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Does God exist? - Comments

Chris Roberts's Avatar Comment 1 by Chris Roberts

Hmmmm.

There is a lot that I don't agree with in this article, calling things doctrine and all, as if they were divinely insprired.

Doctrine (Latin: doctrina) is a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system.

Most notably that a god would violoate the laws of the universe at will, yet wants people stoned to death for violating one of his laws, such as not resting on the sabbath or thinking that his neighbour's wife has a nice ass.

Sun, 02 Oct 2011 23:20:39 UTC | #877228

Frankus1122's Avatar Comment 2 by Frankus1122

An osprey swoops towards him and it sets off a complex reaction in his brain that causes him to weep.

Strange and wonderful things happen all the time.

Does this require an explanation?

Sun, 02 Oct 2011 23:33:46 UTC | #877232

Capt. Bloodeye's Avatar Comment 3 by Capt. Bloodeye

Nothing new here. Except perhaps for defining the artistic impulse as faith.

Sun, 02 Oct 2011 23:44:33 UTC | #877233

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 4 by Steve Zara

This article contains a lot of nonsense. There is no Central Doctrine of science, and to suggest the idea of there being fixed laws with God outside of them is to misunderstand profoundly misunderstand what scientific laws are.

We don't discover scientific laws. We observe phenomena and then we come up with predictive rules. If those rules work for long enough we call them 'laws', but the laws aren't part of external reality, they are a map we have drawn. We can never know if that map is complete, so even if the laws were part of reality, we could never know if some phenomenon was "off the map of reality", as against simply beyond our map.

As part of our search for predictive rules we have discovered the mechanisms that make us. Because of that it's quite absurd to postulate a being which does not require any kind of mechanism at all. The more science finds out about our nature and origins, the further away it pushes the possibility of a God beyond nature, as the more unlike anything we can describe God is, and if we can't describe God at all, then we can't know of him, and if he remains beyond nature, then he might as well not exist.

Science and religion are not just incompatible, but contradictory.

Sun, 02 Oct 2011 23:51:41 UTC | #877234

JHJEFFERY's Avatar Comment 5 by JHJEFFERY

Scattered throughout Dawkins’ writings are comments that religion has been a destructive force in human civilization. Certainly, human beings, in the name of religion, have sometimes caused great suffering and death to other human beings. But so has science, in the many weapons of destruction created by physicists, biologists and chemists, especially in the 20th century.

Here we find a category error. Science has indeed created weapons of destruction, but it has never provided the motivation to use them.

Sun, 02 Oct 2011 23:52:01 UTC | #877235

Atheist Mike's Avatar Comment 6 by Atheist Mike

Well I don't agree with the article (it's rubbish) but I also disagree with comment 5.

If we'd base our lives solely on a rigid scientific worldview we'd be little better than robots and could certainly come up with some horrible plans. Eugenics for example. Dawkins himself criticized this and said that human values and science have to be carefully balanced. If you'd give the reins of a society to a purely logically thinking computer it'd probably decide to kill mentally handicapped people because they decrease the overall efficiency of the country.

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 00:12:35 UTC | #877238

Sample's Avatar Comment 7 by Sample

I was unable to objectively follow this article after reading in the first sentence that the meeting room at MIT was carpeted.

That gargantuan, illuminating piece of craptastic information just blew me out of the water. I think I'll go walk the dogs.

Mike

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 00:14:20 UTC | #877239

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 8 by Neodarwinian

What do I believe that is not subject to scientific methodology?

Not enough things that are anywhere near religious mubo jumbo. Even the most abstract among my beliefs are subject to some methodology that at least is comparative in nature. Some beliefs, such as justice, compare as better in fact to other beliefs, such as injustice, when both manifest themselves in the real world.

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 00:33:32 UTC | #877242

Quine's Avatar Comment 9 by Quine

For the most part, I agree with Steve, above. If there is a Central Doctrine of Science, it is that theory must account for observed evidence. Feynman often remarked that no matter how aesthetically beautiful a theory is, it has to go out the window if it does not agree with experimental results. It seems to me that Lightman has fallen into this by, first pretending to come up with a nonsense pseudo-definition for his big "G" deity, and then while stating that he is an Atheist, none the less holds to a "beautiful" theory of unknowability, because it gives him good feelings to do so.

Then we get some of the old saws. He would have us believe that "faith" is somehow better than believing what you know ain't so. He tells us that reading books by Richard Dawkins never changed anyone's mind. I wish I could show him all the letters from people who write to tell us that reading these books let them drop years of false beliefs that bound up their minds.

Bottom line: Lightman wants to emotionally hang on to what he intellectually knows is not true. I think he needs to read Richard's new book.

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 00:40:58 UTC | #877243

prettygoodformonkeys's Avatar Comment 10 by prettygoodformonkeys

He lost me at "Merlot...".

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 01:05:33 UTC | #877248

kantastisk's Avatar Comment 11 by kantastisk

As a scientist, I find Dawkins’ efforts to rebut these two arguments for the existence of God — intelligent design and morality — as completely convincing. However, as I think he would acknowledge, falsifying the arguments put forward to support a proposition does not falsify the proposition.

I get it, even if Dawkin's is "Right", he may not be Right. Why on Earth is this guy not religious?

Even if tomorrow we observed another universe spawned from our universe, as could hypothetically happen in certain theories of cosmology, we could not know what created our universe. And as long as God does not intervene in the contemporary universe in such a way as to violate physical laws, science has no way of knowing whether God exists or not. The belief or disbelief in such a Being is therefore a matter of faith.

Here is once again a point that really smart people very often completely fail to understand: The theory of God is not a way of closing off any sort of infinite regress in cosmology. No matter the deepness of your mystery, invoking something as incredible as an ultimate, all powerful being is necessarily going to dig it deeper. You are allowed to say

Nobody understands this!

or even

I don't think anyone will ever understand this!

You are not allowed to say

Because I don't understand this, God must have done it.

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 01:19:24 UTC | #877253

Border Collie's Avatar Comment 12 by Border Collie

He lost me when he said that science was the religion of the 21st ... I'll try to read this another time when I've not been reading bugnuts all day already ... As always, Steve's the man ...

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 01:23:03 UTC | #877254

SheerReason's Avatar Comment 13 by SheerReason

A recent study by Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund, who interviewed nearly 1,700 scientists at elite American universities, found that 25 percent of her subjects believe in the existence of God.

The above quote from the article I find upsetting.

What troubles me about Dawkins’ pronouncements is his wholesale dismissal of religion and religious sensibility. In a speech at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, in 1992, Dawkins said: “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” And a month after Sept. 11, 2001, Dawkins told the British newspaper the Guardian: “Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where’s the harm? September 11th changed all that.”

What's so troubling about the comments he quoted above from Richard? They're perfectly valid observations!

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 01:23:34 UTC | #877255

Alovrin's Avatar Comment 14 by Alovrin

Words cannot convey what was exchanged between us in that instant. It was a look of connectedness, of mutual respect, of recognition that we shared the same land.

Nope they realised you wouldnt fit in their mouth. Boy, the meanderings humans go through.....

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 02:17:14 UTC | #877262

QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 15 by QuestioningKat

That was a painful read. I wish I would have just read the last few paragraphs and be done with it.

"Richard Dawkins and others can expend as many calories as they wish arguing that God does not exist, but my guess is that they will convince few people who already have faith"

"In my opinion, Dawkins has a narrow view of faith. I would be the first to challenge any belief that contradicts the findings of science. But, as I have said earlier, there are things we believe in that do not submit to the methods and reductions of science. Furthermore, faith, and the passion for the transcendent that often goes with it, have been the impulse for so many exquisite creations of humankind. Consider the verses of the Gitanjali, the Messiah, the mosque of the Alhambra, the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Should we take to task Tagore and Handel and Sultan Yusuf and Michelangelo for not thinking? Faith, in its broadest sense, is about far more than belief in the existence of God or the disregard of scientific evidence. Faith is the willingness to give ourselves over, at times, to things we do not fully understand. Faith is the belief in things larger than ourselves. Faith is the ability to honor stillness at some moments and at others to ride the passion and exuberance that is the artistic impulse, the flight of the imagination, the full engagement with this strange and shimmering world."

Faith? Come on! This author has a limited use of New Agey/religious words. Perhaps Trusting in the process of life, Surrender, or Release of the outcome, working with the current of life... could also be used. They sell decks of New Age cards with more descriptive words. I get where he is coming from, but he's stretching "faith" in ways that atheists do not intend when they speak about "faith." As far as I know Dawkins is not treading on the creative process, dishonoring stillness, blah blah blah. Existential issues like the ability to feel deeply within or be aesthetically moved is not being questioned, only the existence of God. Dawkins is one voice in many. His approach is his approach. I'm sure more voices will address a "secular metaphysics" in the future. It's just not Dawkins.

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 02:58:26 UTC | #877267

MilitantNonStampCollector's Avatar Comment 16 by MilitantNonStampCollector

A piece of shite nonsense article. Science is a religion like day is night. Science will change to fit the evidence, whereas religion has no evidence to change with. Religion tries to run when it can't even stand upright - like a child pretending to be a grown-up.

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 03:00:40 UTC | #877268

gatotk4c4's Avatar Comment 17 by gatotk4c4

The problem with wide-ranging discussion of religions like this is that for most (or even all) real believers, the details of their religions matters much more than the general philosophies as discussed here. The christian god is not just interventionist, but he was born, crucified and had risen. No talk of immanent of otherwise, this is actually what christians believe. Same things with other religions, with degrees of emotional attachments of course. All of these claims are mutually exclusive among religions themselves, in case of Islam mostly violently exclusive.

And these claims are very different from philosophical claims / theological shenanigans. Emotional, at the same time reasonably easy to counter. Dawkins' book are very good on these counters. So, we used to think that a complex structure must be build on strong foundations, and once we find out those foundations are lacking, then the whole discussions about the structure becomes pointless.

Actually, from my personal experience about religions, the strongest rejection came from the fact that if you open your mind to OTHER religions, then all of them (including the one I was in) are baseless. Christianity and Islam cannot both be (totally) right, and they are both have abrahamic roots. Even more so with Hindu, Buddhism that have different root.

It is clear, that religions are part of human knowledge, the Science, the human history, ancient sociology, psychology, economics, politics since they deal with human cultures. And not the other way around. Human knowledge encompass science, arts and religions; arts cannot cover techs, do does religions cannot explain science.

In the past the science part is lagging, in current times science and technology is the leader of the pack. This fact, and not whether god / gods exist, create the large discontentment between science (and tech) against religions, a changing of leadership is not without resistance.

In a moment of change like now, a lot of people will cling to "the old ways", some other jump (too) far forward. But reality is indifferent. It is always so .....

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 03:09:02 UTC | #877271

UGAtheist's Avatar Comment 18 by UGAtheist

New-age religious liberals make me sick to my stomach.

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 04:02:38 UTC | #877275

Nerevarine's Avatar Comment 19 by Nerevarine

Comment 4 by Steve Zara :

This article contains a lot of nonsense. There is no Central Doctrine of science, and to suggest the idea of there being fixed laws with God outside of them is to misunderstand profoundly misunderstand what scientific laws are.

I think I disagree. "Central Doctrine" might be a bit of a misnomer, but the definition that the author gave:

All properties and events in the physical universe are governed by laws, and those laws are true at every time and place in the universe.

is, what I assumed, exactly what atheists believe. The universe is, essentially, a mathematical object. We assume that any phenomenon that we observe can, in principle, be modeled and reproduced (or, rather, if we can reproduce the conditions under which the phenomenon occurred, we can reasonably expect it to occur again). The universe behaves like a machine (albeit, perhaps a non-deterministic machine, but that still obeys the laws of probability at least). "Materialism", I think its called. I don't see how you can be a scientist without being a materialist (unless your field is sociology or something similar).

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 04:18:59 UTC | #877278

Nerevarine's Avatar Comment 20 by Nerevarine

Comment Removed by Author

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 04:20:19 UTC | #877279

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 21 by Steve Zara

comment 19 by Nerevarine

All properties and events in the physical universe are governed by laws, and those laws are true at every time and place in the universe.

is, what I assumed, exactly what atheists believe. The universe is, essentially, a mathematical object.

It's not what this atheist believes. I have no idea what the universe essentially is. I also have no idea how a law could "govern" the universe.

I'm a materialist much more because I don't believe that a partition of the universe into material and non-material makes any sense rather than having some firm belief in "materialism".

What I believe is that the fundamental operation of reality, whatever it is, is mindless, because minds are things that emerge as a result of that fundamental operation.

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 05:08:19 UTC | #877284

mmurray's Avatar Comment 22 by mmurray

Comment 19 by Nerevarine :

is, what I assumed, exactly what atheists believe.

An atheist is someone who does not hold a belief in gods. There are no beliefs necessary to make you an atheist anymore than being a non-stamp collector involves collecting non-stamps.

How many times does it have to be said.

Michael

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 05:15:46 UTC | #877285

Random Jerk's Avatar Comment 23 by Random Jerk

I don't understand how this guy claims to be a scientist and atheist, specially when he spews out such strawman. Atheists just lack a belief in God and are skeptical about it. They don't claim they know there is no God. Stupid article

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 05:56:05 UTC | #877288

the great teapot's Avatar Comment 24 by the great teapot

No.

Next.

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 06:25:33 UTC | #877292

Nerevarine's Avatar Comment 25 by Nerevarine

An atheist is someone who does not hold a belief in gods. There are no beliefs necessary to make you an theist anymore than being a non-stamp collector involves collecting non-stamps.

How many times does it have to be said.

.

I don't understand how this guy claims to be a scientist and atheist, specially when he spews out such strawman. Atheists just lack a belief in God and are skeptical about it. They don't claim they know there is no God. Stupid article

This is the same argument I used to make. Believing in the existence of god is like believing in fairies. Since you can't prove that fairies don't exist, we'll never actually claim that they don't. We'll just be skeptical and withhold judgement indefinitely, or at least until we have evidence.

But I no longer think this is a reasonable stance - to "withhold judgement" on every ridiculous proposition just because you can't prove whether or not its true. That god (as usually defined... an intelligent, omnipotent, omniscient being that decided to dream our universe into existence, and that loves you and hears your prayers and sometimes answers them) exists is just as ridiculous a proposition as, e.g., a jolly 150-year-old magic man lives at the north pole. I just have difficulty understanding how a self proclaimed atheists wouldn't, at least privately, reject the claim that god(s) exist.

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 06:50:17 UTC | #877297

Functional Atheist's Avatar Comment 26 by Functional Atheist

There was much I disagreed with in the article, but overall I appreciated reading a different perspective. Quite often on this site, we only see the two extremes of absolute atheism and absolutely crazy religion, and only rarely see the squishier middle ground of deism or mysticism. Not that I want to read this sort of thing every day, mind you.

The business about the Central Doctrine of Science struck me as peculiar for an MIT man, and I also took issue with his assumption that atheists must believe that "All properties and events in the physical universe are governed by laws, and those laws are true at every time and place in the universe."

Really? What about the apparent differences in the physics of the very small, quantum mechanics, and the physics of the very large, cosmology? What about the apparent super-expansion of space immediately after the Big Bang? Or how about weird stuff like Dark Matter and Dark Energy, and physical dimensions beyond the familiar three?

The universe is in principle comprehensible, but if in fact it is beyond our total understanding it would not particularly bother me. We're just a bunch of clever apes, evolved to survive at the bottom of a gravity well revolving around a nuclear furnace, and fixating on Immutable Laws of Nature strikes me as a simian sort of thing, quaintly Newtonian and insufficiently subtle. Perhaps that sense of embracing uncertainty is partly what motivates attendees of the salon Mr. Lightman describes.

Not to imply that TRYING to understand is mistaken--there are few if any nobler activities--but merely to suggest that the journey, be it scientific, literary or artistic, is just as important as the goal

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 06:59:27 UTC | #877299

Nerevarine's Avatar Comment 27 by Nerevarine

Comment 21 by Steve Zara :

comment 19 by Nerevarine

All properties and events in the physical universe are governed by laws, and those laws are true at every time and place in the universe.

is, what I assumed, exactly what atheists believe. The universe is, essentially, a mathematical object.

It's not what this atheist believes. I have no idea what the universe essentially is. I also have no idea how a law could "govern" the universe.

I'm a materialist much more because I don't believe that a partition of the universe into material and non-material makes any sense rather than having some firm belief in "materialism".

What I believe is that the fundamental operation of reality, whatever it is, is mindless, because minds are things that emerge as a result of that fundamental operation.

Interesting. I'm not quite sure how to respond.

I always thought of scientific theories not merely as tools for predicting what results ought to be expected when certain conditions are applied, but as attempts to describe the actual mechanisms by which phenomenon operate. Hence, the assumption is that such mechanisms actually exist, they are always there, and they always behave the same way. The phenomenon is never some sort of random, unexplainable event or a mere illusion.

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 07:17:44 UTC | #877302

Nerevarine's Avatar Comment 28 by Nerevarine

Comment 26 by Functional Atheist :

The business about the Central Doctrine of Science struck me as peculiar for an MIT man, and I also took issue with his assumption that atheists must believe that "All properties and events in the physical universe are governed by laws, and those laws are true at every time and place in the universe."

Really? What about the apparent differences in the physics of the very small, quantum mechanics, and the physics of the very large, cosmology? What about the apparent super-expansion of space immediately after the Big Bang? Or how about weird stuff like Dark Matter and Dark Energy, and physical dimensions beyond the familiar three?

Ahh... this is exactly what I was trying to get to. Isn't it the case that physicists endeavor to find a "theory of everything" - a simple, mathematical model that can not only explain these seemingly contradictory observations? Or are we supposed to accept that the universe may contradict itself... that there may be phenomenon with no possible explanation? That idea may not bother you, but it bothers me greatly. So much of the universe seems to behave in a relatively simple, understandable, predictable way (science works, bitches!), and has for at least recorded history. It seems almost arbitrary that only a few phenomenon in a particular field of study would lie permanently outside our understanding.

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 07:29:01 UTC | #877307

Michael Gray's Avatar Comment 29 by Michael Gray

"Does God Exists"?

Why the singular?

But irrespective of that telling quibble, the article could have been one word long: "No."

Anything more than that is being prolix.

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 08:38:59 UTC | #877310

Vorlund's Avatar Comment 30 by Vorlund

I can't muster surprise about this. 200,000 years and probably more of evolving a brain with cognitive mechanisms which predispose us to thoughts of supernatural agency and barely 500 years of scientific method and reasoning which provide tthe evidence against it. Moreover there is a cognitive gradient. The scientific method requries critical learning and the acquisition of domain specific knowledge even before analytical thinking. Falling back on the 'Isn't it wonderful? I see design here, I wonder if a god is behind this' doesn't actually take any effort or reasoning.

Why should we even raise an eyebrow that religious dialogue enters into our discourse?

I just hope we find a way to shorten the learning curve or at least manage to survive as long as it takes to get the village idiots to realise there are answers to wonderment through science. I suspect if it takes another 200,000 years we won't make it.

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 08:40:43 UTC | #877311