Sunday, December 24, 2006

In Short, Why I am not an Atheist

As I see it, atheism pretends to be the 'default' hypothesis but really it is simply the null hypothesis. Rather, as opposed to that perspective, I believe that the universe, as we perceive it, screams out that something is afoot.

What that "something" is exactly I cannot say, but I feel free not to have my speculations painted into a philosophical corner based solely on our ignorance.

So what do I know? I know that the universe is awesome - literally. I know that humanity has a profound moral sense. I know that humanity has unique and truly incredible abilities found nowhere else in the known world.

Are these factors profoundly interrelated? I believe so. It is there where I find God.

[This post was originally a response to GH's post.]

49 comments:

alex said...

"What that "something" is exactly I cannot say"

That puts you in good company, for even Moses and Solomon (or so it is told) can't say "exactly" what that something is.

"I know that the universe is awesome"

Mind if I ask you to pinpoint your definition of awesome? (Borrowing from dictionary.com, "awe"), it can mean that which engenders wonder, or it can that which engenders respect and reverence. These emotions can inspired by great beauty, or it can inspired by authority and genius. The phrases separated by the "or's" are very different things.

"I know that humanity has unique and truly incredible abilities found nowhere else in the known world."

Are these unique and incredible abilities a result of gradual evolution, or of an "insertion," if you will, of something? (By the way, I liked your post.)

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

"That puts you in good company, for even Moses and Solomon (or so it is told) can't say "exactly" what that something is."

Perhaps so. Though I suspect we would still disagree on a number of points.

"Mind if I ask you to pinpoint your definition of awesome? (Borrowing from dictionary.com, "awe"), it can mean that which engenders wonder, or it can that which engenders respect and reverence."

All of the above.

"These emotions can inspired by great beauty, or it can inspired by authority and genius. The phrases separated by the "or's" are very different things. The phrases separated by the "or's" are very different things."

It isn't the beauty that awes me as much as the way things work and keep on working in so intricate and incredible ways. I don't believe that God is like a person who thinks and plans and builds, but is associated within existence in a more profound way.

"Are these unique and incredible abilities a result of gradual evolution, or of an "insertion," if you will, of something?"

What's the difference? The mechanisms of evolution insert novel and unique abilities throughout the world's living organisms. That in itself is another example of an awesome reality.

If you are asking if I believe God acted in some supernatural way to specially insert humankind's abilities into humankind then I would have to say no.

"By the way, I liked your post."

Thanks, much appreciated.

Baal Habos said...

Orthoprax, well said.

> What that "something" is exactly I cannot say............


......, It is there where I find
God.


But just as we can't put our finger on just what that "something" is, I can't put my finger on that "God".

We will probably spend the rest of our lives trying to put our finger on it. We're probably just spinning our wheels.

Either:

1) There is no something/God
2) There is a something and it does not give a whit about us.
3) There is a something/God and it wants us to search, not necessarilly find.

hayim said...

Good post. Although I think you are closer to Immanuel Kant than to Moses and Salomon :

"Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me." (Critique of Practical Reason)

:)

On another note, Prof. Salomon Schimmel gave a very interesting lecture last Friday on "Orthopraxy and Spirituality". Nothing really new in truth, but it was interesting that he quoted different blogs, mostly GH and Hasidic Rebel, in an academic setting.

http://www.bmj.org.il/bin/en.jsp?enDispWho=General%5El96&enPage=IP&enDisplay=view&enDispWhat=object&enVersion=0&enZone=Events&

Orthoprax said...

Baal,

The world is as it is and the human condition is as it is. Work from what we do know, not from what we do not.


Hayim,

Yeah, I've seen that Kant quote before. It does resonate.

You don't happen to have a transcript of Prof. Schimmel's lecture do you?

Anonymous said...

Yes.

Anonymous said...

Superb post. You should get a job at cross currents; you inspire me towards religion much more than they do.

But, I have to agree with Baal Habos. If all you can say about God, is that there is “something,” but you can not say anything more, you may believe in God, but your belief would be void. What’s more, it’s less a belief in God and more just a belief that there is something that transcends the natural order.

I’ll use an example to elucidate what I am getting at. One frequent argument made by theists is that the existence of a universe implies a creator. Atheists counter that introducing God into the equation does not help at all since one can ask, who created God? and hence God is a superfluous premise.

Yet, when the dust settles, the Atheist must still agree that the laws of cause and effect we accept implicitly are paradoxical as the question, what caused the universe is still a valid one. In other words, even the atheist recognizes that the physical universe is paradoxical, and hence there must be something that transcends the natural order, he only objects to the supposition that that “something” is God since there is really no basis to assume that. Perhaps the element in the universe that transcends natural order is an electron that is somehow exempt from the laws of cause and effect. You may say that that is ridiculous, but then so is God.

I think the same would apply here. Yes, you feel that there is “something” afoot in the universe. But, can you say anything about it? How do you know it is God? Maybe it is Karma? Maybe it is the Force? That may sound ridiculous. But, why is God any better of a explanation?

Orthoprax said...

LF,

"Superb post. You should get a job at cross currents; you inspire me towards religion much more than they do."

Thanks, but they've got their audience, I have mine. Different demographics I think.

"What’s more, it’s less a belief in God and more just a belief that there is something that transcends the natural order."

'God' is just a word, it is transcendence (in part) which I refer to.

"Yes, you feel that there is “something” afoot in the universe. But, can you say anything about it? How do you know it is God? Maybe it is Karma? Maybe it is the Force? That may sound ridiculous. But, why is God any better of a explanation?"

I understand your point but all of these things are really just different words used ultimately to describe the same thing. It is the ultimate nature of reality. I don't imagine God as a being separate from the rest of existence but as being enmeshed and inherent to it.

'God' is not an explanation. It is the assertion pointing out that there is something to be explained.

I don't pretend to know what God is like. I don't have a specific theology in mind when I speak of God. All I am affirming here is that atheism is not the answer.

Benjamin said...

"Thou art God"

Yea or Nay?

Orthoprax said...

Ben,

Huh?

Orthoprax said...

Oh, now I gotcha. Or should I say now I "grok" you.

No, I believe God exists outside of the narrow human sphere and independent of the human mind.

hayim said...

Nope. Sorry.

jewish philosopher said...

I think my latest post may clarify a few issues.

Orthoprax said...

"I think my latest post may clarify a few issues."

You would.

Benjamin said...

Haha, I had a guess that you'd figure out the reference (whether or not it was from your own memory).

You seem to swing back and forth a lot, my fellow skeptic.

Orthoprax said...

Ben,

"You seem to swing back and forth a lot, my fellow skeptic."

You think so? I figured that my views do shift but slowly. I just tend to focus on different things at different times.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: I know that the universe is awesome - literally. I know that humanity has a profound moral sense. I know that humanity has unique and truly incredible abilities found nowhere else in the known world.

I think it's one heck of a big leap from those statements to the existence of God - however you define Him/It.

The Universe *is* rather impressive, I agree. We do appear to have a moral sense - though this appears to change from place to place & over time - and we do indeed have abilities not found elsewhere in other animals... but other animals have amazing abilities too... I don't think that those simple observations are much to build anything on though - especially anything as grand as a religion.

Or maybe that's just me.........?

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

You are correct. It is a leap. I can't fill in all the holes but intuitively I feel comfortable believing that all these things are not flukes.

The alternative, of making the leap that there is _nothing_ behind these awesome realities, is in my view counterintuitive and not supported by the facts. Not that the facts are in conflict with that view necessarily, but simply that the facts don't support it.

Though, I do wish to note that I wasn't talking about religion here. Just about God.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: The alternative, of making the leap that there is *nothing* behind these awesome realities

Well... nothing supernatural anyway.

Orthoprax said: is in my view counterintuitive and not supported by the facts.

I'd be interested to know why you think that a natural explanation for the things you've mentioned is counterintuitive. Even if its so - is it sufficient to lead to a belief in God? What facts do you mean? The existence of the Universe is a fact but to my mind the only thing it proves is that Universes exist.

It seems to me that you are using the 'God of the Gaps' argument - You see a phenomena and seem to be saying "Only God could have done this" when there could be a perfectly acceptable natural explanation.

You said at the beginning of your posting that atheism 'pretends' to be a default postion..[I disagree with you BTW] and yet you seem to be taking theism as a default position. Personally I think that such a stance is unreasonable which is probably why I'm an atheist and you're not.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

To be honest I'm a little disappointed in you. This post is not a weak rehash of the same tired arguments you hear from common theists so I would hope for something better than a rehash of the same tired responses from your common atheist.

I do not differentiate between 'supernatural' and the 'natural' as you've given it. Reality has one nature. That nature may or may not be the nature we are commonly familiar with, but I do believe there is just one common ultimate nature by the way things work.

Even your more sophisticated theists would agree with me. God, as defined as being the ultimate reality, is the nature of reality. The nature of God is the nature of reality. As such, if you wish to understand that ultimate nature as "supernatural" because it apparently conflicts with our limited comprehension of nature as we know it, that is your business. I see it as missing the point.

The point is if you recognize these factors to be accidental or insignificant with no connection with the ultimate nature of reality. Is human intelligence, moral sense and the great awesomeness of the universe itself mere side effects of something else?

Are all these great things mere epiphenomena? I do not believe so.

The difference is not a matter of design or not design. It is not a matter of natural or supernatural. It is not a matter of defining God in a certain way or ascribing responsibility to God.

It is a matter of recognizing whether the universe as we perceive it is the river itself or mere eddies of no lasting significance.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: To be honest I'm a little disappointed in you.

That's OK. I disapoint everyone eventually.

Orthoprax said: I would hope for something better than a rehash of the same tired responses from your common atheist.

Gee, thanks..... [grin]. I don't know what's more insulting. Calling my arguments tired or calling me a 'commom' atheist.. [chuckle].

Orthoprax said: Reality has one nature. That nature may or may not be the nature we are commonly familiar with, but I do believe there is just one common ultimate nature by the way things work.

I don't think I quite get what you're saying here. It does seem reasonable to assume that there is indeed an underlying reality (for want of a better word) to all things - that can explain phenomena from electrons to Universes and everything in between. I believe that physicists are working towards this as we speak. It is also quite possible (as much as I understand such things) that reality itself does not actually exist in the way we think it does in an everyday sense. I think that the jury is still out on this one.

Orthoprax said: God, as defined as being the ultimate reality, is the nature of reality.

Personally if such an 'ultimate' reality exists.. I'd just call it reality - rather than labelling it God. That seems rather... excessive in my mind.

Orthoprax said: Is human intelligence, moral sense and the great awesomeness of the universe itself mere side effects of something else?

As far as I know our intelligence is the result of a long process of evolution, our moral sense is the result of a combination of our culture, our upbringing, our personal experiences and our genes. The Universe appears 'awesome' because we see it as such. It is damned impresive, so it's not really surprising that people can be overwhelmed by it. None of this has anything to do with God though - well, not from my point of view anyway.

Orthoprax said: It is a matter of recognizing whether the universe as we perceive it is the river itself or mere eddies of no lasting significance.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by that. The only significance of the Universe is that which we give it. In and of itself it has no 'significance'. It just is - and we happen to live here. Its certainly significant to us as its our home - but over and above that... not as far as I'm concerned.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"It does seem reasonable to assume that there is indeed an underlying reality (for want of a better word) to all things"

Quite right - see here: http://orthoprax.blogspot.com/2006/09/word-of-day-hypokeimenon.html

"Personally if such an 'ultimate' reality exists.. I'd just call it reality - rather than labelling it God. That seems rather... excessive in my mind."

See here: http://orthoprax.blogspot.com/2006/09/pantheism-vs-atheism.html

"It just is - and we happen to live here."

_This_ is the real crux of the issue. It 'just' is and we 'just' happen to live here. It is this kind of offhand disregarding minimization of the most extraordinary wonders of existence where I find atheism most wanting.

See, I don't believe that all we have in existence 'just happened.' That's not an explanation for anything. That one can observe the incredible and walk away in disdain saying, "Feh, no big deal" leaves me cold.

You can pass off all the incredible things we experience on a daily basis to this phenomena or that natural mechanism - but you're missing the big picture. All these things are reflections of the same fundamental nature which girds all of existence. Our existence - or at least the possibility of our existence - is "built in" to that ubiquitous substratum.

Where you may see 'just' this or epiphenomenal that - I see a profound connection to the ground of being - to existence itself.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: It is this kind of offhand disregarding minimization of the most extraordinary wonders of existence where I find atheism most wanting.

Fair enough. You want there to be something more. I don't feel that way. The Universe (and much in it) is indeed fascinating. That's why I enjoy science so much. I view our growing understanding of things perfectly adequate (as far as they go) without adding God into the mix. I understand that there are people who find such scientific explanations inadequate though I do struggle with that need in others. Over the years I have tried and failed to understand it.

Orthoprax said: See, I don't believe that all we have in existence 'just happened.' That's not an explanation for anything.

That depends on what kind of 'explanation' you want. The Universe exists and seems to have had an origin about 15 or so billion years ago. What actually caused the Universe to spring into existence is still debatable. We'll probably figure it out eventually.

If by explanation of existence you mean the purpose of life, the universe and everything... that supposes that there *is* such a purpose to find. As far as I can tell no such purpose exists and I don't understand why it should.

Orthoprax said: That one can observe the incredible and walk away in disdain saying, "Feh, no big deal" leaves me cold.

That's certainly not my brand of atheism - and I don't know of any atheists who see the universe that way. Some phenomena is truely breathtaking in so many ways. But that in itself doesn't really 'mean' anything profound. If you put you mind to it you can be amazed on a daily basis - but that does not indicate the existence of God - no matter how you define Him. It just means that the Universe is a fascinating place worthy of a million lifetimes exploration.

Orthoprax said: Where you may see 'just' this or epiphenomenal that - I see a profound connection to the ground of being - to existence itself.

Not quite sure I understand you there. We humans are certainly part of existence. We are here. We are matter, we are alive, we have deep connections with all life on Earth. We are literally made of star stuff. We are part of the Universe at the atomic level. We are as natural as the rock we walk on and the air we breath. How more connected can we get?

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"That depends on what kind of 'explanation' you want. The Universe exists and seems to have had an origin about 15 or so billion years ago. What actually caused the Universe to spring into existence is still debatable. We'll probably figure it out eventually."

Personally I don't see origins of the universe as important as simply the question regarding the ultimate nature of the universe. The nature will likely tell us all we really want to know about its origins.

But anyway, the point is that there's something deeper and profounder to existence than anything science has yet uncovered. I think even atheists understand that. It is from that vantage point where I see the atheist's conclusion doggedly standing before the source of awe propped up really by what we don't know.

I know of no serious religion that has been able to prove its metaphysical ontological beliefs correct. But that doesn't mean that _nothing_ is the correct answer. I find _nothing_ to be entirely unsatisfactory. It is not an answer - it is the lack of an answer. Atheism didn't arrive because it proved itself correct but lives on the failures of those ideas that have tried and failed to capture an understanding of the nature of existence.

You don't want to use the word God, and that's fine, but I think you would agree that there's something beyond _nothing_. Something beyond cosmic happenstance.

"If by explanation of existence you mean the purpose of life, the universe and everything... that supposes that there *is* such a purpose to find. As far as I can tell no such purpose exists and I don't understand why it should."

I try to make as few presumptions as possible. I don't like the word "purpose" for that reason. It's just so quaint. As if God has desires and goals like a person.

"That's certainly not my brand of atheism - and I don't know of any atheists who see the universe that way."

So do you not believe the universe is the product of some cosmic accident with no foundation but quantum irregularities? That's what most atheists I've met seem to believe - or something like it. It's the belief that all the amazing things in existence ultimately amounts to nothing since existence itself was just some lucky aberration of the status quo.

"Some phenomena is truely breathtaking in so many ways. But that in itself doesn't really 'mean' anything profound."

So...you understand the wonders of the world in the same way you understand a fireworks show? Go boom, looks pretty but no lasting significance.

"How more connected can we get?"

The _nature_ of the universe is not the physical blocks that compose it. Humankind may be "one" with the universe in the sense that we share atoms and energy, but that's trivial. I'm talking about fundamental programming here, to give a poor analogy.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: the point is that there's something deeper and profounder to existence than anything science has yet uncovered. I think even atheists understand that.

There are many things that science has yet to discover. There are also things that we think we know right now that will turn out to be incorrect. However, the idea that something 'deep and profound' is going on has little to back it up except a desire, a hope, that such profundity exists.

Orthoprax said: Atheism didn't arrive because it proved itself correct but lives on the failures of those ideas that have tried and failed to capture an understanding of the nature of existence.

I think that's essentially correct. My particular take on atheism is based on the absolute absence of evidence for the existence of God (or anything else supernatural). I have no need of the God hypothesis to explain things.

Orthoprax said: You don't want to use the word God, and that's fine, but I think you would agree that there's something beyond _nothing_. Something beyond cosmic happenstance.

Again I'm not exactly sure what you mean. I don't think that there is anything beyond physics, chemistry etc needed to explain the existence of the Universe or our own existence. I have seen no evidence nor heard any argument to convince me otherwise. If you have any I would be interested in hearing it.

Orthoprax said: It's the belief that all the amazing things in existence ultimately amounts to nothing since existence itself was just some lucky aberration of the status quo.

I not sure what all those amazing things are supposed to 'amount to'. Just because we find something amazing doesn't mean that it needs to amount to anything. It seems to me that meaning is being impossed on things that do not require it.

Orthoprax said: So...you understand the wonders of the world in the same way you understand a fireworks show? Go boom, looks pretty but no lasting significance.

..and yet again I fail to understand you. Why should the 'wonders of the world' have any great significance? Significance to who? Significance in what sense?

Orthoprax said: I'm talking about fundamental programming here, to give a poor analogy.

You mean a deep seated feeling of 'oneness' with the Universe? Is that what you mean?

Anonymous said...

>'God' is not an explanation. It is the assertion pointing out that there is something to be explained.

>I don't pretend to know what God is like. I don't have a specific theology in mind when I speak of God. All I am affirming here is that atheism is not the answer.

It's all really a matter of symantics. How many athiests would dispute the notion that there is a mystery in existence that needs to be explained? Your post could have been written by Dawkins.

Mikeskeptic

CyberKitten said...

Mikeskeptic said: How many athiests would dispute the notion that there is a mystery in existence that needs to be explained?

[Holds up atheist hand....]

What is this 'mystery of existence' that needs explanation?

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"Just because we find something amazing doesn't mean that it needs to amount to anything. It seems to me that meaning is being impossed on things that do not require it."

Yes, this is the type of offhand disregard that I am referring to. If we were talking about any great event an answer of 'Oh, it just happened' would be completely unsatisfactory. But somehow for atheists it becomes a satisfactory answer for the ultimate great event.

"Again I'm not exactly sure what you mean. I don't think that there is anything beyond physics, chemistry etc needed to explain the existence of the Universe or our own existence."

Ok, what is physics and chemistry? What is matter? What is space? What is time? I don't think you can explain these phenomena. Why is there order in the universe?

"I have no need of the God hypothesis to explain things."

Only because you _haven't_ explained things. Get it? Atheism is being satisfied without explanation.

"However, the idea that something 'deep and profound' is going on has little to back it up except a desire, a hope, that such profundity exists."

I won't deny that I may be biased but I find the assertion that there is in fact _nothing_ going on to be unsatisfactory. There's only one universe that I know of and it's pretty amazing. Usually when I see something that 'just happened' it tends to be a mess.

"You mean a deep seated feeling of 'oneness' with the Universe? Is that what you mean?"

No, I'm talking about the hypokeimenon (did you read my post?). We do not exist as separate entities apart from the universe, we are fully immersed and integrated into it. At that level it would become fully realized.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: Yes, this is the type of offhand disregard that I am referring to. But somehow for atheists it becomes a satisfactory answer for the ultimate great event.

I fail to understand why saying that there is no one (or no-thing) 'behind the curtain' is considered to be an 'offhand disregard'. I could equally say that a belief that there *must* be something more behind mundane reality to be childish wish fulfillment.

Orthoprax said: I don't think you can explain these phenomena. Why is there order in the universe?

You think that these things are *beyond* explanation? That's rather a bizarre statement. Although we haven't been going at it long I think we have a pretty good working hypothesis about how matter, space and time work.. I certainly don't pretend to understand the maths but as far as I know the concepts make a lot of sense. Are you saying that these things can *only* be explained by the existence of God - and that any other reasonable explanation is.. what... an illusion dreamed up by atheist scientists?

Orthoprax said: I won't deny that I may be biased but I find the assertion that there is in fact _nothing_ going on to be unsatisfactory.

Most people have that problem. Its why there has always has been and probably always will be people who believe in some variation of the idea of God.

Orthoprax said: There's only one universe that I know of and it's pretty amazing. Usually when I see something that 'just happened' it tends to be a mess.

So... one of the difficulties you have is the fact the the Universe isn't a mass of chaotic particles doing there own thing? If such a universe could even exist I'd bet my house that there would be no living creature in it to observe the fact. I agree with you that the Universe is an amazing and wonderful place. I truely enjoy living here - but that doesn't mean that there's something odd or spooky going on to explain it. Sure there are many things we have yet to discover about the place, but I think we've made a pretty good stab at things so far. Given a few more centuries and we'll be building our own star systems. If we last long enough I wouldn't put it past us to build our own Universes - designed just the way we like 'em.

Orthoprax said: I'm talking about the hypokeimenon (did you read my post?).

No. I didn't. I'll go and read it now.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"I fail to understand why saying that there is no one (or no-thing) 'behind the curtain' is considered to be an 'offhand disregard'."

Because the "curtains" I am familiar with don't do the things the universe does.

"You think that these things are *beyond* explanation?"

No - but you _have not_ explained them.

"Although we haven't been going at it long I think we have a pretty good working hypothesis about how matter, space and time work.."

Superficially. We can explain matter in terms of energy and space, and time in terms of space and velocity, and X in terms of Y, etc etc, but we cannot explain what they are with a meaningful explanation without building on other concepts in a circular way.

How they 'work' is not the same as saying what they *are*.

"So... one of the difficulties you have is the fact the the Universe isn't a mass of chaotic particles doing there own thing? If such a universe could even exist I'd bet my house that there would be no living creature in it to observe the fact."

Ok, but I know of only one universe and we're living in it. It's a nice pass to say that we wouldn't be living here if the universe wasn't capable of supporting life, but it's just a dodge. You cannot tell me how it is so ordered.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax - I'm swiftly coming to the conclusion that though we both appear to be using the English language we're actually not communicating at all - at least not meaningfully.

Orthoprax said: Because the "curtains" I am familiar with don't do the things the universe does.

Can you explain that comment to me in simple English so I can begin to grasp some kind of meaning?

Orthoprax said: No - but you _have not_ explained them.

[rotflmao]. Did you honestly expect an answer to Life, the Universe & Everything from me? If I had such an answer I'd be writing best-sellers rather than chewing the philosophical fat with you. The only thing I can suggest is that you read some good Cosmology books.

Orthoprax said: Ok, but I know of only one universe and we're living in it. It's a nice pass to say that we wouldn't be living here if the universe wasn't capable of supporting life, but it's just a dodge. You cannot tell me how it is so ordered.

You mean *why* its so ordered don't you? We know *how* its so ordered - because of the universal constants/hydrogen bond/speed of light etc.. & such like (its been a while since I read this stuff so my memory isn't exactly functioning very well ATM).

I also don't think that I dodged the question. Chaotic universes may indeed exist. We might have drawn the lucky straw with this one? Who knows.... But its certain that if the Universe was much different that there might be some very odd creatures indeed wondering why the Universe was apparently ordered *just* for them...

Oh, and thanks for taking the time & effort to debate this stuff with me.. It might feel like we're both banging our heads against a (different) brick wall but your efforts are appreciated.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"I'm swiftly coming to the conclusion that though we both appear to be using the English language we're actually not communicating at all - at least not meaningfully."

I think you may be right.

"Can you explain that comment to me in simple English so I can begin to grasp some kind of meaning?"

It means that when you are talking about some super-controller orchestrating events (the man behind the curtain), it is a poor analogy for what I have been trying to describe. I am not talking about some separate existing thing (God) which set up the universe, but a more sophisticated and profound understand of the way the universe is itself. The superficial phenomena which are physical processes and physical 'laws' and so on are just the curtains which shield us from that profound understanding. This superficial understanding are just the 'curtains' and cannot be all that there is.

It's like looking at a human being doing its thing - thinking you understand its nature - without ever looking underneath the skin.

"[rotflmao]. Did you honestly expect an answer to Life, the Universe & Everything from me?"

No, I was waiting for an admittance of gross ignorance. Atheism has no answers. It isn't a philosophy. It is a lack of philosophy.

But the point I am making is that just because we don't know the answers doesn't mean there are none! I am willing to believe there are answers even if we don't know them. You are satisfied without the answers.

"You mean *why* its so ordered don't you? We know *how* its so ordered - because of the universal constants/hydrogen bond/speed of light etc.."

No I don't and no we don't. Where do these constants come from? How is there entropy? How is there time? What do any of these things mean? How did these series of ordered principles come to be? How did _anything_ come to be?

We only know 'how' on a very superficial level. Shadows on a wall, hmm?

"I also don't think that I dodged the question. Chaotic universes may indeed exist. We might have drawn the lucky straw with this one?"

Other universes? Have any evidence for that? Not very convincing. Maybe you find that theme of speculation more appealing, that's your choice. I find the theme that there's something special about the only universe we know to exist to be more appealing.

You should also note that I'm not talking about the universe being ordered for _us_ specifically, but the fact that there is simply order. Order for stuff to happen in. Order for stuff to grow and build. Pretty good for a random cosmic accident, huh?

"Oh, and thanks for taking the time & effort to debate this stuff with me.. It might feel like we're both banging our heads against a (different) brick wall but your efforts are appreciated."

Likewise. I don't often like bringing up this topic (even though I do it anyway). Primarily because it's difficult for me to find the right words without delving into flawed metaphors. It does make communication difficult.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: I am not talking about some separate existing thing (God) which set up the universe, but a more sophisticated and profound understand of the way the universe is itself.

So rather than God being *in* the Universe you mean that God *is* the Universe, the Universe *is* God? So you're a Deist? Does that mean that the Universe has intention or purpose? Does the Universe care for us or did it just create itself to provide the right conditions for life to emerge inside it?

Orthoprax said: This superficial understanding are just the 'curtains' and cannot be all that there is.

Cannot? Why not? Why must there be something more profound than the mundane physical reality we interact with everyday? I don't *get* the need to see more than there is, to need more than there is. I think that reality is interesting enough without adding another 'deeper' reality behind it. As far as I'm concerned the Universe is WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), pretty much anyway.

Orthoprax said: No, I was waiting for an admittance of gross ignorance.

Well, I will admit that I am ignorant about many things.. I wouldn't call it 'gross' ignorance though.. [grin].

Orthoprax said: Atheism has no answers. It isn't a philosophy. It is a lack of philosophy.

Speaking personally I don't regard atheism as an 'answer'. To me its a skeptical position regarding a particular question - that of the existence of God. I do not believe that God exists. Of course things follow on from this disbelief into other areas and although I wouldn't call it a philosophy I wouldn't call it a *lack* of philosophy either. Atheism is a position.

Orthoprax said: But the point I am making is that just because we don't know the answers doesn't mean there are none! I am willing to believe there are answers even if we don't know them. You are satisfied without the answers.

It also doesn't mean that there *are* answers to the kinds of questions you appear to be asking. It is entirely possible that you are asking the wrong questions. If you ask "What is the *real* meaning behind the existence of the Universe" it may turn out to be impoosible to answer because there *is* no 'real' purpose behind it. You are willing to believe that answers exist to your questions. I don't ask those kind of questions because I think they are invalid - so don't expect any answers to them to exist.

Orthoprax said: We only know 'how' on a very superficial level. Shadows on a wall, hmm?

So you assert. Personally I always thought that the Platonic 'Ideal' business was *way* overblown. I think that it is more reasonable to suggest that although our knowledge of the Universe is incomplete that there is nothing spooky or profound going on that needs explanation. As far as I'm concerned the Universe is a completely natural product of totally natural processes which we will one day understand. The Universe is nothing more than it appears to be as there is no evidence (that I know of) to suggest that it is.

Orthoprax said: I don't often like bringing up this topic (even though I do it anyway). Primarily because it's difficult for me to find the right words without delving into flawed metaphors. It does make communication difficult.

Language makes philosophical discussion difficult - especially when we might be using the same words to describe fundamentally different things. I think the main problem we're having is that we both have radically different assumptions that underly our arguments. I'm finding it very difficult to understand where you're coming from which inevitably leads to confusion and misunderstanding. I'm impressed though that we haven't resorted to name-calling yet... [grin] that's what normally happens on other Blogs when stuff like this is discussed. Keep up the good work!

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"So rather than God being *in* the Universe you mean that God *is* the Universe, the Universe *is* God? So you're a Deist?"

More like pantheist. I did send you a link to that before as well. The term 'universe' is sometimes confused. I prefer to use the term 'existence.' God is ultimate existence.

"Does that mean that the Universe has intention or purpose? Does the Universe care for us or did it just create itself to provide the right conditions for life to emerge inside it?"

Beats me, but I tend to doubt it. It seems to me you are presuming I hold views which I had not claimed to hold.

"Cannot? Why not? Why must there be something more profound than the mundane physical reality we interact with everyday?"

Because the mundane physical reality explains nothing about the ultimate nature of existence itself. Here, I'll make a metaphor. The study of physics is like trying to understand how a word processing program works. If I click here I will form an A. If I do this I can change the color. Now this is an incredibly important tool for us because the better we understand the application, the better we can use it and even innovate through it.

But knowing how to use Word is orders of magnitude below the depth of understanding required to comprehend the operating system and the hardware and so on which allows the Word program to operate in the first place.

This may be a poor metaphor because the universe probably doesn't operate like that - as if the laws of physics were a program running on a cosmic computer, but it is analogous to one aspect of the general relationship between ultimate reality and how we perceive it to be.

"As far as I'm concerned the Universe is WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), pretty much anyway."

And I say that's absurd (no offense). Even the physics we do know very well implies that our perceptions are very limited and the universe is very different from how it seems.

"Speaking personally I don't regard atheism as an 'answer'. To me its a skeptical position regarding a particular question - that of the existence of God. I do not believe that God exists."

It seems to me that you've chosen a handful of conceptions of God and it is those which you disbelieve in. That's fine. Most likely I'm with you with each one of them. But where I differ is where you get to the next level and realize that 'God' is just a term referring to ultimate metaphysical reality and that such a reality pretty much _must_ exist because there's got to be a foundation for our pyramid somewhere.

You may not believe in specific conceptions of the ultimate reality but I think it is virtually certain that some kind of ultimate reality exists.

What atheism forces you to do though is say that no such ultimate reality exists because there's no positive evidence supporting that assertion. But that just reminds me of a guy getting hit in the head with a hammer and insisting there is no hammer because no one has identified the manufacturer.

When you come upon a building, there's got to be some foundation. We may not know, just by looking at it, if the foundation is made up of steel or concrete or dirt. We may not know how deep it goes or how strong it is. But it certainly stands to reason that it's got a foundation of some type somewhere.

"It also doesn't mean that there *are* answers to the kinds of questions you appear to be asking. It is entirely possible that you are asking the wrong questions. If you ask "What is the *real* meaning behind the existence of the Universe" it may turn out to be impoosible to answer because there *is* no 'real' purpose behind it."

But I haven't been asking those types of questions! In fact I've stayed away from questions of purpose or intention because I don't know if they make any sense in our context. My questions stem around the nature of existence as you approach the most profound levels. I don't understand why you are so averse to understanding that the universe is a much deeper and more mysterious place than what our science has yet told us about.

"As far as I'm concerned the Universe is a completely natural product of totally natural processes which we will one day understand."

The problem is that once you get to the question of the origins of the natural order itself, how can you help but understand supernatural processes? This is why I don't like using those words either. There is but one ultimate reality and its characteristics, whatever they may be, are what brought forth [forgive the imprecise temporality] all existence as we know it.

"Language makes philosophical discussion difficult - especially when we might be using the same words to describe fundamentally different things."

Indeed.

"I think the main problem we're having is that we both have radically different assumptions that underly our arguments."

Well, yes. But the thing is - I've been an atheist so I do understand where you're coming from. What is difficult for me is putting already difficult concepts into words which are nearly always insufficient.

"I'm impressed though that we haven't resorted to name-calling yet... [grin] that's what normally happens on other Blogs when stuff like this is discussed. Keep up the good work!"

Eh, I've been thinking about this stuff for too long for me to get overly excited like that. This is a challenge - for my own understanding as much as I try to help you understand.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: More like pantheist. I did send you a link to that before as well. The term 'universe' is sometimes confused. I prefer to use the term 'existence.' God is ultimate existence.

Gotcha on the Pantheism. As to the term 'Universe' I normally equate it with the collection of Galaxies etc that make up the totality of everything around us. Basically a big (largely empty) space filled with stars and planets.

Orthoprax said: It seems to me you are presuming I hold views which I had not claimed to hold.

Just trying to understand what you mean by posing questions and making stabs in the dark. I'm think I'm getting there... slowly

Orthoprax said: Because the mundane physical reality explains nothing about the ultimate nature of existence itself.

I think thats because you believe that "the ultimate nature of existence itself" is something more than the mundane stuff. Though I'm still not exactly sure what you mean by the 'nature of existence'.

Orthoprax said: And I say that's absurd (no offense). Even the physics we do know very well implies that our perceptions are very limited and the universe is very different from how it seems.

Really? You mean at the sub-atomic level? I've read that everything is basically made up of bubbles in the quantum froth - like on the edges of a cup of hot chocolate. If that's what you're talking about I think it's a bit of a stretch to call it 'God' however you define Him.

Orthoprax said: It seems to me that you've chosen a handful of conceptions of God and it is those which you disbelieve in. That's fine. Most likely I'm with you with each one of them.

Probably. I guess that I've been indoctrinated to think of God as a distinct entity normally with the usual human failings....

Orthoprax said: 'God' is just a term referring to ultimate metaphysical reality and that such a reality pretty much _must_ exist because there's got to be a foundation for our pyramid somewhere.

It might help to drop the word 'God' then.. [grin]. I think that the "ultimate physical reality" is the quantum froth I mentioned before.. As to the foundation of the pyramid... I think it's turtles all the way down........

Orthoprax said: You may not believe in specific conceptions of the ultimate reality but I think it is virtually certain that some kind of ultimate reality exists.

What makes you think so? I'm still trying to understand what you mean by the term "ultimate reality".

Orthoprax said: I don't understand why you are so averse to understanding that the universe is a much deeper and more mysterious place than what our science has yet told us about.

Probably because I see no reason to think that the Universe is either deep or mysterious. As far as I'm aware Science has told us that the Universe is space, gas, stars & bits of rock. If there is anything overly mysterious about it I've yet to hear of it. Sure there's still LOTS we don't understand about the mechanics of it all (Dark Matter springs to mind here) but I don't think there's any need to propose that something 'funny' is going on behind the scenes.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"As to the term 'Universe' I normally equate it with the collection of Galaxies etc that make up the totality of everything around us. Basically a big (largely empty) space filled with stars and planets."

Well, you see, that's a fallacy. What is "space"? Space is _something_. The Big Bang didn't explode into empty space - it created space itself. Space isn't even just some empty backdrop on which events occur. If you know Relativity you would see how the structure of 'empty' space bends in relation to massive bodies and therefore determines how other bodies are affected by it.

Space and matter and energy and everything sre fully _integrated_ and are really just one structure. The "Universe" is 'all that exists' and it exists as an integrated whole - and I believe it is a whole manifested from a profound foundation.

"I think thats because you believe that "the ultimate nature of existence itself" is something more than the mundane stuff. Though I'm still not exactly sure what you mean by the 'nature of existence'."

Within the classic question, "Why is there not nothing?" lies the inherent question of 'What is the nature of existence that makes existence itself possible'? It makes no sense to refer to non-existent things to explain existence. The nature of nothing...is nothing. It has no nature, so how can _something_ come from nothing?

The mundane stuff tells us how existence does its thing on our level of experience. The most profound levels would tell us how existence does itself.

"Really? You mean at the sub-atomic level? I've read that everything is basically made up of bubbles in the quantum froth - like on the edges of a cup of hot chocolate. If that's what you're talking about I think it's a bit of a stretch to call it 'God' however you define Him."

I'm talking about deeper than that. On what is it even possible in the first place to have this quantum foam doing its thing?

"I think that the "ultimate physical reality" is the quantum froth I mentioned before.."

Why? How does that explain itself?

"As to the foundation of the pyramid... I think it's turtles all the way down........"

Well, does that mean that you don't believe there is any ultimate reality? That it continues on infinitely?

"What makes you think so? I'm still trying to understand what you mean by the term "ultimate reality"."

I mean a level of reality that exists independent of other factors. If it ceased to exist, everything would cease to exist. But if everything else ceased to exist it would still exist unaffected. It could be like the NeoPlatonic 'Source.'

I believe something like that exists - in fact is truly existence itself - because existence cannot come from nothing and randomness doesn't convincingly lead to any sort of order.

"Sure there's still LOTS we don't understand about the mechanics of it all (Dark Matter springs to mind here) but I don't think there's any need to propose that something 'funny' is going on behind the scenes."

But don't you see? The 'mechanics' are superficial. You're talking about the Word program. I'm talking about the CPU.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

Btw, check this out:

http://orthoprax.blogspot.com/2005/12/absurdity-of-absurdities.html#comments

You start commenting about halfway through.

Seems we've had this conversation before in the past. And that was over a year ago. Jeez, I am making zero progress, eh?

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: The "Universe" is 'all that exists' and it exists as an integrated whole - and I believe it is a whole manifested from a profound foundation.

I'm afraid that I still don't understand why you believe that. I see nothing profound in the existence of the Universe.

Orthoprax said: It makes no sense to refer to non-existent things to explain existence.

I thought that was *my* line [grin] which is why I don't use God as an explanation.

Orthoprax said: The nature of nothing...is nothing. It has no nature, so how can _something_ come from nothing?

Are you referring to anything in particular? If you're asking where the Universe came from (as it appears to have a beginning) I have no idea. That doesn't mean that I leap to the conclusion that it was the 'hand of God'.

Orthoprax said: I'm talking about deeper than that. On what is it even possible in the first place to have this quantum foam doing its thing?

Do you have any evidence that something underlies the quantum level? I've never heard that idea before.

Orthoprax said: Well, does that mean that you don't believe there is any ultimate reality? That it continues on infinitely?

Actually the 'turtles' comment was a joke. I thought that you'd get the reference. Anyway... I think the basic building blocks of 'reality' (for want of a better word) exist at the quantum level - as far as I'm aware. Everything else is built up from there - at least that's how I understand things to be.

Orthoprax said: I mean a level of reality that exists independent of other factors. If it ceased to exist, everything would cease to exist. But if everything else ceased to exist it would still exist unaffected. It could be like the NeoPlatonic 'Source.'

Now you've lost me. As I've said before I've never been a fan of Plato.

Orthoprax said: I believe something like that exists - in fact is truly existence itself - because existence cannot come from nothing and randomness doesn't convincingly lead to any sort of order.

We don't know (yet) how the Universe (or existence if you want to call it that) came into being. Indeed we may never know. Personally I don't feel the need to start with that knowledge of our ignorance & build a philosophy on top of it. It is enough (for me) to say that we don't know - yet.

Orthoprax said: But don't you see? The 'mechanics' are superficial. You're talking about the Word program. I'm talking about the CPU.

So you say. I think that you are proposing something that doesn't exist and then going to look for it.

Orthoprax said: Seems we've had this conversation before in the past. And that was over a year ago. Jeez, I am making zero progress, eh?

[chuckle] It does seem so doesn't it. I guess that I haven't come across anything (so far) to change my mind. Interesting to see my thoughts from so long ago - thanks for the reminder.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"I'm afraid that I still don't understand why you believe that. I see nothing profound in the existence of the Universe."

Well, I can turn this back on you. Why are you convinced that there is nothing profound behind existence?

The answer you'll give is that you are not necessarily convinced of that, but that no one has convinced you otherwise. So what are you basing your belief on? Ignorance. The inability of faulty people to convince you of something.

This isn't something I can logically explain to you. It goes beyond the rational appraisal of evidence. It is something that intuitively strikes me in daily life and daily experience that all of this just could not come from nothing.

"That doesn't mean that I leap to the conclusion that it was the 'hand of God'"

But you were willing to consider the possibility of an infinite number of other universes which haven't a shred of evidence backing them, hmm?

"Now you've lost me. As I've said before I've never been a fan of Plato."

It's more of the concept that I was getting at rather than the logic of his philosophy. Further, I was talking Neo-Platonism which differs from Plato's views.

"It is enough (for me) to say that we don't know - yet."

Ok, I don't know either, but I'm willing to follow my intuition.

Hasid_Letz said...

Other than semantics, what's at stake here?

Madinwilly

Orthoprax said...

Mad,

"what's at stake here?"

Perspective.

Hasid_Letz said...

"Perspective."

Not unless you make the leap to religion.

Mad

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: Why are you convinced that there is nothing profound behind existence? The answer you'll give is that you are not necessarily convinced of that, but that no one has convinced you otherwise. So what are you basing your belief on? Ignorance. The inability of faulty people to convince you of something.

The reason that I don't believe that there is anything profound going on behind the scenes is exactly why I don't believe in God (and other supernatural agencies too) - that is the total lack of evidence to support that position.

Orthoprax said: This isn't something I can logically explain to you. It goes beyond the rational appraisal of evidence. It is something that intuitively strikes me in daily life and daily experience that all of this just could not come from nothing.

So... If it can't be explained logically and "goes beyond the rational appraisal of evidence" then I'm afraid that I can't believe it. I just don't work that way. I'm the kind of person who needs at least a modicum of evidence or a reasonable argument before I can 'buy into' something.

Orthoprax said: But you were willing to consider the possibility of an infinite number of other universes which haven't a shred of evidence backing them, hmm?

Actually I just think that it's an interesting idea - rather like FTL travel, aliens & Time travel... Oh and I think that some advanced maths points to the possiblity of extra universes in addition to 'our' one.

Orthoprax said:Ok, I don't know either, but I'm willing to follow my intuition.

My intuition doesn't stretch that far. I'm sure that I'm part Vulcan.... [grin]. I like logic, reason, evidence... things like that...

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

Life is short. Of course I would _prefer_ to have specific rational evidences and so on, but I don't and it doesn't seem like we're going to be getting any one way or the other any time soon.

So a decision must be made. I can 'play it safe' and not take a single step outside of what the evidence specifically supports or I can act like I would for most questions which are posed to me in one form or another in daily life and follow my intuition.

It is in this sense that I allow myself to consider possibilities that a stricter scientific perspective would never permit (though I would offer that a stricter scientific perspective would never seriously permit the multiverse theory either since it is bereft of any evidential support). But I don't claim my beliefs are of a scientific nature since they don't meet that standard.

The evidence, as it stands today, provides no answer to the greatest questions we have about the nature of existence. It is your choice to just leave it at that and it is a fully rational choice, of course, but what is lost in that approach is the ability to seriously consider metaphysical realities for which we haven't yet the evidence or that may simply be beyond our ken.

The recognition that the book on metaphysical questions is hardly complete opens my mind more readily than does the application of the scientific method close it.

I would never claim _knowledge_ for my metaphysical beliefs (as they are of a non-rational nature) but I will argue that it is not out of place to follow our intuition when the road of evidence has run out.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: I would never claim _knowledge_ for my metaphysical beliefs (as they are of a non-rational nature) but I will argue that it is not out of place to follow our intuition when the road of evidence has run out.

Fair enough. Each to their own I guess.

Anonymous said...

so you might say you're sort of an intelligent designer, that perhaps the universe has an inherent intelligence. a deist perhaps?

Orthoprax said...

NYA,

I'm not sure I would go that far. I don't know if the universe requires an intelligence per se to do the things it does. What I am willing to say is that there is _something_ going on that explains reality on a deeper level than what science so far understands.

In this sense I am like a pantheist more than a deist who sees God as an intelligent force that started off the universe but has nothing much to do with it since. I believe the same 'thing' that ultimately explains the origins of reality is still involved within it.

Anonymous said...

The teleological approach says that the Universe was designed for man and his benefit. Some push it a bit further into human psychology by assuming the world is beautiful, awesome, magnificent, etc.; that a god created a world to blow us away with His abilities.

I don't see this god anywhere. That humanity for all its chest beating and pomp, is merely part of a great cosmic coincidence is troubling to many. I, too, struggle with this alternative. Wishful thinking, however well tuned, doesn't make it so.

Orthoprax said...

Shlomo,

I'm not so fond of teleology, but neither am I of the idea of great coincidences. They make me suspicious that they are in fact not coincidences at all.