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So, Who Or What Made God?
Michiko Kakatuni reviews John Allen Paulos' book, Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up, in The New York Times:

In his opening chapters Mr. Paulos uses simple logic to point up the gaping holes in the so-called first-cause argument. “Either everything has a cause, or there’s something that doesn’t,” he writes. “The first-cause argument collapses into this hole whichever tack we take. If everything has a cause, then God does, too, and there is no first cause. And if something doesn’t have a cause, it may as well be the physical world.”

What’s more, he notes, “the uncaused first cause needn’t have any traditional God-like qualities. It’s simply first, and as we know from other realms, being first doesn’t mean being best. No one brags about still using the first personal computers to come on the market. Even if the first cause existed, it might simply be a brute fact — or even worse, an actual brute.”

Posted by aalkon at January 29, 2008 9:19 AM

Comments

Oh, but this is entertaining. You should see the fundies swoon when I note, in detail, that there is no evidence of "creation" other than what we invented. All of the stuff you see today has been converted, not created, from other stuff. But it's tough for somebody who has spent a lifetime taking their loved-ones' stories about God for granted to even begin answering that classic, "Where did God come from?"

We define things, relative to us. This includes arbitrary, however useful, boundaries around which the words "cause" and "new" appear.

Posted by: Radwaste at January 29, 2008 1:03 AM

Oh that's a book I have to add to my library.

Posted by: Simon Proctor at January 29, 2008 3:31 AM

"All of the stuff you see today has been converted, not created..."

Excluding Dolly and her fellow clones.

Just in time for Valentine's Day - Cloning makes me think of "ewe".

Posted by: Curly Smith at January 29, 2008 5:40 AM

I find it fun when they give "God" credit for creating a new baby. I just have to start, "no, there's a sperm and an egg..." They get pretty uncomfortable and stop arguing quick before I explain original sin any further.

Posted by: Donna at January 29, 2008 6:19 AM

I think this is why mormonism has become so popular in the last 30yrs.

They have a nice little creation myth about how god was once mortal and became god after millenia of hard work and faith. Plus if your a good little boy or girl youmight get to be a god yourself one day.

Of course that doesnt answer where the original god came from, but it does provide enough of a fuzzy story for those who are troubled by the question 'who made god?'

Posted by: lujlp at January 29, 2008 6:44 AM

They probably started their religion because they were sick of all the other churches nonsense. Abandoning the concept of religion altogether would've led to them being stoned to death so the truth was suppressed by their brains protection mechanism (mine seems to be failing me).

Posted by: William at January 29, 2008 7:00 AM

I'm a Bokononist.

Posted by: Gretchen Author Profile Page at January 29, 2008 7:05 AM

My daughters call me "Goddess of the Universe", usually right after I tell them to do some godawful chore like clean up their rooms or fold their laundry: "Yes, O Goddess of the Universe!", "Right away, O Goddess of the Universe!", and then I sit back on my cloud with my glass of nectar and smile down on them. o_O

Posted by: Flynne at January 29, 2008 7:11 AM

I am amused when people on both sides argue this question, because in effect it is irrelevant. Human beings will never know all that is knowable... most people can't even wrap their minds around having more than 3 dimensions and time. Yet, mathmatically it looks like there are 11. We can't know them, though, because we can't percieve them.

Do they cease to exist because of that lack of perception on our part?

If you decide to give a supreme being power, don't you make it ultimate? Does that release them from all the physical laws that you, as a limited human, could understand?

Ooh, wait, were going out of the human comfort zone of faith. It surely doesn't matter if that faith is in the abilty of reason, or the belief in something greater. Even Poulos has faith in himself, and his ability to figure this all out.

The religious bet the farm on the idea that if they live well, according to some rule or other, they will find out that there is more than this life, after all. Those that believe in only themselves, bet the farm on the idea that this life is all there is. They may try and live well, so that other people will reciprocate, and not cause them too much pain.

The rules that people live by, day to day, are approximately the same. But here is the logic of the situation:

If you believe in some other life beyond this one, and you are right and have done well, you win. If you believe in that other existance, and are wrong? You won't know, you'll be dead. It's not like you will regret it.

On the other claw, if you believe this life is all there is, and that turns out to be true? You still won't know, because you will be dead. You will be right, but it will make no difference. So, you win? If you turn out to be wrong? You'll be wrong, and you will know that. There may be a heavy penalty for being wrong, or not. You won't know till you get there, and then it will be too late to change.

All this mucking around trying to figure out Who's on First? It's fun mental hopscotch, but when you come right down to it, it doesn't take you anywhere.

Either you are trying to prove a negative, or hoping for a positive.

The particulars from there are the next biggest question, and I think this is where most people end up wrapped around the axle. A fundamental Bible thumper is no different than a fundamentalist atheist. They've got rules and regulations and laws and so on... and they try to prove each other wrong. But you don't find out the ACTUAL answer until it's over. Even then, you may not know, if you come back as phytoplankton, or as another person, to grow up and learn it all again, or if there is nothing.

No matter how thin you slice it, the rule that makes sense to most humans, is still "do unto others, as you would have them do unto you." From there it seems like a glass-half-full / glass-half-empty thing: do you think this is it, or do you think there is more? If you think there is more, whatcha' going to do about that?

Posted by: SwissArmyD at January 29, 2008 7:33 AM

Yes to John Allen Paulos and to his Occam's Razor logic.

Following my parents' wishes, I enrolled in a fundamentalist college. In public high school I had always enjoyed free-wheeling bull sessions and naively expected at least a few of the same among college students, even at a religious school.

Many incidents persuaded me to leave there and transfer to a college of my own choosing, but the most memorable was the time a fellow freshman listening to a theological bull session piped up, "Well, then, who created God?'

An uppeclassman turned on him with a stern expression and said, "You can't ask that question!"

That was not just a personal power play. I soon realized it was the official church answer.

Posted by: Axman at January 29, 2008 7:38 AM

"Well, then, who created God?'

Man created God.
Nietzsche killed God.
But God keeps growing back because men are dumb asses.

Better to get your answer late than never.

Posted by: William at January 29, 2008 7:54 AM

“The first-cause argument collapses into this hole whichever tack we take. If everything has a cause, then God does, too, and there is no first cause. And if something doesn’t have a cause, it may as well be the physical world.”

It's not the theistic argument that everything must have a cause. Scientific discovery depends on the fact that everything in the physical universe must have a cause. If the physical universe is all that exists, either you have an infinite regress (which is impossible), or something in the physical universe had no cause (which violates the laws of science).

The theistic position is that the First Cause is not part of the physical universe, is an infinite being, and is therefore uncaused. So causation is not an issue for the theist, just for the person who believes in matter and matter alone.

It is unfortunate that the commenters in this thread have met a lot of Christians who haven't thought through their beliefs enough. That doesn't invalidate the belief. Hopefully the book is more sophisticated than the summary lets on and is not simply a book-length straw-man refutation.

Posted by: GMR at January 29, 2008 8:04 AM

"infinite regress (which is impossible)"

"the First Cause is not part of the physical universe, is an infinite being"

For the science perspective you are saying that infinity is impossible, but for theists it is possible (faith argument?). The problem is that your argument is attempting to put words in the mouth of science. Science is about stating what we do know & exploring what we don't know.

If you believe the theist position don't you believe anything by default. God is omnipotent. God can create anything... including infinite regression.

Posted by: William at January 29, 2008 8:25 AM

We haven't been able to prove alternate dimensions or travel through space via a wormhole we created using machines. In 500 years will that still be true? 5,000 years?

To say something can't be true or real b/c we haven't proven it doesn't render it impossible or false. It means we haven't proven it.

To get really weird for a moment, perhaps some people have seen god. What if those who don't think it's possible that there is a reality or an entity beyond what we see and feel around us will never witness the alternatives. Some people call that a spiritual awakening. Other people call it paranoid Schizophrenia with hallucinations. I guess it's subjective. Why does there have to be a universally objective definition for something to be true? "Pizza is the best food in the world." That's true for me but not for many other people.

...just a rambling mess...

Posted by: Gretchen Author Profile Page at January 29, 2008 9:20 AM

Exactly which taste buds fire an impulse to the brain & in what manner would give you the objective - scientific answer as to what pizza tastes like. The exact number of sweet, bitter, savory, salty, or sour signals sent gives an objective, measureable result that we might graph & compare to data about other tastes.

If we were to compare well liked food data we might find they have certain firing patterns in common (or a specific pattern - think of cocaine's effect on our brains).

Posted by: William at January 29, 2008 9:43 AM

But what if someone's brain allowed them to "see" beyond the immediate physical world?

Not saying I necessarily believe that but I don't rule things out just b/c no one has come up with a special brain scan or equation. The earth could be flat for all I know b/c I've never walked or flown around the planet myself (though I tend to believe it's indeed round haha).

Posted by: Gretchen Author Profile Page at January 29, 2008 9:56 AM

The sensory data sent to the brain is one part of the data. The processing of the data would be another set of objective measurable data. What you call seeing is nothing more than your brain (an organic computer) processing sensory data & providing you with feedback.

Posted by: William at January 29, 2008 10:05 AM

Here is my view. Murder, rape, assult, theft, other crimes - thay all have finite, temproal, and immediate effects on the victim and society at large.

Until you can give me obvious proof of gods existance and what he wants from people I really dont want to hear the penut gallery telling me porn is immoral or rap is the devils music or that I'm going to burn in hell for all eternity for the sadistic pleasure of a 'forgiving god' becuase I fucked my girlfreind before we got married and we used birth control

Posted by: lujlp at January 29, 2008 10:12 AM

Shit, William, I'm trying to be deep and think outside the box (work is slow after lunch...I get bored. Gary Vaynerchuck on wine t.v. is another good distraction.) and you keep coming back with "proof" that someone can't possibly "see" something else...beyond this...

Posted by: Gretchen Author Profile Page at January 29, 2008 10:12 AM

"telling me porn is immoral or rap is the devils music or that I'm going to burn in hell for all eternity "

But that's RELIGION. That's a certain, specific idea about god and what god is (a judgmental, miserable bastid who wants to fuck with us and demands we please him). But consider "god" outside the context of religion. Can we think about things removing the restrictions of religion? They're two separate conversations to me.

Posted by: Gretchen Author Profile Page at January 29, 2008 10:19 AM

My apologies for ruining your deep vibe with reality. We are even now because you made me hungry for pizza, gotta go :-)...

Posted by: William at January 29, 2008 10:24 AM

Gretchen, The real God would never tell you any of those things. He would only be kind & loving toward you. The only problem is that he doesn't exist. Nietzsche killed him... see above.

Posted by: William at January 29, 2008 10:33 AM

Gretchen, I will readily admit there are things I dont know

I always tell people I am willing to entertin the notion that some sort of god may in fact exist, as long s your willing to entertain the notion that there might not be one either

Posted by: lujlp at January 29, 2008 10:38 AM

Agreed lujlp: Until I have ACTUAL proof in my hand of EITHER possibility I'll continue to say "I have no fucking clue."

Posted by: Gretchen Author Profile Page at January 29, 2008 10:52 AM

There were three main arguments for God's existence that originated during the middle ages: Teleological, Ontological and Design. The "First Cause" argument is the Teleological one. Immanuel Kant effectively ended the Teleological and Ontological arguments in his "Critique of Pure Reason". Which is why most modern people rely on the Design, or "intelligent Design," argument. John Allen Paulos is simply beating a horse that was killed over 150 years ago.

Posted by: Brandon at January 29, 2008 11:16 AM

that's the whole point lujlp, IMHO... what do you believe? Yourself, and no-one else. You are talking about the strictures that people put on you, be they religious or not. That too can be a different conversation, because a lot of the strictures are a codified law set in a religion, but more or less common sense. Just like the golden rule... What you feel about how the universe and everything in it came to be, that's all you. Given the words you have chosen it sound like people have told you things, maybe all your life, that you don't like or disagree with. They are just people, you don't have to agree with them. You can go your own way, using your own brain, and experience.

Don't kowtow to anyone else if you don't want to, but make up your own mind. For what you WANT to believe. Don't do it in opposition to what someone else thinks, who CARES what they think? Thinking for yourself may lead you down many different paths, but your thirst to think about it will lead you. It would be the same if you were trying to prove the existance of a sub particle of dark matter, or superstring theory.

It is very hard to get ACTUAL proof of either of those, in terms of holding it in your hand, and you are unlikely to get actual proof of God, god, or any other god-like alien. They don't need your belief to exist [probably]. You can't prove that the Andormeda galaxy exists physically, either. But, with well established suppositions about what we see when we look up in the sky, and how those suppositions didn't change much when we sent probes out of the atmosphere to look, there is a fair indication that the galaxy exists. This is likely all the indication we will probably ever have, since it is so far away...

looks that way to me, anyhow...

Posted by: SwissArmyD at January 29, 2008 11:38 AM

What’s more, he notes, “the uncaused first cause needn’t have any traditional God-like qualities. It’s simply first, and as we know from other realms, being first doesn’t mean being best. No one brags about still using the first personal computers to come on the market. Even if the first cause existed, it might simply be a brute fact — or even worse, an actual brute.”

That paragraph doesn't even make sense. An uncaused cause is very different from the first PC.

Paulos ought to just say he believes in magic because it's better than God, instead of trying to pawn off his ignorance as more rational than anyone else's.

Posted by: Jimbo at January 29, 2008 12:31 PM

First I wonder why if Space requires 3 dimensions to define an object then why do we conclude that Time only requires 1 dimension? Then I wonder if our universe is constantly expanding, and Newton says "for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction", does that mean that there's an anti-universe that's constantly contracting? Then I wonder if "The Big Bang" happened when all of the mass in the prior anti-universe had collapsed to a single point and both universes reversed entropy. If so, would entropy then be another dimension? Lastly, I wonder why I'm even thinking about this when I'm sober...

Posted by: Curly Smith at January 29, 2008 3:33 PM

It seems that more people are concerned about God's existence, not because of whether or not they believe he exists, but because they have alot of skeletons in their closet. They are waiting to be punished for those skeletons, and therefore the concept of God probably frightens them. Also, If you believe in God, you reason that you have to change your lifestyle, and stop messing, around, getting drunk, using foul language etc, etc... TRUE!!! But their is what I like to call a "science of the saints". The first part of that science has to do with getting to know God. It's pretty unfair to judge someone you dont know. Once you make an effort to talk to him, and get to know him, then make your judgement. That conversation with God is called prayer. For those on this blog who mock his existence, have you ever tried to talk to God? Dont give me that baloney about "Only paranoid schizophrenics do that"! Great contributors to peace and love in the world were people who talked to God regularly. If you are afraid to talk to God, then dont be afraid to pick up a book and ready about the lives of St. Edith Stein who died in Aushwitz, or St. Maximillian Kolbe who also died in Aushwitz. If these people were paranoids, then let me be paranoid. These people demonstrated God's love to the world in such a profound way! I challenge you all to get a grip on God by talking to him, or at least reading about people like Edith and Maximillian who did. You will find that you have a great misconception about God. I understand that human nature being as pitiful as it is, we only see the bad that people have done, and then blame a God who we say does not exist. If he did not exist, you would not be talking about him. Humble youselves tonight and say to him. God... I feel crazy doing this, but if you really exist, I want to get to know you,. Speak to my heart... A simple prayer like this is a big step towards answering the question about God's existence, but more importantly, about who we are in his eyes. You will find that his way is much better than ours. Pray to God, and let him tell you who he truly is. As bad as most of us are, he created us, and he loves us. Let's love God back.

Posted by: alexander at January 29, 2008 3:55 PM

"It is unfortunate that the commenters in this thread have met a lot of Christians who haven't thought through their beliefs enough. That doesn't invalidate the belief."

No - the insistence that a being created the natural laws - which turn out, upon study, to preclude his major religious text - does. Calling a being "omnipotent", when it failed of its purpose, does. Hand-waving about terms having flexible "definition" does.

How do I put this? -- OK. If you're a Christian, and you venture beyond the lessons of Jesus, you're not just "not thinking your beliefs through". You're willfully suppressing the real world in favor of your comfortable fantasies. This isn't just the simple deception of "political correctness", with its army of people who say that if you call it something pretty, you can pick up a turd by the clean end. It's the direct denial of reality.

Posted by: Radwaste at January 29, 2008 4:24 PM

Just a few comments to throw into the fray.

First, it is logically impossible to prove a negative, so attempting to show via any method does not exist is simply not reasonable. Further, attempting to posit a scientific explaination for something unrelated to science itself is a bit like trying to use a shoe as a screwdriver.

On the subject of the existence of God, I don't consider it much of a stretch to imagine our world as the creation of intelligent force.

A short recitation of all the myriad creatures, and their astounding balance and seemingly impossible capabilities coming into perfect being, not just once...but again and again hundreds of million times as species vanish to be replaced by others...and argue that it is nothing more than blind chance...billions, or perhaps, trillions of times as feature after feature comes into being, seems impossible.

Posted by: el_Soldado at January 29, 2008 8:50 PM

Jesus Christ Amy, you just love throwing the cotton candy into the dryer, don't you? I kinda like that.

Posted by: Bikerken at January 30, 2008 12:37 AM

el_Soldado, do not mistake me. It is not "proving a negative" I attempt. I simply point out when a person's belief is unfounded. That is fundamentally different. When you have nothing to point to but "feelings" when you posit that there is a God, "feelings" is, in fact, all that you have - no matter how wonderful the house of cards you and others may have constructed around the premise. You're investing in Dutch tulips.

And one assertion you've made is a fine example of the lack of effort applied to understanding our world: "blind chance". No such thing exists, except in the hasty generalization of those who seek to explain away something they don't understand.

For example, you may think that a lottery operates by "blind chance". No. The drawing's result is always a series of numbers within the series used for play. Our inability to predict which result appears does not change this. Similarly, the arrangement of matter and energy around us is always subject to at least four fundamental forces: gravity, magnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. It also always possesses some potential or kinetic energy with respect to its surroundings. A truly random universe cannot have a law of physics. The number of combinations/permutations possible is merely staggeringly large.

Please note this final example of the non-random nature of the universe: we use the natural laws to produce things on a regular basis. Adding salt to water gives you saltwater, not gasoline.

Posted by: Radwaste at January 30, 2008 2:38 AM

Curly let's hang out. Your mental rambling tangents enthrall me.

Posted by: Gretchen Author Profile Page at January 30, 2008 5:26 AM

you just love throwing the cotton candy into the dryer, don't you?

I kinda see it as my job!

Posted by: Amy Alkon Author Profile Page at January 30, 2008 5:41 AM

Thanks Radwaste, I knew we'd get here When you have nothing to point to but "feelings" when you posit that there is a God, "feelings" is, in fact, all that you have - no matter how wonderful the house of cards you and others may have constructed around the premise. You're investing in Dutch tulips.

Thus the foundation of "big government" crumbles into nothingness. Thus the "Friars of Fairness" recede from the playing field. Thus many of the "important issues" of our day dissolve into the ether.

Posted by: Curly Smith at January 30, 2008 5:45 AM

"First, it is logically impossible to prove a negative..."

No, it isn't. Any statement of fact is a necessary negation of other facts and vice versa. If you can prove the affirmative portion of the statement false, you have proved the negation false.

Ex: "There is no whiskey in my coffee cup."
[Implied affirmative is that there is something other than whiskey in my coffee cup, even if it is only air.]
The boss grabs my cup, takes a swig and demands that I share some of the ambrosial single malt stashed in my desk. Negative disproved.

The properties ascribed to God make it FAR too much trouble to try to logically prove to someone there is no God when they have their heart set on believing. The spiritual impulse is found in a vast number and wide range of people. If you can tolerate bad breath and a poor fashion sense, you can tolerate someone's certainty that their inner life has a meaning. You might just as well try to convince people they don't need air or food or water.

Posted by: martin at January 30, 2008 8:51 AM

@alexander: What a lot of bullshit you talk.

...skeletons in their closet... I may be stupid, but I'm not so stupid to think that I can make a god go away by closing my eyes, just to indulge my lusts with impunity. If god existed, what good would closing my eyes to him do me? Doh.

...mock his existence... No, I mock beliefs.

...have you ever tried to talk to God?... Yes. I soon gave up. Talking to God is not a problem; I write letters to my late wife. But I don't think she's going to read them! I do it for my benefit. The problem comes when people think that god talks back to them, eg telling Dubya to invade wherever it was.

... and then blame a God who we say does not exist... That would be a remarkably stupid thing to do. If you can see how stupid it is, don't you think others can too? Or are you so much cleverer?

...If he did not exist, you would not be talking about him... Look back over the posts and most of what we talk about is religion and believers. Kind of difficult to talk about them without including their god. Could you talk to Scientologists without mentioning Xenu and Thetans? Of course that's all nonsense! Just like every religion except yours.

...Humble youselves tonight and say to him. God... Been there. Done that. Moved on.

... and he loves us... Except amputees.

Your post would carry more weight if you (a) did not ascribe false motives and beliefs to others, and (b) learned how to spell Aushwitz, learn when to use there, their and they're.

Posted by: Norman at January 30, 2008 9:00 AM

Hi Norman,

So who do you plan to read about first...Maximillian, or Edith? You would be quite fascinated with their life stories. Furthermore, the accounts of their lives have been proofread, so you wont get those terrible grammatical errors that I am famous for. I dont mean that sarcastically. I am terrible at grammar when I am trying to get in a blog done in 1 minute. Dont let that distract you from my message which is simply to look for God because he does exist, and yes...he loves everyone. If you are an amputee, I dont know under what circumstance you lost a limb, but I have compassion for you as an amputee. I bet you have a big heart that makes up for it. God bless you!

Alexander

Posted by: alexander at January 30, 2008 1:16 PM

"If god existed, what good would closing my eyes to him do me? Doh." - Norman.

Isn't that exactly what you are doing? You cannot prove one way or the other his existance, so you are closing your eyes, and hoping you are right. You are free to make that call.

Speaking of proving, you cannot prove that dark matter, or tachyons exist either. What we have on that front is the implication that they exist, based on math, based on provable, and not so provable scientific principle, but they are ENTIRELY implicit. That means belief in the science. We may very well find out that dark matter is a crock someday, and something even STRANGER is going on. Will that make all the people who believe in it today, delusional?

People have various reasons to believe in God, just like they have various reasons to believe in superstring theory. There are very few people who can understand all the theory for Superstring. Everyone else, believes what they have been told by those theorists, who have provided math and science proofs, that again few understand.

And those people tell two people, and so on, and so on...

But when you get right down to it, if you don't understand what the big dogs are theorizing about, you are taking this on faith.

No different that if some old guy that looks like Charlton Heston brings down 2 stone tablets from a mountain.

You trust what he says is true based on reputation.

That doesn't MAKE any belief in God or gods true, or provable, it's just that I think your demand that things are the way you see them and no other way, is the same as if I demand that you believe in the flying speghetti monster.

YMMV

Posted by: SwissArmyD at January 30, 2008 1:34 PM

> YMMV

No. There's a God or there isn't. It's not a matter of choice.

Posted by: Crid at January 30, 2008 11:44 PM

@ SwissArmyD: You cannot prove one way or the other his existance Not so. I have said elsewhere that it is blazingly obvious that god does not exist, in the ordinary sense of the word "exist." The only way you can play with this is to invent special meanings for existence, so you can claim that God exists "outside space and time" or "in the spiritual dimension." But these claims are literally nonsense.

In any case, if you cannot prove to your own satisfaction one way or the other, and you think it is safer to believe than not, then how do you decide what to believe in? God? Which one - there are thousands to choose from. Oh, don't tell me - it's the one you learned about as a child. Am I right?

As for obscure theories of modern physics: no, actually, I don't believe them. I don't disbelieve them either. I don't understand them enough to have a sensible opinion. If I did, I might accept them - science is not about belief but about tentative acceptance. And so far I have not had pairs of well-dressed young physicists knocking on my door to ask if I believe in quantum mechanics, and telling me I will go to hell unless I start tithing 10% to their particular church. Nor have any of my friends been flown into tall buildings by Einstein-quoting crazies. So don't try to equate your ignorance of god with your ignorance of science. And don't try to disguise your total ignorance of god as anything other than what it is.

Posted by: Norman at January 31, 2008 12:41 AM

@Alexander: I apologise for my unpleasant comments about your writing. You were perfectly understandable and usually that's all I ask. Something must have set me off.

I don't know that I will read either of these biographies. I have read lots and plan to read lots more, but there isn't enough time for all I want to read and do.

I'm not an amputee myself, though my brother was. His leg did not grow properly when he was a baby and our parents made the decision to have it amputated. I say he "was" for one of two reasons: either his missing leg grew back, or he is now dead. Guess which. The point is well covered at this web site: http://www.whydoesgodhateamputees.com/ which is well worth a read. If you have the time. There are also religious sites that reply to it. They make interesting reading too.

Posted by: Norman at January 31, 2008 12:54 AM

Swiss Army D: "On the other claw, if you believe this life is all there is, and that turns out to be true? You still won't know, because you will be dead. You will be right, but it will make no difference. So, you win? If you turn out to be wrong? You'll be wrong, and you will know that. There may be a heavy penalty for being wrong, or not. You won't know till you get there, and then it will be too late to change." This is the same old tired Pascal's wager that's been tried for centuries. First off, better make damn sure you're kissing the right god's butt then and you can't get off the hook on that by worshipping them all because most care if you cheat on them with some other God. But let's say you do worship the "right" god and you turn out to be right and I wrong, don't bother laughing at me as I'm shipped off to hell because I'd rather go to hell than spend eternity continuing to kiss this god's ass. You can bet your bottom dollar that if it's too late to kiss his ass when you didn't while alive, you damn well better continue to kiss it in the afterlife. (I know this is sounding absurd; gee, I wonder why?) Besides, my mother and my ex-husband were both "saved" and would be in heaven; that makes it the last place in hell I would want to be. As for your golden rule, what an egotistical assinine thing. Guess I march too much to the beat of my own drum to think it's all it's hopped up to be. I wish to hell people would stop assuming that what they'd want is what I'd want. And, yes, I do tend to think the glass is half full. Guess that's why I don't need to comfort myself with fairy tales. Reality suits me.

Alexander: Um, yes, I have done that. Numerous times. I used to be quite an ardent little believer. In fact, I decided to add to my frequent prayer by reading the Bible to get to know God better and to get closer to him. This was an eye opener. I have known several atheists over the years who lost their faith the same way. The ding dong thing makes no sense, plain and simple. So, while you're throwing out challenges there, I've one for you. Read your Bible cover to cover, word for word, in order, start to finish, not under the guidance of your spiritual leader but in quiet repose and self-reflection five times in a row. (This is accomplishable, just devote an hour a day to it, an easy thing to do if you truly love God.) I've never known anyone who read the Bible in this manner that didn't lose their faith by the third reading but if communion with God will only reveal his love for you, you've nothing to fear from it. I don't even ask that you read it with an open mind (I didn't) -- just that you read it seriously and take in every word. Seems to me a devout thing to do. Interesting enough, I've never run into the Christian yet willing to take me up on this challenge.

el soladad: "On the subject of the existence of God, I don't consider it much of a stretch to imagine our world as the creation of intelligent force." The key word there being imagine. (I could also throw John Lennon's "Imagine" at you.) But that argument's one of the worse. If everything had to be designed by something more complex than itself, than the designer would have to be designed, silly.

Posted by: Donna at January 31, 2008 7:23 AM

"> YMMV

No. There's a God or there isn't. It's not a matter of choice." - Crid

I meant it is a matter of your choice of if you think he is there or he is not.

"I have said elsewhere that it is blazingly obvious that god does not exist, in the ordinary sense of the word "exist."" - Norman
yes, you have said this, but how is that 'proof'?

from webster's: "1 a: to have real being whether material or spiritual."

You mention obscure [to who?] physics and they also violate the ordinary sense of the word existance.

You say you accept them, but don't believe. Why is God or anything else different? The bottom line is that there is no requirement for me to prove the existance of God, just like I don't have to prove that based on the accepted theories, the universe is some 13.7 billion years old, just like I don't have to prove my own existance.

Seems like belief vs. acceptance is splitting semantic hairs, since they are both about seeing something as being true.

The important thing in all of this, is it's your call. Do the witnesses who show up at your door make you mad? Me too! They are not satisfied unless you bielieve in their exact way. But they are no different than anyone else trying to sell me something, or you. Why get wrapped around the axle about door to door salesman? Or anyone else. I am not asking you to do anything more or less than make up your own mind, which you have obviously done. Why are you so upset that I have also done that, and come to a different conclusion?

"Nor have any of my friends been flown into tall buildings by Einstein-quoting crazies." Interesetingly, a number of my ancestors lost their lives during Stalin's pogroms, especially when he was in his deepest atheistic fervor. Even the soviets own archives put the executions at 600,000, and 1.7million who died from being in the gulags. Most people figure that is a political lie, and that it was more, but it was a lot in any case. Humans can be exceedingly cruel, what difference does it make if they use the religion of the state, the religion of money, or some belief in some god to do it?

Posted by: SwissArmyD at January 31, 2008 10:23 AM

to Donna... the interesting thing about what God, god, or godlike alien to believe in... I take the same chance as anyone. Most people who believe in a Creator, believe in that. Pray to that, and so forth. I don't pray to a specific god, I pray to the one who created it all. There doesn't need to be a name for that, because it is what I have in mind. Sure, I could be totally wrong, and be reincarnated as plankton or something, but we all take that chance. Since I'm believing in The Creator, I figured that The Creator, has something figured out about the afterlife, and how all that works. My belief won't change that if I'm wrong, the same as your belief in whatever you believe in wont either, even if you believe in nothing.

As for the Golden rule, if you think that's too trite a way to think about, that's OK. You can call it "how would you like it if I did that to you?" It goes something like, I won't throw you in front of a bus, if you don't throw me. I don't have to know exactly what you want, just as you have no clue what I want. But to exist as a community, we can't go around depriving people of their lives, just because we feel like it. You don't spit in someones milk, without figuring they are going to do it right back, and so on. At their core, all law is based on this. It's not all dark or all light. I can wish you all puppies and butterflies, hoping that you'll wish the same to me. If you don't? eh? That's the way it is. If you turn around and punch me, you may get punched back. Seems simple to me.

You may not take it at face value, but I don't want you or anyone else to end up in hell, whatever it is [there are those that think it is this life]... Why would I? I have a belief in God and you don't seem to. That doesn't make me wish you ill.

Guess we have staked out our sides of the question...

Posted by: SwissArmyD at January 31, 2008 10:29 AM

At the risk of sounding trite to Donna, I've found that this statement can kind of sum things up for those whose religion "failed" them:

Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell; spirituality is for people who have already been there. YMMV

Posted by: Flynne at January 31, 2008 12:53 PM

@SwissArmyD: It's proof in the same way that it's proof there is no elephant in my room. You won't get a formal proof about anything in the physical world.

The bit about obscure physics was in response to your paragraphs around "And those people tell two people, and so on, and so on...". I really don't know what to make of that. It's so off the mark. People - real, flesh and blood people - work hard to study and learn about different parts of science. Many key facts can be demonstrated by very simple experiments, like the two-slit experiment. As a result we can do things and build things that depend on this knowledge. It's not easy, but it's not impossible either. The working things - the space shots, the computers, the medicine - show that we have got some reliable understanding of the world. You don't have to take it on faith (except when you're flying :-) because you can see the results.

It's not at all like Heston turning up with the tablets of stone. (1) these tablets tell us how we ought to behave; science does not. (2) the tablets don't offer any convincing demonstration of their validity; science does. (3) the tablets claim to come from privileged supernatural revelation; science does not. (4) The tablets are trumpeted as eternal truth; science offers tentative knowledge. (5) etc.

Religion has nothing to offer. It's a busted flush. Sure, you get people saying "Jesus turned my life around." But these claims are impossible to verify. They are always in fuzzy grey areas, because that's all that's left for religion to operate in. Anything else, like turning water to wine, or regrowing amputated limbs, or even showing that prayer works, and religion fails to deliver. If you want your amputated limb to regrow, don't waste your time and money on prayer. Instead, support bioengineering. I'd bet - if we don't get sidetracked by climate change or something - that we'll be able to regrow limbs sometime this century.

I don't object to you believing or praying or sacrificing chickens (humanely) to your god. You don't have to accept my opinion that it's wishful thinking and mumbo jumbo. It's your right, and it's an important one. Such rights must be protected if we are all to get along. I hope you are not offended by my materialism, but if you are, so what?

Posted by: Norman at February 1, 2008 1:03 AM

Flynne, with all due respect, "spiritually" ain't nothing but religion all wrapped up with a pretty bow tie. Just for beginners, it assumes a "spirit" then to add insult to injury, it tends to call what it wants spiritually correct. And for the record, I ain't irreligious because I've had a hard life. I'm irreligious because I thought about my faith instead of just blindly following it. There's a reason they call it blind faith; because you have to be blind to the illogic of it to have any. To quote Mark Twain, "Faith is believing what you know ain't so."

SwissArmyD, if you read your Buybull, that ain't good enough. See you in hell! (Or never.) As for the Golden Rule, it's more than such common sense things as that or at least in our modern society it is. It's the fucking ass aggrevating reason, people don't seem fit to leaving me go my own way while I let them go theirs. See, I'd rather we just leave each other alone (what's wrong with that) but am always irritated by people who, like those cops that Amy wrote about stopping people for driving correctly, don't see fit to live and let live. If our society actually did interpret the Golden Rule as you do, I'd shrug, say, well, that's just common sense (btw, I disagree, it's common sense, not the Golden rule at the bottom of most laws, well, sometimes the common "sense" doesn't make much sense but some governing body, rightly or wrongly, thought the damned law made sense and enacted it into law) and it wouldn't piss me off. But if you take the damned thing literally and always apply it to every situation, big or small, as most people do, then it's the damned irritating egotistical assumption that everyone wants what you want.

Posted by: Donna at February 1, 2008 5:51 AM

Thanks for your response Norman. Apology accepted. By the way, I commend you on your courtesy. Most people who blog dont bother to be courteous, and you were very courteous to offer me your response. I hope as I blog, that I can follow your example. Anyway, I would like to share a story with you and another blogger on this topic by the name of Donna. I will try to keep it short. I am a great sinner, but one who has been working for over 20 years to change my life so that I can be of better service to people rather than myself. In business, I look out for the small guy, in life for the defenseless, etc. I feel a tug at my heart when someone experiences a tradegy, and I attribute all of this to my search for God. Before my search, I could care less, but now, I try to care more, and love more. I dont know what others call it, but for those who knew me, that is a miracle. It was the proof for those around me that if I, Alexander could change, it was because something greater than me filled me with the energy and will to be a better person. I call that something God. I have been a witness to miracles, such as a young girl dying of Cancer on thurday night, and after a night of intense prayer, she not only survives the night, but the doctors are astounded to find that she is completely in remission the next day. This in my limited knowledge of medicine is medically impossible. On another occasion, a dear friend who I knew since childhood, was addicted to heavy drugs, cocaine etc. At 40 years of age he comes into my office, and tells me he is tired of drugs, but he knows he will never be able to quit. I offered him a very simple prayer, and told him I would pray for him. I hugged him, and he left with a spark. He came to my office 3 months later and was no longer using drugs. 2 years since he is not only drug free, but he even quit smoking, and he volunteers at the cancer center. That is the God I believe in. That is why I am so passionate about intruducing him to others. I guess my blog did not turn out to be short. Thanks for your attention, and do search for God. Be persistent, and I pray you will find him.

Your blog friend,

Alexander

Posted by: alexander at February 1, 2008 8:39 AM

Alexander - your stories are touching. But what it comes down to is this: some things happened which you (and some others) judge to be "good" and you can't explain them ("my limited knowledge of medicine") so you conclude that god exists. By calling whatever caused these events "god" you are buying in to a whole bundle of other stuff.

Let's take the cancer case as an example. Look up "spontaneous remission of cancer" on Google. I don't know what you mean by "medically impossible" but spontaneous remission happens all the time, to all forms of cancer. We call it "spontaneous" because we don't know what causes it. For all I know it could be caused by a cosmic ray particle hitting an atom in a cancer cell's DNA just right to trigger some change. We just don't know. To jump to the conclusion that it is caused by the intervention of a loving and omnipotent creator of the universe is jumping rather further than the data warrants, and it raises all sorts of other questions. For example, why doesn't this loving and omnipotent creator cure all cancer? Or better still prevent it in the first place? Why select people like this girl, apparently at random, but not the girl in the bed next to her? But worst of all, adopting the god hypothesis tells us that medical science and research is a waste of time, because we'd be better off just hoping that god will fix everything. Funnily enough, we are also told that "god helps those that help themselves." In other words, don't count on god to help you out. This really is having your cake and eating it!

This argument is called "argument from personal ignorance." Because you can't explain something, it must have been god. But tomorrow we may discover how to trigger spontaneous remission ourselves. What will happen to your faith then? And what about all the bad things that you can't explain?

Posted by: Norman at February 3, 2008 4:01 AM

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 3, 2008 5:16 AM

"Also, If you believe in God, you reason that you have to change your lifestyle, and stop messing, around, getting drunk, using foul language etc, etc..."

What if you believe in God, and that he loves us and wants us to be better people, but that God's idea of how we should live involves sharing lots of happiness and love, living productive lives, and doesn't waste time harping on petty, irrelevant personal habits like drinking or using foul language. Just a hypothetical.

My actual beliefs are very much like Norman's, just to let y'all know. Norman, have you read 'The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins?

Posted by: Pirate Jo at February 3, 2008 12:02 PM

Pirate Jo- Yup. I've read several of his books; they touched slightly on my research topic (genetic programming). He writes well and helps to make science understandable by the general public.

"What if you believe in God ... Just a hypothetical." Everything that is claimed about god is hypothetical. No-one knows a damn thing. And given the metaphysical background, your hypotheses are just as good as anyone else's - which is not something you can say about scientific hypotheses.

Posted by: Norman at February 3, 2008 1:45 PM

Norman, I'm with you. Dawkins refers to "the god of the gaps" as the tendency of people (like in the spontaneous cancer remission story) to assign the God explanation to things they don't understand. Which is, as you point out, just about the last thing you should do if you want to really find out what caused it and use the knowledge to help other cancer patients.

Everyone's "knowledge" of God is different. Some people believe God rewards people for living the right way, and they define that right way as, for example, not listening to certain types of music. That the creator of the universe would engage in such petty, trivial nit-picking in determining who inherits the earth is downright laughable, and certainly doesn't make for the kind of earth I would want to inherit. Yeah, it's all about whether you listen to Eminem or not! God's going to bring down Armageddon, and the only people who survive are going to be the ones who listen to gospel! (Or bluegrass, or reggae, or whatever music YOU happen to prefer.)

I have to give Alexander some credit - he at least admits that his experiences and reasons for belief are his own, and he's not here blathering about fire and brimstone for anyone else.

I don't believe God or the Devil exist, but if they did, I'm pretty sure religion would be what the Devil invented to separate people from God. You can make a pretty good argument that all religion is idolatry, because people stop looking and thinking for themselves and buy into someone else's pre-packaged dogma. The religion itself is what people start to worship, no matter how silly and inane the tenets of their religion are, and no matter how these beliefs contradict what common sense reveal about living a full and productive life.

Alexander isn't here telling anyone they have to convert to any specific religion, and although I don't share his beliefs, I have no problem sharing the planet with people like him.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at February 4, 2008 10:59 AM

"I don't believe God or the Devil exist, but if they did, I'm pretty sure religion would be what the Devil invented to separate people from God." -- nice.

Posted by: Norman at February 4, 2008 2:32 PM

Hi Norman,

Hope all is well with you. If you can appreciate the good works that people do under the inspiration of faith, such as Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, that is probably more persuasive than any miracles that I might refer to. When people like Mother Theresa do what they do, they are in imitation of God, who is love. In summary of our blog, when a person has something of great value, they want to share it. I have been very happy to share my feeling and experiences about God on this Blog. Furthermore, I benefited greatly from your vantage point, and I appreciate your willingness to share your perspective on God with such courtesy and candor. I sincerely, and humbly bestow a blessing upon you with the following words...May the peace of Jesus Christ be with you, and may almighty God bless you in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen*

Posted by: Alexander at February 4, 2008 4:10 PM

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