May 16th 2008, 08:04 AM #1
The Paradox Of Nothingness And The Case For The New Deism
In 1982 I was a biology major at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia Arkansas when the legislature of that state passed and the Governor signed into law a bill mandating the teaching of Biblical "creationism" whenever evolution was mentioned in public schools.
As someone raised in the Southern Baptist tradition this put me in a rather unique position. At first I defended my church. Then, seeing through the lies and deception they actually preached, I became a hard Atheist and opposed them- loudly. Until I began to see the same unquestioning fervor in the faces of my new friends. I came to the regrettable conclusion that many (but not necessarily most) Atheists are Atheists for the same reason many Theists are Theists. They just want to be.
I decided there and then that I would make up my own mind and recognize no authority above my own, be it Theistic or Atheistic or anything in between, when it came to what I believe and accept what ever answer I was led to by the best honest investigation I could make as a layman whether I found it attractive or not- and I meant it. This is the culmination of that effort (due to its length I had to post it in several parts). I make only one assumption; that the world is logical simply because I can not conceptualize contradictions and non-sequiters and thus can only think logically and things appear to behave logically. But ultimately even that is a matter of faith because I can not prove it is logical. Part one:
The Paradox Of Nothingness And The Case For The New Deism
A Layman's Response To The Ongoing Debate Between Science And Theology (from the book Toward A New Religion copyright 2004)
Does God exist? Theists say yes. Atheists say no. Who am I to believe?
Traditionally, the cosmos has been explained as a deliberate act of creation by God, but if we resort to religion as an answer to the puzzle of existence then which one do we chose? Most faiths rely on the assertion that they were revealed to men called “prophets” to be given to the people they served. However, anyone can make claims about religious knowledge so how can the average person tell if what they say is true? This is the question we will now address.
Usually people making such claims point to supernatural signs they say cannot be explained scientifically. But how do we know if something really is a “miracle” or something else we don’t yet understand? Just because something cannot be explained naturally now does not mean that it can not be explained in the future. In fact history is full of events that were first thought to be acts of God, which later turned out to be of natural origin. Besides even if something is never explained that does not mean that it doesn’t have a natural explanation only that one has never been found.
To see how an occurrence might have been misinterpreted as miraculous and what it could have led to lets examine one of the most famous of all. The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead; the central event in Christianity the religion I, myself, was raised in (there is some debate over whether Jesus really lived but for the sake of argument we will assume he did). In the story Jesus is beaten, crucified, and left for dead by the Romans but did he actually die on the cross? Death by crucifixion took days but the Gospel accounts say he succumbed after only a few hours. Why?
One theory says he didn’t die on the cross but “swooned”. This is consistent with the injuries described by the Bible. Some people who suffer severe trauma have a condition called pericardial tamponade where the sac surrounding the heart fills with fluid muffling the beat and restricting how much blood it can pump to the rest of the body. It doesn’t take long for the victim to lose consciousness and appear dead, especially to those untrained in medicine. The treatment for such a condition begins with relieving pressure on the heart by draining the fluid in the pericardium. Physicians today use a shunt but a spear point would suffice.
If he was taken down after this and his body spirited away as the story suggests (after all the Romans supposedly posted a guard at his tomb to prevent his followers from stealing the corpse) he could have briefly revived later. To his disciples it may have looked as if he really did come back from the dead and was, indeed, the promised messiah. Later other stories of the miraculous simply clustered around this one leading to the establishment of one of the world's great religions. There is no proof this event happened this way (or that it happened at all) but the fact remains if it did occur and it can be explained naturally it shows Christianity is false- doesn’t it?
No. Maybe the account is accurate and Jesus really is the Son of God. Just because someone else "swooned" doesn't mean Jesus did. However, the lack of evidence for it coupled with an alternative explanation of the details of the story (true or not) compels me to doubt it.
This doubt doesn’t mean we can dismiss the existence of miracles as a sign of the truth of this or any other religion though. Maybe a naturalistic explanation for a particular event can’t be found because there is none to be had. But if that’s true then what religion are we to accept? They all claim miracles, but they all can’t be true and any doubt thrown on the miraculous in one religion could cast doubt on all religions, for if it is possible to explain one miracle might it not be possible to explain all of them?
To substantiate any claim of the miraculous one would have to show that no materialistic explanation is possible by demonstrating an event both happened and is totally incompatible with the laws of nature as we understand them and I, at least, have never come across such a proof. This doesn’t mean divine intervention isn’t real only that stories that invoke it can’t be relied upon. Without some sort of personal revelation by God in some form that would leave absolutely no doubt as to its truth, I have no reason to accept the claims of any religion, but that does not mean that I could not resort to God apart from religion as an explanation based on other reasons. A skilled magician, after all, may be able to duplicate a supposed miraculous event, but it would be wrong for him to conclude from that, that God does not exist because it does not follow that there is no God even if there is no reason to believe in miracles.
Other scholars reject that line of thought, however. Quoting the great Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, author of The Blind Watchmaker says that without evidence an Atheistic (no God) philosophy is the only reasonable conclusion. He says, for example, we cannot prove there is not a tea pot in orbit around Mars but it would be ridiculous to even consider that such an object could possibly be circling that planet so we rightly don’t believe it. The problem I have with that point of view is that it is itself an unsubstantiated assertion about the “true” nature of the world. That it is composed of a "material" called "energy", that exists objectively without the need to be observed (though most admit they don't know what energy is), and thus there is absolutely no need of God and it makes that claim without proof that it is in fact true. If we can only legitimately come to conclusions that follow from valid premises or observations then Atheism must offer evidence that there is no God not just show a lack of evidence for It because that is not proof against It. And you can’t honestly criticize others for making untestable statements then turn around and do the same thing yourself (such as advocating the objective existence of energy for the only way to know the results of any test of it requires seeing them). So even though we have no reason to think a tea pot is orbiting Mars and can honestly say we don't, we can’t say there isn’t one either and all we can do is admit we have no knowledge of such a thing. Likewise, for now we can’t say there is no God and should, therefore, take an Agnostic position. But Atheism expressed as an absence of belief and not as an active disbelief is legitimate.
The philosopher Blaise Pascal, however, held that even without “proof” it is better to believe in God than not believe because if you believe and are right you will be rewarded but if you are wrong you will not have lost anything. But if you don’t believe and are wrong you risk eternal damnation. So it is better to believe than not. This is called “Pascal’s wager” and on the surface sounds reasonable but, again, which religion do we accept? Pick the wrong one and you could still go to hell. How to choose? Well first you have to establish that God even exists. How do we do that?
There are, in fact, at least three philosophical arguments for the existence of God. The first, called the ontological argument, also offers a clarification of just what we mean by the word. It is the definition of God and it includes existence as a necessary part of It.
The most familiar form of the argument was constructed by St. Anselm of Canterbury. It states that the idea of God is the greatest possible concept that there is. Nothing greater may be thought of and because of this God must of necessity exist because an object that exists merely as an idea in the mind is not as great as an object that exists on it’s own accord in reality. If God does not exist, then It is merely an idea and thus not as great as something that does exist. This is a contradiction. God cannot be the greatest concept and be only an idea while another object, say a rock, not only exists as a concept but also in reality. Therefore for It to be the greatest concept imaginable, existence would have to be a property of God, for surely God is greater than a rock. (As we shall see later on, postulating existence as a property of God also avoids another argument against It which asks that if the universe requires a creator, then shouldn’t the creator require a creator and so on and so on into infinity because it asserts that God is contingent on nothing but Itself. In other words just because the universe may need a creator it doesn’t follow that God requires one.)
This argument has been attacked almost since its inception and the first formal criticism of it is, I believe, just as faulty as the argument itself.
If it is assumed that existence necessarily follows from perfection (since that which is perfect is greater than that which is flawed), then one could assume that any object perceived as perfect in the mind should also exist outside of it, but this is absurd. A perfectly symmetrical and proportional mountain in my mind does not reflect a real one in the world. Mountains are not perfect cones. Because there is no perceived correlation between perfection in the mind and the existence of an object in reality the argument is judged false. Just thinking of something doesn’t make it real (which is why we don’t seem to share our world with gnomes, dragons, and unicorns).
Another refutation was formulated by Immanuel Kant. He believed that existence could not be considered to be an attribute of any concept saying, for example, that a sum of money in the mind, say $20.00, has exactly the same properties and the same value as real money. The concept of it does not change in any way whether it is held in my mind or in my hand (this is especially true in our modern cashless society where wealth is measured in credits and debits on a computer screen). So, Kant says, concepts are not enhanced at all by the inclusion of existence as a property because if you could think of something like money as being you could also think of it as not being without contradiction and the idea of God is no different.
This criticism, I think, fails for the same basic reason as the first. It assumes the concept of God is subject to the same limitations as ordinary concepts, but it could be said that the idea of God is not ordinary. A perfect mountain in my imagination is still subject to the laws of physics and geology but God as the greatest conceivable concept is not subject to anything but Itself.
A good example of a concept that may not be considered to be bound by the same rules as a lesser one is the universe as a whole. Consider entropy. If we assumed that “new” energy could be created from nothing we should also suppose that there would probably be an equal chance “old” energy would be destroyed at the same rate keeping the total energy level in the universe constant (evidence supplied by astronomers concerning the local cooling of the cosmic background radiation also seems to support conservation). In fact the apparent conservation of matter and energy has been well established by scientists and is referred to as the laws of thermodynamics.
The first law says that neither matter nor energy may be created or destroyed only changed in form. The second says that energy flows in a definite direction. Heat from a flame will flow into a block of ice melting it but we never see heat flow from the colder ice back into the flame making it hotter. Energy levels tend to equalize and once that equilibrium has been achieved energy flow stops (for this reason philosophers call entropy the “arrow of time”).
The universe as a whole, however, is not the same as the systems within it. The total energy level of the universe will probably never change. There is no apparent input from outside of it nor is any energy released. All the energy that has ever existed still seems to be a part of it. In this way the universe as a whole is different from the subsystems within it, which we know can gain or lose energy.
Likewise, the concept of God is not the same as other lesser ones, which may be contingent upon It because, as pointed out earlier, God is not contingent upon anything but Itself. So just as having 3 sides and 3 corners is necessary to the idea of a triangle, a logical, intrinsic reason for being may be necessary to the idea of God, but how could we know? It would be a mistake to assume that existence is an attribute of God before we have reason to believe that God does in fact exist, but the possibility of existence being a necessary property of God would not, itself, violate the principal of composition because the idea of such a fundamental cause upon which everything else depends creates no contradiction between the whole and it’s parts. The Ontological argument fails, therefore, as an argument but it may succeed as an explanation.
Another so-called “proof” of the existence of God is the teleological argument and its proponents say that because the world shows evidence of order and design there must be a designer. This usually takes the form of the watch implies a watchmaker analogy originally formalized by the British theologian William Paley and it is the main weapon used by Christian fundamentalists in their misguided war on Darwinism. It states that if a relatively simple mechanical device, such as a watch, requires a watchmaker, then surely something more complex, such as a living cell, must require an intelligent designer, i.e. God. The watch is said to be “irreducibly complex” because it has gears, an escapement mechanism, a dial, and hands to indicate the time. If any of these parts are missing it will not function so it cannot be made any simpler. The cell, they say, is the same. Without all it’s parts it can’t reproduce so it must have been created whole in the beginning.
The doctrine of irreducible complexity depends on the notion that things were intended to perform from the beginning in the same way we see them performing now. To illustrate the fallacy of this line of reasoning let’s consider something even more complicated than a watch.
A motorcycle has two wheels, an engine, handle bars, and a chain drive. Eliminate any of these parts and it will not function as a self propelled motor vehicle, therefore, it is irreducibly complex as a motorcycle. But if you remove the engine, lighten the frame, and add pedals you will have created a human powered machine that is irreducibly complex as a bicycle. Taking away the chain and pedals will leave you with a child’s scooter. Next remove one wheel and extend the handle bars and you have a wheel barrow. Get rid of the handles and stand the remaining wheel upright on it’s axle and you have a potter’s wheel. Finally, lay it on its side and increase the size of the axle to match the diameter of the wheel and you will have a trunk like cylinder similar to those fashioned from trees and used by ancient engineers to move the heavy stones used to construct the great monuments of the world such as the pyramids of Central America.
Now going forward in time you can see by a succession of simple modifications and additions we have progressed from a natural object like a tree to a complicated machine and by the creationist’s own logic every step along the way can be thought of as being “irreducibly complex” as to how they are used at any particular stage. Obviously things do not have to be created whole at the beginning to do the things we see them do now. I have to admit here I intentionally used an example that requires intelligent guidance similar to the watchmaker analogy to show the weakness of the argument using the creationist’s own methods but evolution needs no direction. As Stanley Miller showed, life could have arisen from multiple adaptations of previously existing chemical processes until they reached a point where they were able to replicate certain molecules naturally thus revealing this “argument” for the canard it is.
Some other creationists try to refute evolution directly on statistical grounds. A favorite argument is that there is just not enough time for the emergence of new species as described by Darwin. Imagine, they say, a chimpanzee at a typewriter. There are 26 letters in the english language and an almost infinite number of ways they may be combined, however, even they admit, given enough time it could, by sheer chance, reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare without a single mistake. But is it likely? Even if it typed at a rate of a letter a second without a break the time it would take for a single chimp to do that would exceed the age of the universe itself by about 350 times by the largest estimate I’ve seen (which I will not dispute) so such an event can be reasonably dismissed and any copy of Hamlet we happen to come across can safely be assumed to be the product of human labor. Given that there are thousands of genes in the average organism the chances that natural selection by itself could account for all the different species seems just as ludicrous. The fallacy lies in the premise that there is only one chimpanzee typing. If there were two, though, it would only take 175 times the age of the universe to reproduce Shakespeares works still a long time but nowhere near what it was. Four chimps would half the time again eight yet again and so on. All you need is enough chimps.
Likewise, if there are enough planets (and astronomy seems to suggest there may be millions of billions of them) the odds of evolution by natural selection being able to explain the myriad life forms on one, Earth, are not only well within reason they actually favor it. There is only a 1/36 chance that a lone person rolling a pair of dice will get a 2 on just one throw but if there are a hundred players the odds are greater that at least one of them will get a 2 than no one will even if they are all limited to a single toss. The advocates of these arguments are not stupid they are perfectly aware that statistics does not support their contentions leaving me with no choice but to conclude that this is a deliberate attempt to deceive their audience in order to advance their beliefs.
In fact that natural selection may provide a mechanism for what appears to be deliberate design to arise spontaneously out of disorder may easily be illustrated mathematically by what is referred to as the Fibonocci sequence (named after Leonardo Fibonocci who discovered it while studying population growth in rabbits). The sequence itself is very easy to understand. It basically is a series of numbers that increase in a pattern that is based on the addition of two previous numbers. It goes like this; 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc... As you can see if we start with 1 the next digit will also be 1 because 0+1=1. The following number equals 2 since 1+1=2. Then, moving on down the line, 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8, and so on.
But the Fibonocci sequence is not limited to the realm of pure mathematics. It may also be found in the very architecture of living things. It can be seen in the spiral of a sea shell and the curve of a ram’s horn though the best example is probably the way the leaves are arranged around the stalks of some plants. They follow the sequence because that allows each one to gather sunlight without being in the shade of another one higher up. Plants with irregular distribution patterns tend to die out because the leaves on top, which are the only ones not in shadow, cannot, by themselves, produce enough food for it to sustain itself. The ones that are able to survive and reproduce are those plants that display the pattern, in this case a five pointed star when seen from above (other plants with more leaves display patterns based on different parts of the sequence). It takes three clockwise descending revolutions around the stalk, passing five other leaves (not counting the first), to reach the next one that is in line with the starting point. Going counter clockwise, however, the same number of leaves are passed in only two rotations. This gives us the Fibonocci sequence 2, 3, 5. The first two digits being the number of revolutions in either direction and their sum being the number of leaves passed. This highly mathematical order arises naturally without any need of intelligent guidance.
May 16th 2008, 08:11 AM #2
Re: The Paradox Of Nothingness And The Case For The New Deism
• Edited by a Moderator •
Adler, Mortimer J.
How To Think About God: A Guide For The 20th Century Pagan
The Blind Watchmaker: Why The Evidence Of Evolution Reveals A Universe Without Design
The Story Of Philosophy: The Lives And Opinions Of The World’s Greatest Philosophers
A Brief History Of Time
Johnson, Phillip E.
Darwin On Trial
Smith, George H.
Atheism: The Case Against God
Stenger, Victor J.
God: The Failed Hypothesis.
How Science Shows God Does Not Exist
Thomas, Norman L.
Modern Logic: An Introduction
Barnes and Noble
Last edited by lilpixieofterror; May 17th 2008 at 12:20 PM.
May 16th 2008, 11:54 AM #3
Re: The Paradox Of Nothingness And The Case For The New Deism
May 16th 2008, 10:55 PM #4
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Re: The Paradox Of Nothingness And The Case For The New DeismLove is not blind; that is the last thing it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind. GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy
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May 17th 2008, 06:28 PM #5
Re: The Paradox Of Nothingness And The Case For The New Deism
Serious philosophical discussion cannot be reduced to sound bites. When you arbitrarily delete posts such as this you eviscerate the argument and show you are not serious. Here is a link to the complete argument for those who are: http://godvsthebible.com/node/83
May 18th 2008, 11:22 AM #6
Re: The Paradox Of Nothingness And The Case For The New Deism
I make only one assumption; that the world is logical simply because I can not conceptualize contradictions and non-sequiters and thus can only think logically and things appear to behave logically.
How in the heck do I get a quote to be a quote? My thirteen year old is not here to show me. :)
Anyway, that statement is not logical. If you can't conceptualize a contradiction or a non-sequitur, how are you thinking logically? You must be ablet to recoginize either to do logic. Or are you meaning something else when you say "conceptualize?"
But even still, some things don't appear to behave logically, think of Einstein's relativity theory.
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