible things he did (there would in fact be no sense in which they were horrible from his perspective). But I would make two qualifications: 1) I'm not even sure that such a creature would qualify as being conscious - I think there may be a close connection between consciousness and a reliance on objective reasons, but I won't argue the point in this post. 2) This is not an accurate description of any living being - even psychopaths want to act on objective reasons.

I apologize that I can't reply to all of the challenges that have been raised thus far - so please feel free to repeat them and I'll try to reply later.

Just one more point: I don't follow the argument that if materialism is true, we are "merely a bunch of particles hurtling through the universe." This description is factually accurate, but why the "merely"? A Van Gogh painting is merely a bunch of liquifiable substances hurled onto a canvas, but that doesn't mean that the whole doesn't have properties not possessed by the individual parts. Similarly, consciousness and morality are emergent properties - an individual neuron is not conscious or moral, but these are words that describe properties of the immensely complex interactions between these component parts.

Esau

Is he wrong to rape and murder them if God doesn't exist?

Why would you even entertain such a thought if God didn't exist in the first place?

Jason

I feel perhaps my example strays too far from the example of the bully. What I would say to him is, "How would you feel if someone did that to you?" He might be unresponsive to this, and if so he's being unresponsive to a moral reason whose force he ultimately has reason to recognize because of his desire to act on objective reasons (in fact, his unresponsiveness in practice would likely be due to the fact that he failed to fully internalize the impact he was having on the other person).

But the point is: he has internal reasons to be responsive to this, and we as third person observers certainly have every reason to chide him for his unresponsiveness.


Mary raised an interesting question in the first thread on this topic. She asks:

If the universe really is meaningless, how is that we crave meaning? It's as extraordinary as expecting sight in a universe without light.

I'd first reply that I basically agree with this sentiment - I don't think it's really coherent to talk about a meaningless universe since meaning seems to be a property we attribute to certain inclinations we have. On the other hand, it's perfectly coherent to talk about a universe without God which I think is telling for the argument that Godlessness implies meaninglessness...

Before I elaborate more on this point though, what exactly does it mean to say we "crave meaning"? What is it that we crave? Do we crave that others will ultimately be punished if they are immoral? (in that case I would say, we might hope that but it's not the case). Do we crave that the world is not an illusion and that we're not living in the matrix? What would a meaningless world look and feel like?

Jason

One more quick response and then back to graduate school.

Why would you even entertain such a thought if God didn't exist in the first place?

I'm not sure I understand the question. If you're asking, "Why would I have a category called morality if God didn't exist?" this is simply asking for a naturalistic account of our moral emotions, which evolution provides (or at least, can provide - the science is still at an early stage). If you're asking why anyone would entertain the possibility that God was necessary for morality if God didn't exist, it's for the same reason that the Greeks thought Poseidon was necessary to explain why there were floods and sea-storms. They just didn't realize there was a better explanation.

Esau

Jason,

It is quite evident by your response that you did not grasp the meaning of my inquiry.

That is, what would account for the moral content of the human condition?

It is quite evident that a system of morality is futile and even meaningless in an evolutionary organism if his purpose is merely to survive.

Survival requires instincts and evolutionary designs that would enable one to advance beyond their current design as well as their fellow species.

Morality would be an illogical component of such a design and, in fact, would be a hindrance given the drive for survival.

Smoky Mt

It is quite evident that a system of morality is futile and even meaningless in an evolutionary organism if his purpose is merely to survive.

...

Morality would be an illogical component of such a design and, in fact, would be a hindrance given the drive for survival.

If natural selection selects for the good of a species as an aggregate group, then morality makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.

If it is to human beings' benefit as a group to develop and maintain a social network (I think it's obvious that is beneficial to our survival that we operate socially, just as it is beneficial to the survival of gazelles that they operate in herds), then perhaps the key evolutionary development was a desire in each of us to be accepted by the group.

When I inspect my inner self, much of the time that I feel guilty about something, I'm quite worried about what others would think if they knew I had done what I did.

So, if we are taught at a young age that murder is heinous, most people will avoid murder to avoid being ostracized. If our society accepts a practice such as torturing prisoners to death for sport (think Gladiator), most will feel no guilt about the matter despite it's contradiction to what many here would call the Natural Law.

Mary

He might be unresponsive to this, and if so he's being unresponsive to a moral reason whose force he ultimately has reason to recognize because of his desire to act on objective reasons (in fact, his unresponsiveness in practice would likely be due to the fact that he failed to fully internalize the impact he was having on the other person).

What desire to act on objective reasons?

And what if the desire is trumped by his desire to bully?

Given conflicting desires, one has to win. I like Chinese take-out, I like free time, but I like to earn more than I spend even more and so I cook my own meals. If you say a desire should win, you are introducing moral considerations, and if you say it's the strongest -- well, that's obviously often false. Otherwise we wouldn't have any bullying.

Mary


Esau

If natural selection selects for the good of a species as an aggregate group, then morality makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.

Smoky Mt,

If you were to observe humanity from afar as well as historically, it would seem that those who genuinely abide by a strict set of morals more often than not suffer the consequences in comparison to their opposites.

Think of how bad things often happen to good people as a consequence of being the 'good guy' and the 'good gal'.

Of course, those who are and do good would merely count such consequences as the 'costs' for doing good; nevertheless, it does not negate the fact that they become heavily disadvantaged.

Let's take, for example, doing taxes.

There are those good folks who do indeed strictly abide by a sense of morals and, thus, suffer the consequences of a heavy tax burden.

However, those who don't and craftily (while legally) manipulate their taxes often end up as their reward with such things as a bountiful tax return.

There are many more examples, no doubt, how the 'good guy' or 'good gal' often loses in the end.

Thus, as an evolutionary design for survival to advance ahead of the species, it would seem morals would be contradictory to such a purpose.

Mary

Morality would be an illogical component of such a design and, in fact, would be a hindrance given the drive for survival.

If natural selection selects for the good of a species as an aggregate group, then morality makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.

Evolution does not select for the good of a species as an aggregate group. It selects for genes.

Matthew Siekierski

Esau,

Evolution of morality as a part of survival is explainable, if one is willing to make leaps of faith about the evolution of consciousness/conscience, and make leaps of faith about our ability to recognize the passage of time.

Aesop wrote some great fables about planning now for what could happen in the future, and such foresight is needed to accept evolution of morality. First, we had to evolve self-awareness, then the passage of time, then recognition of cause and effect. Once all of those are in place, it becomes logical that we could "evolve" (figure out) the idea that a cooperative society is beneficial to survival. "Morality" then becomes a matter of "being in line with the accepted behavior within a cooperative society", decided by the society as a whole (however the rules of society are determined), and it "evolves" out of a need to cooperate as a group.

At least, that's how it could be explained.

One would then have to explain the evolutionary benefit of each step along the way, and how it could have evolved. Why self-awareness? Why a sense of time, or cause and effect? And not just why? but how?

Smoky Mt

Esau,

Thanks for your thoughts. My point, though, was that it's conceivable that the morality is explained in the following manner:

1.) It is beneficial to human beings as a group that we operate socially.

2.) The key evolutionary development that permits this social operation is a desire in each (most) of us to be accepted by the group (our local "society").

3.) We are taught at a young age what is "right" and "wrong", from the local group's perspective.

4.) Our sense of morality, therefore, is tied to what we learn is acceptable and unacceptable to our group. This obviously has changed throughout history.

I don't think your examples about individuals faring worse due to morals contradicts my hypothesis ... perhaps most people don't cheat on their taxes because the urge to be accepted by the group (one could be ostracized if it became public knowledge that they cheated on their taxes) outweighs the urge for personal advancement.

Smoky Mt

Evolution does not select for the good of a species as an aggregate group. It selects for genes.

Mary,

I said "natural selection". Nevertheless, I think natural selection can certainly operate on groups. If a individual organism evolves a "social" gene that creates a desire to operate as a group, and that individual's offspring therefore begin operating as a social group, it's possible that those offspring (and their descendants) will survive whereas other organisms of the same species without the "social" gene will die off.

That's what I was getting at.

Smoky Mt

Matthew Siekierski,

I think you and I are thinking along the same lines.

Smoky Mt

Apparently there's a term for something like what I'm describing, Group Selection. Naturally, since it's a wikipedia article it may be full of hogwash. And, the article mentions that this topic is controversial among scientists. Still, it's apparently something that has been studied.

John E

Just one more point: I don't follow the argument that if materialism is true, we are "merely a bunch of particles hurtling through the universe." This description is factually accurate, but why the "merely"? A Van Gogh painting is merely a bunch of liquifiable substances hurled onto a canvas, but that doesn't mean that the whole doesn't have properties not possessed by the individual parts. Similarly, consciousness and morality are emergent properties - an individual neuron is not conscious or moral, but these are words that describe properties of the immensely complex interactions between these component parts.

The Van Gogh painting did not emerge from the colliding and interaction of liquifiable substances that just so happened to take place on a canvas. Rather, it came from the hand and mind of Van Gogh himself. But materialists seem to be saying a similar thing: that atoms and electrons interacted over time in such a way as to create individual neurons which came together over time in human beings to create things such as consciousness and morality and reason; that lower simple things became higher complex things without any intervention by some other entity. I think that is just about as likely as a painting creating a painter.

Esau

Matthew Siekierski,

That was very well-put!

I don't deny that perhaps the cooperative effect of morals may extend to the survival of a species as a whole; however, there is still the question of the concept of right vs. wrong and how that, in itself, could actually have been brought about in our evolutionary development given that, for the most part, those who hold to such a notion are often at a disadvantage where survival of the individual is concerned.

For example, let's dwell on the giraffe and how it has been submitted by some that perhaps those with long necks survived vs. those with normal-sized necks as, over time, when food became scarce; it was those who had the longer necks that were able to withstand famine as food was found at higher places.

However, this would seem the opposite where morals are concerned.

Time and again, we can find various examples throughout history where those who practiced morality in the strictest sense often were at a disadvantage.

Therefore, it would seem, in a sense, (for lack of a better term) an anti-evolutionary feature as it has been demonstrated to be a source of disadvantage where the survival is concerned as those who don't practice or hold to such often advance further ahead of such persons and, in fact, accomplish more without needing to pay heed to any sense of morality where their various actions are concerned.

Think of science and the notion how morals are said to be what hinders the advancement of humanity in that regard since it is our seemingly fabricated sense of morals (in the view of some) that keeps us from exploring new ideas and furthering our advancement both in knowledge and practice.

Esau

Matthew Siekierski,

That was very well-put!

I don't deny that perhaps the cooperative effect of morals may extend to the survival of a species as a whole; however, there is still the question of the concept of right vs. wrong and how that, in itself, could actually have been brought about in our evolutionary development given that, for the most part, those who hold to such a notion are often at a disadvantage where survival of the individual is concerned.

For example, let's dwell on the giraffe and how it has been submitted by some that perhaps those with long necks survived vs. those with normal-sized necks as, over time, when food became scarce; it was those who had the longer necks that were able to withstand famine as food was found at higher places.

However, this would seem the opposite where morals are concerned.

Time and again, we can find various examples throughout history where those who practiced morality in the strictest sense often were at a disadvantage.

Therefore, it would seem, in a sense, (for lack of a better term) an anti-evolutionary feature as it has been demonstrated to be a source of disadvantage where the survival is concerned as those who don't practice or hold to such often advance further ahead of such persons and, in fact, accomplish more without needing to pay heed to any sense of morality where their various actions are concerned.

Think of science and the notion how morals are said to be what hinders the advancement of humanity in that regard since it is our seemingly fabricated sense of morals (in the view of some) that keeps us from exploring new ideas and furthering our advancement both in knowledge and practice.

Smoky Mt

Esau,

Thanks for your thoughts. Some comments:

Time and again, we can find various examples throughout history where those who practiced morality in the strictest sense often were at a disadvantage.

Recorded history (yes, I know you didn't say "recorded", but we can't know too much about what hasn't been recorded) is probably an inconsequential amount of time as far as evolution is concerned. Most of human history occurred in pre-civilized times, and I would posit that most of our evolution therefore would be based upon the struggle for survival therein.

Nevertheless, you remark that people who practice morality are often at a disadvantage -- but, the only "advantage" / "disadvantage" that would seem to matter from an evolutionary standpoint would be the capacity to procreate. Within recorded history, do you have any evidence that those who practiced a moral life had fewer offspring?

Possibly the opposite -- I imagine that those who practiced an immoral life (according to the definition of that society) were often enough imprisoned or executed in previous societies, preventing their ability to procreate. Of course I don't have any hard evidence of this -- this is just a thought experiment -- I'd be very interested to see evidence one way or the other.

I could imagine a similar circumstance in pre-civilized times -- the caveman who kills his brother is ostracized from the group, reducing his ability to procreate.

Smoky Mt

Keep in mind that I'm positing a relativistic view of morality in relation to its evolution--so that what was "moral" in 100 AD Rome is not necessarily "moral" in 2007 AD America. My assertion so far is that "morality" results from a desire to not be ostracized from the group. Still, for the group to survive, what was "moral" probably ought to be good for the survival of the group.

I don't necessarily subscribe to the view that I'm positing.

Jason

Esau, if I now understand your question correctly, both you and Mary are questioning how any kind of moral system could evolve through a process of natural selection.

To start, this is a difficult question about which volumes of technical work have been published. I'll just sketch a very cursory response: Hamilton's work on kin selection explains altruism towards close relatives - any gene does best to promote behavior that helps any of it replicas be they in the same organism or in other organisms. Axelrod's work on the evolution of cooperation helps explain how reciprocal relationships might develop between unrelated groups. The key idea here is that "tit-for-tat" is an evolutionarily stable strategy. Now, implicit in this analysis is the idea that if one "cheats", one might be caught. So one might raise the following further question: why do we think that it's bad to cheat even if we won't get caught? The kind of answer one might give here is: such an inclination means we have to waste less energy making difficult discretionary judgments in every instance. It may be that this kind of cheating would only create benefits in isolated circumstances (remember, we're talking about the environment of evolutionary adaptation - not the modern world!) - if this is so, it might be better for an organism to adopt a strict rule "never cheat" than to have to expend the cognitive energy to decide whether to cheat in any particular case. The same kind of reason might explain altruism in cases that promise no benefit towards the organism. Especially when the costs to oneself are not great, it might be better to adopt a general rule than to try to discriminate on a case by case basis.

This is not my field of expertise - but I would only point out, unless you're an evolutionary biologist, it's not your field of expertise either. And the overwhelming opinion of the experts in the field is that these kinds of behavior ultimately have evolutionary explanations (although of course, social and cultural factors shape the evolutionary substrate into the observed norms).

Esau

Jason,

Nice attempt -- however, I still find it wanting.

For example, in what other animal is there any evidence for the evolutionary need or even benefit of the notion of religion?

Even if one were to espouse the idea of some notion of 'the path of least resistance' or even deduce some kinetic/thermodynamic posit concerning an argument of 'least energy'; there is no rational reason why the evolutionary development of man would warrant the development of the notion of morality and, further, religion itself.

You don't see animals worshipping gods and, yet, we do.

Most evolutionary developments center around features of efficiency (the efficient neural network of an intelligent being -- hence, no neural misfires) and greater adaptive capabilities for furthering the chance for survival.

I do not see the concept of morality -- much less religion -- as natural products of our evolution since they tend to contradict its purpose -- at least, in my opinion.

Jason
What desire to act on objective reasons? And what if the desire is trumped by his desire to bully?

Mary - if I understand your point correctly, you are asking on what basis I can say that the bully is wrong if he is unresponsive to "how would you like it if I did that to you?" The answer I would give is that he's being inconsistent in a very deep sense. He has particular conceptions of himself and the world that are implicit in most of his actions, and in this instance, he is failing to live up to those conceptions.

When I say the bully "should" stop bullying I'm pointing out this deep inconsistency. This view is contingent in the sense that it hinges on the bully possessing these self-conceptions, but as I suggested in the above post, these conceptions are universally present among human beings. I'd be willing to bet that in this bully's daily interactions, he is constantly making claims on others that are premised on the objectivity of reasons.

You might further say, "So what, why is hypocrisy bad?" A first point is that one could always make this claim about *any* proposed account of morality - "So what, why is what God thinks is good really good?" A second response is that the kind of hypocrisy I am talking about essentially undermines one's ability to give live a meaningful life because an important part of living such a life is identifying things that are valuable in the sense that they are a source of objective reasons.

Moral philosophy is a big subject, so I'm not going to lay out a full account here of why we value particular things rather than other things.

I have a question that might help focus things: what does a Christian morality add to the picture? What feature of morality is missing in my explanation that is present in a Christian account that is premised on God's existence?

Paul H

Sorry for being off-topic: Smoky Mt, are you the same "Smoky Mt" who used to post on the message board of a certain Christian progressive rock musician/songwriter, earlier this year? Based on the content of your posts, I'm guessing that the answer is no, but I just thought I would ask. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, then it's safe to say that you're not the same person I'm thinking of.)

Jason
Evolution of morality as a part of survival is explainable, if one is willing to make leaps of faith about the evolution of consciousness/conscience, and make leaps of faith about our ability to recognize the passage of time.

Matthew brings up an important port here. Cognition is very complicated. I hinted at this above when I suggested that explaining the norms we actually observe in practice requires explaining how social and cultural factors act on the biological substrate provided by evolution.

To give a full account of how consciousness evolved, we would indeed need to give some account of self-awareness, of our perception of cause and effect and of our perception of time. Our current understanding of the brain is just beginning to scratch the surface of these questions.

The question before us now is not, "Has science provided a fully satisfactory explanation of consciousness?" No one believes that it has. The question is, "Can science ever provide such an explanation?" I see no reason to believe it cannot and plenty of reason to think that it can. Matthew (and others) - why do you believe it cannot?

Brian Walden

Think of science and the notion how morals are said to be what hinders the advancement of humanity in that regard since it is our seemingly fabricated sense of morals (in the view of some) that keeps us from exploring new ideas and furthering our advancement both in knowledge and practice.

If you don't mind my uneducated speculation, I can imagine how morals might arise out of a selfish desire for survival. (I believe in absolute morals, but its fun to speculate)

Take two neighbors who hunt for food in a situation where food is scarce. There's enough food for them to make it through the season without dying but they each might have days at a time where they don't eat. One day one of them might catch more than enough food to eat while his neighbor comes home with nothing. They might realize that if they cooperate and share their food they'll have a more consistent supply and won't have as many uncomfortable spans when they don't eat. At this point its mutually beneficial to both of them.

From there it's easy to imagine a whole village which adopts this strategy. You could say that it has established a moral that its better to share food than to hoard it. This strategy would help the village as a whole to strive and grow in numbers. But unlike pure natural selection there is no food sharing gene for one generation to pass on to the next. Instead of genes, they have society - each generation teaches the next to share food.

I guess the leap comes when someone has more than enough food during the entire season of food scarcity even though others in the village don't. Does he stop sharing? Or does he share anyway because he's realized that it results in a greater chance for his children and children's children to survive if they're ever on the other end of the equation in the future?

Question is, how did the guy who shared food because it was good for his stomach turn into the guy who shared food because it was good for his children's stomachs?

Jason
The Van Gogh painting did not emerge from the colliding and interaction of liquifiable substances that just so happened to take place on a canvas. Rather, it came from the hand and mind of Van Gogh himself.

John E - I think you're eliding together several issues here. My analogy was only intended to show that a whole object can have properties not possessed by its component parts - the beauty of a Van Gogh painting was an example of such a property (whether it was designed or came about naturally is irrelevant to the force of the example).

You seem to be raising a different issue altogether when you ask how "lower simple things became higher complex things without any intervention by some other entity." You deny that this is possible - I think the entire history of science is evidence against you. Everything we know about science is an attempt to explain precisely this. How it is that complexity emerged from simple rules and basic building blocks? For a start, you might want to try physics, chemistry, biology, computer science and economics.

Perhaps you had in mind a different question - why is it that the rules of the universe are such that they produced complexity rather than "fizzling out"? If this is what you mean, we could have a long discussion about it which perhaps could best be summarized by, "Physicists are working on it. They'll get back to you some time in the next 50 years with a sketch of a response."

Esau

Take two neighbors who hunt for food in a situation where food is scarce. There's enough food for them to make it through the season without dying but they each might have days at a time where they don't eat. One day one of them might catch more than enough food to eat while his neighbor comes home with nothing. They might realize that if they cooperate and share their food they'll have a more consistent supply and won't have as many uncomfortable spans when they don't eat. At this point its mutually beneficial to both of them.

Brian,

I believe this was Matthew Siekierski's point.

Jason
For example, in what other animal is there any evidence for the evolutionary need or even benefit of the notion of religion?

Esau - the evolution of religion and the evolution of morality are two separate (though related) issues. I think to start one must recognize that religion is a social phenomena - so an evolutionary explanation won't tell us exactly why Aquinas' writings have the content they do - it will just tell us why people might be predisposed to believe in a god or gods. If you're interested in this, I'd suggest the work by Pascal Boyer and Scott Atran (there are of course many others who work on this question - Dan Dennett's book on the topic gives a nice overview). One kind of explanation for which there is some evidence is the idea that attributing intentionality to any strange object was useful in the environment of evolutionary adaptation. If you mistakenly thought that lightning was due to a big man in the sky, you'd get out of the way anyway, but if you failed to realize that the stick lying on the ground was actually a snake, you're in trouble (this just-so story is not the evidence I'm taking about - for that, see Boyer's writings).

Religion is of course a multifaceted phenomenon and this theory would only explain one component (that's how we do science, one small step at a time...). But what reason do you have for thinking that any aspect of religion is simply inexplicable (other than your prior reasons for thinking it is actually true)?


Esau

But what reason do you have for thinking that any aspect of religion is simply inexplicable (other than your prior reasons for thinking it is actually true)?


Well, allow me to ask you --

How do you know if the things we've studied in Science (that is, if you've even studied Science) are actually true?

By what little scientific knowledge I possess, I can predict certain chemical reactions by simply knowing the chemical structures of the chemical agents I am working with, the amount of energy needed for certain reactions to take place, the energy of activation barrier for the reaction, knowing and anticipating both the kinetic and thermodynamic products, etc.

However, even in the midst of all this knowledge, even after knowing and constructing a transitional state argument for all this in order to trace the steps from reactants to products and all possible sets of reactions -- how the reaction might proceed or even, in some cases, reverse -- I still don't see the actual chemical structures themselves at work in all this -- although I might be able to model them.

But, for all I know, what I know and demonstrate might merely be an illusion of the truth -- whatever that is.

Smoky Mt

Sorry for being off-topic: Smoky Mt, are you the same "Smoky Mt" who used to post on the message board of a certain Christian progressive rock musician/songwriter, earlier this year? Based on the content of your posts, I'm guessing that the answer is no

Your guess is correct. I haven't the foggiest clue what you're talking about.

Brian Walden

Brian,

I believe this was Matthew Siekierski's point.

Sorry I guess I just had to think about it in a simpler, more literal, example to get it in my head.

Anyway, I apologize for jumping the line on the whole origins of morality discussion - but if morals really did arise out of evolutionary principals wouldn't that still make contraception, and homosexuality intrinsically morally wrong (followed closely by adultery and fornication because they lower the chances of offspring surviving long enough to reproduce). I just mention those because they're most highly contested today and also most closely related to the passing on of genes from one generation to the next. I mean, wouldn't proving the natural source of morals only prove them to be objective and true?

Or would it just allow people to go from not following morals because they come from a God who they don't believe exists to not following morals because they come from outdated evolutionary instincts which they don't believe are applicable in our modern world?

Brian Walden

That's supposed to be: aren't applicable in our modern world?

Jason
How do you know if the things we've studied in Science (that is, if you've even studied Science) are actually true?

Esau, your question touches on a deep issues in philosophy of science and in philosophy more generally - what does it mean for a scientific theory to be true? Newton's theory is true, but we now know it's only a limiting case of general relativity which is in turn likely a limiting case of string theory / M-theory. We never declare once and for all that a model is "true" - we just find it to be a description of the world which yields useful predictions that may someday be supplanted by a better theory which yields more accurate predictions.

At any rate, I'm not sure I understand the point of your question. Scientific knowledge is provisional, but so is all knowledge (except arguably claims that you exist) - you might wake up tomorrow and discover that the sun didn't rise, the universe is a simulation designed by enormous intelligent slices of cheese and you are in fact just one of them (even more radically, you could wake up tomorrow and discover you are three separate slices of cheese).

These kinds of philosophical musings about what is logically possible are only tangentially relevant to the question at hand: what theory does the preponderance of the evidence favor at any given time? In this regard, scientific truths, though provisional, are among the most reliable truths that we have.

Esau

Scientific knowledge is provisional, but so is all knowledge (except arguably claims that you exist)

But that's just it --

The same kind of 'FAITH' that is submitted to notions of religion can be said to be similar to the kind of 'FAITH' in the Scientific truths that we hold/profess; that is, who is to say, exactly, that one is actually different than the other?

For example, I've heard of quarks and leptons -- but, really, has anybody seen quarks?


In this regard, scientific truths, though provisional, are among the most reliable truths that we have.

Reliable only to the extent that what we know and how what we know are demonstrable.

However, even you have said:

...the universe is a simulation designed by enormous intelligent slices of cheese and you are in fact just one of them

... which brings me back to the former about Religion and Science.

If you can subscribe to a notion extending to this extent, it shouldn't be any surprise that I subscribe to the notion that happens to be Christian -- or, better yet, Catholic.

Again, I don't see how 'faith' in Religion is any different as 'faith' in Science.

Smoky Mt

you might wake up tomorrow and discover that the sun didn't rise, the universe is a simulation designed by enormous intelligent slices of cheese and you are in fact just one of them

That happened to me once. Turns out I'm muenster.

Jason
The same kind of 'FAITH' that is submitted to notions of religion can be said to be similar to the kind of 'FAITH' in the Scientific truths that we hold/profess; that is, who is to say, exactly, that one is actually different than the other?

I think perhaps I am not following your argument. To say that scientific knowledge is provisional is not to say that it is *arbitrary*. Some explanations are better than others. The theory that objects are composed of atoms of different elements is a better theory than that they are composed of earth, wind, fire and water even if the former is not a complete theory of all microscopic phenomena. The theory that Santa Claus does not travel at faster than light speed to deliver presents to all the children in the world on Christmas morning is a better theory than the theory that he does.

As I understand it (and perhaps I don't), your argument is saying, "We ultimately cannot know anything for sure, so anything we believe is just as reasonable as anything else" - this claim just seems obviously false.

My argument for atheism begins from the premise that if we have no reason at all to believe something it is unreasonable to believe it. This is why we don't believe in leprechauns or in fairies or in everything else that strikes our fancy. So far, I've argued that the moral argument provides no reason to believe in God (and at least CThomas appears to agree with me on this point), and I've tried to address the additional question of whether this somehow undermines the moral judgments we do make. So let me turn the question back at you - what reason do you have for believing in God and if you can't give a reason, how is your belief in God any more reasonable than a child's belief in fairies?

Jason
That happened to me once. Turns out I'm muenster.

Good choice :-).

Esau

My argument for atheism begins from the premise that if we have no reason at all to believe something it is unreasonable to believe it.

So we have no reason at all to believe in Christianity?


Tell me then, is there reason at all to believe in the Theory of the Big Bang?

If so, please provide your proof here -- no copying from other people's works, please.

If you should believe that matter is comprised of leptons and quarks -- then, please, provide your proof for their existence. I mean, have you ever seen quarks and leptons?

If not, how do you know that they, in fact, exist?

What makes their existance any more concrete than that of God?

Mary

Nevertheless, I think natural selection can certainly operate on groups.

Then we would need to see some evidence.

There are phenomena that are explicably only on the "gene" level, not on the "group" level. How does it benefit the group for males to kill infants they have not sired? It benefits the males, who then have the chance to breed with the mothers and so pass on their own genes.

If a individual organism evolves a "social" gene that creates a desire to operate as a group, and that individual's offspring therefore begin operating as a social group, it's possible that those offspring (and their descendants) will survive whereas other organisms of the same species without the "social" gene will die off.

It's also possible that it would harm them. Witness that in herd animals, the mother or parents still feed their own children. Orphans starve. Why do all herds act like this? Because if the mothers looked after other animals' children, the mother who didn't look after her own, or anyone else, could use the resources that she would have spent on her own children to breed more, and so spread her genes further.

Morality, unlike natural selection, doesn't handle the free-loader problem.

Mary

What desire to act on objective reasons? And what if the desire is trumped by his desire to bully?

Mary - if I understand your point correctly, you are asking on what basis I can say that the bully is wrong if he is unresponsive to "how would you like it if I did that to you?" The answer I would give is that he's being inconsistent in a very deep sense. He has particular conceptions of himself and the world that are implicit in most of his actions, and in this instance, he is failing to live up to those conceptions.

Where does the obligation to be consistent stem from?

And why does "a very deep sense" trump the immediate relative strength of impulses?

Jason
So we have no reason at all to believe in Christianity?

Yes, in the same sense that the Greeks had no reason to believe that there was a pantheon of gods living on Mt. Olympus.

But I didn't mean my question to come off as just a blithe assertion or as some kind of insult to your reasonableness - I certainly recognize that Christians think they have good reason to be Christians. I'm just trying to find out what particular reasons you find compelling so I can give my argument for rejecting them.

Tell me then, is there reason at all to believe in the Theory of the Big Bang?

It's difficult to provide all of the reasons without elaborating at length on the underlying physics - and besides, I'm not a physicist, so my belief in the big bang is based mainly on the consensus among experts with the technical knowledge to actually appraise the evidence.

The most compelling evidence for the big bang is the cosmic microwave background radiation predicted by the theory and subsequently discovered by Wilson and Penzias.

What makes their existance any more concrete than that of God?

I have to say I still don't understand your argument here. Suppose we rewrite your question as:

What makes their existence any more concrete than that of enormous flying pink elephants?

Do I really need to answer this?

Of course, this question presumes that the evidence for God is on a par with the evidence for enormous flying pink elephants. But all I'm trying to show here is that *if* there is no reason to believe in God, than belief in God is as ridiculous as belief in flying pink elephants.

Again, how is your argument different from the summary I gave in my previous post: "We ultimately cannot know anything for sure, so anything we believe is just as reasonable as anything else" - isn't this an obviously fallacious argument?

Esau

Interesting --

This:

I certainly recognize that Christians think they have good reason to be Christians.

sounds like:

It's difficult to provide all of the reasons without elaborating at length on the underlying physics - and besides, I'm not a physicist, so my belief in the big bang

Again, your belief is based on a mere religion that centers on the Big Bang while my beief is based on a religion that centers on a Christian God.

As I requested previously, prove to me that your belief in the Big Bang is substantially demonstrable than my belief in a Christian God.

That is, perhaps you rather simply place your 'FAITH' in your 'priests' of the 'Big Bang' and submit to it without question.

Jason
Where does the obligation to be consistent stem from?

And why does "a very deep sense" trump the immediate relative strength of impulses?

I would not say there is an "obligation to be consistent" - that would be circular as you rightly imply. I would say only that consistency of this kind is important to us because without it, we would have no basis for distinguishing between good and bad normative reasons. This is a difficult question, because it's like asking why claims in formal logic should be consistent. I'd consider the requirement that our reasons be consistent the practical analogue of the law of non-contradiction in theoretical reasoning.

Now, let me challenge you a bit. What does a Christian notion of morality have that the notion I have articulated is lacking? The kinds of penetrating questions you ask could equally well be applied to an account of divine morality. Why should we identify `rightness' with what God wants? How does this add anything to our understanding of what we should do?

Jason

Esau, I promise to answer your question if you will first attempt to answer mine: in your view, is a belief in the big bang more reasonable than a belief that there are flying pink elephants on Mars which have thus far eluded our detection?

Esau

Well, you were credulous to this extent:

"you might wake up tomorrow and discover that the sun didn't rise, the universe is a simulation designed by enormous intelligent slices of cheese and you are in fact just one of them"


I wouldn't be surprised of you were gullible to the extent of believing:

"that there are flying pink elephants on Mars which have thus far eluded our detection"

Now, please answer my question unless your faith in the 'Big Bang' religion is merely a blind faith and that you simply believe because the 'priests' of the 'Big Bang' have declared thus.

Jason

Esau - I think you misunderstood my point about the slices of cheese. I was using that example to distinguish between what is logically possible and what is reasonable to believe. I certainly admit that God's existence is logically possible, although I also believe that the slices of cheese story and the pink elephants on Mars are logically possible.

This is quite distinct from whether something is reasonable to believe. The big bang is reasonable to believe due to the enormous amount of observational evidence in its favor, while the cheese and pink elephants stories are not. Putting aside the issue of God for the time being, you still haven't answered my question.

In your view, is a belief in the big bang more reasonable than a belief in flying pink elephants on Mars?

I realize now that perhaps I wrongly assumed that you would answer "yes" to this question. If that is not the case, let me try a different one:

In your view, is a belief in the big bang more reasonable than a belief that the sun orbits the earth?

Esau

big bang is reasonable to believe due to the enormous amount of observational evidence in its favor


Really?

Such as?

I would be most appreciative if you would kindly enlighten my faculty and I about such 'observational evidence' for the 'Big Bang'.

Jason

I'm sorry, I actually ended my last post with the wrong question! :-). Maybe I should cut down on the frequency of my posts slightly... I meant to say:

In your view, is a belief that the sun orbits the earth more reasonable than a belief in flying pink elephants on Mars?

(I also would answer "No" to my question as stated!)

Jason

Wow, actually that question didn't make sense either. I really need to cut down on the frequency of my posts - I wish I could delete my last two posts :-).

Let me just say as clearly as possible the point I am trying to make. I of course do think that there is an enormous amount of evidence for the big bang theory, but we can address that question later.

For now, I'm just trying to get you to admit that some explanations are more reasonable than others. You seem to be arguing that a belief in anything is equally reasonable. Is that really what you're trying to say?

Esau

Again, please answer my question unless your 'FAITH' in the 'Big Bang' religion is merely a blind faith and that you simply believe because the 'priests' of the 'Big Bang' have declared thus.

Jason

Alright, the answer is "No, it's not a blind faith."

This is true for two reasons:

1) While I don't appreciate all of the technical details, I can understand why there is evidence for it given my limited knowledge of physics. If you are genuinely curious, I can explain this to you, but I don't want to waste my time doing so if your question is merely rhetorical.

2) The people I am relying on to interpret the evidence - i.e. physicists - are the people who are in the best place to know the answer. If I wanted to know whether a proposed mathematical theory was true, I would ask a mathematician. Likewise, if I wanted to know whether a physical theory was correct, I would ask a physicist.

Would you deny that this is the best way to determine if a physical theory is correct? How do you know that the earth orbits the sun and not the other way around? (this is ultimately what I was trying to get at before).

David B.

Very good post, Jimmy! ;-) SDG, You really should put this in pamplet form. really. [a'right, enough of the ego trip ;-)]

John E

You seem to be raising a different issue altogether when you ask how "lower simple things became higher complex things without any intervention by some other entity." You deny that this is possible - I think the entire history of science is evidence against you. Everything we know about science is an attempt to explain precisely this. How it is that complexity emerged from simple rules and basic building blocks? For a start, you might want to try physics, chemistry, biology, computer science and economics.

And my analogy is that when complexity arises from simpler things such as paint into a painting on a canvas, notes into melody and harmony, boards and nails into a house, it is due to something other than merely an interaction of those simple elements. But when it happens elsewhere in nature for much grander works of art, such as a person or an animal or a plant, why should one think they are an exception? If it's preposterous for a Van Gogh painting to emerge from simple elements, it's much more preposterous to think that Van Gogh did.

Every science comes to a point where it has to stop and say, "yeah, we don't know how that's done". Physics and chemistry can explain in great detail (at least what seems like great detail to us) the materials and forces that were involved in creating every stroke and color and detail of the Van Gogh painting. Scientists could perhaps conjecture about how such a painting could be created by hundreds of falling paint brushes landing just so, or much more plausible theories than that. All the while they would promise that in 50 years they'll know with much more certitude just how it was done and that it will all one day be explained without the need to resort to the illusory Van Gogh entity. Indeed, at a certain level it all makes sense and there's nothing in the elements themselves that would seem to require a Van Gogh to explain it. The burden of proof would be on those who believe in the mysterious Van Gogh entity. But we feel quite right in believing that Van Gogh had at least some small part to play in the process. The same is true for grander works of art.

Jason

John,

If I understand your argument, it goes something like, "In the world we observe complexity arising through intelligent design. Therefore, when we observe complexity in nature, we should infer by analogy that it is due to intelligent design."

The question we're both trying to answer is: can natural processes yield complexity from simple elements? I would suggest that there are perfectly well understood natural processes that yield complex results from simple rules. Two examples from mathematics and physics:

1) The mandelbrot set
2) General relativity, which can be derived entirely from a set of simple invariance principles

Now, you would of course dispute the fact that these are really natural. You would say, "Ah, but these processes betray the hallmarks of an intelligent designer!" But how so? Is your argument that mathematics itself could not exist without an intelligent designer? What basis do we have for believing this claim?

If *everything* is really the product of intelligent design as you would argue, then we have no basis for determining the limits of natural processes because there is no such thing as a natural process.

How then can we test the hypothesis that *everything* is a product of design? The only way to do so is as follows: we assume temporarily that there is such a thing as a natural process and then ask, "Could such a process alone be adequate to explain the observed universe?" If it is not, then we may need to resort to other explanations (although I would dispute that "God did it" explains anything). If a purely naturalistic explanation proves adequate, then it would seem that any invocation of a designer is superfluous.

So I have two questions for you:
1) What is the particular phenomenon that you think naturalistic processes cannot in principal explain?
2) How does theism/Christianity do a better job of explaining this phenomenon?

Brian Walden

Jason,

I'm interested in the concept that morals may have been a result of evolution as in the example you gave of a person who is pre-disposed never to cheat and thus has the advantage of not having to put energy into a decision of whether or not to cheat.

If it were ever proven that our morals are a result of evolution, what do you think it would mean? Would we drop the concept of morals altogether? Would we implement morals as an objective standard for all behavior? Would it just be an interesting discovery that wouldn't change much of anything?

Esau
Alright, the answer is "No, it's not a blind faith."

This is true for two reasons:

1) While I don't appreciate all of the technical details, I can understand why there is evidence for it given my limited knowledge of physics. If you are genuinely curious, I can explain this to you, but I don't want to waste my time doing so if your question is merely rhetorical.

2) The people I am relying on to interpret the evidence - i.e. physicists - are the people who are in the best place to know the answer. If I wanted to know whether a proposed mathematical theory was true, I would ask a mathematician. Likewise, if I wanted to know whether a physical theory was correct, I would ask a physicist.

Would you deny that this is the best way to determine if a physical theory is correct? How do you know that the earth orbits the sun and not the other way around? (this is ultimately what I was trying to get at before).


Posted by: Jason | Oct 23, 2007 5:31:14 PM


Jason,

Because you do not know of my background, you do not know entirely where I come from.

I happen to work with various groups of high-level staff scientists and even the brightest amongst them have flaws in their theories, regardless of consensus.

Yes, you seem to place such blind faith in the Big Bang just because various physicists subscribe to such a theory.

However, just because they do doesn't automatically make such a theory true.

I can tell you of so many theories that the brightest throughout history developed and, in fact, agreed upon and, yet, the theory they subscribed to was completely wrong.

For example, folks back then believed that nucleic acids were far too simple to contain the blueprints to life and the vast majority of Scientists figured that it must be proteins due to the greater complexity of proteins.

Now, back then, it seems given by your answer here, that you would have believed likewise.

Needless to say that like them, you would've been terribly wrong.

Tim J.

"If *everything* is really the product of intelligent design as you would argue, then we have no basis for determining the limits of natural processes because there is no such thing as a natural process."

Exactly. In a strict sense (because God invented matter and set up the sub-atomic relationships and forces that govern everything) there would be no process that was immune or isolated from God's creative action. No object or process is "natural" in terms of being "self existing" or truly independent. So, yeah, God invented not only math, but physics. Or, I should say, these are an expression, an indication, of God's character.

One problem with materialistic morality from where I sit is that, once you grant that morals are *merely* the result of natural (random) processes, from whence do you derive the authority to enforce your morals on anyone else? It seems always to fall back on the strong (or the clever, or the ambitious, or aggressive) ruling over everyone else. Nihilism, in other words.

You may view it all under terms like "social contract" or whatever, but it boils down to "You will do what we say because if you don't, we can make your life very unpleasant or short or both".

And one could hardly be blamed for replying "Shove your rules up your arse". Morally, he would be on equal footing with you.

If there really are no moral absolutes there can be *absolutely* no morals.

In practice, it isn't as if we all just sat down at a table some place and agreed "Well, this set of morals is the most useful right now"... we have historically agreed *on principle* that lying is - not just societally inefficient - but truly wrong. Truth is something beautiful and solid, and lying defaces it. Murder isn't bad simply because it destabilizes society, it is - in principle - wrong and moreover, unjust. Life is a profound and mysterious thing, and murder destroys and wastes it. People have agreed on this and codified it in law ever since there have BEEN people.

You seem to be asking "Well, what if evolution has worked so as to make us FEEL that these morals are "absolute"?

In that case, (if by "evolution" you mean a blind, random, purposeless process) if it could be demonstrated that this has actually occurred - which is as impossible as proving that God Did It - I would say that science would have thoroughly debunked the idea of moral absolutes. People, societies, would now be free to define morality in any way they see fit. Individuals, too. Again, where do you derive the authority to impose your morals on me? Mob rule? Brute force? That's really all you have left.

You can, of course, attempt to persuade and argue that this set of morals works better than that set, but beyond that you can have no authority to make anyone listen.

You may argue that certain morals are more suited to human survival, but now that we have shown that both we and our morals are the results of blind chance, who says that the survival of the human species is "better" than it's extinction? How do we now toss around words like "better" or "worse" with any meaning? Good and evil have just been scientifically proven to be a mirage.

The whole universe will assume a uniform temperature near absolute zero at some point. What's the use of our species sticking around for a few million more years? There are those among us already who see human-kind as some sort of virus or disease on the planet. Why not submit to the inevitable?

This is the equation that I find inexplicable under strict materialism;

1 + 1 + 1 = 0

Meaning + Meaning + Meaning = No Meaning.

Our lives, our relationships, our art, our civilizations are all meaningful, but the whole universe is not. A null set crammed full of stuff.

The universe exists, it came from somewhere... with a Big Bang, if I understand correctly. The world, at least from my experience, is full of meaningful things and events, so the world itself can't be completely meaningless. If the world is not meaningless, then it has meaning, and if it has meaning then there has to be someone to mean it.

Michael

Esau,

I was confused by the tact of your posts. While you were making the point that belief in the Big Bang theory is just that - belief, even though it appears to best fit the evidence considered in the light of current knowledge - you seemed to be making the point that belief in the Big Bang is somehow incompatible with belief in the Christian God. Fr. Lemaitre would probably disagree with that assertion.

Jason,

"My argument for atheism begins from the premise that if we have no reason at all to believe something it is unreasonable to believe it."

I have to wonder if you are using the royal we in this case. Simply because you have found no reason to believe in God does not mean that others have not or that such reasons do not exist. Indeed, that countless reasonable and intelligent people have and continue to hold such belief should give you, not all of us, pause.

Nihil

Esau,

no-one here, much less Jason, is claiming that evidence and expert consensus make a theory absolutely true. Hume buried absolute physical certainty for good.

What is being claimed is that those two reasons are the best way to take a guess - i.e., that they are the most reliable criteria for choosing the hypothesis that is most likely to be true.

Esau

...you seemed to be making the point that belief in the Big Bang is somehow incompatible with belief in the Christian God.


I made no such assertion.

Only that one cannot say that the one is substantially demonstrable than the other.

In essence, both require a kind of 'faith'.

Michael

Esau,

I do now uderstand that was not your point, but the potential for misunderstanding was there.

"Again, your belief is based on a mere religion that centers on the Big Bang while my beief is based on a religion that centers on a Christian God."

This statement seemed to establish an exclusivity of the two positions, at least in my mind when I read it.

Esau

the best way to take a guess


EXACTLY!

All it is in the end is just that -- A GUESS!

I can predict and put together various molecular models and any one of them can be proven true (or false) by mere demonstration; however, the fact of the matter is that even if the former were the case, it still would be a 'guess' since much of the knowledge we hold still centers on a kind of 'faith' -- be it in the Science of things or in the Religion.

Nihil

Tim J.,

absolutely spot-on, as usual. I have only a single objection:

You seem to be asking "Well, what if evolution has worked so as to make us FEEL that these morals are "absolute"?

In that case, (if by "evolution" you mean a blind, random, purposeless process) if it could be demonstrated that this has actually occurred - which is as impossible as proving that God Did It - I would say that science would have thoroughly debunked the idea of moral absolutes."

This isn't entirely undemonstrable (in fact, there have been brain studies in such a direction). When you find that our brains are hardwired (at birth) to make us feel some amount of empathy towards others, you have indeed found a biological basis for morals.
Of course, you haven't disproved moral absolutes, since they are abstract ideas that cannot be falsified, but you have proved that if they exist, they are redundant.

Nihil

Esau,

We agree that there are no absolute certainties. The point of contention is, are all guesses equally valid and reliable?

Mary

When you find that our brains are hardwired (at birth) to make us feel some amount of empathy towards others, you have indeed found a biological basis for morals.
Of course, you haven't disproved moral absolutes, since they are abstract ideas that cannot be falsified, but you have proved that if they exist, they are redundant.

If you find that our brains are hardwired (at birth) to like sweetness, you have indeed found a biological basis for liking sweets. Of course, you haven't disproved that some things actually are sweet, since they are abstract ideas that cannot be falsified, but you have proved that if they exist, they are redundant.

The argument, either way, is nonsense. Sweetness tastes good, bitterness tastes bad, sudden loud noises make us jump -- before we are born. This is because they reflect external realities (sweet things are often safe sources of carbohydrates, bitter things are often poisonous, sudden loud noises are frequent indicators of danger), not evidence that external realities are redundant.

Tim J.

Nihil -

Feeling "some amount of empathy" toward other creatures can hardly function anything like a moral absolute. All kinds of animals seem capable of empathy. The question is always put to the test when we DON'T feel any empathy. That is exactly when moral absolutes kick in.

In addition, you would have to show that this "hard wiring" is a result of evolution (rather than a direct creative act by God) and you would then have to show that evolution is itself blind, random and purposeless, which is impossible.

Having a plausible theory doesn't excuse anyone from having to support the theory with evidence. It's possible that I'm just a brain in a jar and our correspondence is an illusion, but, you know, I doubt it.

There is a huge difference between positing evolution as a process and adopting evolution as an atheistic philosophy. Evolution itself can neither support nor disprove either atheism OR theism. Even if the precise mechanisms of evolution were proven tomorrow, it would be neither here nor there regarding the question of the existence of God.

So even given (for the sake of argument) that our feelings about moral absolutes were shaped through some evolutionary process, that speaks not at all to the question of whether God Did It. It only deals with the "how".

As for belief in God being unnecessary, clearly it *is* unnecessary, in a sense. People live and work and function without it all the time. You also won't fly into space if you cease to believe in gravity. That doesn't have any bearing on whether or not gravity really exists. People functioned just fine for millennia without the theory of evolution, too. I find the tendency toward that kind of minimalism sort of puzzling.

John E

The question we're both trying to answer is: can natural processes yield complexity from simple elements? I would suggest that there are perfectly well understood natural processes that yield complex results from simple rules. Two examples from mathematics and physics:

1) The mandelbrot set
2) General relativity, which can be derived entirely from a set of simple invariance principles

I'm not that well studied in mathematics or physics to speak about the Mandelbrot Sets and relativity, but I'll give it a shot. Let's take the Mandelbrot Set. Is that something more complex than mathematics and emerge from it? Or is it not rather mathematics itself which is the vast complex entity consisting of simpler elements such as numbers and functions of which the relatively more complex Mandelbrot Set is "composed"? Mathematics *may be used* to decipher that the Mandelbrot Set is "composed" of "simpler elements", or simpler elements such as numbers and functions *can be used* to discover the already mathematically existing entity now called the Mandelbrot Set, but numbers and functions do not come together on their own to explain the Mandelbrot Set and the Mandelbrot Set does not explain all of mathematics.

We're assuming that the Mandelbrot Set truly is a case of a more complex entity arising solely from simpler entities such as numbers and functions. Can you objectively have numbers and functions pre-existing or existing without the Mandelbrot set or vice versa? No, they are part of the same package and it is we who categorize them into more or less simple or complex things. I don't think the Mandelbrot set is really a good analogy of simple things arising on their own into more complex things.

Moving from the conceptual to the physical, though, it seems reasonable that you could have atoms and electrons without necessitating that there must therefore also be paintings, and I think most people would probably agree that there was at least some time in earth's history where that was indeed true. One could explain the painting as being composed of atoms and electrons, but common sense says that the painting did not emerge from the atoms and electrons without an external entity, such as Van Gogh.

And this appears to be true for real Mandelbrot Sets that exist in nature as well -- such as fractals I believe. If the mere concept of the Mandelbrot Set required someone like Mandelbrot to use the tools of mathematics to conceive or explain it, what do we say about Mandelbrot Sets that actually occur in nature? Would they not also require a "Mandelbrot" to do the more difficult job of actually creating it?


So I have two questions for you:
1) What is the particular phenomenon that you think naturalistic processes cannot in principal explain?
2) How does theism/Christianity do a better job of explaining this phenomenon?

1. truth, reasonable discourse, dignity, liberty, democracy, desire, a sense of purpose, a Van Gogh painting, a piece by Mozart or Bach, the conception of the Mandelbrot Set,...

2. Theism does a better job of explaining these things because it does not conflict with the micro-explanation (sciences) but also gives a macro-explanation -- that is, we can at least begin to discern purpose and intent and meaning -- a desire shared by most of humanity throughout history. Naturalistic processes ultimately can't answer the question "why?" which seems to have been wired in us.

John E

We agree that there are no absolute certainties.
Are you absolutely certain?

Tim J.

Leaving out the bothersome question of where matter came from in the first place and how the initial mammoth burst of energy that still drives the ever down-winding cosmos came to be...

In physical terms, blind chance and evolution might indeed explain everything... they just leave out everything else.

Jason
If it were ever proven that our morals are a result of evolution, what do you think it would mean? Would we drop the concept of morals altogether? Would we implement morals as an objective standard for all behavior? Would it just be an interesting discovery that wouldn't change much of anything?

Brian, good question. First of all, I wouldn't argue that morals are exclusively the result of evolution. I'd say evolution provides the substrate which cultural and social factors shape into moral claims. Not that this blunts the force of your question.

It really depends what you mean by an objective standard. I'd say that even granting their evolutionary origin, moral claims could be objective in the sense that everyone still has reason to affirm them on reflection - the origin of moral claims is irrelevant; what matters is the practical role they play in our lives. (see my above posts for my interpretation of what this view means we could say to a recalcitrant bully).

Jason
"My argument for atheism begins from the premise that if we have no reason at all to believe something it is unreasonable to believe it."

I have to wonder if you are using the royal we in this case. Simply because you have found no reason to believe in God does not mean that others have not or that such reasons do not exist. Indeed, that countless reasonable and intelligent people have and continue to hold such belief should give you, not all of us, pause.

Michael, I of course do not claim to have refuted all of the reasons that you and others would offer for belief in God. I only meant this as an if-then statement: *if* there are no good reasons to believe in God, then one shouldn't believe in him. This doesn't say much - but Esau seemed to be suggesting that faith in God was just as reasonable as belief in a scientific theory, essentially on the grounds that we can't prove anything with absolute certainty. If belief in God is reasonable, then one must be able to give reasons for it, not merely assert one's faith. Hopefully, we agree on this point - you just happen to think there are good reasons for belief in God (I'd be happy to hear them if you'd like to share).

Jason

Esau - I think Nihil hit the nail on the head - do you really believe all guesses are equally reasonable?

The fact that scientific theories are revised in light of new evidence is a strength not a weakness, and of course, scientific theories are held with varying levels of confidence. I'd say there is a 75% chance string theory is correct, a 99.99% chance the big bang theory is correct and a 99.999999% that Newton's theory of gravity is correct (this does not imply that they aren't just special cases of a deeper theory as we now know is the case with Newton's theory - it just implies that they are correct within their domain of applicability).

Also, do you believe that the seasons are caused by the tilt of the earth on its axis and its orbit about the sun? Presumably you have not made the necessary measurements to confirm this yourself. Why do you believe it?

Esau

a 99.99% chance the big bang theory

By this claim, it is more than certain that my dialogue with you was a waste of time.

Assigning the Big Bang Theory with a 99.9% confidence?

Surely, you have no concept of Science at all let alone Statistics.

Jason

Tim J,

You raise two important issues. Let me try to address them one at a time:

1) Where do you get the authority to enforce your morals on someone else?

If someone steals from me and I catch them, and they say back, "Shove your rules up your arse!" is there anything further I can say to them?

I think this case is like that of the bully above. I could point out things like, "If it weren't for the institution of private property which you fail to respect, many amenities which you enjoy would not exist." I think they have a reason to find this claim persuasive because of their underlying need to act on objective reasons. In practice, they probably wouldn't find this claim persuasive (but certainly no one here would claim that the fact that slave-holders didn't find the arguments against slavery persuasive means that slavery was morally acceptable!).

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "authority to enforce your morals" (and so perhaps I have not answered your question). If you mean literally, a cosmic lawgiver who will punish wrong-doers with eternal torment, then you're just begging the question. Could you clarify?


2) Meaning + Meaning + Meaning = No Meaning.

You say "The world, at least from my experience, is full of meaningful things and events, so the world itself can't be completely meaningless." I'd argue that meaning isn't a property of the external world - it's a feature of our interaction with that world as conscious beings (perhaps your claim just reduces to, "How is consciousness possible?" If so, let me know and I'll try to answer you). You say that you can't understand how our lives could be full of purpose but the universe itself be purposeless. When you say you can't understand this, what do you mean? It doesn't matter if this idea is palatable to you - it just happens to be the way things are (perhaps this isn't what you meant - if not, please clarify).

Jason
Surely, you have no concept of Science at all let alone Statistics.

I have taken about a dozen graduate statistics and econometrics courses so I'd beg to differ ;-).

I should clarify the model I was using to arrive at the 99.99% estimate. One must distinguish between:

1) The formal probability arrived at through hypothesis testing within the context of a particular statistical model
2) The prior probability that one would attach to the assumptions of that model

Within the context of particular formal models, the big bang theory has been confirmed to many more decimal places than the estimate I gave. Of course, the underlying assumptions might be wrong. What gives physicists a great deal of confidence in the big bang is that different avenues of investigation which start from different assumptions have all converged on the same result.

Let me focus on this issue of deferring my judgment to that of physicists. Nearly everyone with the technical knowledge to assess the evidence now agrees that the big bang theory is correct. Those without this knowledge can't make an informed judgment. By analogy, imagine if I was in a warehouse with 100 other people who looked out the window. I'm not tall enough to see out the window. I want to know if there is a tree outside. They all tell me that there is a tree there. What should I conclude? (and please, don't tell me you think all the physicists in the world are lying).

Jason

John E.,

Let me try a different example that I think perhaps will shed some light on our disagreement.

Consider cellular automata. Here is a simple (and very short) introduction if you are not familiar with them:

http://mathworld.wolfram.com/ElementaryCellularAutomaton.html

I'm not concerned so much with the general characterization as with specific examples. For instance, rule 30 illustrated on the page.

I would say this is an example of a very simple rule yielding an enormous amount of complexity. Would you disagree?


Tim J.

No, Jason, I don't mean that the idea of a meaningless universe is not palatable. In the past, in some moods, I found the *idea* somewhat bracing.

I just don't think it comports with the evidence. There is no evolutionary necessity, that I can figure, for our brains assigning some illusory deeper "meaning" to very ordinary events. Death, the birth of a child, mating, friendship - sunsets, for cryin' out loud... other species get on just fine without waxing all philosophical about these things. One might argue (if one believed we evolved from monkeys) that these ideas have been the cause of more violence and ruin than if we had just been content with our more modest monkey brains.

Perhaps you see sentience or speculative thinking, self-awareness, as a kind of evolutionary *defect* of the human species?

What the hell good does it do, in terms of human survival, to get involved in long speculative internet discussions about the meaning of life (or lack thereof)? It doesn't put food on the table or a roof over the head (it can actually interfere with some people doing so the way they should). From the materialist point of view, these discussions couldn't be anything but a waste of time and energy.

Most of mankind, however, has rather held that the speculative discussions were the whole POINT of human discourse. What you must see as useless jawing has been seen by most people through history as the raison d'être of human existence - to think about WHY we are here.

If the universe is really meaningless, why in the world did the overwhelming majority of homo sapiens evolve this tendency for obstinate belief that it is meaningful? What good has it done, just in sheer evolutionary terms? Surely we could have been highly intelligent without all the metaphysical static?

Also, I find this confounding; if the universe really is meaningless, why bother trying to convince anyone of the fact? Why the effort to persuade and change minds? If the truth is that *It Doesn't Matter*, what's is the point of arguing? Why, in other words, is it important to try and convince others to agree with you that the universe is meaningless? Why is *anything* important?

I should point out, too, that trying to explain away unpalatable ideas isn't the exclusive territory of theists. Are you ever afraid God might exist? What would it mean if He did? You may think that Christians are taken in by wishful thinking, but do you see how attractive, how seductive the idea of a meaningless universe can be?

I believe (now) that everything I do matters in an eternal sense, and this carries its own terrors that have nothing to do with Hell. Didn't you ever know someone you would feel awful to disappoint?

In moments of high spirits and good health, we might find a kind of invigorating liberty in thinking "It doesn't matter what I do! Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die". That's one seduction of materialism. At our low points, though, when we are tired, or lonely, or deeply disappointed, thinking "It doesn't matter what I do" takes on a different shade of meaning. That is what, I think, gnaws at the guts of modern man.

Just please don't make the mistake of thinking that theism is some kind of cosseted nursery, or that theists run to belief in God as some kind of escape. That makes me laugh.

And, of course, there is the temptation to intellectual snobbery on both ends. Some theists act as if they and their club are very clever to have figured out the TRUTH, and some materialists take pleasure in being the knowing minority... different from The Herd. I have known friendships that were held together by little else than the belief that "We are not like Them".

Smoky Mt

By this claim, it is more than certain that my dialogue with you was a waste of time...
Surely, you have no concept of Science at all let alone Statistics.

That was pretty obnoxious of you, Esau.

Smoky Mt

Esau - I think Nihil hit the nail on the head - do you really believe all guesses are equally reasonable?

This question seems to have been floating around unanswered for a long time on this thread. It might help to address this.

JP

Jason,
"The question before us now is not, "Has science provided a fully satisfactory explanation of consciousness?" No one believes that it has. The question is, "Can science ever provide such an explanation?" I see no reason to believe it cannot and plenty of reason to think that it can. Matthew (and others) - why do you believe it cannot?"

I see one huge reason to believe that "science can never provide such an explanation", i.e. can never explain consciousness as a physical process. Let me first stress that of all the opinions I have, this is by far the one I am most confident about. Indeed its not just that I think I am right, but I have difficulty seeing how anyone could disagree.

Consciousness is not an observable phenomenon. We tend to assume that other humans have what we ourselves have-- and that rocks and paperclips do not. But surely there is no valid scientific reason for this, because the language of natural science cannot even define consciousness. Or do you think it can?
Do you suppose there is some outward manifestation of consciousness that can ONLY be explained by the existence of consciousness? (in particular, could not just be the physical process that we see MINUS any subjective awareness).
I remember being told in primary school that animals feel pain so that they know there is danger, and thinking, "why do we have to FEEL pain, why can't our brains just take the necessary steps without "us" there experiencing it all?"

If you can think of no definitive manifestation, then it is silly to imagine that someday a scientist will be looking at a brain scan and say "Ah hah! this must be consciousness," in the same way he can when studying subatomic particles, or the cosmic microwave background radiation, or even other functions of our brain such as arithmetic. for the arithmetic function of our brain has an outward manifestation... arithmetic!

In short, consciousness doesn't DO anything. It just is. What else have you come across in science like that?

Smoky Mt

Consciousness is not an observable phenomenon. We tend to assume that other humans have what we ourselves have

That's a good point; however, we also tend to assume that the external world actually exists -- it might just be an illusion ala the Matrix. That doesn't stop us from trying to learn about the world.

Regarding the outward manifestation of consciousness -- at least for me, it's generally clear when someone is awake versus asleep -- i.e. it's generally clear when they're conscious. Their eyes are usually open, they respond rationally when I speak to them, etc. It's similarly clear when they're asleep (unconscious).

Of course I don't know that anyone else is conscious for sure -- but neither do I know that you actually exist for sure. That line of reasoning leads to intellectual paralysis.

I think perhaps your point would be stronger if humans were perpetually conscious -- but we're not. Sometimes we're unconscious. And it's not hard for rational people to tell the difference (though of course there are "in-between" states which are fuzzier). Measuring the difference between what's going on in the conscious brain vs. the unconscious brain would seem to be a reasonable way to approach a scientific study of consciousness.

Smoky Mt

Having said all of that, there's an excellent book by Roger Penrose called The Emperor's New Mind which discusses whether a computer could ever become conscious. Via a long tour through computer science, mathematics, physics, biology, etc., Penrose argues that human thought is fundamentally non-algorithmic and therefore not duplicatable by a computer (which is fundamentally algorithmic). Very interesting stuff.

Smoky Mt

I posted:

Nevertheless, I think natural selection can certainly operate on groups.

Mary posted:
Then we would need to see some evidence.

Mary, I posted a link to a wikipedia article on Group Selection previously. And yes, I realize wikipedia isn't a terribly trustworthy source--but the references provided on that page suggest that the idea of Group Selection is something that scientists have studied.

JP

"That line of reasoning leads to intellectual paralysis."

Smoky Mt,

Look, I'm not saying, "duuude, like, I could be the only self-aware being in existence and everyone else is just a zombie, maaann, trippy". I am saying that it is not objectively demonstrable that the stoner is wrong. And I don't say this to cast doubt on the fact that he is indeed wrong, in order to conclude in some vague way that, "woah,I guess we'll never know, man... duuude". Rather I say this in order to make a valid point about the epistemic status of consciousness. Namely, it is not the sort of thing that we can point to, out-there-in-the-world, and say, "What is that?".

The book you mention sounds interesting. "Non-algorithmic" seems like a decent way of putting it. Whenever someone says something like "when computers are fast enough, we'll be able to create conscious beings", I want to shout, "Um, fast computers let you perform complicated computations quickly. What exactly makes you think that consciousness is a complicated computation?" a computation is just a function. what is the function of consciousness?

About the sleeping thing.

Our brains do a lot of things. The sort of things it does when awake and when asleep are different, and it seems we are not really conscious most of the time we are asleep. Sure. The trouble is this. In order to understand consciousness as a physical process, it must have a physical effect. Now suppose we are at the stage sometime in the future when all the things our brain does of the waking-sort that DO have easily identifiable physical effects have been identified and understood. For example, "rational responses when spoken to" is understood as a series of cause and effect beginning with the sensory organs traveling into the complicated neural network, resulting in a particular pattern of activity which is transformed deterministically according to the structure of the brain into another pattern of activity that causes a set of signals radiating out through the nervous system towards whatever muscles are involved in the particular rational response. (And I do think we can have a complete understanding of how all this works at some point) In such a framework, how do you scientifically define consciousness, i.e. the fact that there is a subject like you experiencing all this first hand?

Michael

I'd say there is a 75% chance string theory is correct...

Please, and not one testable prediction after all this mathematical work. String theory is fashionable and there may be some degree of truth to it eventually confirmed. It may also be one ot the most elaborate and fanciful deadends in the history of science. Your probabilities seem forced.

Mary

the references provided on that page suggest that the idea of Group Selection is something that scientists have studied.

Scientists have seriously studied phlogiston.

JP

Anyway to give a positive proposition of my own, I think the reason that "consciousness" - though I prefer "subjectivity" or "personhood" - is so inscrutable is that it is a phenomenon very close in fundamentality to that of being itself. Sometimes we even use the word "being" in this way. "what is it like to BE you?" On the one hand, "being me" can just be speaking of bare being, like "being a washing machine" e.g. "that washing machine is being a washing machine" and on the other hand it can be speaking of really BEING, i.e. of living me. I propose the word "am-ing"; what is it like to am you?

The question of "why is there something rather than nothing", mentioned several times already, is full of mystery. And the question "why am I me" is so very close in significance.

For this reason, we think it is very reasonable to place personhood at the heart of existence. A little reflection on the world, on bare being, produces the cosmological proof of A god. The god of the cosmological proof may just be the universe itself, mysteriously and terrifyingly self-caused. But a little reflection on subjectivity, on am-ing, makes us wonder whether to am isn't more than an epiphenomenon. no?

Smoky Mt

Scientists have seriously studied phlogiston.

Mary,

That's cute, but I'm not sure it's helpful. I agree that any scientific theory can be disproven given evidence to the contrary. However, as Jason has pointed out numerous times, some theories are more reasonable to believe than others based upon their evidence.

You asked for evidence regarding Group Selection, and I provided a link that provided references discussing it. I am not qualified to analyze that evidence -- I'm not a scientist. However, the fact that current scientists appear to be debating the theory is enough to suggest that it is not unreasonable to regard Group Selection as *potentially* true -- a possibility.

It's silly and intellectually lazy to dismiss all scientific theories and inquiries because previous ones have been disproven.

Smoky Mt

"duuude, like, I could be the only self-aware being in existence and everyone else is just a zombie, maaann, trippy".

Lol. I know you didn't say that...but you seemed to imply that line of thinking with:

We tend to assume that other humans have what we ourselves have-- and that rocks and paperclips do not. But surely there is no valid scientific reason for this

You then went on to argue that there is no outward manifestation of consciousness, to which I disagreed...I think there are many outward manifestations of consciousness.

Still, you make many interesting points, which I shall need to chew on for a while. I think your basic point is this (my paraphrase):

Even if we understood all physical processes that produce and / or result from consciousness, we still would not explain the sense of self (or self-awareness) that corresponds to our inner, conscious life.

Is that about right?

John E

Let me try a different example that I think perhaps will shed some light on our disagreement.

Consider cellular automata. Here is a simple (and very short) introduction if you are not familiar with them:

http://mathworld.wolfram.com/ElementaryCellularAutomaton.html

I'm not concerned so much with the general characterization as with specific examples. For instance, rule 30 illustrated on the page.

I would say this is an example of a very simple rule yielding an enormous amount of complexity. Would you disagree?

Thanks for the link. That's cool.
I agree that you've shown how the concepts of simple binary logic and pattern rules could be used by an external entity to create interesting patterns. However, I think the argument put forth earlier further up on this thread regarding the Mandelbrot Set applies here as well.

I think both these examples are mixing the conceptual with the physical. What they attempt to show as a complex thing (Cellular Automaton) arising solely from simpler things (binary logic and pattern rules) is really not applicable because they are the same thing. That is, the complexity didn't arise from simpler things, it was already there conceptually. To use these examples as analogies, you would have to somehow show that the conceptual abstract truth of binary logic and pattern rules existed first and then the conceptual abstract truth of Cellular Automatons rose from it and came into existence. But at no time did the abstract truth of binary logic and pattern rules exist while at the same time the abstract truth of any possible thing that can be done with binary logic and pattern rules, such as Cellular Automatons, not exist.
(Note to self: perhaps such analogies may be more useful as a small insight into the Persons of the Trinity -- different, yet also the same, co-eternal).

Sure, the physical complex pattern of the cellular automaton itself emerged only after simple physical binary squares were arranged using a pattern rule. But this pattern did not emerge on its own. Somebody did the arranging.

Perhaps a materialist might say that the chemical processes in our brains that produced the sensation of having an understanding of binary logic and patterns existed first and on its own emerged the chemical processes that produced the sensation of having an understanding of cellular automatons. And this was all done without some other entity involved. But here you've only proved your assumption: there is no God so this process happened without God; or complexity can arise on its own from simpler things without another entity, therefore that's what happened.

However the analogy of Van Gogh and his painting is a good analogy for the reasonableness of believing in God. And it's more than just an analogy because it is itself an example of what it tries to illustrate. It also does not mix conceptual with physical and doesn't assume what it "proves" (I don't claim it proves God, only the reasonableness to believe in God). It indeed show a reasonable everyday situation of something complex (a painting) arising from something simple (canvas, paint, brushes) where it is quite reasonable to believe that another entity (Van Gogh or someone like him) was involved in its creation -- even if we can't see or hear or touch this entity and there are no other entities like him near the painting and we can't with absolute certainty verify that it was painted by a Van Gogh-like entity. But we don't need absolute certainty to believe it was painted by Van Gogh or someone like him. It's reasonable to believe it. Some may even one day reproduce the painting using complex algorithms involving Mandlebrot sets and cellular automatons that also coincidentally exist in nature to show that we don't need the unverified Van Gogh to explain how it came about on its own. But it's more reasonable to believe it was due to someone like Van Gogh. In a very similar way, it's more reasonable to believe in God.

Michael

Jason,

You asked for a reason to believe. I apologize that I will mostly be unable to get on the internet for the next few days but I thought I would offer this line of thought up to you in the mean time. Fasten your probabalistic thoughts on this.

In the first century a village carpenter and itinerant preacher draws the attention of local religious authorities and is executed for heresy and sorcery under the authority of the local representatives of the Roman Empire of which his home is a province. After his gruesome death, his followers go into hiding in fear for their own lives. They could have gone home at that point and lived out their lives in quiet obscuritie, but something happened. They became bold. The traveled to the ends of the known world in their time and preached the lessons of their crucified teacher, the good news of a new kingdom. All but one them meets a maryred end as well, one even being crucified upside down in Rome. But before their generation dies, they establish an organization, a Church to keep keep teaching the good news. In several hundred years, after multiple persecutions their faith is the faith of the Empire. After many hundreds of years, their faith is the faith of Europe and has been brought to every corner of the globe. Even now, two thousand years later despite the fall of empires, nations, and peoples, the organzation they established continues essentially with the same structure established after the death of the carpenter. A continuously existing organization that is the oldest in the world by far.

Now, my question to you is, how likely is such a scenario? What is its probability?

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