On Templeton

A few recent events, including the launch of Nautilus and this interesting thread on Brian Leiter’s blog, have brought the John Templeton Foundation (JTF) back into the spotlight. As probably everybody knows, the JTF is a philanthropic organization that supports research into the “Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality,” encourages “dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians,” and seeks to use science to acquire “new spiritual information.” They like to fund lots of things I find interesting — cosmology, physics, philosophy — but unfortunately they also like to promote the idea that science and religion are gradually reconciling. (As well as some projects that just seem silly.) They also have a huge amount of money, and they readily give it away.

I don’t think that science and religion are reconciling or can be reconciled in any meaningful sense, and I believe that it does a great disservice to the world to suggest otherwise. Therefore, way back in the day, I declined an opportunity to speak at a Templeton-sponsored conference. Ever since then, people have given me grief whenever my anti-Templeton fervor seems insufficiently fervent, even though my position — remarkably! — has been pretty consistent over the years. Honestly I find talking about things like this pretty tiresome; politics is important, but substance is infinitely more interesting. And this topic in particular has become even more tiresome as people on various sides have become increasingly emotional and less reflective. But I thought it would be useful to put my thoughts in one place, so I can just link here the next time the subject arises.

In brief: I don’t take money directly from the Templeton Foundation. You will never see me thanking them for support in the acknowledgments of one of my papers. But there are plenty of good organizations and causes who feel differently, and take the money without qualms, from the World Science Festival to the Foundational Questions Institute. As long as I think that those organizations are worthwhile in their own right, I am willing to work with them — attending their conferences, submitting articles, whatever. But I will try my best to convince them they should get money from somewhere else.

I’ve had various opportunities to get money from Templeton, and I certainly don’t come running to blog about it every time the possibility arises. Once I even got a call from a corporate head-hunter who wanted to inquire about my interest in a job with JTF. (Someone had clearly not done their homework.) But it’s not, as many people argue, because I am worried that Templeton works in nefarious ways to influence the people it funds. That is pretty unclear; there are some dark murmurings to that effect, with this piece by John Horgan being perhaps the most explicit example, but little hard evidence. It wouldn’t be utterly shocking to find that a funding agency tried to nudge work that it supported in directions that it was favorable to; that’s the kind of thing that funding agencies do. But there are plenty of examples of people receiving money from JTF and swearing that they never felt any pressure to be religion-friendly. More importantly, I don’t see much evidence that the JTF is actively evil, in (say) the way the Discovery Institute is evil, deliberately lying in order to advance an anti-science agenda. The JTF is quite pro-science, in its own way; it’s just that I think their views on science are very wrong.

And that’s the real reason why I don’t want to be involved directly with Templeton. It’s not a matter of ethical compromise; it’s simply a matter of sending the wrong message. Any time respectable scientists take money from Templeton, they lend their respectability — even if only implicitly — to the idea that science and religion are just different paths to the same ultimate truth. That’s not something I want to do. If other people feel differently, that’s for them and their consciences, not something that is going to cause me to shun them.

But I will try to explain to them why it’s important. Think of it this way. The kinds of questions I think about — origin of the universe, fundamental laws of physics, that kind of thing — for the most part have no direct impact on how ordinary people live their lives. No jet packs are forthcoming, as the saying goes. But there is one exception to this, so obvious that it goes unnoticed: belief in God. Due to the efforts of many smart people over the course of many years, scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality have by a wide majority concluded that God does not exist. We have better explanations for how things work. The shift in perspective from theism to atheism is arguably the single most important bit of progress in fundamental ontology over the last five hundred years. And it matters to people … a lot.

Or at least, it would matter, if we made it more widely known. It’s the one piece of scientific/philosophical knowledge that could really change people’s lives. So in my view, we have a responsibility to get the word out — to not be wishy-washy on the question of religion as a way of knowing, but to be clear and direct and loud about how reality really works. And when we blur the lines between science and religion, or seem to contribute to their blurring or even just not minding very much when other people blur them, we do the world a grave disservice. Religious belief exerts a significant influence over how the world is currently run — not just through extremists, but through the well-meaning liberal believers who very naturally think of religion as a source of wisdom and moral guidance, and who define the middle ground for sociopolitical discourse in our society. Understanding the fundamental nature of reality is a necessary starting point for productive conversations about morality, justice, and meaning. If we think we know something about that fundamental nature — something that disagrees profoundly with the conventional wisdom — we need to share it as widely and unambiguously as possible. And collaborating with organizations like Templeton inevitably dilutes that message.

There’s no question that Templeton has been actively preventing the above message from getting across. By funding projects like the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion, the JTF has done its best to spread the impression that science and religion get along just fine. This impression is false. And it has consequences.

So I won’t directly work with or take money from the JTF, although I will work with people who do take money from them — money that is appropriately laundered, if you will — if I think those people themselves are worth supporting or collaborating with in their own right. This means that approximately nobody agrees with me; the Templeton-friendly folks think I’m too uptight and priggish, while the anti-Templeton faction finds me sadly lacking in conviction. So be it. These are issues without easy answers, and I don’t mind taking a judicious middle ground. It’s even possible that I’ll change my mind one way or another down the road, in response to new arguments or actions on the part of the parties involved.

And if anyone is tempted to award me the Templeton Prize, I will totally accept it! And use the funds to loudly evangelize for naturalism and atheism. (After I pay off the mortgage.)

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124 Responses to On Templeton

  1. Gizelle Janine says:

    Mmmmmhmmmm. Praise the lord! You go with your morgage-paying-self! *grins*

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  2. Tim Martin says:

    Well said! Yours seems like a reasonable position, imo.

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  3. I agree completely. I’m always disappointed on the fortunately rare occasions when I see people whose work I respect taking money from Templeton. I would never do so.

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  4. Jerry Coyne says:

    Hey, you said

    a. “In brief: I don’t take money directly from the Templeton Foundation. ”

    and

    b. “And if anyone is tempted to award me the Templeton Prize, I will totally accept it!”

    I’m sure you know that accepting the Templeton Prize (and paying off your mortgage with it) is taking money from the Templeton Foundation. Which is it?

    This is, of course, a purely theoretical issue since the chance that you’ll get the prize is only marginally greater than that of Richard Dawkins getting the prize. :-)

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  5. Gart Valenc says:

    The world will be a better place the moment we all accept that religion should enjoy the same protection and privileges…mythology does. No more, no less!

    Gart Valenc
    Twitter: @gartvalenc

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  6. Sean Carroll says:

    Jerry– Yeah, that’s my loophole. “Accepting the Templeton Prize” is an ethical compromise I don’t ever expect to be faced with.

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  7. Ian Durham says:

    First, let me say that I am not religious nor do I necessarily believe in God. But I think the point needs to be made that there is a difference between “religion” and “a belief in G(g)od(s).” Science can (and indeed routinely does) prove most religious dogma to be false. This is precisely because so much of religious dogma, particularly for scriptural literalists, deals with aspects of the natural world. Religion arose in a more primitive time precisely to “explain” the things science now explains. The advantages of science are self-evident to any rational person, i.e. if religion was all there was, we wouldn’t have cell phones, computers, cars, medicines, etc.

    But that fact — that science is self-evidently better than religion at explaining how the world works — does not imply that atheism is superior to theism. It is precisely because a divine being, by definition, isn’t natural or physical that science really doesn’t logically lead directly to atheism.

    In other words, science could prove that, say, the Hebrew God of Judeo-Christianity isn’t real or at least isn’t what is manifest in scripture. But it can never prove that there is not some “being” that somehow transcends the universe in some hitherto unthinkable way since the very definition of such a being is so slippery.

    Really, the most scientifically honest stance on “G(g)od(s)” is agnosticism. Further elucidation of the fundamental nature of reality can only disprove religion because, by definition, any “G(g)od(s)” is outside of said reality.

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  8. Wakalook says:

    “I don’t think that science and religion are reconciling or can be reconciled in any meaningful sense”

    Buddhism Meditation Neuroscience

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  9. Wakalook says:

    (I had put arrows between those three words but they don’t show up)

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  10. Pseudonym says:

    I was going to say pretty much what Ian Durham’s said, but he said it better, so I won’t.

    I say “pretty much”, because there’s one statement in there:

    Religion arose in a more primitive time precisely to “explain” the things science now explains.

    To the extent that this statement is true, it’s not relevant, and to the extent that it’s relevant, it’s not true.

    That which we call religion grew out of something that was much more amorphous. This is a time in pre-history when there was no distinct concepts of “culture”, “art”, “medicine”, and “religion”. They were all one thing, which split over time into distinct areas of human endeavour. While it’s true that religion (and art and culture and music, for that matter) did give us workable explanations for which we now have better tools, that’s not the “precise” reason why it arose.

    This is important, because it highlights a common misconception in the way that evolution works in practice. Every single week you hear a new piece in the popular press about how scientists have “discovered the reason” why some human trait evolved, as if nature had a goal that it was trying to achieve, and eventually found just the right way to do it.

    It’s the same with the history of human culture. It’s highly unlikely that religion arose to “do” anything in particular. That it was used to provide explanations for things that we now have science, and to help us organise as a super organism, and to inspire monumental buildings and great artworks, and any number of other things (good, bad and neutral) is irrelevant to any reason why it arose. There probably was no reason.

    Religion provided explanations for the natural world because religion was what we already had, and nothing else was up to the job. Today, religion is not up to the job. That doesn’t mean that religion isn’t up to any job, unless you think that science is the only job we have that’s worth having.

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  11. Daniel says:

    Sean,
    I love philosophy but seriously; philosophers are not experts in the fundamental nature of reality :) Also, if someone say they are an atheist it doesn’t necessarily mean they have concluded God does not exists. Some atheists would agree it’s possible to reconcile spirituality with science, and I assume that’s what some theists believe about their religion. I dunno though, it’s a mess.

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  12. Dmitry Chernikov says:

    Sean, science and regilion are perfectly reconciled: they both are in search of low energy solution. You know way better than most of us why science is in search of low energy solution and how important the search of this solution is in science. So, I’m not going to waste time with this
    I’m not a religion representative in no way, but by nature of things I’m dealing with I have a lot of concerns in respect to human logic and behavior, so I have something to say on where religion belives come from, which is exactly what I’d love to do here to reconcile science and religion in understood – I hope – by scientists terms
    Obviously, humans – as a part of nature – consciously or not, are permanently after low energy solutions. However, in day-to-day life humans often expect more than they actually provide. Or at least “equal”: equal is the minimum humans are comfortable with in exchange to what they provide, “more” they would always hope and prey for.
    Also, humans often do things they’d love to have undone then. Getting things “undone” could be very difficult, therefore it may require “a lot of energy”. However, since humans are naturally comfortable only with at least equal in terms of “provide (energy) – get (energy)” basis, energy hungry “undone” would always make people extremely uncomfortable. Indeed, NODOBY likes get things undone: because low energy function gets violated there in a most howling manner.
    That all is the basis where religion comes from. The following eternal hopes of human beings are the (only) basis for religion:
    – getting something for literally nothing
    – getting done things undone at no cost
    Now, please have a look at these 2 statements from scientist point of view. Aren’t they anything that any true scientist would apparently die for? :-)
    So, a search for solutions in the cheapest possible (in terms of energy) way definitely reconciles scientists and spiritualists. The only difference between them is their outcome

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  13. John Merryman says:

    The problem is that religion is equated with its western monotheistic features. Religion is a society’s vision of itself, as government is how it manages itself.
    In western culture we focus on the node side of the equation, while eastern cultures are more concerned with the network side. I find the effects of this far more pernicious than whether or not we assign simplistic anthropomorphic paternalism to our singular view of everything. Considering the ways this bias forms our atomized view of society to our atomized view of nature, there are far deeper issues here than appear in these surface territorial disputes.

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  14. James Cross says:

    “One of the great mistakes Dawkins and other zealous atheists make is thinking religion is about belief. Religion is about community and making sense of things, such as death and loss. Science may explain death in biological terms but it cannot make sense of it in human terms. The atheists in this mistake are aided and abetted by the creationists and the literalists who misunderstand the words they speak to be the essential part of their religion, whereas in reality the words are only superficial parts of it.”

    http://broadspeculations.com/2013/03/23/beyond-belief-divine-knowledge/

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  15. Doc c says:

    One reason science and religion might reconcile is that science may be incapable of telling us how to integrate the subjective experience we have of the deep abyss that presents itself to our conscious awareness every day, and so we must use our gift of imagination to create solutions. Religion of a variety of forms represents one of those solutions. It is imagination that links science and religion. We are subjective creatures but capable of sharing our thoughts, and that sharing creates a larger imagination for each of us.

    The real question is how to build a culture that all people can use to help them imagine how to conduct their lives together in an unpredictable universe. Religion and science should get along, because acting together they are stronger than always fighting each other. But to get along, they must accept their own limitations, and accept the gifts the other brings.

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  16. Gizelle Janine says:

    @Jerry: HAHAHAHAHAHA. I think I woke my neighbors. No joke. :D

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  17. Ian Durham says:

    Pseudonym is correct. Religion obviously did not arise solely for explanatory purposes. Like any other human-related endeavor, its origins and history are muddled and complicated. My main point was simply that the question of the existence of “G(g)od(s)” is unrelated to the validity of religion and, by definition, is unrelated to science.

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  18. David says:

    There are few things in the sphere of critical thinking that are as painful to experience as the mental gymnastics that so many of you engage in when attempting to rationalize a mixing of good and bad ideas.

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  19. Paul Wright says:

    > But it can never prove that there is not some “being” that somehow transcends the universe in some hitherto unthinkable way since the very definition of such a being is so slippery.

    This is true, but means we’re agnostics about an attenuated theism that pretty much nobody cares about, and which most theists would thing of as near-as-dammit atheism. It’s all in Hume: http://www.phil.cam.ac.uk/~swb24/PAPERS/Humedial.htm has a good summary.

    We’re also agnostics about a bunch of other hypotheses that haven’t even raised themselves to our attention. Perhaps there is an immaterial society of undetectable My Little Ponies. We must, in fairness, be agnostic about it, mustn’t we? Seeing as the beings we encounter are made of stuff, it’s not even clear what we mean by “beings” which are “outside the universe”: perhaps colourless green ideas sleep furiously, for example. We must, in fairness, be agnostic about that.

    Ridiculous examples multiply, but the response to all of these hypotheses must be “well, maybe, but why would anyone think that?” This includes claims about gods. Yet you don’t find believers, or people with some sympathy to believers, who will tell you that a-Ponyism is arrogant and we should properly call ourselves a-Pony-gnostics. I think this happens because hypotheses about gods have improperly raised themselves to our attention, that is, the error here is what the Less Wrong crowd call privileging the hypothesis.

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  20. Gizelle Janine says:

    @David: I always thought you considered me funny AND dumb!!!

    *crosses arms and sneers* :D

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  21. Tom Clark says:

    “Understanding the fundamental nature of reality is a necessary starting point for productive conversations about morality, justice, and meaning. If we think we know something about that fundamental nature — something that disagrees profoundly with the conventional wisdom — we need to share it as widely and unambiguously as possible. And collaborating with organizations like Templeton inevitably dilutes that message.”

    We may never understand the fundamental nature of reality to its innermost parts, but we have very good reason to believe that empiricism has no rivals for investigating it. It’s the epistemic superiority of empiricism that Templeton and various accomodationists (including various science organizations unfortunately) are either actively or passively working to obscure, lending credence to “other ways of knowing.” Were the AAAS, NAS, National Science Teachers Association, and the National Center for Science Education to share widely and unambiguously the positive case for empiricism, as applied to *all* factual questions (including the existence of God, the soul, libertarian free will, and other unevidenced phenomena attested to by conventional wisdom) that would really help the cause of naturalism and naturalistic approaches to morality, justice and meaning. But I imagine that coming out on this would put public support and funding for science too much at risk.

    http://www.naturalism.org/epistemology.htm#concessions

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  22. L. A. Paul says:

    I understand your position. It’s nicely put. But I think you should distinguish between natural science and social science when you say “Any time respectable scientists take money from Templeton, they lend their respectability — even if only implicitly — to the idea that science and religion are just different paths to the same ultimate truth.” Templeton funds a lot of very good sociology and psychology, and I don’t see the same tension there, because the focus is not on the ultimate origin of the universe, but on, say, how to live one’s life.

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  23. Ian Durham says:

    “I think this happens because hypotheses about gods have improperly raised themselves to our attention, that is, the error here is what the Less Wrong crowd call privileging the hypothesis.”

    Sure, that’s fine. I’m just trying to be intellectually honest. There are theists who will seize at any opportunity to allow for the existence of some kind of transcendent being and so, taking a cue from Feynman, I think arguing over something that is inherently unprovable distracts us from the real issues that face science that we can address.

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  24. simpleasthat says:

    The reason why scientifically minded atheists face such an uphill battle against religious or spiritual belief systems is not because of an increased credibility that Templeton may gain by associating itself with serious thinkers. The real reason is that most human beings have some psychological need to feel part of something larger than them, something from which they can somehow derive meaning for their lives. Scientific evidence or rational argument will never prevail as long as it aims to take that away from people without providing some alternative to address that psychological need.

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  25. mtraven says:

    Most people will grant that stupid, literal forms of religion are incompatible with science. Are these the only forms of religion? Obviously not. So why talk like that is the case?

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  26. Josh says:

    This question always gets me (not trying to be sarcastic): Why is it okay for scientists to make claims about theology when they have no knowledge of the field–especially when the reverse is never okay? These anti-“religion” diatribes are always difficult for me to understand because they’re just so obviously wrong about fundamental claims in a field they have never studied. I don’t blame them for being naive about something they’ve never studied, but why the triumphalist rhetoric?

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  27. AHN says:

    Prof Carroll:

    I wonder if you allow for agnostic theism to get along fine with science. By agnostic theism, I mean something like what Kierkegaard advocated, to wit, a faith in God that can never amount to knowledge. That is, Kierkegaard, as I understand him, believed that there is no such thing as knowledge of God’s existence, and that belief in God has nothing to do with empirical evidence or even philosophical arguments. In short, Kierkegaard was an agnostic, and yet, a believer, a theist: an agnostic theist. I believe Wittgenstein may have shared a similar view. This view, assuming it is coherent, seems to me to be perfectly compatible with science, since science is just about knowledge and, accordingly, empirical evidence.

    I am actually an atheist, or, rather, an agnostic atheist: I unequivocally do not believe in God, and I do not believe there could be such a thing as knowledge of God’s existence or any other object of faith. So I hope it is clear that I am not trying to win you over to religion’s side or anything of the sort. And I do agree that a great majority of theists–particularly creationists and those involved with the Discovery Institute–are not agnostic theists, and are therefore in conflict with science. I just wonder (a) if you think that’s the only legitimate or coherent form of theism, and (b) if not, whether you believe agnostic theism could be totally compatible with science.

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  28. Newt23 says:

    haha…great example of refined scholarly language. “scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality”

    Who are these “scholars in the fundamental nature of reality”? I think we may be experiencing a classic case of a selection bias. Ironic for a scientist to make this mistake without any peer criticism.

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  29. Spike Pecan says:

    To build on Josh’s point — seems to me the primary difference between theists and atheists is that most theists are willing to admit that there’s a lot about God/creation/the human experience that we don’t understand, which is why we study it in multiple ways (science, philosophy, theology, etc.), and are willing to modify our beliefs as true evidence warrants.
     
    Atheists, on the other hand, seem content with grandiose, sweeping, self-righteous statements along the lines of “[d]ue to the efforts of many smart people over the course of many years, scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality have by a wide majority concluded that God does not exist.” Which of course is an opinion, not a proof.
     
    How people who proudly identify themselves as “rationalists” present this type of reasoning to be conclusive has never ceased to amuse me.

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  30. Brett says:

    Sean Carroll, I could not agree more with your comments.

    Newt23: they are called physicists. Try and keep up buddy. And selection bias? Is there a study going on here? Physics isn’t ‘statistically’ the laws that describe the way the universe works. So what the hell are you talking about?

    As for the religion comments:
    I believe that it is far more than just pure coincidence that a majority of criminals and people who do horrible things, just happen to be the most religious out of all of us. Do you find a lot of atheists in prison? on the battlefield? inciting: genocide, slavery, racism, and sexism? No.
    I can’t offer an explanation, but I’ve noticed this undeniable trend in society. It’s just like watching politics though, which is why all anyone can do is give their opinion and then revert back to not giving a fuck. All I can do is note my observations throughout my life and in history books; religion really seems to be something we need to rid the world of before we take the next big evolutionary step. Religion was our earliest attempt at explaining the universe, which is why we need to evolve past it and grow up. Half the population is living in the modern era and not taking this as a personal attack. The other half is, and they are showing us exactly what’s wrong with religion; it prevents civilizations from maturing.
    It’s like ‘aether’ crackpots…it was a good idea at the time and even Einstein bought into it for a short time, but we know better now and understand that it’s a primitive concept that flat out isn’t true.

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  31. steven french says:

    Sean,
    Thanks for this – absolutely spot on! I did present at a Templeton conference once but now decline further invitations and refuse to apply for T money (even though they seem to give it away by the barrowload), pretty much for the reasons you articulate so well.
    cheers,
    Steven
    (a philosopher)

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  32. Giotis says:

    “…scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality have by a wide majority concluded that God does not exist.”

    so there is a minority who believes that God exists? That’s very encouraging for the believers…

    But really that statement is so pompous it sounds hilarious:-)

    and may I ask those experts what is the fundamental nature of reality then?

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  33. Brett says:

    The reason that we know religion isn’t true is because all religion came from men. It wasn’t given to us by aliens (God(s) would classify as aliens), it was passed down by men who took advantage of the ignorance of uneducated people throughout history.

    I haven’t heard of a scientist (a good one who is relevant in their field anyway) who has conclusively stated that God does not exist. We have stated that religion is obviously not true, and since God is a creation of religion, there probably isn’t a God either (definitely not the God described by religion), though we have no way of proving that. Regardless of proof of God or not, God is not needed for the universe to function or exist, so it’s an issue that we can only waste time and effort on. That’s what atheists believe. That God probably does not exist (definitely not the god describe by religion).

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  34. Sally Strange (@SallyStrange) says:

    What is the everloving point in believing, or even being agnostic about, a being which is undefinable, unfalsifiable, or otherwise “outside” the natural world? Such a being would have no detectable effects and so would be indistinguishable from a being that does not exist. Nobody believes in such a being because there is no “there” there to believe in. But then apologists for theism take this requirement of agnosticism for an undefinable pantheist sort of “god” and sneakily try to slip it into arguments about gods which are definable and testable and so on.

    Technically, I’m agnostic about everything I believe. But realistically speaking, I am about as certain that there are no gods as I am that the earth is going to continue to revolve around the sun for the next few billion years. “Gods” fall into the same category as unicorns, vampires, chakras, telepathy, and so on–things which humans have imagined but which don’t exist (inasmuch as we can say that anything doesn’t exist). This sort of attenuated agnosticism is utterly useless except if your goal is to soothe the wounded egos of god- believers. It’s actually an obstacle to getting real work done because it uses up everyone’s time and energy basically arguing about semantics. It’s tiresome and I wish atheists would knock it off.

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  35. newt23 says:

    Brett, nice work. I’m not going to undermine your obvious understanding of scientific methodology…

    But I do want to suggest that your opinion on which group constitutes the “the scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality” is stunningly limited. You have eliminated all forms of gaining knowledge, including other forms of scientific investigation.

    It’s fine, you probably haven’t participated in many scientific endeavors, nor read many scientific articles, but I think you should know that there are other areas of science that desire to lay claim to the banner of “scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality”. In fact, some particularly radical thinkers suggest that all science is a mechanisms for despairing truth. Even more dangerous thinkers argue that the question nature of epistemology is still a lively debate. But you probably don’t want to bog yourself down with such details while in the beginning stages of your learning about science

    And if one is attempting to be, you know, empirically justified in asserting that all the “scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality” have proven something to be true, at least we can be notified of which people constitute this group. This seems to be a minor request in light of the confidence with which it was asserted.

    As you will find out when you take more science coursework, Brett, conclusions are only as strong as the methodology.

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  36. Brett says:

    Sally,

    that’s what makes atheists better than theists, because we have the ability to not polarize a debate and understand the the fundamental nature of reality, which is described similar to your comment: sure, a God could exist. Just as unicorns, vampires, chakras, and telepathy might exist in some alternate universe which is governed by different physical laws. The nature of reality is that nothing is 100%, though it may be 99.9999999% which is about what physicists require in order to claim a certainty.

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  37. Brett says:

    Newt23, again, what the hell are you talking about? I never mentioned scientific methodology.

    Scientific articles? you mean like the ones you read from livescience.com or sciencedaily.com? You’re fucking brilliant, so I better step out of this one.

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  38. Sally Strange (@SallyStrange) says:

    But I do want to suggest that your opinion on which group constitutes the “the scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality” is stunningly limited. You have eliminated all forms of gaining knowledge, including other forms of scientific investigation.

    1. “Other forms of gaining knowledge” is, in my experience, a dog-whistle for “respect my personal revelation!”

    2. Other forms of scientific investigation do not attempt to determine the fundamental nature of reality, but they do investigate topics that could possible falsify some of the conclusions physicists have reached. None of them have done that so far.

    It’s fine, you probably haven’t participated in many scientific endeavors, nor read many scientific articles, but I think you should know that there are other areas of science that desire to lay claim to the banner of “scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality”.

    Your condescension might be less giggle-worthy if you could actually name what scientific disciplines besides physics attempt to investigate the fundamental nature of reality. I certainly can’t think of any, but then I’m just an ordinary person with a piddling little B.S. in environmental science. I look forward to learning what these disciplines are.

    In fact, some particularly radical thinkers suggest that all science is a mechanisms for despairing truth.

    I can’t parse this sentence.

    Even more dangerous thinkers argue that the question nature of epistemology is still a lively debate.

    What makes a thinker dangerous? I’ve certainly participated in some lively debates about epistemology. When do I get my “dangerous thinker” badge?

    But you probably don’t want to bog yourself down with such details while in the beginning stages of your learning about science

    And if one is attempting to be, you know, empirically justified in asserting that all the “scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality” have proven something to be true, at least we can be notified of which people constitute this group. This seems to be a minor request in light of the confidence with which it was asserted.

    He says “physicists” right up there, a couple posts ago–did you post before he did?

    As you will find out when you take more science coursework, Brett, conclusions are only as strong as the methodology.

    Let me distill your post:

    1. Brett doesn’t know science, so there, HA!

    2. There are other ways of knowing! But you can’t name them.

    3. It’s not just physicists who study the fundamental nature of reality! But you can’t name the other scientific disciplines that address that.

    Less than convincing, overall. Also less than coherent.

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  39. kashyap vasavada says:

    Prof. Carroll:
    I am a retired physics professor here. I enjoy reading your blogs from physics point of view. It is possible that your anti-religious views may have been due to your experiences and exposure to only Judeo- Christian religions and recent fights between fundamentalist creationists and intelligent design people and scientists . If you read about eastern religions (specially Hindu philosophy) your views might change. It is well-known that Bohr, Schrodinger, Heisenberg and Bohm were deeply impressed by eastern religious philosophy. Concept of God is very subtle in it. Hindu religion has no conflict whatsoever with science. In case you are interested I will be delighted to send some articles I have written.

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  40. newt23 says:

    Sally, thank you for distilling my post…you did pretty well considering how incoherent my post was

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  41. newt23 says:

    Sean, unfortunately, I think you are giving us brothers in arms- the humanists- a bad name. All the time, I have to contend with the downstream frustration with folks due to overconfident statements made by people like you.

    hopefully, one day, you will take a lesson from evolutionary sociology and play nice.

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  42. Chris says:

    Brett said:
    “I believe that it is far more than just pure coincidence that a majority of criminals and people who do horrible things, just happen to be the most religious out of all of us. Do you find a lot of atheists in prison? on the battlefield? inciting: genocide, slavery, racism, and sexism?”

    Ever hear of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, the three biggest mass murders in human history? All Atheists.

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  43. Sally Strange (@SallyStrange) says:

    Hitler was most definitely not an atheist.

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  44. newt23 says:

    Sally, nice rebuttal…

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  45. Sally Strange (@SallyStrange) says:

    I am open to hearing any evidence that Hitler was an atheist. There’s plenty suggesting that Mao and Stalin rejected god-belief (unless you count believing they themselves were like gods), but for Hitler, not so much.

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  46. Joe says:

    @Brett

    Taking the whole of human history into account, you don’t find a lot of atheists, period, so it’s not surprising you don’t find a lot of them in any given situation, criminal or otherwise.

    The reference to “scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality” links to a survey of philosophers, not physicists. If you took for granted that he meant physicists, maybe you have an issue with the author. What I find hilarious about that reference is the following result from the same survey:

    Metaphilosophy: naturalism 49.8%; non-naturalism 25.9%; other 24.3%.

    So another way to cite that survey would be to say that less than half of the “scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality” are naturalists. That makes me wonder why Carroll is so confident that “we” have a duty to move naturalism forward. Who is the we? The 49.8% ‘consensus’ of fundamental-reality-expert-scholars? Yeesh.

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  47. Tony Rz says:

    I was sitting on the front steps praying when I saw this strange circular thing, all in movement, sliding across the ground, it was a few days after the death of a little nephew the same age as one of my sons who had been playing together, going shopping when he was killed, run over by the car he had started and put in gear, frightened he had jumped out the car window, as this thing swirled across in front of me it headed straight towards the window where my son was asleep and instantly, he woke up screaming, in sheer terror, please don’t hurt me. Well the next night as I lay in bed praying my night prayers, something again made me look up and on the wall was a black spot that looked like mildew, only this mildew moved, and slid across the wall and out the door, and in an instant, again, my son woke screaming in absolute terror, please don’t hurt me. The next day I was in the basement doing some meditation, and just as I felt myself falling inwards, there was this voice from a place, a particular point, in front and off to my right, that said with a voice full of hatred, a voice soaked in sulfuric acid, a voice that if hatred could be bottled would be one of the most terrible sounds imaginable, said to me ” WHAT DOES CHRIST CARE ABOUT YOU”. So don’t believe that is your privilege, but beware, he is waiting for you and he is not your friend.

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  48. Pseudonym says:

    @Brett:

    I believe that it is far more than just pure coincidence that a majority of criminals and people who do horrible things, just happen to be the most religious out of all of us. Do you find a lot of atheists in prison? on the battlefield? inciting: genocide, slavery, racism, and sexism? No.

    Even assuming that there is a significant correlation, this of course says nothing about causation. Karl Marx could have been right that religion is “the sigh of the oppressed”, and that socioeconomic disadvantage is an underlying cause of both religiosity and crime.

    Having said that, it’s certainly true that people who regularly attend a place of religious worship also tend to give far more of their time and money to charity. I note that it’s not belief in a deity, but regular attendance, that’s the predictor.

    One caveat is that while it’s always been true that the median religious attendee has always given more time and money to charity than the median non-attendee, the mean religious attendee was recently beaten by the mean non-attendee, entirely thanks to two outliers. If you remove Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the mean religious attendee is back on top.

    That’s certainly not a coincidence, and it’s also not especially surprising. It is intuitive that spending an hour a week having your ethical worldview directly linked to charitable giving is likely to make you give more to charity.

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  49. Pseudonym says:

    @Sally Strange:

    There is a whole Wikipedia page summarising what historians think on the topic. The short version is that while he almost certainly was an atheist in the dictionary sense (i.e. he had no belief in deities), he probably wouldn’t have used the term to describe himself because of the link with Communism.

    Some of the stuff recorded in the Table Talk is pretty explicit. See if this sentiment sounds familiar:

    The dogma of Christianity gets worn away before the advances of science. Religion will have to make more and more concessions. Gradually the myths crumble. All that’s left is to prove that in nature there is no frontier between the organic and the inorganic. When understanding of the universe has become widespread, when the majority of men know that the stars are not sources of light but worlds, perhaps inhabited worlds like ours, then the Christian doctrine will be convicted of absurdity.

    Before anyone jumps to conclusions, I’d also like to point out that the fact that Hitler was nice to his dogs is not an argument in favour of animal cruelty.

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  50. Meh says:

    A few more paragraphs from your link Pseudonym:

    “According to Hitler’s chief architect, Albert Speer, Hitler remained a formal member of the Catholic church until his death, and even ordered his chief associates to remain members”

    and

    “Biographer John Toland wrote that Hitler was still “a member in good standing of the Church of Rome despite his detestation of its hierarchy” and drew links between Hitler’s Catholic background and his antisemitism”

    Hitler tried to create a new religion based on a perfect race of humans and antisemitism. He believed in his own religion as a modification of Christianity. He was religious; he was also a unique level of crazy.

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  51. Meh says:

    When I talk about inciting: genocide, slavery, racism, and sexism; I mean things like how you can be put to death for being homosexual in Nigeria thanks to the hard work of many missionaries bringing the word of god to their poor population. Ignorant and uneducated people distort religion, just like Nigeria and like so many throughout history have done and still do every day.

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  52. Atheism Sucks says:

    Plenty of atheists have engaged in genocide, slavery, racism, and sexism.

    It is going on as we speak.

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  53. Ant says:

    “As long as I think that those organizations are worthwhile in their own right, I am willing to work with them — attending their conferences, submitting articles, whatever. But I will try my best to convince them they should get money from somewhere else.”

    OK. So this explains why you’re cool with being on the Board of Advisors of the Templeton-funded Nautilus. I think…

    /@

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  54. Ant says:

    @ James Cross

    “Religion is about community and making sense of things, such as death and loss. Science may explain death in biological terms but it cannot make sense of it in human terms.”

    But is religion the best way of making sense of things, such as death and loss?

    To make sense of such things in human terms, do you actually need to have the supernaturalistic underpinnings of theistic religions*? Do you actually need to follow the dogma and traditions of Bronze-Age, Iron-Age, and mediæval texts? Do you actually need to privilege faith in the certainty and truth of these things over a science-based understanding the fundamental nature of reality?

    /@

    * Arguably (see Alan Watts, Anthony Grayling, and others), any non-theistic religion isn’t a religion per se; call it philosophy, world view or life stance.

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  55. Ant says:

    * texts » thinkers

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  56. James Cross says:

    Ant,

    I am not defending the supernatural underpinnings of religion. Religion should leave explanation to science. Religions today, of course, are caught up in a literalist frenzy that tries to compete with science.

    Science offers nothing for understanding with core human experiences – birth, death, loss, and love.

    If religion could lose its literalist bent – accept its stories as stories, not fact – it could coexist compatibly with science and science with it.

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  57. Sally Strange (@SallyStrange) says:

    Yeah, I disagree with Brett that it’s particularly meaningful that atheists are poorly represented among criminals. I think education is the confounding variable here – criminality correlates with lack of education, and atheism correlates with education.

    I refrain from speculating on what Hitler’s secret innermost thoughts about the existence of god were. By his actions, it seems clear that god-belief was acceptable and useful to him.

    The whole discussion is silly anyway. There’s about zero correlation between content of beliefs about the supernatural and the capacity for ethical, compassionate behavior. Which is a point in favor of atheism, since if religious claims were true, you’d see the members of whichever sect was the real true religion behaving better than everybody else. It shows that ethical behavior transcends sectarian beliefs. Our common ground is that we are all human, and our humanity, not supernatural beings, is the source of our moral sense.

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  58. Pingback: NRCD 9 May 13: Funny Not Hot Guy Edition | New Religion and Culture Daily

  59. Sally Strange (@SallyStrange) says:

    Science offers nothing for understanding with core human experiences – birth, death, loss, and love.

    Really? Because to me, the scientific fact that there’s almost certainly no afterlife really helps me figure out how to approach death, and, as a result, life.

    The scientific fact that cooperation and love have been spectacularly successful as an evolutionary strategy for humans adds historical depth to my appreciation of community and cements how important it is to work together to create the kind of world I want to live in.

    My understanding of genetics has helped me get over my irrational desire to give birth to a child myself and enjoy being an aunt to my nephew and two nieces, because evolutionarily speaking, three siblings’ kids are as good as 1.5 of my own. And to appreciate the health benefits of not being pregnant and being able to get an abortion.

    Such statements betray a depressing lack of appreciation for the value of truth, which is what science gives us.

    The truth is that we create our own meaning. The scientific fact that there are no creators, that we just happened, means that there’s nobody watching over us, and nobody besides us who cares what happens to us.

    All of these things have huge implications for what you call “core human experiences” – and they’re much more interesting and useful implications than anything you could get from the Bible or the Baghavad Gita.

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  60. Brett says:

    I have to agree with Sally on that last comment; the lack of any supernatural being makes life far more meaningful and precious. As in young adulthood, there is a certain maturity that comes with realizing that you are on your own and will reap the rewards and punishments of your actions in life.

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  61. Ant says:

    @ James Cross

    But you are, implicitly. Without the supernatural (and doctrinal) underpinnings, on what basis can religion find meaning, if not, as Sally notes, the (best approximation to the) truth that science tells us about the world (for ex., as Sean told us in his Skepticon 5 talk, that there can be no afterlife)? And then it becomes essentially humanism (albeit with some unnecessary rituals). Universal Unitarianism comes close already, but, per Adam Lee, it seems that some of the UU folks see robustly atheistic life stances as beyond the pale.

    /@

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  62. James Cross says:

    Ant, Sally, and Brett

    I have discussed many of the points you bring up in some detail. I find it particularly interesting that you, Sally, bring up evolution. One of my posts is on Julian Huxley. Let me quote a little from it:

    There is one place in science, perhaps one of the most problematic areas, that could connect science with the divine. Huxley even alludes to it:. “When we look at biological evolution as a whole, we find that the most notable improvement is the improved organization of mind; in other terms, a higher organization of the capacity for awareness.” Consciousness itself is the bridge. Consciousness is at the nexus of our ability to experience the divine and our ability to understand the world. Huxley goes beyond the sterile, unproductive debate whether mind is reducible to matter. “Human beings are organizations of – do not let us use the philosophically tendentious word ‘matter’, but rather the neutral and philosophically non-committal term translated from the German Weltstoff – the universal ‘world stuff’. But our organization has two aspects a material aspect when looked at objectively from the outside, and a mental aspect when experienced subjectively from the inside. We are simultaneously and indissolubly both matter and mind.”

    With mind back into science, the new religion of Huxley looks like a very old religion – animism. The divine can be restored to the universe now it can be seen as invaded by consciousness. Even animistic explanations for life and death can take on new truth. Life is a conscious process that has form in a universe that is ever generating new forms. In terms of the new scientific animism, “the computational capacity of the universe means that logically and thermodynamically deep things necessarily evolve spontaneously.”

    A core focus of this new religion necessarily becomes the expansion, enhancement, and modification of consciousness. Its technology is the technology of the shaman and modern-day neuroscience. New rituals built from old rituals. New beliefs from old beliefs. Religion back in touch with science while retaining divinity.

    http://broadspeculations.com/2012/07/22/julian-huxley-and-a-new-animism/

    http://broadspeculations.com/2013/03/23/beyond-belief-divine-knowledge/

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  63. Ant says:

    @ James Cross

    Oh, for a moment there I was under the impression that you were saying something that deserved a thoughtful response. But after “devine” … not so much.

    /@

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  64. Brett says:

    James,

    I have to be honest; I can only see your comment as complete new age bullshit. Believing in everything while believing in everything; isn’t it like, so totally deep? fur shur.

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  65. James Cross says:

    Julian Huxley New Age?

    Interesting perspective.

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  66. Dave Lewis says:

    “God does not exist,” you argue.

    I agree, not because I don’t believe in God, but rather because “existence” is, in my view, limited to empirical reality.

    My Grandfather no longer exists. The number “2” (or any other number) doesn’t exist. “Love” and “freedom” don’t exist either.

    Yet, each of these words denotes a concept in my head. Each has led me to behave in ways I would not had my mind not become aware of the concepts.

    Lest readers assume I’m some uneducated luddite, I studied Physics and Philosophy at College, believe the Earth is likely billions of years old, and have no substantive issues with Darwin’s general view of man as descended from non-language using simians.

    Yet, the opening line of John, In the beginning was the logos, reminds me that materialism alone will not answer all man’s questions.

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  67. Chris says:

    Lots of comments and discussion. Enjoyed them all. Obviously, this is the right place to post. Help me out. Here’s my question:

    Can anyone explain the nature of infinity as it applies to the physical universe? After listening to Lawrence Krauss and Brian Greene, and reading several of their books, both invoke infinity to support their claims about the nature of the universe. Yet, they never clarify what they mean by infinity? Potential? Absolute?

    We all know what potential infinities are. A timer will potentially tick off time for infinity if we are willing to maintain the timer and wait. But as soon as the timer stops, whatever increment it has reached has become finite. And no matter how long it ticks, it will always be at a number to which another increment can be added. It is “potentially” infinite.

    Absolute infinities are not just very large numbers. They are sets of numbers that contain ALL numbers. There are NO examples of absolute physical infinities.

    Absolute infinities are mathematics’s way of telling you that your figures don’t make sense. Attempts to combine QM and GR produce infinities, or even infinities of infinities. Theories that require absolute infinities eventually collapse under their own weight. That is because actual absolute physical infinities require infinite energy, infinite mass and/or infinite time.

    Examples of current popular ideas that rely upon real absolute infinities include the Multiverse. This idea (among other things) attempts to offer an explanation for the unlikely numbers related to the so-called fine-tuning of the universe. Yet, it create more problems than it solves by invoking infinities of universes in order to produce the odds of our universe.

    Simply, absolute physical infinities are impossible! Not just operationally impossible. Not just infeasible, improbable or unlikely.

    Yet, Brian Greene, Lawerence Krauss both speak to packed standing room only rooms, and sell lots of books, all while telling us that the universe (or multiverse) may be infinite.

    Any care to comment (without invoking God or religion)?

    PS: I asked this question of a well-respected head of the physics department of a large university. His answer: What answer would you accept? You are correct in your reasoning. It’s a big problem, perhaps the biggest problem, and you are not the first to ask it. Between us, I cannot pull God out of a hat for you. But it’s pretty clear all the other hats have no rabbits.”

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  68. Tony Rz says:

    How does science explain good and evil what’s moral and what is not? I’ll answer, it doesn’t, it can’t, science is impersonal and it’s impossible for it to know the difference. Neither can philosophy, the person who says science told me it is wrong to beat my wife and kids is a liar and those of you who say that science has all the answers or will are just as stupid. Science or Physics is a subject in high school or college and that it may tell us something of the physical universe, but that is all it is. What people do with that knowledge depends a great deal on Religion its Truths, and its moral compass. In other words science is blind.

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  69. Stevie says:

    “… scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality have by a wide majority concluded that God does not exist. We have better explanations for how things work.”

    Anyone know Sir Karl? The conjecture “God does not exist” is not in the realm of science. It can’t be falsified. An opinion survey is a scientific endeavor not.

    It’s as it is with M-Theory. There’s no way to prove it not. Science it is not.

    “Sir Roger Penrose, who shared the Wolf Prize with Stephen Hawking in 1988, commented on Hawking’s latest book ‘The Grand Design’ with its M-Theory and its claim as a scientific theory that explains God away:

    “What is referred to as M-Theory isn’t even a theory. It’s a collection of ideas, hopes, aspirations. It’s not even a theory. And I think the book is a bit misleading in that respect. It gives you the impression that here is this theory which is going to explain everything. It’s nothing of the sort. It is not even a theory and it certainly has no observational…”

    http://szezeng.blogspot.com/2010/10/roger-penrose-and-others-rebuke-stephen.html

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  70. Joe Morton says:

    Does this article aim at persuading its readers of anything other than the belief that its author has been offered a Templeton Award?

    While it is true that theism is terrible science, Naturalism nevertheless remains an untenable Philosophical position. It either results in a tautology (i.e., “everything that exists must exist within the realm of nature”, yet this accomplishes little, as most theists believe that God is the most fundamental part of nature”), or some appeal to Naturalism as the thesis that “everything that exists must fall into the realm of natural sciences.” The latter is equally silly, and circular to boot, as the boundaries of natural sciences only exclude a deity if so stipulated beforehand — the upshot being that naturalism answers the question of “are there entities beyond the realm of natural science?” with something like “nothing exists beyond the purview of natural sciences; God exists beyond the realm of natural sciences; therefore God does not exist.”

    Even as an atheist, I find it difficult to take seriously an argument which claims that religion is untenable because it does not explain the natural world as well as the natural sciences. Of course it does not. Science will never “explain” the meaning of life, nor prove that “murder is wrong.” These are simply the wrong sorts of questions to put to science. Conversely, it’s equally unhelpful to expect religion to provide a scientifically descriptive model of the world.

    Science asks “what?” and “how?” — Religion and Philosophy ask “why?” Confusing the two, while enormously popular, makes scientists, preachers, and blog-authors appear more-than-a-little out of their element.

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  71. greg says:

    All this either-or thinking! People have been debating the existence or non-existence of God for thousands of years, without clear resolution. Perhaps it is: God exists AND God does not exist. The ‘Law of the Excluded Middle’ is just a tool, like a hammer, and not to be confused with a screwdriver.

    http://www.truthabouttheone.com/2010.10.01_arch.html

    And the same may be true of other long standing philosophical issues, such as free will and determinism:


    http://www.truthabouttheone.com/2010.08.01_arch.html

    My point of view is the universe cannot be properly described on the basis of any finite set of postulates, and the demand for consistency over-constrains the possibility for valid description. Consider Quantum Mechanics: particles like electrons and photons are considered both particles AND waves, and experiments persistently confirm this. Perhaps many philosophical issues have AND solutions.

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  72. Ant (@antallan) says:

    @ greg

    If you think particles are particles and waves, I don’t think you’ve been paying attention to Sean’s public lectures.

    /@

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  73. Bret Lythgoe says:

    I find it interesting that Sean Carroll is so certain that God doesn’t exist. How does he know? Carroll seems like a smart guy, but we have equally smart people, equally educated people, who believe that, what enables the universe to exist is God. Carroll seems to adhere to a version of positivism, the philosophy that the only means of knowing things is empirically. If this is so, I’m curious how Carroll is so sure God, not an empirical object, at least according to traditional Christianity, is nonexistent?

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  74. Leon du Toit says:

    Do you conflate theism with religion?

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  75. Tony Rz says:

    People such as Sean Carroll want God to fit their concept of what God should be and what, and since in their estimation there is no proof of that particular God, then of course He doesn’t exist. They want a God that they can comprehend, because of course their intellects are of such superiority that only they are capable of imagining a God that could create the Cosmos, in other words they want a God in their image, a giant intellect that would make those of higher intellect his true sons. There is no such God of course so he doesn’t exist. Satan would be proud. If you want the real God you have to look to Love.

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  76. Sally Strange (@SallyStrange) says:

    People such as Sean Carroll want God to fit their concept of what God should be and what, and since in their estimation there is no proof of that particular God, then of course He doesn’t exist.

    I can’t speak for Sean Carroll, but for myself, I don’t have any particular desires about what god should or shouldn’t be. I wasn’t brought up to believe in god, so I never really started. All I can do is look at the concepts of god that the people who DO believe in god have, and evaluate them. I have noticed that, while people have wildly differing versions of what they think god is, the one commonality is that none of them have any evidence for their particular concept of god.

    They want a God that they can comprehend, because of course their intellects are of such superiority that only they are capable of imagining a God that could create the Cosmos, in other words they want a God in their image, a giant intellect that would make those of higher intellect his true sons.

    I’m trying to follow the reasoning here. People like Sean Carroll, by which I take to include myself, since I share his lack of belief in any gods, would prefer a comprehensible god… because we want a god that’s like a big smart guy so we can feel good about being smart? Because then we would be like god with our big intellects, and that would please us, despite the fact that we don’t believe in this god? Please correct me if I’m wrong, but that just seems immensely incoherent. We don’t believe in god(s). Whether it’s a comprehensible concept or not. The god-concepts that ARE comprehensible are patently false. The ones that are incomprehensible are useless due to being incomprehensible. If you can’t understand it then logically, you can’t present evidence either for or against its existence, so why bother worrying about it? This is obviously not the sort of god that answers prayers or gives a fig about the welfare of a bunch of talking apes. Those are characteristics of a comprehensible god.

    There is no such God of course so he doesn’t exist.

    Of course not, but then, as I said, you’re left with a god that has none of the characteristics that make it worth worshiping. Not only is it not worth praying to such a god, it’s hardly even worth spending more than a couple of seconds thinking about it. It’s a god that has no features that would enable us to tell it apart from a god that doesn’t exist at all.

    Satan would be proud.

    You can’t talk about incomprehensible gods and then betray your belief in Satan. Satan is a comprehensible supernatural being and it’s as certain as certainty can get that Satan does not exist. If you believe in incomprehensible gods then belief in Satan is hypocrisy.

    If you want the real God you have to look to Love.

    You don’t need god to have love. If you did, that would be evidence in favor of the existence of some sort of god. Since there’s no evidence of different rates of love-feelings for believers and non-believers, nor for believers in different gods, we can dismiss this insulting argument which also, by the way, has the effect of dehumanizing atheists as loveless automatons, which has the effect of enabling and condoning discrimination against them. Regardless of your feelings about the existence of god, I would think that any ethical person should be able to recognize that claiming that a whole class of people are unable to experience love as fully as everybody else is wrong, cruel, and discriminatory.

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  77. Sally Strange (@SallyStrange) says:

    If this is so, I’m curious how Carroll is so sure God, not an empirical object, at least according to traditional Christianity, is nonexistent?

    I must have a lousy understanding of traditional Christianity then. From what I can tell, the Yahweh in the Bible is definitely an empirical object – a disembodied mind that uses telepathy to talk to humans and telekinesis to answer their prayers or smite his enemies. That’s a being which, although it may be invisible, is an empirical object with characteristics that can be tested for and proven or disproven. And of course that sort of empirical object has been disproven by now.

    It’s only since the advent of scientific explanations for the origin of life and the origin of the universe that Christians (and other theists) have had to invent a god that does have any testable characteristics–i.e., a non-empirical object.

    So please tell me, is it me who misunderstands what you mean by “traditional Christianity” or you who misunderstands what is meant by “empirical object”?

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  78. Barry H. says:

    It is arrogant to believe (or know) what you believe (or know) is all there is to to believe (or know). This is true whether you are a scientist or a person of faith.

    Seems to me to be a good place to start a real discussion. The rest of this is a waste of time.

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  79. Ant (@antallan) says:

    @ Barry H.

    It certainly would!

    Of course, scienctists don’t claim to know that what they know is all there is to know… otherwise they’d stop doing science (h/t Dara Ó Briain). In fact, as Feynman noted, scientists are generally pretty comfortable living with doubt.

    But scientists do know that what they do know means that many things that other people believe (or claim to know) cannot be true, as Sean outlined in his Skepticon 5 talk.

    Unfortunately, the people who believe (or claim to know) that those things which cannot be true are true think they know that what scientists know is not true or (perhaps more often) don’t even know what scientists know.

    You know?

    /@

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  80. Ant (@antallan) says:

    *scientists (where’s autocorrect when you need it?)

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  81. Ant says:

    @ Leon du Toit

    Do you conflate theism with religion?

    Who are you asking?

    Religion is clearly more than simple theism [“belief in the existence of a god or gods, esp. belief in one god as creator of the universe, intervening in it and sustaining a personal relation to his creatures.” NOAD], but theism is at the core of religion (or, of most religions, depending on your definition of “religion”).

    Most (gnu) atheists take a definition along the lines of “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods” [NOAD again; the first, indicating the most commonly used, of three meanings cited]. As I said above: “… any non-theistic religion isn’t a religion per se; call it philosophy, world view or life stance.”

    Anthony Grayling, Ideas That Matter:

    Because it is one of those capricious terms that allow a great variety of definitions, almost all of them devised by proponents or advocates of their own version of what they wish the term to denote, ‘religion’ has no universally agreed meaning. One major and central sense is that religion is a set of beliefs about a supernatural agent or agents, and a set of practices entailed by those beliefs, usually articulated as responses to the wishes or demands of the supernatural agent or agents in question. … Buddhism in its original form is not a religion but a philosophy. The distinction between a religion and a philosophy is important and clear, and applies to other philosophies wrongly described as religions, such as Daoism, Confucianism and Mohism in China, … and others.

    /@

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  82. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Sally Strange,

    Good to talk with you. You certainly ask good questions. It’s obvious from your posts that you’re an intelligent and insightful person.

    When I talk about whether God, I’m talking about what Traditional Christianity teaches about his essence. Is he essentially empirical or not? Traditional Christianity teaches that he’s essentially nonempirical, that is, not possessing spatial or temporal properties. Since he’s, according to Christianity, the creator of all that exists, which includes all sensory objects, it would make no sense for him to be an empirical object himself. That does not mean, however, that he cannot, if he so chooses, allow himself to be expressed to humanity in sensory ways, which may explain the biblical passages where he communicates with humans. In my opinion, much of the Bible cannot be interpreted literally. A lot of what we see in the Bible is allegory. A lot is historical as well, and when some claim that God “punishes,” or “inflicts,” bad things on people, I think that this is the primitive interpretation of the people living then. God would not do these things. When we here talk of “Hell,” for example, we should not take this too literally. I believe that “Hell,” could be a place of temporary enlightenment, (NOT a place of physical suffering) where we learn the good, beautiful, and holy, then all humans (and animals. I believe in animal rights) are saved.

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  83. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Sally Strange,

    If I could add, the concept that God is nonempirical, is not an ad hoc adaptation, if you will, to the findings of empirical science. The notion that God is nonempirical is advocated by the philosopher Augustine, who lived from 354 to 430 C.E., and Thmas Aquinas, (1225/6-1274 C.E.) . They both lived before the Scientific Revolution. Speaking of the Scientific Revolution, it occurred in a Theistic milieu. And most of the early scientific thinkers, were religious, and didn’t believe that there was any “conflict,” between empirical science, and their religious beliefs. God created the world for us to investigate. (James Hannam, an historian of science, has written an excellent book that, in my view, successfully shows that empirical science is in debt to Theism, ad Christianity in particular. The book is: THE GENESIS OF SCIENCE). You may be interested in reading the following interview with Dr. Hannam:http://dailycaller.com/2011/03/20/10-questions-with-the-genesis-of-science-author-james-hannam/

    Also, the following book review: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/apr/26/a-time-of-intellectual-triumphs/

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  84. Tony Rz says:

    Sorry, but Hell is the place or condition of unlove, where those who have chosen to hate rather than Love, now exist, perhaps Hitler, Moa and Stalin, etc.. Whether it is an eternal existence I don’t know and would hope not. Sally I don’t say that Atheists are not capable of Love, I’m sure they are, the argument is about the existence of God, not you or Sean’s ability to Love or not and I’m sure that you do Love, and I’m not saying you would go to a place of Hell of course not, and since you don’t believe in any such place, you should not be worried. Right?

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  85. Sally Strange (@SallyStrange) says:

    Hi Sally Strange,

    Good to talk with you. You certainly ask good questions. It’s obvious from your posts that you’re an intelligent and insightful person.

    Hi Brett. Thanks for the compliments.

    When I talk about whether God, I’m talking about what Traditional Christianity teaches about his essence.

    There are more than one Christianities that style themselves as traditional. Any clues for me as to which tradition in particular you’re referring to? I.e., it’s obviously not Catholic–last time I checked they definitely think Hell is a real place–but what is it? And what makes it traditional?

    Is he essentially empirical or not?

    If “he” has a gender then I’d argue that he must be empirical.

    Traditional Christianity teaches that he’s essentially nonempirical, that is, not possessing spatial or temporal properties.

    A thing that possesses neither spatial nor temporal properties… what does that mean? To me, the only way I can think of for such an object to exist is for it to exist in a different universe with different physical laws. But then, I’m not an astronomer or a theoretical physicist, so “temporal and spatial properties” are somewhat vague terms for me, and, I suspect, for you too. As always, more specificity would be helpful.

    Since he’s, according to Christianity, the creator of all that exists, which includes all sensory objects, it would make no sense for him to be an empirical object himself.

    Why doesn’t that make sense? It would make more sense to me that a conscious being that created things would be a thing itself. Why would a not-thing desire to create things? And if it has a desire to create a thing, and then creates it, then it automatically has temporal and spatial properties.

    That does not mean, however, that he cannot, if he so chooses, allow himself to be expressed to humanity in sensory ways, which may explain the biblical passages where he communicates with humans.

    That MAY explain those passages. A more parsimonious explanation is that humans were making things up, or misinterpreting their experiences, as we often do. And, if this god expresses himself to humanity in sensory ways, then he is an empirically testable object, at least for those times he’s “expressing himself.”

    In my opinion, much of the Bible cannot be interpreted literally.

    Yes, of course. Practically nobody interprets ALL of the Bible literally, and those who claim to don’t actually do it either. The thing is, they all have certain passages that they think SHOULD be literal, and they all pick different passage for interpreting literally, and different passages for interpreting as metaphors. There’s no rhyme or reason to which passage or which, the only trend is that people tend to eschew the particularly brutal passages about making rape victims marry their rapists and executing gay people.

    A lot of what we see in the Bible is allegory. A lot is historical as well, and when some claim that God “punishes,” or “inflicts,” bad things on people, I think that this is the primitive interpretation of the people living then. God would not do these things.

    That’s lucky, because if it were really your god doing those things, that would make him an evil monster who should be opposed by all moral people.

    When we here talk of “Hell,” for example, we should not take this too literally. I believe that “Hell,” could be a place of temporary enlightenment, (NOT a place of physical suffering) where we learn the good, beautiful, and holy, then all humans (and animals. I believe in animal rights) are saved.

    That’s lovely, but you have exactly as much evidence for your position as the Catholics who tell me that Yahweh really does want me to be tortured for eternity because I’ve done all kinds of naughty things with my lady bits, and because I don’t believe in him. Why should I believe you over them? And why should I believe you at all? All the evidence points to our minds being emergent phenomena of our physical bodies. There’s no evidence for telepathy or ghosts or communication with dead people, which is what we would expect to see if it were possible for a person’s consciousness and memories to continue on in some incorporeal form after their death.

    Also, your Christianity sounds distinctly un-traditional to me. But I’m not an expert on the thousands of different Christian sects, so what do I know.

    Just to reiterate: do you recognize that your god cannot be both non-empirical AND also interact with humans? If he’s interacting with humans, he’s empirical. If he’s not empirical, then he cannot interact with humans. If you disagree then we’re going to have to have a discussion about what “empirical” means.

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  86. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Tony Rz,

    Nice to talk with you. The Bible makes many references to a place called “hell,” but it would be incorrect, in my view, to consider this a place of literal torment, or a place where one lives “forever.” If it’s a literal place, (it may just be a state of mind) it’s a place of enlightenment. That is, a place not unlike what Catholics call “purgatory.”

    One of the many reasons I do reject Hell as a place of torment, and as a forever residence of some, or many, is that it contradicts God’s infinite Love.

    Many reject God, I believe, because they see him as a “comic dictator,” who wills them unhappiness for one false move. This is wholly and completely wrong. God values our freedom, and wills our complete happiness and autonomy.

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  87. Sally Strange (@SallyStrange) says:

    Sorry, but Hell is the place or condition of unlove, where those who have chosen to hate rather than Love, now exist, perhaps Hitler, Moa and Stalin, etc.. Whether it is an eternal existence I don’t know and would hope not. Sally I don’t say that Atheists are not capable of Love, I’m sure they are, the argument is about the existence of God, not you or Sean’s ability to Love or not and I’m sure that you do Love, and I’m not saying you would go to a place of Hell of course not, and since you don’t believe in any such place, you should not be worried. Right?

    No, I’m not worried about going to hell. My concern is a practical concern about life in the here-and-now. Regardless of whether you intend it that way, claiming that “god is love” or other similar sentiments has the effect of positioning love as something that’s outside human beings and which can be differentially expressed in different communities–and that your community is the most lovingest because you’ve god the right god, and atheists, who haven’t got any gods, are naturally less able to love and care for their fellow humans. It’s false, which is bad, and it lends itself to prejudice against atheists, which is worse. And that’s regardless of your intention.

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  88. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Sally Strange,

    Thank you for your intelligent response. When I refer to “Traditional Christianity,” I’m talking about a “generic,” type, similar to C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity.” The notion of a non-empirical God is accepted by most Traditional Christians, whether Catholic, Orthodox, or protestent. Mormons are the only type of Christians, that I’m aware of, who believe in an empirical God, but there may be others. When I say “Traditional,” I mean those who accept that God is a Trinity, as defined by the Nicene Creed. This creed, which was formulated from Greek philosophy, in conjunction with reflections on the Bible, states that God id essential nonempirical, (although these words aren’t used).

    When we refer to God as being a “he,” this is just metaphorical language. God the Father and the Holy Spirit are nonempirical, and when “he” is used, it’s pure metaphor. With Jesus, clearly we have a literal man. But this in no way implies that God chose to come to earth as “man,” because mean are “better,” than women. Men and women are completely equal. It’s totally understandable to find the Trinity confusing, strange, even contradictory. If God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we have the Father and Holy Spirit as “nonempirical” and the son as bodily, obviously meaning he’s empirical. But Christianity, as I understand it, has always, or for most of its existence, stated that God is essentially nonempirical. So, one could argue that he came in the “form” of a man, as Jesus, but his essence is nonempirical. Or, how it all is rendered coherent is beyond our comprehension. That probably sounds like a cop out, I know.

    The reason that the notion of God being an empirical object himself, doesn’t make sense is that, if he’s created all empirical objects, then being an empirical object himself, would indicate that, he must of created himself. But to create himself, he must exist prior to himself, which is contradictory. He must have been created by another god, but then we have an infinite recess of gods, since that god, being empirical, must have a god, and so forth.

    I don’t pretend to understand what it means to say that God is nonempirical. But an analogy may be helpful. This of universal concepts, such as what we find in mathematics. 2+2=4 is nonempirical. It will always be true, whether humans or some other comparably intelligent being exists to know it. Even if our universe ceases to exist tomorrow, it will be true. Perhaps God exists in a similar fashion.

    When we talk of God “willing” or “desiring,” it’s not, as Aquinas has argued, in a way exactly like us. It’s what he calls “analogical,” in that, it transcends our ability to fully grasp. god possesses a mind, an infinite mind, but it’s much different from ours. I share your skepticism as to how a nonmaterial being can do these things. But how light can be a wave and a particle escapes us all too!

    With respect to biblical interpretation, I’m certainly no expert, and my take on it could be all wet. But I believe that it must be done in an intelligent, coherent fashion, not in a way that is comforting to the interpreter. the Bible is not infallible, in my view. This does make me perhaps heretical. It’s an amalgam of history, metaphor, inspiration, instruction. Since God is love, he would not do the terrible things that are mentioned in some passages of the Bible. These are best explained as the interpretations of the people who lived then, and they clearly possessed moral views that we rightly consider abhorent. This is what I would call the “Biblical Baggage,” to put it, very mildly. It’s a terrible mistake for Christians, and others to view these passages as God’s will, or punishment. These are the morally primitive, and morally abhorent views of individuals who wrote the particular biblical passages in question.

    Certainly the idea of “hell” being a place of eternal torment, is wholly inconsistent with God’s love. If one believes that God is loving, infinitely loving, he would never send someone there. Most Christians, who are sophisticated, do not believe that, if hell exists, it’s literal torment. The Catholics who talked to you, Sally, are not representative of the offical Catholic position, which is that Hell, is seperation from God, and NOT eternal torment. The theological understanding of hell, in Catholicism, is in flux. The theologian Hans Urs Von Balasther, who was a devout Catholic (Pope John Paul the second called him his favorite theologian) argued that hell may exist, but it makes sense to believe no one goes there.

    I agree with you that the concept of our minds arising from the brain makes sense. Certainly the findings of neuroscience, that mental phenomena arise from neural activity is reasonable. But there may be more to the story than we think. at the end of the ninteenth century, it was argued by some that discipline of physics was finished. Quantum mechanics, etc., put an end to that notion. Similarly, Near Death Experiences, where people know of thigs they could not possibly know about, if we’re just brains, is best explained as a consequence of these individuals leaving their bodies, which leads to the extrapolation that we may be more than neurons firing.

    I agree with you that the notion of an immaterial being communicating with material beings, God with humans, respectively, seems to make no sense (Many objected to Descartes notion of an immaterial mind communicating with a material brain, on the same grounds), but, perhaps there’s more to the picture than our finite minds can grapple with? Again, I don’t understand how light can be a wave a nd a particle at the same time, this seems incoherent, but it seems to be true.

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  89. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Sally, I’m sorry if there’s any spelling errors, etc., I just sent it, without proofreading my comments. I hate it when I do that :-)

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  90. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Sally Strange,

    I certainly agree with you that atheists are just as moral, and loving as believers in God. It is bigoted for some to assert that atheists or agnostics are not as moral or loving as others. In fact, many atheists are more benevolently motivated to be moral, than many so-called Christians, since some of the latter are moral out of fear of God, than because they love humanity, or because it’s just the right thing to do.

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  91. Pingback: Templeton, Sean Carroll and the ethics of mixing science and faith « Why Evolution Is True

  92. Sally Strange (@SallyStrange) says:

    Yeah. Looks like it’s time to have a chat about the meaning of the word “empirical.”

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  93. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Sally Strange,

    I define what one can detect with one’s senses, as empirical.

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  94. Brett says:

    lol, the use of “must of” rather than “must have” is also cringeworthy.

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  95. Pseudonym says:

    On further reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that any scientist who takes money from the United States government gives implicit credence to the notion that torture is okay.

    Nobody’s motives are pure. Money is inherently tainted. Life is unfair.

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  96. Bret Lythgoe says:

    With respect to God’s existence, the great philosopher Thomas Aquinas, (1225-1274 C.E.) has more than a few interesting things to say. His “five ways,” which are found in his golden treasure the SUMMA THEOLOGIAE, show why belief in God is more reasonable than not. Some atheists (not all, of course) seem to have not fully grappled with Aquinas, which is understandable, considering the plethora of words that came from his hand. (I haven’t read all his works; very few people have) But he’s a profoundly formidable thinker, like many in the middle ages. (C.S. Lewis once remarked, being a former atheist himself, that atheists must be careful what works they read, of this period, since it could be hazardous to their atheism.)

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  97. Bret Lythgoe says:

    brett: I’m glad my work entertains you :-)

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  98. Torbjörn Larsson, OM says:

    So I’m passing by a bit late, and my real concern is Templeton. But there was comments from Ian Durham and Joe Morton that I find it interesting to respond to:

    ID: “It is precisely because a divine being, by definition, isn’t natural or physical that science really doesn’t logically lead directly to atheism.”

    “Really, the most scientifically honest stance on “G(g)od(s)” is agnosticism.”

    JM: “While it is true that theism is terrible science, Naturalism nevertheless remains an untenable Philosophical position.”

    It is easy to see that such analysis is completely erroneous. Ever since thermodynamics could exclude magic action from local, closed systems the gap for existence of magic has decreased to now vanish.

    Dawkins makes a good analysis that since we observes that the universe starts out simple, we can reject any idea of pre-universe magical designers. And the WMAP 9 year respectively Plancjk 4 year data releases shows us a universe that beyond reasonable doubt has resulted froma spontanous process as thermodynamics applied to such zero energy tells us. No magic has written its signature in the CMB as it must.

    And it is arguably, from the eternal inflation consistent convex inflation potential found by Planck, that our laws are mostly locally derived.

    Hence we can test physicalism beyond reasonable doubt, the natural proposed theory based on these observations, that physics is all there is (physicalism).

    It is true that philosophically there will always remain a possibility since a zero possibility is observationally unachievable. But empirically the deed is done, nothing that could have magic existence, make magic actions, can exist when using the same standards of evidence that we use elsewhere.

    Again it is true that philosophically there will always remain an unphysical ‘existence’ based on no action. But empirically the deed is done, nothing that could have magic existence can exist when using the same standards of evidence that we use elsewhere.

    And it is true that philosophically there will always remain an unphysical ‘law maker’ possibility based on the arguable set of a few pre-universe physics laws. But empirically the deed is done, it is an unlikely possibility when using the same standards of evidence that we use elsewhere.

    As for atheism vs agnosticism, here is my analysis:

    – Atheism is the empirical position. Such an atheist has either never heard of religious magic or never seen religious magic.

    – Agnosticism is the philosophical position. Such an agnostic rejects the current empirical knowledge on the subject.

    Here is where it becomes fuzzy.

    It seems to me most accommodationists, those who have a remaining belief in belief, protects their and others belief by taking an agnostic position. (Alas, there is no statistics as of yet.)

    When they do that, they seem to frequently do that from a pure religious position of theological claims. As Fisher’s ref has it “they claim that the existence of a deity is either unknowable in principle or currently unknown in fact.”

    Either they make the theological NOMA claim on remaining gaps or, worse, they deny that we know that magical agents using prayers, making souls or making universes do not exist (which is the same as claiming NOMA wholesale, say). This is testable:

    – I believe the prayer studies that would observe magic healing (say) are done to 2 or 3 sigma.

    – The standard particle model completion studies (Higgs field) that would observe _any kind_ of magic biology including souls, or prayers for that matter, are done to 5 sigma.

    – The CMB studies that would observe magic thermodynamics involved in processes ending up with universes are done to 7 sigma as regards inflation (possible multiverses) and at least 10 sigma as regards _this_ universe (DM lensing in the CMB) – maybe even 25 sigma as some Planck results go.

    And so on and so forth.

    I’m loath to call such religious agnostics, to my knowledge most of them, atheists. They are a-”magical agents”, but they are not a-magical as regards theist claims in that it is, for them, a real area that somehow must be specially protected.

    Likewise I have a hard time place them as “non-religious” as already noted. They are non-believers in some religious claims, but not non-believers in religion and all its claims.

    Fuzzy. Of course, it is intended to be, as everything theological.

    And likewise to Bret Lythgoe:

    Theology? Really!? What could faith-based theology say on the existence of magic, or anything really?

    And even so, it is clear that this is an entirely empirical question, see my response to Ian Durham and Joe Morton above.

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  99. Tony Rz says:

    Whatever is your belief, this is mine, God is Love, the Love with which we Love regardless of whether we believe in His existence or not. So if you want to remain an Atheist so be it. So whatever you do be compassionate, be gentle, be kind, be forgiving, be helpful, be considerate, and if you do harm to another ask for forgiveness and treat all others as you would have them treat you.

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  100. Sally Strange (@SallyStrange) says:

    Then, according to his own definition, Tony Rz doesn’t believe in god, but in love. He just calls love “god” for no apparent reason.

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  101. Tony Rz says:

    No Sally, God really is Love, Love its very self, His very substance is Love. He is made of Love. This I know.

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  102. groovimus says:

    NEWT: Who are these “scholars in the fundamental nature of reality”? I think we may be experiencing a classic case of a selection bias. Ironic for a scientist to make this mistake without any peer criticism.

    BRETT: they are called physicists. Try and keep up buddy.

    darned good question newt. These people who have the supreme grasp of reality are people who believe that the universe is built to allow people like them possession of not only the exclusivity of the epitome of knowledge but all of the benefits accruing to those with the most arcane knowledge of all reality. Such as perfectly balanced living and personalities to go with it, the reverence due them by the less fortunate, all of the most beautiful women swooning after them and riches galore, for who would not want to hang with such masters, the masters of knowledge and masters of themselves. I always have been jealous how physicists seem to get all the adoration of the masses and hang with the most beautiful women.

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  103. Pingback: Reasonable Words: Sean Carroll on the Templeton Foundation | A Few Reasonable Words

  104. Just_a_Christian says:

    “scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality have by a wide majority concluded that God does not exist.”

    This fact bears a striking resemblance to another fact very well known for Christians: by the end of Jesus’ public life, scholars who were experts in the interpretation of Hebrew Scriptures had by a wide majority concluded that He was not the Messiah.

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  105. Ant says:

    @ Bret Lythgoe (May 11, 2013 at 7:50 pm)

    When I say “Traditional,” I mean those who accept that God is a Trinity, as defined by the Nicene Creed. This creed, which was formulated from Greek philosophy, in conjunction with reflections on the Bible, states that God id essential nonempirical, (although these words aren’t used).

    Why on Earth was a Christian creed formulated from Greek philosophy? You couldn’t make it up! (Oh. Except they did.)

    Or, how it all is rendered coherent is beyond our comprehension. That probably sounds like a cop out, I know.

    Yep. Pretty much.

    I don’t pretend to understand what it means to say that God is nonempirical. But an analogy may be helpful. This of universal concepts, such as what we find in mathematics. 2+2=4 is nonempirical. It will always be true, whether humans or some other comparably intelligent being exists to know it. Even if our universe ceases to exist tomorrow, it will be true. Perhaps God exists in a similar fashion.

    Except that “2 + 2 = 4” is very empirical. It’s called counting. Numbers and arithmetic are just reifications of counting (whatever Plato thought). I’ve got twelve baskets with a dozen apples in each basket; how many apples have I got altogether? It’s grossly empirical.

    But how light can be a wave and a particle escapes us all too!

    Not those of us who understand quantum field theory (QFT), as Sean explains elsewhere, quite accessibly to anyone who’s had a high-school education.

    It’s a terrible mistake for Christians, and others to view these passages as God’s will, or punishment. These are the morally primitive, and morally abhorent [sic] views of individuals who wrote the particular biblical passages in question.

    I think you’re in the minority there.

    How do you know which passages are abhorrent, and which not?

    What is the basis of your hermeneutics?

    Near Death Experiences, where people know of thigs [sic] they could not possibly know about, if we’re just brains, is best explained as a consequence of these individuals leaving their bodies, which leads to the extrapolation that we may be more than neurons firing.

    Except that that isn’t the “best” explanation of NDEs. Because, “things they could not possibly know about” just hasn’t been shown to be unequivocally true.

    I agree with you that the notion of an immaterial being communicating with material beings, God with humans, respectively, seems to make no sense (Many objected to Descartes notion of an immaterial mind communicating with a material brain, on the same grounds), but, perhaps there’s more to the picture than our finite minds can grapple with? Again, I don’t understand how light can be a wave a nd a particle at the same time, this seems incoherent, but it seems to be true.

    As before, the – completely coherent – answer lies in QFT. And watch Sean’s Skepticon 5 talk to understand why an immaterial being cannot communicate with material beings except by using one of the known physical forces (three to five, depending on what energy scale you’re considering: electric, magnetic, and weak nuclear; strong nuclear; and gravity). No others are available at biological energies and length scales. And using one of those forces would make such communications very empirical indeed.

    /@

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  106. Ant says:

    @ groovimus

    I think, say, Lisa Randall might take exception to your characterisation of physicists! :-þ

    /@

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  107. Ant says:

    @ Just_a_Christian

    Score 1 for those Hebrew scholars!! :-D

    /@

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  108. Bob Iles says:

    @Tony Rz “This I know.”

    No, Tony, that you DON’T know! It’s obvious, in fact, that you don’t know diddly squat so why don’t you just quit encumbering this list with your ignorant doodlings. Everybody would be much happier.

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  109. Johannes says:

    I will try to explain the notion of God from a classical theistic viewpoint, which is that of Aquinas.

    Anything in the universe, and the universe itself, is a contingent being, a compound of essence and act of being (“esse” aka existence), so that its act of being is:
    – received,
    – limited by its essence, and
    – changeable over time, as previously unrealized potencies are realized into act.

    God is not “a” being, however great, perfect or supreme, but the Subsistent Act of Being Itself (“Ipsum Esse Subsistens”), so that his Act of Being is:
    – unreceived, i.e. from Itself,
    – not limited by an essence, and thus infinite, because God’s Essence is his own Subsistent Act of Being, and
    – eternal, which is not the same as everlasting, as there can be no change in God since there are no unrealized potencies in Him.

    Here I follow the convention to capitalize the verb “to be” when it is meant in a subsistent way, to signify that Being in a subsistent way is essentially different than being in a contingent way.

    Therefore, while for any creature X, which is a contingent being:

    X = X’s essence + X’s (contingent) act of being

    for the Creator, Who is the Subsistent Act of Being Itself:

    God = God’s Essence = God’s (Subsistent) Act of Being = Subsistent Act of Being Itself

    Therefore the very essence of God, and only of God, is Being (as a verb) in a subsistent, i.e. unreceived, unlimited and unchanging way. Therefore God could be defined, to the extent that we can conceive Him, as “He Who Is”.

    So far it was purely philosophical reasoning. Moving on to divine Revelation, we read in Exodus 3:14:

    God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM “; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”

    whence the ineffable Tetragrammaton, meaning “He Who Is”. Thus we see a convergence of the philosophy of being, i.e. ontology, and divine Revelation.

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  110. James Goetz says:

    Sean, Ironically, your From Eternity to Here helped me to develop my philosophical theory of God and time because you helped me to understand the difference between the passage of time and time coordinates. I also appreciate that your previous blog taught me that a Hamiltonian value of zero would indicate that the passage of time had emerged, which is consistent with the impossibility for a past infinite passage of time intervals. Also, none of your actual science contains the slightest disharmony with my belief in God, not that I can say the same for all beliefs in God. Best, Jim

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  111. Tony Rz says:

    Love is a person of infinite knowledge, infinite power, infinite being and is a part of those who Love. Sorry Bob.

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  112. Robin Datta says:

    That there is no deity has been known for two and a half millennia. What is more difficult is to ditch the idea of an “I”, at least in the case of oneself. It is not so difficult to see everyone else as meat robots running on the programs in their wetware: automatons devoid of any trace of awareness. But if one follows the two-and-a-half millennia old tradition, it offers the prospect of bringing one to that realisation, not only about others, but also about oneself.

    The Diamond Sutra – A New Translation by Alex Johnson, Chapter 14:
    Such a person will be able to awaken pure faith because they have ceased to cherish any arbitrary notions of their own selfhood, other selves, living beings, or a universal self. Why? Because if they continue to hold onto arbitrary conceptions as to their own selfhood, they will be holding onto something that is non-existent. It is the same with all arbitrary conceptions of other selves, living beings, or a universal self. These are all expressions of non-existent things.

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  113. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Ant,

    It’s good to talk with you. Thank you for your comments.

    With respect to the Nicene Creed, it would seem foolish to me for the early Christians to not use the best of Greek philosophy. The latter is full of rich ideas, from some of the greatest minds. it would be irrational for early Christians to not use the rational conclusions derived from Greek thinkers in the formulation of the Trinity.

    With respect to mathematics, and I say this with respect, because you seem like an intelligent person, you seem confused. Mathematics is not empirical. one can USE mathematics to deal with real world empirical situations, but the mathematics itself is not material, or empirical.

    Concerning biblical interpretation, I’m not a Biblical scholar, and I doubt that you are either. Biblical interpretation is a HIGHLY complicated process. I statrt with the premise that God is All good, and therefore, would not eggae in the behavior described in certain Biblical passages.

    NDE’s have been shown to occur in people who were unconscious, and yet, still knew of things (such as details of their operations, that were subsequently corroborated by their doctors. Are the doctors lying?

    Scientists can only answer scientific questions. Whether God is immasterial isoutside of science

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  114. Ant (@antallan) says:

    Thanks for your response, Bret.

    With respect to the Nicene Creed, it would seem foolish to me for the early Christians to not use the best of Greek philosophy. The latter is full of rich ideas, from some of the greatest minds. it would be irrational for early Christians to not use the rational conclusions derived from Greek thinkers in the formulation of the Trinity.

    Would it? Why would the early Christians need to “formulate” (i.e., make up) anything? Either the Trinity is or it isn’t. If the early Christians actually knew the Truth from God’s words, why would they need recourse to Greek philosophy?

    With respect to mathematics, and I say this with respect, because you seem like an intelligent person, you seem confused. Mathematics is not empirical. one can USE mathematics to deal with real world empirical situations, but the mathematics itself is not material, or empirical.

    Well, I am an intelligent person (I have a Ph.D. in theoretical physics), but it is you who are confused. I never said that mathematics is empirical; I said that numbers and arithmetic are fundamentally empirical; a reification of counting. If I hold up two fingers on one hand and two fingers on another, how many fingers am I holding up? You can easily find the answer empirically. Geometry is fundamentally empirical, too; just think of all the textbook exercises that use compasses and a straight-edge. Mathematics is a logical (mental) abstraction from these bases.

    Concerning biblical interpretation, I’m not a Biblical scholar, and I doubt that you are either. Biblical interpretation is a HIGHLY complicated process. I statrt with the premise that God is All good, and therefore, would not eggae in the behavior described in certain Biblical passages.

    Why would you doubt that? I’m not, as it happens, but I know several commenters on blogs such as this who are! But that’s by the by. What’s your justification for that premise?

    NDE’s have been shown to occur in people who were unconscious, and yet, still knew of things (such as details of their operations, that were subsequently corroborated by their doctors. Are the doctors lying?

    I’m afraid nothing of the sort has been “shown” to occur; we have only unsubstantiated claims. I’m not suggesting that doctors or anyone else is necessarily lying (although I suspect that there are some attention seekers who have lied); what I am suggesting is that people are mistaken when they claim that they could not know any of the reported details by any mundane means. Even when we are unconscious, our brains may be active and receptive to sensory inputs (such as conversations amongst clinical and surgical staff).

    Scientists can only answer scientific questions. Whether God is immasterial isoutside of science.

    Well, the first is a tautology! (What is a scientific question? Do you know the limits of science? I don’t. And that’s not a claim that science is unlimited, btw.) But the immateriality of God wasn’t the claim I was discussing. If God, whether He is immaterial (purely “mental”) or not, communicates with us (our material bodies and brains) or interacts with the everyday world in any way, the LHC results tell us that there are only the known forces that are available to Him and thus we would be able to detect His activity. (But we don’t.)

    /@

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  115. James Cross says:

    I am not a Biblical scholar or physicist.

    Regarding the Nicene Creed, it was primarily an attempt by early Christians to consolidate political power and wipe out the non-literalist factions – the Gnostics. As for Greek philosophy, Christianity from the New Testament is primarily Greek (the Word the Logos of John) in its philosophical origins. It is an expropriation of the Greek mystery religions with the mystery removed. I think much of the literalist problems of contemporary Christianity arise directly from this period.

    Regarding NDEs, it sounds like you are talking about Eben Alexander.

    You can read my own take on it here:

    http://broadspeculations.com/2013/04/13/lets-explore/

    I am certain it will make both sides of this argument unhappy.

    I am highly skeptical that Alexander experienced anything that he could remember while he had no brain activity. More likely his visions occurred during the period when his brain was firing back up, not while there was no activity, and there is nothing in his account which would lead one to believe otherwise other than his assertion. His actual experiences are remarkably similar to experiences of shamans and people who take hallucinogens.

    On the hand, “NDEs and experiences with hallucinogens are often life changing. They can result in people changing their behavior and beliefs. In many cases, people with these experiences will count them among the most significant of their lives. At some level, these experiences may be brain waves firing. Brain waves are firing while I see the tree outside my window. Brain waves fire when a scientist makes a great discovery. The perception of the tree, the discovery of the scientist, and an NDE may all be brain waves firing. Why should we diminish the value or significance of the NDE?”

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  116. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Ant,

    Thank you for your response. I disagree with you concerning God’s existence, but I don’t doubt your sincerity, and I respect the intelligence and insights that you provide.
    Concerning the Trinity, certainly you’re correct that it’s either true, or it isn’t. And although the Bible can provide great insight into God’s nature, there appeared to be a need to incorporate the findings of Greek Philosophy, in the formulation of the Truine nature of God. This implies that God, being the creator of all, not just the inspired passages of the Bible, would allow his nature to be deciphered from Greek Philosophy, or any other true aspects of reality. The Bishops who attended that great Council, that came to the conclusion that God is a Trinity, made a discovery, it could be argued. They didn’t “make it up.” They came to a conclusion, on the basis of the Bible, and the logic of philosophy, particularly aspects of Platonism, that they considered to be a true finding.
    Concerning mathematics, perhaps we’ll have to agree to disagree. I think that mathematics is immaterial, and is applied to empirical situations. It’s immateriality,
    enables it to be free of the contingency of the empirical world. But your position is certainly highly respectable. In fact, it seems very similar to Aquinas’s view! The latter believed, that all knowledge is derived from the senses, and the mind, formulated “universals” from this sensory data, so math has its basis in the senses.

    God is, as St. Anslem said, the greatest that can be thought. One of the essential traits, of the greatest of all beings, is complete moral goodness. Clearly, many of the passages in the Bible, that assert that God “commanded” certain things, that anyone, with moral moral reasoning, and a moral heart, would conclude are the most horrible things, cannot conclude that the greatest of all beings commanded them.
    Regarding NDE’s, I think that, if the doctors and nurses directly involved in the care of the person who had the NDE’s can corroborate what the patient claims happened to them during their NDE, such asout of body experiences where the person saw certain things that he couldn’t possibly have seen, since he was unconscious, we should give it some serious consideration. True, this does not constitute rigorous scientific evidence for the legitimacy of the supernatural aspects of NDE’s, but it does indicate that further study is warranted, and we cannot dismiss it, because it contradicts materialist assumptions of reality.
    With regard to God and whether we can study him, or know him, scientifically. That depends. If one accepts that God is omnipotent, he can choos e to communicate however he wishes with us. Since he created everything, out of nothing, all that he created is subject to his control. We cannot say, unless we accept, which is not the Christian view, that God must conform to material objects and forces, that God “has” to communicate with us via certain forces. He can if he wants, but he doesn’t have to. We have, essentially two problems here. If God is immaterial, and not subject to empirical investigation, he cannot be proved, or disproved, scientifically. The other problem, is God’s sovereignty, or omnipotence. If he doesn’t want to communicate through certain forces that are currently known to scienitists, he doesn’t have to. The fact that he doesn’t communicate through these forces, or isn’t known to us through these forces, implies nothing about his existence. he could decide to communicate in ways not subject to scientific investigation, or he could decide to communicate, scientifically, through other empirical means, currently unknown to science. However he chooses to do so, or not do so, is up to him, and the matter and forces that he’s created, must obey him, not the other way around.

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  117. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi James Cross,

    It’s good to talk with you. certainly the early Christian period was a time when what constituted Christian beliefs was in flux. I come from a Mormon background. Although I no longer believe in the truth of Mormonism, I have great respect for it. And the Mormons believe that the notion that God is one in substance, and yet a Trinity, to be incorrect. They believe that God, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three distinct material beings. Their notion has certain similarities with some early Christians who viewed Christ as not God, but close to it (e.g., Arius).

    Concerning NDE’s, Alexander is a neurosurgeon, which implies that his own brain probably functions pretty well, so I’m disinclined to say that his experience was due exclusively to dyfunctional neurons. But you may be right. You make a good point about the life changing aspects of NDEs. If we told thesewho had these life changing events that their experiences were “really” just neurons behaving rather badly, I doubt that the life changing aspects would continue.

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  118. Pingback: 37G | On the Conflict Between Science and Religion

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  120. Ant says:

    @ Bret

    Apologies for a tardy response; I’ve been travelling on business.

    But why should there be a need to incorporate the findings of Greek philosophy in the formulation of the triune nature of God? How did the Bishops who attended that council make a “discovery”? Why should Plato, from a Hellenic tradition whose theology I presume you would not hesitate to dismiss as myth, have anything meaningful to say about the Abrahamic God? Absent any empirical evidence, they certainly did “make it up.”

    I don’t think we have to agree to disagree about mathematics’ being immaterial; it’s a mental construct. My initial remark was only that numbers and arithmetic, as reifications of counting, are empirical.

    Epicurus refutes Anslem, I think.

    Regarding NDEs, the whole thing hinges on the claim that the patient saw certain things that they couldn’t possibly have seen – or known about in some other way. That hasn’t been established. I don’t mean to suggest that further study isn’t warranted, but a naturalistic explanation seems (according to the studies that have been done) far more likely than a supernatural one.

    Materialism isn’t an assumption, but a working hypothesis that has not been falsified in hundreds of years. If reality includes the purely mental (i.e., if minds can exist independent of material bodies: mind-brain dualism), then why should the evidence for it not be as easily accessible and as clear as all the evidence we have for our materialist theories? The world of fermions (matter) and bosons (forces) that quantum field theory describes would seem like the wildest fantasy to a medieval theologian or Hellenic philosopher, yet it is intricately supported by experimental evidence, in exactly the same way that the crudest ideas of dualism aren’t.

    What’s more, if dualism is true, how does the mental interact with the material? We’re back to the conclusions from Sean’s Skepticon 5 presentation: If our minds are discrete and distinct from our brains, they cannot interact with our brains via anything but one of the known forces, which is empirically not observed.

    This conclusion is strong wrt God, too. You state that an omnipotent God could use a force unknown to science to communicate with us? Well, I suppose He could use whatever He wants, but we are very much material and anything that interacts with us can do so only via the known forces. So God could be “shouting” at us, but we’re completely “deaf” to that. The only other option for an omnipotent God is that He somehow hides this “sixth” force (I’m not counting things strictly; it’s more analogous to the idiomatic “sixth sense”) from the LHC results, that He somehow prevents this force that can interact with our protons from being seen when we smash those protons together at near-the-beginning-of-the-universe energies.

    But I don’t think that such a deceitful God is anything like Anselm’s greatest of all beings with His inherent moral goodness.

    /@

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  121. Ant says:

    * … in exactly the same way that the crudest ideas of dualism isn’t.

    [ I was too eager to get an H2G2 reference in there to spot the subject-verb disagreement! ;-) ]

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  122. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Ant,

    No need to apologize, I understand being busy. Thank you for your, as always, highly intelligent response.

    With respect to the Trinity, and Greek Philosophy, I think that if we go back to the early Christian period, we see that there was little uniformity in beliefs. We had some, who accepted essentially the view that Jesus was a mere man, but a very important man, not unlike a prophet. Then others, who said, is there one god, or many? And if we have many, how do we decipher which god is “in charge,” if you will, of the universe. Having one god seems to resolve this problem. But what’s the ontological status of Jesus? To make a profoundly long story immensely brief, the bishops mad an intellectual, conceptual, discovery (as opposed to an empirical one) that Greek Philosophy, particularly Plato’s theory of Forms, could be incorporated into our understanding of God. Why didn’t God just tell us all this in the Bible? I don’t know, accept to say that I think a lot of people (particularly Fundamentalist Christians) think that the Bible should be more than what it is. It’s not meant, in my opinion, to be a work where all answers are to be found.

    Plato is an interesting figure. What he precisely believed, religiously, is a mystery. In his Timaeus, he asserts that a Demiurge, constructed the universe ob the basis of the Forms. Christians reject the existence of the Demiurge, or designer, as superfluous. Whether Plato accepted the existence of the homeric gods, is debatable. But the Christian concept of the Trinity relies only on Plato’s philosophical arguments, and not on any of the religious myths that were a prevalent aspect of the classical greek milieu.

    There’s something profoundly mysterious about mathematics. It, and logic generally, possess a universality that just doesn’t exist in contingent, empirical reality. You may be right that it’s just a mental construct, but you would certainly have to agree that it’s objective? I still am inclined to believe that math exists on a level beyond space and time, and is not merely the workings of neuronal firings. If your position is correct, how could math, or logic generally, be objective?

    Concerning NDEs, Michael Sabom, a cardiologist and NDE researcher, has accumulated a large amount of empirical data, of people who said that they have had NDEs, and claimed to observe things that occurred while they were unconscious, or even clinically dead. The doctors, and nurses, who seem to have no dog in this fight, have confirmed what those NDE patients claimed. Perhaps the patients made good guesses, or the doctors and nurses, possibly for religious reasons, want to “help,” with the story, but I doubt it. The details are too precise, and, without evidence as a basis, it wouldn’t be fair to argue that the doctors and nurses are lying for the patients,here. (I know you’re not claiming that they’re lying.) There’s an interesting case, that I’m agnostic about, regarding its supernatural aspects, that you might find interesting:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pam_Reynolds_case

    Certainly, many NDEs are best explained as a natural consequence of brain dysfunction. But not all of them. And for some who claim that they’re all merely a result of some brain dysfunction, ironically, they’re relying on speculation. Speculation, on the basis of an acceptance of materialism as axiomatic. But the only way that they can provide a reasonable case for NDEs being purely naturalistic, is to firmly provide direct empirical connections between which brain regions are dysfunctioning, and the NDE traits. This has not been done, in a rigorous way, to my knowledge.

    People, billions, over human history, have claimed to have communicated with God. Surely they cannot all be delusional? Certainly delusional beliefs in a God or Gods would be less than advantageous to one’s survival in the prehistoric period of humanity? Clearly many claims of people communicating with the supernatural are bogus, but not all. And if God communicates with us, the fact that he cannot be detected by the currently known forces, really doesn’t tell us much. We can know that something exists, without understanding its precise mechanism.

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  123. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Ant,

    I might add, science, of course, is provisional. There are few “established, irrefutable” facts. If new evidence emerges, we may have to discard our current theories. It was, “established fact,” that Ptolemy and Aristotle’s conception of the cosmos, was correct, based on reasonable empirical evidence that was available at the time. Of course, as you know better that me, Newton and Einstein disavowed scientists of this complacency. cerianly if someone was to claim that God could not be detected, on the basis of Aristotelian and Ptolemaic notions of space, one would be forgiven for being disinclined to believe them?

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  124. kashyap Vasavada says:

    This is addressed to James Goetz: I read your interesting comment.I do not want to comment on Judeo-Christian religious views because of my limited knowledge of these religions. However let me say that Hindu philosophy solves the problem of God as an observer in a beautiful way.The God (Brahman) is present in everything, every particle.He (,she,it) is not like a commander in chief watching from outside the universe. Then, as the observer is in the system itself , there is no one to clock it.It is time independent.So God would be eternal. According to the Schrodinger equation the total wave function of the universe would not change with time and the Hamiltonian would be zero. This would be consistent with current model of the universe starting with vacuum with zero total energy. People like us (mere mortals!) who separate observer and observed systems (subject-object split) would surely see time dependence. Let people call this a complete pseudo-science if they wish. It is OK with me. But I find this idea fascinating.
    Kashyap Vasavada

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