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Is There an Artificial God? (1998) (biota.org)
54 points by bigblind on May 8, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 90 comments



This was an excellent speech that was perfect reading for a Sunday afternoon. Thanks for posting!

Put simply, the argument is that religion may be a kind of emergent evolutionary phenomena that has a collective value that we may not yet completely understand, but that nevertheless fills some vital role in a way superior to any of our conscious attempts. Basically, despite the universe emerging from bottom-up processes rather than top-down, there may still be a legitimate coordinating role at the top that we subconsciously fill with our artificial gods.

It's a longish piece of writing, but I highly recommend reading the full text.


Reposting a comment from a similar discussion here...

Religion might just be the precursor to Science; a sapient species trying to make sense of their world and consciousness, plugging the holes in their understanding with whatever means currently at their disposal.

Unless they're born with complete and accurate knowledge about everything in the universe, I think all intelligent life out there is going to have a religion or some form of superstition at some point in their civilization.

Hive-mind intelligences or strictly hierarchical biologies (e.g. queens/workers/drones) may not need concepts like morals or Law or guidance for social conduct, but they may still invent stopgap explanations on their way to understanding mortality and the weather and stars and such.

EDIT: "Religion" in this sense need not necessarily involve the concept of deities either. There are major religions in our own world that do not place a focus on higher beings.


This is my personal belief as well. The evolution of monotheism appears to be a boon for scientific thought: it sets up the idea that the rules are the same everywhere.


The problem with Science is it has nothing to offer you when you're fucked.

When you're fucked, science will just tell you you're fucked.

Religion, on the other hand, will tell you that God is right there with you, and you can just keep going and you'll find a Way.

This is also the reason why I think white atheism is sometimes racist. If you are a white person who has generally had it easier than people of color, then it's really convenient to say "I don't need faith, I am pretty good just letting reality be all there is". If your reality is that your children keep getting shot by police, or if your reality is that your husband was hung for demanding some white customers pay for the goods they bought, then Science is actually not good. Science will tell you it's bad and it's not getting better. But religion will offer you peace.

And then there's the fact that science has historically been conducted by white people for white ends. Which isn't to say black science isn't an (awesome) thing with a (long) history and a promising future. But to say "just throw out your ancient cultural knowledge about how to survive in a hostile world, science has got your back"... coming from a white person to a black person? Easy to say when science has largely been about improving white lives.

The same thing applies to class: atheists with steady employment sometimes think poor people who believe in God are stupid. But unless you grew up poor I don't think that's fair to say. Someone who never thought they had any choice other than crime, someone who ends up hurting people, killing people, driving into situations where their friends get killed..... When you go through that kind of stuff, and you're sitting in prison and you have nothing to do but think back over your life... You see how evil you've been. You see the harm you've caused, over and over. Science will tell you that when you get out you're probably going to end up in the same environment. Science will say you're probably going back to prison. You'll probably hurt more people. That's a dark place to be.

But religion won't say those things. Religion will tell you to forget about what's probably going to happen and instead to look for your path. And religion will tell you that there are forces in the world which are good and which will always be there with you no matter how bad it gets.

Those situations are where religion really shines. And populations who end up in those situations over and over again need something like that. If you came from that background, or any background of tribulation, and you are an atheist, I have total respect for that. I would love to buy you a beer and listen to your thoughts if you're into that kind of thing.

But if you came from a white family, are relatively employable, and generally treated as a citizen in good standing in your country, then I think Atheism for you is a racist, classist, and cruel worldview. I think you should switch to atheism-leaning agnosticism with a willingness to learn about religion with fresh ears.


While sitting on the fence of this whole question, it simply astounds me that most religious people don't have an answer to this (IMHO) very obvious question/problem with the popular God conception:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_of_evil

Again, not making a criticism, just an observation that I find oft unanswered


The problem of evil is difficult to answer in an emotionally satisfying way to someone who is hurting. Why did God let this evil happen?

Dispassionately, though, the broader problem begs the question. If humanity is jut a product of time and chance, then evil is as much an illusion as any gods are.

But, that being said, some theists see evil as the absence of good. Murder, natural disasters, etc. all result when God leaves the world to its own devices.

To some degree a "good" answer to this question is very reliant on emotional and aesthetic components, so it's extremely fair to call it a hard question to answer.


I wouldn't say it's begging the question. Of course evil is an illusion in an atheistic viewpoint. The "problem of evil" is strictly an attempt to show a contradiction in the theist position.

As a Christian, my own answer (in short) is that true "good" requires that people can choose to either do good or evil. The only alternative is a pretty clockwork. This requires accepting a broader definition of "good" for you to accept that God is both good and accepts this tradeoff, but it's not a contradiction. It's just an emotionally significant consequence of believing God exists.


> As a Christian, my own answer (in short) is that true "good" requires that people can choose to either do good or evil. The only alternative is a pretty clockwork.

This doesn't really address the problem. If god is omnipotent and created the universe, he could have made things so that evil is simply physically impossible, with no contradiction of free will, in the same way that I am physically unable to flap my arms and fly to the moon, and yet I still have free will. The fact that he didn't means he's either not omnipotent or not omnibenevolent (a contradiction for those who ascribe both properties to god). The onus would have to be on the theist to show how "no-evil" somehow logically contradicts free will; and it must be a truly logical contradiction if it is to be any constraint on omnipotence.


I don't think you get to say "just design a universe such that X" without actually producing one. In this context, that's a circular argument, since the possibility of such a universe is precisely what we're debating. And lots of things that look reasonable turn out to have inconsistencies buried deep inside. If you're not familiar with computability, "write a program that figures out if another program will run forever" sounds possible at first. You can make specific counterexamples to my argument, but just saying "it must be possible" illuminates nothing.

Anyway, I'll try to do better. Basically, in a universe in which "evil" is physically impossible, you may have "free will" in some sense to choose which good, but you cannot choose whether to do good, because all possible choices are "good". It's specifically freedom to choose good or evil that's the key ingredient in "good" being a meaningful concept, or at least it's consistent to so assume. You're back to the pretty clockwork.

I don't know if it's possible to construct a bulletproof argument here. Shaky foundations are an occupational hazard of metaphysics, for both sides. Saying "well, he's God so he should be able to figure it out" works just as well as "he's God and couldn't do it, ergo it's inconsistent". The best we can do is show our positions are consistent under some set of assumptions.


The halting problem! Great point. I'll have to remember to bring that up next time theology comes up in a geeky context.


> The fact that he didn't means he's either not omnipotent or not omnibenevolent (a contradiction for those who ascribe both properties to god).

This doesn't really follow. We are creative so we could come up with infinite amounts of nonsense questions that are really logical paradoxes and not real objections. Why can't God create something so heavy that he can't move it? The question of why a loving God allows evil is in that same category if you believe: - love requires free will - free will requires choices - meaningful choices require evil to be an available choice

There are probably other formulations of how love requires the option of rejection and how evil follows from there. But the point is that they turn the contradiction between omnipotence and omnibenevolence into a paradox in the same category as "could God grow a mustache so great that he himself could not shave it?"

It stands to reason, then that the job of the objectors is to show that it's possible to love meaningfully without free will, really. And if you don't believe in objective morality, it's hard to argue what love is and isn't.

Or do I misunderstand and you care to elaborate?


Or one could answer the problem of evil as saying that much like a dog can't understand physics, we can't understand the complexities of God. In this we could still choose to believe, God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent. If God created the universe surly he/she/it is beyond western logic.


"I don't know," in other words.

I mean, you must be able to imagine how your reasoning sounds to people who don't already believe in god, right?


"To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible." - St. Tomas Aquinas

I completely understand that my reasoning sounds rediculous from a scientific point of view. However, God is not finite, therefore you will never find or prove God using the scientific method, a method for gaining meaning from finite things.

As the Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard expressed, it comes down to a leap of faith. Are you willing to believe something that you yet cannot see?


> "To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible." - St. Tomas Aquinas

And yet, when a new explanation is available that conflicts with faith, faith does not give way to it. That's simply wrong.


Why would I do that?


Could be different for many people. For me, it allows me to live in a universe that is a beautiful creation and to feel a great deal of gratitude towards God for creating it. It fills my heart with peace and love that I can spread to others.

Tdlr it makes me happy


I meant in the sense of, why would I believe something for no reason at all? I'm not terribly interested in the advantages and rewards I gain by thinking a thing, other than the basic stuff that naturally comes with seeking and discovering truth.

But, since you bring it up, I'm pretty sure I'm getting basically most of what you mention already, in one form or another, and probably some other stuff that believing in God would diminish. No thanks.


No, it's "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence". An open question doesn't mean there isn't an answer.


Absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

If you have a belief about how reality works, normally you would expect that belief to pay some dividend in terms of what you can expect to happen in this situation, or that. Otherwise you're just believing a thing for no reason at all. So you can call this anticipation of a certain result "evidence", and to have it not materialize is, in fact, a solid reason to suspect the truth of what you believe.


It is a greater good to have the freedom to do evil than to be constrained to where it is impossible. Would you prefer an all-powerful, super-totalitarian government that made it impossible for anyone to commit a crime, or would you prefer the freedom that also allows the possibility of crime?


> I wouldn't say it's begging the question. Of course evil is an illusion in an atheistic viewpoint.

Well, fair enough. If someone who doesn't believe in evils asks and a theist provides the Augustinian answer (evil is the absence of good), then we should all be enlightened, appreciate each other, and move on. But much more often, the people asking do believe in some sort of evil (rape warfare, slavery, child abuse, genocide, etc.) and don't realize the premise of the question is flawed. Again, it may be for reasons of aesthetics and emotion, but it's hard to make the case that there is nothing objectively evil. It's at least as dissatisfying as claiming that God exists and allows the same evils to happen.

The thought processes around this question typically boil down to what matters more: morality or observation. There are some who assume objective good and evil are irrefutable and can fairly cleanly proceed to thinking that something is behind all that. And there are people who assume that physical matter is the only way to prove the existence of things, and so all immaterial things (good, evil, God) are illusions unless we can use matter to somehow measure them.


I guess I'm looking at the pristine, logical atheistic position, whereas you're looking at what most people actually believe. I try to ignore emotional satisfaction in these debates, but I have noticed that most people do believe in evil, regardless of their views on the existence of God. :)


I disagree with your second paragraph. I don't see how humanity being a product of time and chance implies that evil is an illusion. For instance, I think the claim "suffering is bad" is true regardless of whether a God or chance created humans.

This is a frequent misconception though. See the Euthyphro dilemma for a rebuttal. TLDR: are things right/wrong because god says so, or does God say so because they are right/wrong. The former implies a completely arbitrary morality. The later implies that morality is independent from God.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaethics/#EutPro


And, other religions might insist that the problem of evil has nothing to do with "God" and everything to do with humanity, and that "God" is beyond good and evil.

Or, in the case of some older religions, they just accept that the gods are spiteful and cruel.


Who decides what is ultimately evil, spiteful, or cruel? The most powerful God? Isn't that just supernatural might-makes-right?

For God to be beyond good and evil, someone (probably God) has to have the authority to decide that. This is analogous to the concept of standing in the legal code. So even to say that God is beyond evil, you'd have to admit that there's some ultimate judge out there somewhere. And therefore something that defines what doesn't count as evil.


>Who decides what is ultimately evil, spiteful, or cruel? The most powerful God? Isn't that just supernatural might-makes-right?

Basically, yes. In the Book of Job, God's justification for visiting such cruelty onto an admittedly righteous man who didn't deserve it (to win a bet with Satan, no less) was, in essence, "Because I'm God, and you're not." God doesn't have to play by human rules, humans have to play by God's rules.

In many old religions, divine beings had no problem killing any mortal they pleased - and the strongest gods tended to be the most petty and violent of the lot. They were manifestations of the wanton and arbitrary power of the natural world. The Old Testament God seems to be cast from the same mold - murder is a sin, but if He commands you to kill your firstborn, you'd better not hesitate.

It's not a satisfactory philosophical answer for modern times but it is an answer. The modern version of this seems to be "God works in mysterious ways," but it's a reformulation of the same argument - God is essentially alien, and not a moral being as humans understand morality.


It's different in monotheistic theology. In pantheism, not all gods create everything equally. And the gods don't (typically) agree on what is fair and unfair. So the conundrum there is that the most powerful gods ends up winning 'moral' arguments, at least while they can.

As for the God of the Bible, I don't understand your point. It seems fair to say that people might not understand the whole picture and that it's not fair to judge God with limited wisdom and perspective. This attitude was Job's sin, not merely being weaker than God.

Are you claiming specific charges against the God of the Bible? Based on whose measure of morality?


I'm not making any claims, just presenting alternative approaches to the problem. The apparent paradox of the "problem of evil" in Christianity depends upon a specific interpretation of the nature of God which the Bible itself doesn't always support. A being that is beyond understanding cannot be merely good or evil, because those are human concepts, which humans understand.


It is perhaps that hardest objection to overcome. St. Thomas Aquinas gave a good crack at it IMO ( http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1049.htm )

Something I find insightful is he argues that, like cold is an absence of heat, evil is simply an absence of good (God, grace, ect.)


That doesn't solve the problem since heat and cold don't choose to be present or absent while God does.


The analogy is that good is like enthalpy, so evil would be vacuum or even particles at absolute zero. If God created moved all of the particles in a space elsewhere, did he just create a vacuum? Or did He just move some particles?

If God decides to let individuals or populations live with the consequences of their choices, is He creating evil? Or is He letting things run their course? Giving unbelieving people a taste of the godless universe they prefer?

Anyway, at some point we're having a semantic argument about what definitions of words mean. And the objection about God and evil becomes more banal than controversial.


There is a lot of suffering that does not come from people's own choices, such as natural disasters. Even for the evil that does come from people's choices that position is rather questionable. If a person saw somebody about to kill a baby and that person didn't try to stop it then we would criticise the morality of that person. Apparently we hold God to a lower standard than an ordinary person.


If some citizens renounces their citizenship and move to an island, is it a moral obligation of the home country to save the emigrants from an approaching hurricane? What if the emigrants never asked for help?


That comparison is not valid. God is supposedly omnipresent, so when a baby is being killed somewhere he sees it and is able to stop it with no effort yet he lets it happen. Just imagine being in a situation where you see a baby being killed and you could save it at less effort than snapping your fingers. The mother is begging you (i.e. praying) that you save the baby. When a person doesn't save the baby in that situation we call them evil. You haven't said anything about natural disasters either. Most of the time this "benevolent" Lord also threatens you with eternal torture if you don't worship the Great Leader. It's a Soviet style dictatorship with a 24/7 spy line directly into your thoughts.

Religions are ancient cults that were successful in capturing a significant portion of the world's population in a time of scientific ignorance. It's as silly as believing in Zeus. Actually the Greeks knew that Zeus isn't benevolent, so that's less silly.


I am not saying it "solves" it. I don't believe it can be "solved". We can only postulate ideas, choose what pleases you.


More accurate to say that the hot & cold analogy does not fit. St. Thomas Aquina efforts were sabotaged by the lack of scientific understanding of his time.


What have scientists (I'm not a fan of personifying science itself) discovered about the nature of good and evil?


I find that the Problem of Evil is troubling in an atheistic worldview as well, as it's hard to avoid ending up in nihilistic absurdism.

To be honest, I don't feel like either side answers the question very well


> as it's hard to avoid ending up in nihilistic absurdism

A conclusion I consider "false", which is my usual argument against atheism ("if the conclusion is ridiculous, then the premise is false" aka modus tollens)


I think "the popular God conception" isn't quite internally consistent, at least not the Christian view. We throw around words like omnipotent, yet clearly worship a God bound by certain laws. If not, why would He have to sacrifice His son to redeem us, if He had all power?

I do not believe in a omnipotent God, who lives without restriction and can act arbitrarily. I do believe in one that does His best to help His children become like Him.

I think that principle is necessary to believe in order to arrive at a palatable solution to that question/problem. Any more than that and I'd probably qualify as "preaching".

I do think it's a possibility that people never consider though.


There's also the problem of whether Hell is a hot, fiery inferno or a cold insufferable place (Dante v. Milton's Paradise Lost) which is equally confusing/fascinating.


Even as a Christian, I am still open to the possibility that religion may be an artificial construct. One important purpose it may serve is to motivate individuals to advance social welfare (and be happy while doing so) when we would otherwise only have reason to be selfish. (Never mind for now that this presupposes that there is an objective "social good" that exists in the first place).

However, for religion to work, we can't be aware that it is artificial -- otherwise we'd stop following it. So we do have to believe wholeheartedly, aside from occasional philosophizing of existential questions.

Yet, the existence of an unmoved mover is still an alternative explanation. At this point, the line between artificial and supernatural is indeed blurred.


How can you believe the story and the purpose of something wholeheartedly when its premise is scientifically untrue?

Religion is an artifact of one of the most ancient forms of control. Today, it is an institution used to espouse the morals of the elite.

There is no evidence that bad people will be punished when they die. There is no evidence that the good will be rewarded. The universe is ambivalent to the karmic relations we see from our perspective. Karma can be common sense (you do good, good will follow), but in speaking to the spirit, karma has placated humanity into believing that mother nature or god is at the controls.

It is time to abandon the belief in the soul, the spirit, and eternity, and unless evidence presents itself otherwise, embrace the temporal reality before us.


I'm a scientist (coincidentally, an empirical one) but I still don't believe that all truth can be discovered scientifically -- that is, through repeatable data collection and experimentation. You can't prove or disprove the existence of God by doing experiments.

Your worldview seems to be pretty close to Scientism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientism), which I think some would consider a religion in itself.

Sure, the problem of evil is an objection to religion, but follow your premise to its logical conclusion and good/evil doesn't exist at all. There is really no reason to want the world to be a better place, preserve the planet, and so on. Is that really a world you want to live in?

> Religion is an artifact of one of the most ancient forms of control. Today, it is an institution used to espouse the morals of the elite.

Do you think so? At least in the United States, religion is generally seen as the domain of the less educated and impoverished, not the elite. Today, you and I are free to determine our own definitions of morality.

> There is no evidence that bad people will be punished when they die. There is no evidence that the good will be rewarded.

Sure there is evidence. It's just historical and relational. It's not something that can be tested through the scientific method.


> I still don't believe that all truth can be discovered scientifically -- that is, through repeatable data collection and experimentation. You can't prove or disprove the existence of God by doing experiments.

You can't disprove or prove god because it is a non-falsifiable concept. There are an infinite number of things that will never be able to be proven by Science because by nature of concept, they are immune to experiment.

What are we to believe of something that cannot be disproved? I think groups of people have leveraged this inability to know the truth as a cure for the universal anxiety of permanent death, and as a vector of population-scale control. When you take into account the bias humanity has over its own death, you have to scrutinize worldviews that aggrandize consciousness as a permanent, if not ethereal entity. The evidence before us shows consciousness being entirely contained in the life and death of the body. When evidence presents itself otherwise... then can we start to muse about an afterlife.


He mentions "The fabric of reality" by David Deutsch. It's a very good book (IMO) and not primarily about multiple universes so don't let that put you off if you think it's rubbish. He does a really good job outlining Popper's theory of science as explanation. Also one thing he notes is that it is really extraordinary that the universe gave rise to something that can understand it. We are the universe looking at itself and understanding it at a more and more fundamental level as time goes on.


When an entity's power level gets cranked up to god-level, is there a meaningful distinction between "supernatural" and "artificial" in this case?


That's essentially the old "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" saying that was coined by Clarke back in the day.

The interesting part of this comes into play when we're talking about a hypothetical super-advanced life form essentially posing as a supernatural being for the purpose of deceiving creatures of lesser means. It's not actually supernatural activity though, because there are still natural laws governing the advanced being's existence.

I would imagine, out there in the vast universe this kind of scam is probably taking place somewhere as we speak, and to those most likely unlucky subjects this distinction between "actually supernatural" and "magic trick" is probably entirely irrelevant.

It seems to me that over the course of known human culture, there have actually been several pantheons whose members could be considered non-supernatural in this sense. Essentially this is true whenever we're talking about hero-type deities as opposed to creator-type deities. In principle creator-type deities are still compatible with a hypothetical simulation scenario in which they also choose to take part personally.

Needless to say though, we don't appear to be living in such a universe. As far as we can tell, there is no global artificial god, and no artificial god who is local to us. But there might be many local ones elsewhere.


> It's not actually supernatural activity though, because there are still natural laws governing the advanced being's existence.

I would say that "supernatural" doesn't necessarily mean unbound by laws. It just means that the laws in question are not yet well-understood.


That's a fuzzy concept though. By that definition, you could easily make an argument that everything we see is supernatural because aspects of natural laws that are not well-understood can be conjured up in any number of ways, especially if it's up to an individual to define what it means for something to be well understood.

And as understanding progresses, it would replace magic piece by piece. You could argue that's what happens with scientific progress anyway, but that's just a psychological description. Very few people are arguing that understanding replaces actual magic.


Interesting. Instead of looking for God in the gaps of our knowledge, you are defining God to be the gaps in our knowledge. I haven't heard that one before.


Hmm, not exactly, I think. If, I dunno, Merlin showed up in Times Square tomorrow and started summoning angels, that wouldn't mean that our world is a Lovecraftian place filled with unnatural phenomena forever beyond mortal comprehension; it would just mean that our models of reality didn't go far enough, and we need to do some research and start updating them.

I guess I'm saying that actual magic wouldn't be merely indistinguishable from sufficiently advanced science, it would be sufficiently advanced science. Magic is just the flashier, stagier term for the same thing.


I don't disagree with you, but that's not what people usually mean when they say "supernatural" and this is what I was pointing out. Usually, it's taken to mean a bit of literally impossible nonsense that happens anyway.

You're right - once something actually happens it falls under the domain of science. Most people don't realize that, or they don't accept it.


"The Tao that can be spoken of isn't the true Tao."


I'm going to choose to be literal. Artificial is defined as "being made by humans". God is defined as "the one supreme being, the maker and creator of the universe".

The only way you could have an artificial deity is if human-kind were gods themselves.

P.S. thinking of these things in terms of video game powerups is something I find sort of amusing. I can only imagine what Chun-Li vs Jesus would look like.



I constantly read this piece and talk to people about it. It is quite the experience to see their eyes open up when they realize that there might be a hint of a possibility of such scenario being real. Us being the result of some other intelligent specie flipping the switch ON. Thanks for posting it.


[deleted]


Well, philosophically you have to go back at some point to something which cannot fail to exist. So while in human terms it might there might be differences of power, it's not really the same.


A supernatural God is inherently morally good if you subscribe to a monotheistic religion. A sufficiently advanced "mechanical God" may or may not be moral at all.

In practice it might be impossible to tell the difference.


> In practice it might be impossible to tell the difference.

I agree there is no perceivable difference. As far as I'm aware, the "goodness" of those deities is imbued to them by definition, not because their actions are objectively ethical or even moral by today's standards.

If an artificial (whatever that may mean) being someday chooses to present themselves as that sort of deity, it could exploit this exact same mental vulnerability in humans. It's the ultimate might-makes-right assertion. The only difference would be this being actually exists outside of people's imagination.


Cargo cults might be an analog.

> Cult members worship certain "Americans" (such as John Frum and Tom Navy), who they claimed had brought cargo to their island during World War II, as the spiritual entity who would provide the cargo to them in the future. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult#Causes.2C_beliefs.2...

And my personal favorite:

> The people of the Yaohnanen area believe that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the consort to Queen Elizabeth II, is a divine being. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Philip_Movement


What does God need with a starship?


..What does a god need with people?


God likes porn, but for some fetishistic reason, likes it better when naturally evolved sentients are making it.


A supernatural God is inherently morally good if you subscribe to a monotheistic religion.

Somewhere on the internet, is a religion that asserts the only true god is in it for the lulz.


This has nothing to do with the posted article. Did you read it?


Why not discuss something tangentially related if people feel like it? Is it necessary to play did-you-even-read-the-article gotcha?


If God created us, then who created God?


In at least some religions, [part of] the definition of God is that he is the uncaused cause. Thomas Aquinas spends a lot of ink talking about this (there's a more accessible explanation at http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/first-cause.htm, but I'm pretty sure you can find the originals on the Internet).


Just because God can't imagine an existence outside herself doesn't mean it doesn't exist. She assumes she is the original cause but is unable to test the hypothesis.


In other words, what if an all-knowing being doesn't really know everything?

Or are you inventing a new Creator who is merely almost omniscient for rhetorical purposes? To what end?


That argument only works in a constant-vector-forward time-dimensional context. ;)


Can you elaborate on that? Seems to me there must me a creationary force that is uncreated.


Maybe not (or may be, I suppose) what parent was referring to, but consider the following possibility:

"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a nonlinear, nonsubjective viewpoint it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey... stuff." -- The Doctor [1]

To be a bit more serious, causality in general is (by some accounts) an open philosophical problem. That is, there's no generally accepted proof (and not even really a concept of what would prove or disprove) that causality actually exists as an independent rule/law/standard/phenomenon, as opposed to being an abstraction of correlation that we made up to reason about our decisions [2]. For all we know it may be that an effect without a cause violates merely our intuitions, not the laws of nature.

[1] Doctor Who S03E10 - Blink

[2] http://www.iep.utm.edu/hume-cau/


Thanks. A world without causality surly seems absurd. However, i'm sure dogs feel the same way about physics.

On many things it just comes down to a choice of the world you want to live in.


Isn't science all about understanding causes? It seems funny that scientifically minded people turn to Hume only when we're talking about God.


> Can you elaborate on that?

By "constant-vector-forward time-dimensional context" he essentially means causality.

> Seems to me there must me a creationary force that is uncreated.

That is not strictly true in the larger context of physics. Emergent phenomena do not need to be explicitly created, they can arise spontaneously based on simpler parameters.

The (religious) idea that higher-order concepts beget lower-order concepts is true almost nowhere in nature. It's just "a thing" for humans, since we are tool creators and our tools are generally less sophisticated than ourselves. In nature, higher-order things grow out of lower-order things by mere virtue of their properties without any creative act being involved.

For example, a collection of atoms will form molecules, not because someone has intentionally designed those molecules, but because the atoms' properties allow for the formation and interaction of molecules.


What is the cause of the existence of a universe in which emergent phenomena can arise spontaneously?


We don't know yet. Which is not the same as "my deity did it".

And by the way, postulating a creator god should be unsatisfying to you as a believer, too. Because even in your own framework, this raises only more questions like "who or what created my god"?


God doesn't require a creator because existence is intrinsic to him. At the burning bush, when Moses asked for God's name, he replied "I am that I am."

Also, I am not postulating a creator god; I am reporting on the God who has revealed himself. I didn't used to believe in God until I encountered him through various means. You could also encounter God if you seek him. "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." (Mt. 7:7-8) Now this is not an instant or casual thing. Seeking is a life-long and life-consuming thing. I've been at it (with an openness towards religious truth) for 37 years and I'm still discovering new stuff. Science is cool because it tells us about the universe that God created, but faith is better because by faith we come into contact with the author of the universe.


What do you think about the intelligibility of the world? If the universe was not created, why can we predict it with such accuracy? Wouldn't it just be random? To me, the fact that science even works is evidence for creation.


> If the universe was not created, why can we predict it with such accuracy?

Scientifically, there is nothing to suggest these two are related in any way.

I could ask "if cows weren't orange then why do Oreos have white filling?" it would have the same amount of meaning. To stay with my example, I posit the only reason you think cows are orange and therefore Oreos have a white filling is because someone told you so. To an unbriefed outsider, these statements are wrong and factually disconnected.

> Wouldn't it just be random?

There are lots of places where randomness exists in the universe, but more importantly what we're talking about in regard to emergent phenomena is chaos, not randomness. It's the interaction of many unpredictable little factors, and that does not necessarily lead to meaningless entropy.

> To me, the fact that science even works is evidence for creation.

Again, this makes sense because you have been taught that. For someone who is not familiar with these teachings this sentence may not be parseable. By the way, I apologise if this sounds insensitive, I don't mean to be disparaging here. I merely want to invite you to see this from the perspective of someone with a different cultural background where the symbols that are essential to your everyday life may not exist or even be understood.


Same could be said about science. Correct? We are making stories out of randomness? And it's laws only have meaning in a learned context? Are you arguing semantics?

No apology needed. You are not being insensitive, only expressing you point of view, which I appreciate greatly.


Yes, you are correct. Science has only now come to the point of being a somewhat unified field because of the communications network of the scientific community and the relatively simple task of describing the physical universe.

Religions are much more varied than modern science because the subject matter, God, is much more difficult to access or understand than is the physical universe. Religion is a universal phenomenon because humans throughout the world have experiences of God. They then struggle to communicate this encounter with an infinitely higher reality in terms that others can understand.

Christianity teaches that God chose Abraham to begin a people with whom he could have a special relationship through which he could impart a better knowledge of himself than what humans could come up with on their own. After many generations, that culture was at the point in which God could enter it as one of us, and at least some of them could begin to grasp what was going on, and thus the Christian Church began.


> Same could be said about science. Correct? We are making stories out of randomness? And it's laws only have meaning in a learned context? Are you arguing semantics?

No, that's not it.

If you only ever need to talk about the world with in-group peers and you never need to do any science, you can absolutely get by with an arbitrary story. But there are many instances where it becomes essential whether facts were pieced together into a story, or whether the story came first and facts are invented to fit it.

Imagine two groups of people getting placed on two different planets without any knowledge about anything. They don't have any books, any cultural knowledge, nothing. Now give them a couple thousand of years and compare what knowledge they have amassed.

They both have access to the same universe, so they can make the same observations and figure out the same things about the mechanisms governing it. They both likely figure out how quantum physics works and discover relativity, because those are discoverable facts that apply anywhere. It doesn't matter what the philosophical outlook of the people doing this research is, as long as they constrain themselves to the facts they will come to the same conclusions.

But if you compare their religions, if they have them, they will likely be very different. One of them may have an Abrahamic-like creation myth. One might be closer to Buddhism. They might come up with completely different ideas we can't even conceive of. This happens because in the absence of facts you can just make up arbitrary stuff. And when they meet, each one will think their own religion is obvious and inescapable, but to the other one those arguments will sound like the complete non-sequiturs they actually are.

In fact, you can observe the same thing on this planet. If a Hindu, a Christian, and an atheist on today's Earth want to exchange information, they have do it with a factual framework, because cultural/religious conventions and definitions are not transferable across these boundaries. When two biologists are talking about adaptation mechanisms, it's not fruitful if one uses stone age scripture as a reasoning tool.

You asked if laws only have meaning in a learned context. Of course we mostly get to learn from other people, that's how knowledge works in the face of a very limited lifespan, resources, and capabilities. But it still matters where that knowledge originally came from, it's still significant if those laws actually reflect how the universe works or if it's just made up stuff that is in conflict with observable reality.


God is not in conflict with observable reality. He/she/it, if God exists, is outside of it (I.e the unmoved creator)

Science works because the universe is intelligible and in it's creation was made with logic that we can discover with the scientific process.

Problem I see with taking a "if it doesn't pass the scientific method, I am not going to entertain it" worldview, is that you box yourself into a tiny corner of the whole of experience.

There are many things that cannot be tested by the scientific method, it doesn't mean they are not possible.

Even in science you have conflicting views around theories. How is this any different that the different religions?


An important aspect of randomness is that probability distributions are observable. Randomness doesn't imply a universe of nothing but white noise; it means that we can't make predictions about a random process beyond knowing the probability distribution. But it turns out that knowing something about probability distributions counts for a lot. Card counting is a mundane example.


Maybe it's the same as a missile spontaneously becoming a whale and a bowl of petunias.


The argument is that God exists outside the laws of cause and effect and was never created.




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