Afterlife Aftermath

Video from Wednesday’s debate over “Death Is Not Final” is now up.

You’ll be happy to hear that the good guys “won.” In scare quotes because helping the world’s population understand that naturalism is the right way to view the universe is a long-term project that won’t be settled with a single debate. But Intelligence Squared does a fun thing where they ask people to vote before the debate starts, and then again afterward. We started out the night slightly behind in the polls, and by the time we were done we were slightly ahead. Mostly by peeling away the undecideds, as any savvy politician strives to do. [Update: oops, not right. See below.] So that counts as a victory — especially when the topic is one where many people (not all!) have fairly fixed opinions.

death-results

death-pies

It was a pleasure to have Steve Novella as a partner. The man knows his neuroscience, as well as his debating. He did a great job making the single most important point for an issue like this: the mind is the brain, full stop. It’s hard to hear the case he makes and hold on to any contrary view.

I was slightly disappointed in the folks on the other side. Eben Alexander basically relied on two things. One was his personal story of having a Near-Death Experience while in a coma. Anyone who accepts that people can experience dreams or hallucinations will not be overly persuaded by that alone. The other was to throw up ideas like “quantum mechanics” and “the hard problem of consciousness” in an obfuscatory way, to give people license to believe that science doesn’t understand everything. Which is true! Science doesn’t understand everything. Which doesn’t change the fact that no serious researcher in quantum mechanics or the hard problem thinks that those ideas provide an excuse for believing in life after death.

Ray Moody was a very pleasant gentleman, someone you’d be happy to have a beer with and talk philosophy. But he did almost nothing to defend the proposition. I was expecting him to broaden the evidence from Alexander’s own case to many others, but instead he spoke in generalities about science and philosophy and logic, concluding essentially that it’s “conceivable” that a realm exists where souls can persist after death. Indeed it is. Many things are conceivable.

At the end of my opening talk I said that the choice here basically comes down to two options we can believe:

  1. Everything we think we understand about the behavior of matter and energy is wrong, in a way that has somehow escaped notice in every experiment ever done in the history of science. Instead, there are unknown mechanisms allow information in the brain to survive in the form of a blob of spirit energy, which can then go start talking to other blobs of spirit energy, but only after death, except sometimes even before death.
  2. Physics is right. And people under stress sometimes have experiences that seem real but aren’t.

In the light of the evidence, the choice is pretty clear. We’ll get there, a couple of percentage points at a time.

Update: I was too hasty in presuming that most of our increase came from swaying undecided voters. Here are the actual data:

death-crosstabs

As you can see, the undecideds actually broke almost equally for the two sides. Our glorious victory actually came from a combination of factors, including persuading some of the “For” voters to switch.

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179 Responses to Afterlife Aftermath

  1. Manny Rayner says:

    I do not believe in life after death, but surely it’s an oversimplification to say that the only two options are the ones you name? Rather than postulate some weird kind of spirit energy (evidently unconvincing), one can argue that our consciousness isn’t a phenomenon in ordinary space-time at all, but exists elsewhere and is somehow linked to our bodies by means we do not yet understand. I recently read Fred Hoyle’s autobiography: a version of this idea, one of his many wacky theories, appears in the final pages.

  2. Sili says:

    Sad to see that at least 5% were actually drawn in by the bad argument.

  3. You and Dr Novella were killing it at the IQ2 debate! While watching the debate, I constantly felt embarrassed for the “for” side. They had no coherent argument, and wow, what an appeal to emotion they had going for themselves.

    I noticed in one part you referred to yourself as a “Naturalist”. I was wondering if that’s preferable to referring as an “Atheist”? In any case, I love the courteous and smart manner that you communicate deep scientific and philosophical issues to the public. Thanks for that! And I hope you become the main face of atheism! (Not that you are not now, but I mean, you should definitely be a member of the four horsemen!)

  4. Sheena says:

    Obfuscatory describes most arguments against naturalism. I have a good friend who believes in ghosts, but she has the good grace to just say it – ‘I believe in ghosts’. She knows I don’t, and that’s that. But there was a guy I used to know, and it was impossible to say what he believed. Maybe ghosts, maybe the afterlife, maybe dualism – everything had to wrapped up in impenetrable language. He absolutely refused to state anything clearly, because he was terrified that if he did, he wouldn’t be able to believe it any more. It irritates me because if you are genuinely trying to explore theories, you don’t do this. You try and clarify what the theory is, so it can be judged fairly. There’s a dishonesty in deliberately vague and obfuscatory language, that makes it very hard to respect the person using it.

  5. Dan says:

    Debates like this one are important to participate in so the scientific rebuttal can be presented to people who probably don’t hear it very often or hear it explained in a way that’s easily understood, something you’re particularly good at. It might be a bit tedious at times and feel like you’re repeating yourself, but each audience is a new one and a new opportunity to educate. That’s always worth doing. You and Dr. Novella did a good job against what turned out to be rather lukewarm opposition.

  6. Robert says:

    I do not believe in the existence of God or of an after-life. Nevertheless, I find militant atheists irritating, particularly as they generally seem to think that science is on the verge of answering everything. It isn´t and probably never will be. Little problems, like how did a Universe apparently pop into existence from the absolute nothing are not remotely resolved. I got chucked off the Richard Dawkins website because of the comments I made when I discovered that most of the militants there know practically nothing about science, but pretend that they do. (I mentioned the peculiarities of the relationship between time and speed and they said: “Man! What planet are you on?”) It is not possible to be so dogmatic, in either direction. So far as I know, science has no explanation for the creepy results of the two-slit experiment, say, nor have I read a plausible sounding explanation of the action at a distance. I´m not sure if the reason for the existence of gravity is yet understood. (I, at least, am confused. Is it gravitons or the bending of space-time? Or both.)

    Proposing the existence of a Creator to explain all the things which are inexplicable about life and the Universe does not, of course, explain anything.

  7. Ben Goren says:

    Manny, that still leaves open the already-closed question of how consciousness is supposed to interact with brains. How is it observing our environment, and how does it trigger the physical actions necessary to cause you to carry out a decision to, say, raise a glass? Everything we know of physics says that requires an exchange of energy at the least, if not an interaction of material particles — and that anything which doesn’t do so is, in effect, a perpetual motion machine.

    There are other less-implausible alternatives, but all are of the conspiracy theory type. We could be in a Matrix-style simulation, and after death the last-saved digital snapshot of our program files gets copied to yet another simulation. We could be players in Alice’s Red King’s Dream, and after we die he has other dreams planned with our characters. Or maybe our tinfoil hats have slipped and the alien mind rays are leaking in and we don’t actually die after all; it’s just that the aliens are making us think that we die.

    Unless you wish to embrace paranoia, the only sane conclusion is that physics really is right, and there is neither evidence nor a plausible mechanism for consciousness to survive death.

    If you have some particular mechanism you think physics doesn’t rule out that you’d like to suggest, I’m sure we can set you straight as to where you’ve gone off the rails. (Or, to be fair, if you really do have a novel idea that really is plausible, it’ll get a fair hearing — but don’t expect acceptance unless it really is new and you’ve got sound theory and ideally solid evidence to back it up.)

    Cheers,

    b&

  8. Manny Rayner says:

    Ben, please don’t get the idea that I believe Fred Hoyle’s wacky theory. As you quite rightly say, it runs into problems with Occam’s Razor: we don’t seem to need to postulate a consciousness existing in another universe, since physical explanations are probably enough. I’m just saying that it’s not as obviously wrong as “weird spirit energy”, and it’s essentially different from it.

  9. Chris says:

    Well done Sean and Steve. The Uncertainy blog post describing your debate style as polite, funny, and refreshingly clear hit it right on the head.

  10. Julian Abernethy says:

    I agree with you entirely. I tried to have an open mind before the debate but the opposing side relied mostly on their own experience and it was hard to even take their points seriously. (Kind of weird to be expected to trust someone about a personal experience who claims of himself that his brain was basically not working during the time!).

    The debate was so one-sided that problems with concepts of afterlifes didn’t even occur (e.g. which primates/clumps of cells have a soul?/Why does the soul sometimes fail to realize it isn’t dead yet?), because they struggled arguing whether it is not yet disproven by science.

    I really wonder how they were able to convince 5% or more of the audience with their personal experience.

  11. Joan Hendricks says:

    The only reason I can see to believe in a life after this one is fear of (final) death. And it seems to me the more religious people are, the more they are afraid to die. Shouldn’t they be looking forward to going to heaven? As for me, I tell everyone that when I die, it will be exactly as it was before I was born – just nothing.

  12. Ramesam says:

    Excellent job, very well done, Sean. We are proud to have you on our side!

    While “consciousness” a creature of the mind could be an activity of the brain, some “thing” is aware of all these and always there. Whatever “that” is, it is not ‘personal’ to anyone, it is Universal and eternal and all over spacetime. What could ‘That’ be?
    The ancient Indian Sages have a name as a pointer for It . They called It ‘brahman’.

  13. John Isaacs says:

    Even if you were able to move the “numbers” to 100%, you will have proved nothing. This isn’t an election. Both you and the theists (of which I am one) have an unprovable point. I am not a physicist but as a lay person everything I see in modern physics and cosmology points me toward some sort of intelligence behind it all, and a layer of mystery (dark matter, dark energy, twinned particles, even string theory itself) that transcends your ability to “debate” it away. But the argument is worth the effort, no matter which side you are on. So God bless you for having it .

  14. the el vez says:

    I was overcome with this great sense of sadness after watching the debate. I am not exactly sure what the root cause was, but I think it was because I had expected the “for” side to be prepared for battle (which they clearly weren’t) and present some really well founded data to back their position. I recognize that I am an odd bird as I am a devout Carroll-ite, but also want to believe that there is some creator of our Universe. These may seem like incompatible positions – but they really aren’t – mainly because Mr. Carroll is such an open minded and objective person, and has stated many times that he is not opposed to a Creator, that he just needs to see the evidence for him/her/it. At any rate, because I want to believe, but also refuse to believe based on hope and emotion alone, I am always excited when a “Christian Scientist” (not the L Ron Hubbard kind) join one of these debates. I was very disappointed in these two. I am not trying to disparage them, as I believe that they were sincere, but they should have at least watched the debate Sean had earlier this year (http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2014/02/20/god-and-cosmology-debate-with-w-l-craig/) to see what they were in for. I don’t know, maybe I am alone in this view of wanting to marry science and spirit (notice I didn’t say religion). I think that it is really sad that such a divide has been put up from both sides of the God vs. Atheism debate as I think that there is a lot of shared knowledge and insight that could benefit all sides. Maybethat is why I am such a big Sean Carroll fan: he can basically argue that everything I want to believe is completely unfounded by current scientific understanding, yet I don’t feel offended. Maybe it is because I am naïve, or maybe it is because he is one of the few people on either side of the debate that is truly objective. I tend to think that it is the later, but if it is the former I wouldn’t know it – by definition. :)

  15. Hi there,

    A great debate in some respects, a head-in-hands set of moments in other respects. Eben Alexander seems nothing but either a fraud or someone who has made a shed load of money off the flimsiest case…

    I was wondering whether you, Sean, had considered questioning his actual personal account as others have:

    http://www.esquire.com/blogs/news/proof-of-heaven-potter?src=email

    It seems like, in his own words, he has used some artistic licence…

    The thing that really got my goat was his demand (“not one sentence…”) for you two to supply a mechanistic or explanatory account of how the brain creates consciousness. I think you guys missed a trick here, because his demands are hypocritical: can HE provide an explanation as to exactly how the supernatural soul exists/creates consciousness/ interacts with he physical? Since his argument is a soul of the gaps argument, the answer is a resounding NO, and his demands undercut themselves.

    Silly man.

    Sean you are fast becoming an erudite and superb spokesman for naturalism. Keep it up. It’s good not to neglect philosophy like some other scientists.

  16. Meh says:

    The only thing more annoying that having to deal with the “life after death” delusion is having to deal with people who aren’t religious but are “spiritual”; people who are basically aware of the facts but still too afraid to face the truth.

    It was, yet again, a good debate which only required skimming over basic facts in order to win the debate.

  17. gaehazzi says:

    I watched the debate in real time and I was very impressed by the participants’ good manners, chivalry and sticking to the debate rules. In particular, I appreciated the Against Team granting Mr. Alexander that his heavenly experiences had been at least subjectively true, though hallucinatory in nature. What sportsmanship!

    Then, the other day, I was sitting bored in a train with nothing new and worthwhile to read. So I revisited, on my phone, Sean’s blog mail notification that had alerted me to the debate in the first place. There I tapped on the “this Esquire profile” link: woe is me! If only half of what’s there is true, why should this guy’s stories be granted any credibility? And if these are the rules of the game, why play this game at all?

  18. Doc C says:

    It’s easy to shoot standing targets, or as Sean likes to put it, ask a bad question and you get a bad answer. I would like to see a debate on how naturalism saves us from the nihilism inherent in imaging a purposeless, evolutionary universe. In that universe we are nothing but talking rocks, with no more value than any inanimate object. Once we assign value to ourselves, we have attempted to transcend our context as evolving organisms subject to purely natural laws. Either way, we are relying on our imagination. Science has no purchase there. Naturalists have no truer answer than any other value system that puts human beings at its center.

  19. John Hobby says:

    I think the telling position of Eban Alexander came when he brought up Carl Sagan’s ‘ apparent admission to the evidence for past life experiences in children as ‘overwhelming.’ Eban so kindly resourced this claim, so I looked it up and found the claim to be quite the exaggeration. This might have some importance in his other viewpoints and explanations of his personal experiences. Carl Sagan, “I pick these claims not because I think they’re likely to be valid (I don’t), but as examples of contentions that might(italicized) be true. The last three, have at least some, although still dubious, experimental support. Of course, I could be wrong.” (Demon Haunted World, p.302)

  20. John Barrett says:

    The “good guys” where Godless, soulless men… Wow, I guess you learn something new everyday. I really don’t think the Catholic Church could cause as much problems as they have in the past today. If the pope wanted a holy crusade today, he would probably be fired. Then people wouldn’t have to worry about being decapitated by not following his orders and the queens. Then terrorist still attack the atheistic countries like Russia, like when they hit the Olympic games.

    The real problem isn’t religion. It is rather the people are in a civilized or an uncivilized society. Taking religion out of a civilized society could only make it more uncivil. You have to remember that not everyone considers themselves a philosopher like you or I.

  21. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @Ramesham:
    I agree entirely with the last two paragraphs of your comment. I wrote a recent guest blog on a physics website about this issue. Unfortunately, since it is a rival blog, I cannot give a link. But I would like the western readership to at least try to understand such issues with an open mind. Whether they agree or not is a separate issue.In fact I am fighting war on two fronts. I do not agree with young earth creationism and opposition to big bang theory and theory of evolution. At the same time I do not like tirades against religions either.

  22. Fernando says:

    The pro side had an extremely weak argument. Alexander’s point boiled down to “it happened to me and I really really believe it’s true.” Ray arguing that it’s a problem of logic, not science, was extremely unclear and contradictory to me. If only logic and reasoning are needed to solve it, according to what he said, then why bother with accounts of near-death experience? That’s relying on empiricism and evidence, not logic and reason.

    Overall a boring debate as Sean and Steve’s argument was just much stronger than the opposition’s.

    Also, what the hell was that comment about Carl Sagan believing in past lives? Pretty sure that wasn’t true.

  23. John Barrett says:

    @Ben Goren

    In the many worlds interpretation alternate universes can have different laws of physics. If they have different laws of physics, then they can be very different than our own. Then there could be an infinite number of realms beyond our own, that may not even resemble universes. String Theory could allow for an infinite number of different versions of Heavens and Hells. Then there is no need to set me straight where I have gone off the rails here, because I don’t really believe in those scientific models anyways, but there are a lot of scientist that do.

    I think that the initial conditions of the universe would have to make it more likely that the universe was just like ours, cause hell, there probably would have been an infinite number of different Boltzmann brains running around thinking they where God. Then all we would be doing right now, instead, is all praying that we won’t receive some kind of divine intervention.

  24. gaehazzi says:

    @John Barrett.
    The problem is not religion per se but religion having the power of state. A pope that can have people burned for heresy (by relegating them to the “secular authorities,” to be sure, ) is not as benign as a contemporaneous one that must tend to his church’s rating.

    That’s why the founding fathers of democracy insisted on state-church separation, though they were to some extent religious.

  25. Ben Goren says:

    John,

    In the many worlds interpretation alternate universes can have different laws of physics.

    That’s not what Many Worlds Theory says.

    Many-Worlds says that there’s a single wave function that “branches” in such a way that different branches are “disentangled” such that they no longer can interact and that the one branch “sees” one possible outcome from a quantum phenomenon and the other “sees” the other. For example, when you run the two-slit experiment, the Worlds diverge and one “you” sees the slit on the left and the other “you” sees the slit on the right.

    However, all of the many Worlds still have the same laws of physics.

    I’ve heard somewhere that “Many Worlds Theory” might better be described as “Many Histories Theory,” if that helps.

    (I’m personally not yet convinced of M-W, but Sean is and he knows way more about this than me, so I’m willing to conceive that my intransigence on the subject results from my ignorance and / or idiocy.)

    What you might be thinking of is not Many Worlds Theory, but Multiverse Theory. The Multiverse Theory speculates that there are other Big Bangs, completely disconnected from our own, and that physics may be quite different in those other universes. However, this wouldn’t include the possibility of fanciful Never-Never Lands, let alone Heavens and Hells; rather, it would mean different values for what are in our universe fundamental constants: the charge of the electron, the speed of light, the force of gravity, and so on. Changing those can result in conditions in which matter as we know it behaves radically different; for example, stellar nuclear fusion might not be possible in one universe and it’s nothing more than clumps of primordial hydrogen and helium. Another one might have fusion, but chemistry might be much different…say, the element with atomic number 18 might be highly reactive rather than highly inert, and similar changes all across the Periodic Table.

    One thing that Multiverse Theory does not predict is “mirror universes,” such as one where Spock has a beard. The chaos inherent in the initial conditions of the Big Bang and subsequent events means that even some hypothetical other universe with initial conditions identical to ours down to the umpteenth decimal point will still have a radically different evolution over the course of a baker’s dozen billion years. The laws of physics will be the same and there’ll still be galaxies and solar systems and the like, but there wouldn’t be any Milky Way Galaxy — let alone any humans, and especially not a Ben Goren and a John Barrett discussing cosmology on a Sean Carroll’s blog.

    Cheers,

    b&

  26. Scott Bergquist says:

    I tried to watch, but I simply could not subject myself to Eben and Moody…at all. To my a priori made-up mind, Shawn Carroll’s opening definition of his status as a Naturalist (i.e., there is =one= world, the natural world) leaves the idea of an afterlife without any sort of foundation. There are so many non-function suppositions about the nature and behavior of an “afterlife world”; so many, that, just as with Santa Claus, there are a lot of descriptions and attributes, but nothing among those features that would propel Santa Claus (or, the “afterlife”) beyond the realm of fiction and myth.

    Thank you!!, Sean Carroll, for engaging in these debates. You are exquisitely eloquent, and a joy to listen and see (debating, but much more, lecturing).

  27. Avattoir says:

    Sili – I look at the numbers as saying: 68% came minds made up, 32% claimed to be open-minded, of which a third, 1 in 10 overall – much as in the general population – are, for whatever reasons, never going to commit; and of the 20% who claimed to be open-minded, 2 in 3 decided against … at that moment.

  28. ascanius says:

    between this and his brilliant performance against craig, sean has emerged as the most effective atheist takedown artist in the debate format. i hope he finds the time to do more of this. he’s performing a great public service.

  29. Charlie says:

    The mind is the brain.

    Once I was convinced of this, I became perfectly comfortable using transporter systems, which, as I understand it, destroy me (including my brain) while reconstructing a perfect copy somewhere else. As they say, atoms have no hair.

    Somewhere else or somewhen else. You would think that Eternity is a long time, but it goes by fast when you don’t exist.

    Then there was that time that the transporter lost its “lock” on me (whatever that means). But, fortunately, there was an identical copy of me 10^10^29 meters away under the care of a transporter tech that was just slightly (one plank unit) more talented.

    They say there is no afterlife. But in reality, there is no after.

  30. Anon says:

    It’s staggering still 42% were ‘for it’. I think that is an alarming lost, I’d say.
    Moreover, it seems to me those with a scientific tendency always vote undecided prior to the debate, to change his/her mind afterwards. On the other hand, the ‘uninformed’ will most likely stick to his/her guns. The moment they figure this strategy out, they’ll get ‘square’ :)

  31. John Isaacs says:

    Sad to see that my comment which respectfully disagreed with you was removed. Seems petty and intolerant.

  32. James Gallagher says:


    1. Everything we think we understand about the behavior of matter and energy is wrong, in a way that has somehow escaped notice in every experiment ever done in the history of science. Instead, there are unknown mechanisms allow information in the brain to survive in the form of a blob of spirit energy, which can then go start talking to other blobs of spirit energy, but only after death, except sometimes even before death.

    Yeah that was a non-sequitur to what you previously had argued. The fact that conciousness may involve unknown mechanisms doesn’t imply that everything we currently understand about science is wrong.

    You were lucky the other side were so poor as to not pick you up on trivial points like this.

  33. Tony says:

    Although Physicists have learned much about the world they still have very much, to learn. Even Sean must agree with this. They most likely have barely scratched the surface. Maybe they should devise experiments that would make the existence of a God most unlikely.

  34. Ramesam says:

    I find 3 dislike and 0 like on my earlier Comment
    There is 1 full agreement. Obviously by a Fellow-Indian. My thanks to him.

    Could the dislike be just knee-jerk reaction?
    Sean himself says, a profound quotable quotes, “Life is not a substance like water; it’s a process like a flame.”
    Excellent.
    Any ‘process’ is a function of time. And ‘time’, as well-thinking Physicists tell us, is an illusion (e.g. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKsNraFxPwk ).

    So “life” has to be an illusion!
    Then what is the “substance” that is Real?
    I hope the quick-to-react Physicists will ponder. If you need a hint, watch Prof. Menas Kafatos or Prof. Donald Hoffman at SAND 2013.

  35. David Lau says:

    A job well done as always, Sean. I truly enjoyed the debate and the great performance you showed. Thanks.
    David Lau

  36. Peter Ozzie Jones says:

    Dear Sean
    You are multi-talented & so calm & . . . great job in just 7 minutes!

    Dr Novella, what a insightful means of showing the mind comes from the wet stuff.

    A PDF of the transcript of the debate is also up should anyone prefer to read:

    http://intelligencesquaredus.org/images/debates/past/transcripts/050714%20Death%20Not%20Final.pdf

  37. Pingback: The “Death is not Final” debate is up on YouTube now #AfterDeath

  38. Mike Dziuba says:

    I’l be the first to admit that through the process of learning, looking at claims from an opposite perspective can be fruitful.

    I’m unable, however, to accept an implicit claim hidden within Eben Alexander’s case for an afterlife namely that brain damage is a kind of optimal mechanism for fact finding.

    Call me intolerant.

    Mike

  39. kashyap Vasavada says:

    Phenomena like NDE or afterlife have to be based on some extra sensory perception. By definition, they belong to a world which is beyond our sensory perceptions. If you demand a scientific proof, such claims would usually lose because science is a study of what we can find out by sensory perceptions. So the outcome of the debate is not surprising. As long as science does not understand consciousness, the scientific claims would always be questionable. We have to find a connection between the two worlds e.g. perhaps by Yoga (?). As many have pointed out, modern physics is already hinting (not proving for sure) that there could be such a world.

  40. Charles Lee says:

    I am a professor of physics at a university in New York. I attended graduate school and received a Ph.D. in Physics. I have worked as an educator and a researcher for many years now and I can tell you there was nothing in all my years of study that would make me competent to speak on whether there is life after death. I am heartily sick of physicists running around and pontificating on things they are not qualified to speak about and no studying “on the side” makes you qualified. You seem to believe that your experience as a physicist makes you qualified to offer an opinion as an expert on any subject (e.g. politics!). This is hubris and arrogance pure and simple.

  41. I have thrown in my tuppence on the debate:

    http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2014/05/09/carroll-novella-vs-alexander-moody-some-terrible-terrible-arguments/

    concerning Alexander’s one particularly bad argument…

  42. Robert says:

    Excellent! You´ll find, tho´, that the contributors only want to hear one point of view – theirs. Further, their point of view is not burdened by much in the way of scientific knowledge. Things like why and how the Universe came into existence will be discovered by next Tuesday and, of course, action at a distance and a few other odds and ends that no-one presently understands should be tied up by breakfast time tomorrow. Some of these Richard Dawkins acolytes will insist that science is irrelevant. Interestingly, Richard Dawkins himself was asked in a Daily Telegraph interview a few years ago:

    “Do you absolutely reject the idea of the Universe having been created then?”

    He answered: “Absolutely not! Though one would have to explain where the creator came from.”

  43. Robert says:

    So – this is just like the Richard Dawkins website from which I got chucked! It´s a bit like the state of North Korea – the only reasonable opinion on any subject is our dear leader´s.

    The basic argument is, of course, about whether the Universe might have been consciously brought into existence by something outside of itself – “created”.

    Absurd idea! The trouble is that the alternatives are at least equally ridiculous:

    1. Universe popped into existence from the absolute nothing – no matter, no energy, no space, no time. Also, it performed this feat for no reason. I wonder how on earth it managed that? There weren´t even any laws of physics. Why did it “decide” to do this about 13.7 billion years ago?

    2.Universe has existed, in some form or other, eternally. There are, at the very least, considerable problems with this idea too, problems which seem to make it impossible.
    A big problem, for me, is that I don´t see how there can be any current events – why didn´t they already happen, an infinite time ago?

  44. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @Charles Lee : It is surprising that you interpreted my comment to imply that I claim to be qualified (as a physicist) to pass judgment on such issues. It was exactly to the contrary. All I meant was that as long as science does not understand consciousness, all such scientific arguments are questionable. As a physicist, you would not want to prohibit questioning. Would you? There are unending 90 years long debates on interpretation of quantum mechanics! As a physics professor or may be as any person you are of course entitled to your opinion. In a short comment, I cannot explain my views. I have discussed these issues on a rival physics blog recently.I cannot give the link. But the title of my guest blog is Hinduism-for-physicists If you care to read it and then criticize, you are most welcome.

  45. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @Charles Lee: Since your comment followed mine, I thought it was addressed to me. On second reading, I think, it could have been addressed to Sean. In that case, I would let Sean take care of the issue. I still stand by my statements in the comment though.

  46. Robert says:

    I note that my last comment, regarding what seem to be the only three possible explanations for the existence of the Universe, will shortly be disappearing. What a pity! I really thought that someone would be saying: “Don´t be so stupid! There´s a simple and obvious explanation for the existence of the Universe. This is it…………….!”

    I suppose they mostly believe that 13.8 billion years ago (say) there was nothing – NOTHING, NOTHING – no matter, no energy, no space, no time, no laws of physics. Then, suddenly and for no reason, there was something!! A nascent universe!!! Essentially complete, really – with all the laws that would account for its future in place. Obvious, really. Happens all the time. I met someone who told me that when he was in the shower, an elephant suddenly materialised in there with him. “So?” I asked, puzzled. “What´s strange about that?” “Nothing, nothing at all – but I´ve discovered that if I prod him in a certain place, a particle in Andromeda suddenly jerks too.”

    I´m myself an atheist, but not a militant one. I´ve not, so far, met a militant atheist with a plausible alternative explanation for the Universe and some of the bizarre ways it works. I´ve always found Paley´s watch argument quite compelling – and I see that it´s been making a bit of a comeback in the last few years. The arguments against it always sound a bit contrived.

  47. kashyap Vasavada says:

    @Robert :
    I have full sympathy for you and your view point, although I am not an atheist. In fact this power of voting out a comment, with which one does not agree, goes completely against the spirit of science. In a scientific discussion, all views, whether you agree with or not, should be permitted. In published papers, at least, you know about the qualifications of the critics. Here you have no idea of who is voting against you! Also there are lots of people who use pseudo names for whatever personal reasons. I visit many other physics blogs and on one of them even had a guest blog published. This is the only blog with this outrageous system.

  48. Ken Kukec says:

    Sean –

    A while back, after one of your video performances was posted here, a couple of commenters (ones who seemed knowledgeable on the subject) offered suggestions on how to make your best appearance on screen (voice, clothing, colors, etc.). You seem to have taken that advice to heart and to have applied it with the same smarts and discernment you bring to every issue in your professional life. What I mean to say is, you look sharp here — indeed, for a guy with the looks of a 14-year-old in perpetuity, you look really sharp.

  49. aarrgghh says:

    “I was slightly disappointed in the folks on the other side.”

    judging from sean and steve’s expressions in the poster frame of the video, i’d say that’s something of an understatement.