"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, January 25, 2007

SERIOUSLY, where is this God anyway?

Trying to ease back into the blogosphere. The recent movement has been happening here. Matt is quite confounded by my position that we have some choice to make in regard to our stance towards God. The argument goes, that if we are expected to make a choice, we must first have some information to make a choice from. In Matt's mind, the information is just not there. It's a valid point. I'm not sure I have a convincing answer, but I'll put some thought to it and blather on as usual. I also hope to get around to responding to a bunch of other interesting posts that have popped up in here recetly. It's exciting to see the amount of thoughtful discussion we've had going on here recently. Keep at it!

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22 Comments:

Blogger Matt M said...

The way I see it is this: there two ways belief in God could arise - innate knowledge and rational argument.

We don't have innate knowledge of God. Why a lot of theists are often keen to point out that every culture supposedly has a belief in the divine I actually think they're way off. Buddhists (the fifth largest religion in the world) have no concept of God, and once you define religion as belief in a Christian-esque God (as opposed to things like spirit worship), I think you'll end up with a sizable chunk of humanity as non-believers.

Nor are the rational arguments convincing (I don't have time to refute them all right now - but I can: try me!).

So all that leaves us with is individual experience and guesswork, which, consequently and somewhat off-topic, if God exists and is just, means that belief in Him can't be that important or else He'd have given us give better grounds for making the decision.

3:37 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

but I can: try me!

Alright then smart guy, please explain to me how all the reasoning and thought you put into this debate can be the product of purely irrational chemical processes.

5:31 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Complex reasoning is merely an extension of simple reasoning, which is largely a function of memory (for example, associating sticking hand in fire - and the subsequent pain - in the past with sticking hand in fire now, thus "knowing" that hand+fire=pain) which seems a fairly basic chemical process.

I'm not doing anything that a sufficiently advanced AI couldn't do. Although it'd probably have better spelling and grammar.

6:18 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Complex reasoning is merely an extension of simple reasoning

Well sure, but how is ANY sort of reasoning derived from irrational chemical processes? Or do you believe that at the end of the day, what we call reason is irrational?

I'm not doing anything that a sufficiently advanced AI couldn't do.

Let's also not forget that AI does not come about on it's own volition.

Interesting thread you just put up. (sigh) we do seem to make life awefully complicated for ourselves don't we?

10:14 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

I don't think reason can be irrational, purely by dint of definition. But, I do think it could arise from a-rational chemical processes.

What is reason anyway? It's just the ability to think logically - computers can be programmed to do that quite easily. If we can create something like that, utilising basic materials and concepts, I don't see the problem with the idea that billions of years of evolution could create something similar.

6:12 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
don't see the problem with the idea that billions of years of evolution could create something similar.

I guess if you want to take that position you certainly can. To my ears though, believing that pure energy (from an unknown source) released in such a way as to create all matter in the universe + inconceivable amounts of time + dumb luck = Matt & Alex debating the meaning of their existence, (which would be a meaningless conversation btw) is a much greater leap of faith than believing that God is behind it all.

You use the computer analogy again. Computers don't design themselves. Intelligent agents design computers. Why do you find it so easy to believe that there is no intelligence behind the order and design of our universe?

Sure you can say we got to where we are today because of billions of years of time and such and such, but that does not diminish the fact that if there is no God and we are not spiritual beings in any way, each thought you have is nothing more than an irrational chemical process.

In the same way each complicated program run by a computer is nothing more than many different electrical connections firing in an organized fashion. Perhaps we could create a machine that gave the appearance of reason, but in the end it would be an illusion, just as without God we are also an illusion.

Suppose we create a machine so complicated that it appears to have all the attributes of humans. Should we grant this machine the same rights and courtesies we do other humans?

12:57 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

Why do you find it so easy to believe that there is no intelligence behind the order and design of our universe?

At what point do you see God stepping in?

If he merely set everything up, then biological and physical matter must have the ability to form conscious beings, so it’s really just a case of the odds. Which is more likely: that this ability was acquired through billions of years of cumulative evolution, or that a divine being set it up? As God appears in your world, you’d go with the latter. As he doesn’t in mine, the former is the more likely for me.

If he plays an active part in the creation of each and every individual, then where exactly does this happen? Is every sperm infused with a soul? Or do we acquire it at some point of our development? In which case why is it so dependent on physical factors? How come brain damage can affect personality, memory, emotional outlook and intellect?

Plus, if all this is the result of intelligent design, why is it so incredibly crap? 99.9% of the universe is completely hostile to human life – step outside the bounds of this planet and you’ll die in seconds. Why do human bodies contain so much that’s redundant: the appendix, the coccyx, the little toe, wisdom teeth, goose bumps? Why are our critical facilities so dependent on social factors? Why do we get problems like cancer? Why do some people have a genetic disposition to schizophrenia or depression? Why are there ten thousand species of moth? And what’s the point of evolution? How could our distant ancestors, who lacked the critical ability to ponder metaphysical issues, make decisions about God?

each thought you have is nothing more than an irrational chemical process.

It may be nothing more to you – it has meaning to me purely through being mine. When you’re happy, do you think to yourself: “Now – is this simply a reflexive emotional reaction [which, according to your arguments is completely pointless] or does it serve some higher purpose?” and then adjust your behaviour accordingly, or is it simply enough that you’re happy?

just as without God we are also an illusion.

Why are we an illusion? If you think you’re “something more” than a biological machine, then, yes, “you” are an illusion. If you don’t, you’re not.

Suppose we create a machine so complicated that it appears to have all the attributes of humans. Should we grant this machine the same rights and courtesies we do other humans?


Yes.

2:23 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

'Perhaps we could create a machine that gave the appearance of reason, but in the end it would be an illusion, just as without God we are also an illusion.'

This is sorta where Pinker is going with his view of people; machines that have evolved to mislead themselves. It's an interesting idea, and not as detrimental to our sense of self as one might imagine.

'Suppose we create a machine so complicated that it appears to have all the attributes of humans. Should we grant this machine the same rights and courtesies we do other humans?'

Agree with Matt. However, I think we're a long way off from this. In order to 'intelligently design' something rivaling the complexity of the human being, we're going to have to advance our technology a lot further beyond its current limitations. Evolution has had billions of years worth of unremitting beta-testing to come up with the product typing this message. For us to duplicate that in a matter of millenia is going to be a tall order.

11:18 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

At what point do you see God stepping in?

I guess that depends on what you mean by stepping in. As far as I'm concerned all things are created and sustained by Him. If you want the details of how that all works out, I'm sorry but I just don't have them.

Which is more likely: that this ability was acquired through billions of years of cumulative evolution, or that a divine being set it up?

Or perhaps both?

As God appears in your world, you’d go with the latter.

I would doubt that God has "appeared" in my life in any way that would look more fantastic than how he as also appeared in your own. It is true when I say that I see Him, but the fact of the matter is, the word "see" does not adequately contain the experience I am referring to. Therefore, misconceptions easily follow.

where exactly does this happen?

No one knows. Do you need to?

why is it so dependent on physical factors?

The doctrine of the fall is helpful at this point. Lewis uses the analogy that our spiritual self is no longer like a king on his throne. Our spiritual self is now more accurately viewed as a garrison fighting to hold the line in hostile territory. It is a battle we will all eventually lose. We all fight to hold out against our "nature" as long as we can, but as things now stand we are not at home here. If we let it our bodies will rule us. If you look towards the resurrected Christ you see what Man will become when He is no longer in bondage to His nature, but the ruler of it.

why is it so incredibly crap? 99.9% of the universe is completely hostile to human life

Why should more be hospitable?

Why do human bodies contain so much that’s redundant: the appendix, the coccyx, the little toe, wisdom teeth, goose bumps?

So you are saying if you were God you would have done things differently? What bearing does that have on the conversation? You seem to think that If God made it, it should be perfect as God is perfect. And rightly so, but suppose there are other wills at play? Also, in the larger scheme of things are you (or anyone else for that matter) truly qualified to put your finger on a particular part of our physiology and say "Ah ha! Look, this is worthless! Truly there must be no God!" Who are you or I to know what all goes into creating beings such as us?

Why are our critical facilities so dependent on social factors?

Why not?

Why do we get problems like cancer? Why do some people have a genetic disposition to schizophrenia or depression?

It's a fallen creation, we are not the only ones in rebellion. Beyond that, I don't know. However, do you kind of get the feeling that it's not fair that those sorts of things do happen?

Why are there ten thousand species of moth?

Who doesn't like a ton of moths?

And what’s the point of evolution?

All we know in our small view is that evolution was used to create us. If you were God would you have done it differently? Why?

How could our distant ancestors, who lacked the critical ability to ponder metaphysical issues, make decisions about God?

Maybe they didn't. Who can say exactly how or when the "image of God" was bestowed upon man. How much do we even know about this so called "decision"? Is it accurate to say that all Men must make a definite decision regarding what other Men call God?

do you think to yourself...

Of course I don't. I accept the emotion for what it is, just as you do. But I believe that there is a reason that "I" can feel anything at all. It's because "I" am real. "I" exist. "I" couldn't exist at all if there was not a part of me that was above the mindless nature that I am made up of. Or else, perhaps, nature is not so mindless after all?

Why are we an illusion?

I don't believe we are. If nature is mindless and purposeless and you are product of that nature, then you also are mindless and purposeless. Do you believe that nature is mindless and purposeless? If so how do you wiggle out of that one?

If you think you’re “something more” than a biological machine, then, yes, “you” are an illusion.

How do you figure?

Yes.

Ha ha! Matt wants to build a supermodel robot and marry it!!!

***NEWS FLASH: This just in. Noble Brit gives live to save his robot wife he bought on eBay! Truly a touching story of how one man's love for his machine motivated him to make the ultimate sacrifice to save it. Let this just serve as a reminder to us all, this life is more than just work and money. Our trusty robot companions, human friends and family are what truly matter. Perhaps we should all do something nice for our faithful mechanical friends today.***

Spend some time reading this post if you can. I noticed when I just skimmed through your last one I missed a lot of what you were saying until I spent some time with it to compose this response.

C-ya bye.

1:48 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Rev. Dr. Incitatus,
I'm hoping someone can speed up the development of our new robot friends. I'd really like to have one that could mow my lawn and tell me what to get my wife for Christmas. So far I'm really bad at both of those.

1:52 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

If you want the details of how that all works out, I'm sorry but I just don't have them.

Hmmm, I'm not sure we're going to get very far on this. If you firmly believe in God then it must follow that evolution and the current state of human beings are all part of his intention. If you don't then it doesn't.

My pointing out what I consider "unintelligent design" isn't going to change your mind about God. Your pointing out that the ways of God are mysterious isn't going to turn my away from an atheistic ways.

I think we're back to the 'why don't I believe in God' question. Once we establish that we might be in a better position to talk about the nature of the universe.

Why should more be hospitable?

What's the point of that 99.9% of the universe?

Why not?

If the point of all this is for us to make a decision regarding God, isn't it a little unfair that our ability to make decisions rationally is so dependent on our education, upbringing and social environment? How can we be held truly responsible for what we decide?

Who can say exactly how or when the "image of God" was bestowed upon man.

I thought the whole point of us being here was for us to decide whether to accept God or not?

However, do you kind of get the feeling that it's not fair that those sorts of things do happen?

These kinds of diseases and defects are a product of our genetic make-up - if someone was responsible for determining that make-up then it's not unfair, it's sadistic and callous.

Who doesn't like a ton of moths?

Me. I have mothphobia. Spiders aren't a problem - moths make my skin crawl just thinking about them.

If you were God would you have done it differently? Why?

I'd have done it in a way that looked less like blind natural processes for one. I wouldn't have given men nipples either - I mean: what is the f---ing point? Was it for a bet?

How much do we even know about this so called "decision"?

The "decision" was your answer to free will, as I recall.

If nature is mindless and purposeless and you are product of that nature, then you also are mindless and purposeless.

The "mind" is the result of complex biological processes interacting. We endow it with some kind of "mystical" property because understanding it properly is beyond our current abilities - as Incitatus argued.

Purpose is self-derived, rather than imposed from above.

Besides: if mind preceded matter, what preceded mind?

How do you figure?

All I meant was that I consider you idea of a God-given soul (or whatever) to be an illusion, just as much as you consider my non God-given sense of self to be.

Ha ha! Matt wants to build a supermodel robot and marry it!!!

You won't be laughing when I'm partying with the fembots!

2:37 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

The bottom line is that there's always room for God. If there is one kind of person that needs to make his/her peace with this it's the evolutionary biologist/psychologist/sociologist, because it can be argued that man's concept of God has evolved in parallel with everything else, and following exactly the same principles of natural selection. For every obstacle placed in front of faith, it inevitably finds a sneaky way to circumnavigate it.

6:16 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hmmm, I'm not sure we're going to get very far on this. If you firmly believe in God then it must follow that evolution and the current state of human beings are all part of his intention. If you don't then it doesn't.

I agree. Have you given any further consideration to the books Revvvvvvvd recommended on the resurrection?

What's the point of that 99.9% of the universe?

Perhaps God takes pleasure in more than "just" us.

How can we be held truly responsible for what we decide?

I'd imagine it's all taken into consideration. That gets back to my question of the actual "nature" of our decision. Who can say in what ways God speaks to each person and in what ways they respond to or reject him. It's not a formula Matt. Perhaps that why Christians are so strongly told not to judge others.

I thought the whole point of us being here was for us to decide whether to accept God or not?

What I meant by, "Who can say exactly how or when the "image of God" was bestowed upon man." is we do not know when or how we arrived at the point of accountability. Yes I do believe the point of us is to decide to accept or reject him, but when the creature was given this ability and what that looked like exactly we do not know.

if someone was responsible for determining that make-up then it's not unfair, it's sadistic and callous.

Which would be unfair. But what if reality was a bit more complicated than that? What if other wills were at play in the process? We are told that Satan has dominion over the earth. Maybe Satan's not a nice guy. Maybe he's sadistic and callous.

I have mothphobia.

common! Are you serious? I saw this moth once that was as big as my hand! No kidding. It was pretty hairy.

I'd have done it in a way that looked less like blind natural processes for one.

Here we go again... It doesn't look so blind to me. Heck I'm an organism that can see for crying out loud! Blind, mindless, undirected chance you say? I don't buy it.

I wouldn't have given men nipples either

You heard it hear first folks. Boy's have nipples = There is no God. =)

The "decision" was your answer to free will, as I recall

Indeed it was, but what does that decision look like for each person? Taking into consideration the whole of each person's life experience, what must that decision look like? I cannot say. It certainly can not be as formulaic as "I believe Jesus and I'm a Christian" What does it mean to "believe Jesus"? Each person understands that differently. Where is the line drawn? What of those who never hear an accurate presentation? Are they held accountable for situations they never chose? I rather doubt it. The point I'm trying to make is that this "decision" is not so clean-cut of an issue.

The "mind" is the result of complex biological processes interacting.

I would agree. But to be a bit more accurate to the naturalistic world view you must word it like so: The "mind" is nothing more than the result of complex biological processes interacting.

We endow it with some kind of "mystical" property because understanding it properly is beyond our current abilities

Than naturalist does not do this. They have it figured out well enough. It's really really complicated, they say. But at the end of the day is just the chance occurrence mindless matter that got really really complicated... by random chance.

Purpose is self-derived, rather than imposed from above.

Matt, what is self? The chance happening or mindless matter? How does mindless matter create a purpose? You are more than that brother. I cannot for the life of me understand why you want to accept the meaningless garbage that atheism spews. The logical end is nihilism. Humanism is the attempt to avoid nihilism or amorality, but logically, it is completely bankrupt.

if mind preceded matter, what preceded mind?

Can you conceive eternity? I can't.

All I meant was that I consider you idea of a God-given soul (or whatever) to be an illusion, just as much as you consider my non God-given sense of self to be.

My position gives meaning purpose and worth to our existence. Yours leaves you as an accident with no purpose and worse yet, with no mind. If you don't want to accept that you will need to do some reevaluation of your atheism.

Later bud. We should probably move on. We really have a broken record thing going on here. I would really enjoy exploring the varying opinions on the resurrection if you'd be willing to explore that with me a bit.

1:15 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Have you given any further consideration to the books Revvvvvvvd recommended on the resurrection?

Haven't had time I'm afraid. I have a stack of about nine/ten unread books already as well.

I don't think that something as intensely speculative as the "resurrection" is fertile ground for us anyway. Both of us are going to read into it what we believe: for you it's the work of God, for me it's a distorted version of a non-divine event.

This is where I see us standing at the moment:

Rational argument based on empirical evidence is overwhelmingly inconclusive when dealing with something like God. For me, the set-up of the universe points towards the non-existence of God (or at least a God we can comprehend), for you it's the opposite.

The fact that it's so inconclusive would suggest that the reason for our respective views lie elsewhere.

If you ask me, and this is a sketchy idea I'm still mulling over in my head, I think a lot of our beliefs are rooted in emotion and instinct rather than reason (although the latter plays a part). Initially, an idea "feels" good, so - sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously - we tend to lean towards arguments and evidence that supports these ideas.

It's like being left- or right- handed: you have a bias towards one, so you use it to practice writing, etc. thereby reinforcing its dominance. Most of the time we don't even realise this is happening, although, as you'll know if you've ever broken your wrist, with enough practice you can learn to write with your other hand almost as well.

Perhaps some people have a bias towards the divine and others don't. Though I'm not sure how you'd square that with belief in God.

3:00 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

we just had an inebriated fellow stumble into our office on the second floor of the building I work in. He proceeded to curse out everyone he met. I joined my boss and one other guy in helping him find the door. You'd think he would have been grateful, but no such luck. How's that for a little variety?

Good comment. I'll be back.

3:29 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

I cannot for the life of me understand why you want to accept the meaningless garbage that atheism spews. The logical end is nihilism. Humanism is the attempt to avoid nihilism or amorality, but logically, it is completely bankrupt."

Ouch! I think nihilism is an extreme rather than a logical end. Fundamentalist atheism as it were. Nihilists believe no action is preferable to another (or they want people to think they believe that). Atheists on the whole do not think in these terms. We feel physical and emotional pain like anyone else. Whether in an objective sense it can truly be said to 'exist' is irrelevant to me (it may be a delusion). It certainly 'feels' like it exists. Therefore, when I see others in pain, I empathise, and that's one of the essential components of morality. Empathy for the suffering, and a subsequent desire to alleviate it, simply on the basis that we would want someone to do the same for us.

'If you ask me, and this is a sketchy idea I'm still mulling over in my head, I think a lot of our beliefs are rooted in emotion and instinct rather than reason (although the latter plays a part). Initially, an idea "feels" good, so - sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously - we tend to lean towards arguments and evidence that supports these ideas.'

I think that's exactly it. The general outcome of discussions like these is rarely conversion, but simply an enhanced respect for the opposing view. Arguably, that's valuable enough.

4:42 PM

 
Anonymous Diana said...

I really like your blog a lot. I want to share with you a great essay on science and religion that I think you will like. You can check it out here: Has Science Really Answered All the Big Questions?

6:55 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
Been out of the loop for a few days. I've come down with the flu. I really haven't felt up to much deep thinking as of late, but I haven't forgotten that I told you I was going to send you this selection from Lewis's book surprised by joy. I figured since I don't need to think to hard to transcribe it for you, I could at least manage that in my vitiated state. It's not so much a maxim to debate, as it is an prophetic glimpse into our current situation. Lewis was a smart fellow. He had no intention of "finding religion", yet his mind changed none-the-less. Let us not be so glib as to assume that "each will find his own" if we approach a topic with an open mind.

for you it's the work of God, for me it's a distorted version of a non-divine event.

And this conclusion without cracking a book on the topic. Rather goes against your mantra, wouldn't you say? At any rate, here's Lewis:

(quote)
The first lifelong fried I made at Oxford was A.K. Hamilton Jenkin, since known for his books on Cornwall. He continued (what Arthur had begun) my education as a seeing, listening, smelling, receptive creature. Arthur had had his preference for the Homely. But Jenkin seemed to be able to enjoy everything; even ugliness. I learned from him that we should attempt a total surrender to whatever atmosphere was offering itself at the moment; in a squalid town to seek out the those very places where it's squalor rose to grimness and almost grandeur, on a dismal day to find the most dismal and dripping wood, on a windy day to seek the windiest ridge. There was no Betjemannic irony about it; only a serious, yet gleeful,determination to rub one's nose in the very quiddity of each thing, to rejoice in it's being (so magnificently) what it was.

My next was Owen Barfield. There is a sense in which Arthur and Barfield are the types of every man's First Friend and Second Friend. The First is the alter ego, the man who first reveals to you that you are not alone in the world by turning out (beyond hope) to share all your most secret delights. There is nothing to be overcome in making him your friend; he and you join like raindrops on a window. But the Second Friend is the man who disagrees with you about everything. He is not so much the alter ego as the antiself. Of course he shares your interests; otherwise he would not become your friend at all. But he has approached them all at a different angle. He has read all the right books but has got the wrong thing out of every one. It is as if he spoke your language but mispronounced it. How can he be so nearly right and yet, invariably, just not right? He is as fascinating (and infuriating) as a woman. When you set out to correct his heresies, you find that he forsooth has decided to correct yours! And then you go at it, hammer and thongs, far into the night, night after night, or walking through fine country that neither gives a glance to, each learning the weight of the other's punches,and often more like mutually respectful enemies than friends. Actually (though it never seems so at the time) you modify one another's thought; out of this perpetual dogfight a community of mind and deep affection emerge. But I think he changed me a good deal more than I Him. Much of the thought which he afterward put into Poetic Diction had already become mine before than important little book appeared. It would be strange if it had not. He was of course not so learned then as he has since become; but the genius was already there. (end quote)

My apologies if I sound a bit cranky today. I get like that when I'm sick. ;-)

3:45 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Thanks for that link Diana. It truly is amazing how far we've come scientifically in such a short time and humbling to realize how far we have yet to go!

3:52 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

memory "seems a fairly basic chemical process."
I hope Matt by "basic" does not mean simple: there are no such things as simple bio-chemical processes.
Nor does chemistry, interesting science that it is, convey the experience of remembering.

"The ability to think logically -- computors can be programmed to do that quite easily"
Computer science, an easy science!!! Try and learn how to build one, you'll see if it's so easy...

Alex: "Why do you find it so easy to believe that there is no intelligence behind the order and design of our universe??
Matt: "At what point do you see God stepping in?"
Mule-headed!!! The orderliness of the cosmos -- of biological organization -- the sophistication of bio-chemical processes, are so many suggestions of a superior intelligence at work.

"..if all this is the result of intelligent design, why is it so incredibly crap?"
How do you know that it is crap?

"99.9% of the universe is completely hostile to human life."
God is big, man is little. Why would the whole universe have to be favorable to human life?
To reject God on no other basis than that he is not 100% devoted to the convenience and well-being of mankind, would be maddingly self-centered and vain...

"Purpose is self-derived, rather than imposed from above"
On whose authority do you have it that purpose is as you want it to be -- self-derived, that is?

Much waste of debating energy would be spared if people ceased linking knowledge of diety, with belief in that ostly cretinous book: the Bible.

Billy Coconut

2:22 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Mule-headed!!! The orderliness of the cosmos -- of biological organization -- the sophistication of bio-chemical processes, are so many suggestions of a superior intelligence at work.


Yes, and the presence of that superior intelligence, with all of its own complexity, must be indicative of an even higher intelligence at work, which due to its even greater complexity points to a super-duper intelligence, which ...&c, ad infinitum.

Seems to me that if the IDsters are right, our God is the least qualified to be our deity. I mean, hell, he's right down at the bottom of the barrel in terms of intelligent design. We should be worshipping the one at the top, wherever that is.

3:05 PM

 
Anonymous BC said...

One gets the picture...

1:42 AM

 

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