Questionable Motives

September 4, 2010

Do we need some help understanding why Hawking thinks no god is necessary?

Here is an extract from The Times (no link because you have to pay) about Hawkings new book:

Modern physics leaves no place for God in the creation of the Universe, Stephen Hawking has concluded.

Just as Darwinism removed the need for a creator in the sphere of biology, Britain’s most eminent scientist argues that a new series of theories have rendered redundant the role of a creator for the Universe.

In his forthcoming book, an extract from which is published exclusively in Eureka, published today with The Times, Professor Hawking sets out to answer the question: “Did the Universe need a creator?” The answer he gives is a resounding “no”.

Far from being a once-in-a-million event that could only be accounted for by extraordinary serendipity or a divine hand, the Big Bang was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics, Hawking says.

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist,” he writes.

“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going,” he finds.

There has been the predictable kerfuffle from the religious apologists about why Hawking must be wrong including this atrocious one from The Mail Online by Prof. John Lennox. Does he simply miss Hawking’s main point and concludes that the error must lie there? Or has Hawking made a blunder so obvious that even the creationist blowhards at the Discovery Institute pick up on it? Yes, it’s easy to believe that they are much more clever and insightful than Hawking. Even so, I wonder which it may be? Can anyone help?

Perhaps Prof. Sean Carroll can. Here’s quick summary of what Hawking means:

And The Wall Street Journal article written by Hawking and his co-author Mlodinow seems a pretty straightforward explanation to me (but I’m hardly of the same intellectual caliber of the Big Brained writers and Deep Thinkers and now humourists at the Disco-tute):

The idea that the universe was designed to accommodate mankind appears in theologies and mythologies dating from thousands of years ago. In Western culture the Old Testament contains the idea of providential design, but the traditional Christian viewpoint was also greatly influenced by Aristotle, who believed “in an intelligent natural world that functions according to some deliberate design.”

That is not the answer of modern science. As recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.

In other words, no creator god is necessary.

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43 Comments »

  1. tildeb

    I wonder how it helps science to make statements like “no god was necessary”. It seems to me absolute statements that cant really be proven dont help anyone.

    Comment by Titfortat — September 6, 2010 @ 8:14 am | Reply

  2. The point is not to ‘help’ science but to provide a natural explanation (meaning open to investigation using methodological naturalism) that can be tested and verified. ‘No god is necessary’ is not an absolute statement but one that says “this complicated and problematic notion of a supernatural creative agency is unnecessary.”

    Look, once upon a time we had no clue how things came to be so we assigned agencies that relied on the assumption that they had supernatural powers. The ‘answers’ we created were convenient and ‘looked’ like answers but they weren’t based on anything that could be verified. Nor did they produce any new avenues of inquiry or yield practical benefits in technologies. Once we had a method of inquiry that allowed us to verify what was and was not true based on evidence and testing and falsifiability, we have enjoyed an explosion of knowledge in a multitude of new avenues for inquiry and have gained many practical and technological benefits. In other words, methodological naturalism works. It is against this method that faith in supernatural agency has to compete if it wishes not to be dismissed as wishful thinking and for its ‘answers’ not to be summarily dismissed. And one of the major ways metaphysical thinking competes is by its supporters pointing out gaps in knowledge and inserting god, then sitting back and holding it to be true because no other explanation is available. When science comes along and meets a particular belief head on with some other explanation that is open to evidence and testability and verification and falsification, then it is not unreasonable to assume that no god is necessary. For those who placed faith in god and used this gap as a place to insert it hoping to keep it free and clear from this practical method of inquiry, all science is doing is offering a legitimate alternative. That religious faith always retreats with the advancement of knowledge reveals the inherent weakness and unreliability of its method of inquiry.

    Comment by tildeb — September 6, 2010 @ 9:28 am | Reply

  3. I have no issue with pointing out the flaws of religion. My concern is if in doing so you completely ignore the possibility of some kind of intelligence at the roots of our origins. As I have said before, something just happening out of nothingness doesnt ring true to my sensibilities, even if that is what the great Stephen Hawking is implying. Many great scientist have had to backtrack on their theories. In my few short years on this planet I have come to realize that it may never come to pass as to how or why we are here. I agree with the search for the answers, I am just a little leery when someone says they have it now.

    Comment by Titfortat — September 6, 2010 @ 10:01 am | Reply

    • The flaw as you say is not one of a particular claim (there may some kind of intelligence at the root of our origins) but the method of knowing if that claim is true. If we can’t know anything about a claim, then we cannot pretend that we know it is true. My concern is that we need to care deeply about what is true.

      Your ‘sensibilities’ aside for the moment, can we know if the hypothesis you make might be true? Well, in a nutshell, yes. We can know something about our origins. We call it evolutionary theory. I am sorry to say that there is no evidence that some intelligent agency was at work in our origins; instead, we can trace a history that takes your lineage back to pre-Cambrian blood worms. If you still insist that some intelligent agency was at work creating blood worms, then you do so strictly and wholly on wishful thinking because there is no evidence to back it up in any non-trivial way. Did some intelligent agency interfere with biological development? That is a scientific hypothesis in need of something evidential to back it up. Provide the evidence and we have something to work with. Maintain just the belief and you are empowering it without any means to know if it is true. Did some intelligent agency kick-start it? I don’t know and you don’t either, but there is evidence that energy equilibrium shows no external infusion of unaccounted energy.

      You fall back on a tired canard that “many scientists have had to backtrack on their theories.” This reveals several things to me: you don’t seem to appreciate that science – the method of knowing what’s true – is what you do everyday of your existence without pretending that only you own this method. If someone tells you that you’ve won the lottery, you want evidence before you jump for joy. If you think your spouse is cheating on you, you want evidence before you take action. If you want a warm shower, you check the water temperature for evidence that it is so before you jump into its stream. That any of these claims may not be backed by evidence that any are in fact true does not mean you are going to backtrack on the method you use to ascertain them. The method works and you know it works. So why cast doubt on science itself when the method does not reveal anything to substantiate a favoured belief?

      The second thing you do is use the term ‘theory’ incorrectly. In scientific terms, a theory is an explanation that has successfully accounted for all evidence to date. New evidence is always a challenge and the theory can be discredited. This is not a weakness in that that we shouldn’t trust theories: it is a strength in the intellectual integrity of establishing what is true. Hawking is well aware that just because he has good reasons for suggesting there is no need for some supernatural god to explain our cosmology doesn’t mean he is certain there is no god. This is nothing more than a typical and intentional twisting of what has been said to maintain the pretension that scientific results are really just another kind of belief statement similar to those that inform the beliefs of religious faith and that any reliance on their likelihood to be true is equivalent to faith statements. This is absolute apologetic bunk.

      As for knowing anything with certainty, I’m afraid you are always going to be disappointed. But if you care about what you can know that is probably correct, probably accurate, probably true, then there is no better method of inquiry (so far) than science. You already trust it with your life successfully so why pretend that those of us who use it to examine religious claims and find them unnecessary are suddenly saying that it provides ‘all the answers’? This is a false dichotomy that you are helping to spread and you know better. You know it does no such thing. And let’s stop pretending that the person who holds scientific explanations as equivalent to empty faith claims is somehow wise. That insults and belittles the tremendous and exacting efforts made by scientists everywhere in their pursuit of coming to know what’s true.

      Comment by tildeb — September 6, 2010 @ 11:34 am | Reply

    • Is an intelligence at the root of our origins? Yes. And He lives within us. Our having the intelligence we have implies, via the fine-tuning of our universe in accordance with the anthropic principle, the origins that we have, which in turn have meaningful existence due to conceptions originating in the intelligence that we have.

      Comment by Matthew Tweedell — September 12, 2010 @ 11:43 am | Reply

      • So provide evidence for your answer. As for the fine-tuning argument and the anthropic principle, both are terrible arguments. They are bad reasons with zero evidence to back them up. They are empty assertions. The intelligence we have comes about through biological evolution and not some ghost in the machine. That’s why a third of our genes are shared with daffodils but differs from chimps by a mere 1-2%.

        I think it requires a colossal arrogance on the part of a free floating bacterium within a stadium to assume that everything around it was built on its behalf and that it above all else is favoured in the unseen mind of the builder to have a central purpose.

        Our universe is vast and our place in it infinitesimally small. What little we know relegates us to holding a place of importance on a cosmic scale far less than that bacterium drifting in a stadium. I honestly think religious people truly have a failure of imagination to think we must matter when put into context on a cosmic scale, and this is compounded when religious folk assume that they personally matter to the supposed builder of everything. All the evidence we have points singularly to a biological effect from chemical and physical cause over time. Everywhere we look in our search for our origins, we find this clear evidential path, yet far too many people will not allow themselves to appreciate that they exist in spite of overwhelming odds against their being; instead, they fall back on superstitious nonsense to create an entirely unsubstantiated ‘answer’ that suits their central importance to the cosmos. If that’s not unfettered arrogance, I don’t know what is.

        Comment by tildeb — September 12, 2010 @ 12:15 pm

      • You really don’t understand anything, do you?
        I’m not going to bother giving any other evidence than what Hawking has given you.

        Comment by Matthew Tweedell — September 12, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

      • I understand that you argue that intelligence implies origins, which is nonsensical. Our origins are biological and directly related to the chemistry found on earth, brought into action by physics and over time subject to changes through evolution. Intelligence is an evolutionary product and not an insertion by some supernatural ghost in the biological machinery unless you have evidence for this mysterious insertion not available to other critters with whom we share the planet. That you cannot do so is not a reflection of my lack of understanding but an indication of the paucity of your beliefs in this matter. Tossing off the reference to Hawking as if he holds any such evidence in support of your position is blatantly silly when his point is to back up the notion that no god is necessary to explain why your anthropomorphic principle and fine-tuning arguments are insufficient in terms of physics.

        Comment by tildeb — September 12, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

      • I can’t understand what you’re talking about—neither your utter mischaracterization of Hawking’s point, nor your apparent assertion that intelligence is a product of something that doesn’t give rise to it.

        Comment by Matthew Tweedell — September 12, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

      • Our biological, chemical, and physical origins can be none other than those which could give rise to us. Our being here means that here must be a certain way.
        Why are you confusing the issue with nonsense about ghosts and ridicule for the truth?

        Comment by Matthew Tweedell — September 12, 2010 @ 1:55 pm

      • Let me put it this way, then: biology gives rise to intelligence. This is in contrast to your assertion that intelligence implies intelligent origins. There is no evidence for this and much against it.

        Comment by tildeb — September 12, 2010 @ 3:02 pm

      • What the heck do you mean by “intelligent origins”? Where’d that come from? And what evidence (whether for or against) are you talking about?

        Comment by Matthew Tweedell — September 12, 2010 @ 3:10 pm

      • As for you point that “our being here means it must be a certain way” is a very typical misunderstanding creationists rely on to inform their thinking about origins.

        I have written here and elsewhere why this is wrong thinking and I use the lottery example:

        Just because one holds the winning ticket now in no way indicates that it had to be so, that it was predestined, that some intelligence was at work to make this possibility the selected possibility. That the ticket we hold is NOW the winning ticket in no way casts aside the millions of of EQUALLY VALID POSSIBILITIES that existed before the draw occurred. Every ticket had the same chance – no fine-tuning was required – for us to hold the winning ticket. Nor does the ticket we hold have some special significance before the draw – as if this and only this ticket could have been the winning ticket because it became the winning ticket. All possibilities of winning by any other ticket holder had the same chance as the one we now hold BEFORE the draw but no possibility whatsoever AFTER the draw. The chances of us holding the winning ticket AFTER the draw is certain and talking about possibilities and odds after the draw as if they hold some special argument to favour our ticket above all others before the draw is just silly.

        That’s why the arguments for design are so poor; they fail to account for the before and after odds and insert oogity boogity as some kind of influencing agency… leading one to propose that because things are the way they are, they must have been designed to be this way. And that’s why I am careful to clarify that intelligence is not an indicator of intelligence: intelligence is an emergent property of biology and not evidence for some oogity boogity or a ghost in the biological machinery.

        Comment by tildeb — September 12, 2010 @ 3:17 pm

      • What are you talking about? It’s pretty simple. If you win the lottery, you’ve got a winning ticket, and if you’ve got a winning ticket, you win the lottery. And you speak so much of “before”, but fail to realize that when we are talking about the ultimate origin, there is no before. Anyway, the lottery draw *is* the process by which the winning numbers are fine-tuned to match the specific ticket(s) found to be winning. But we didn’t win the lottery to be here: “here” is just exactly where there are we. Who’s doing the “silly” talking about possibilities and odds? Not I; it’s you who brings in your own nonsense.
        Anyhow, again you misquote and apparently misinterpret me. Often I could swear you insert imaginings in the place of our common objective reality; you argue from meaning found in that which has none known (or even knowable) in our common understanding.

        Comment by Matthew Tweedell — September 12, 2010 @ 4:10 pm

  4. But if you care about what you can know that is probably correct, probably accurate, probably true, then there is no better method of inquiry (so far) than science.(tildeb)

    I agree wholeheartedly.

    That insults and belittles the tremendous and exacting efforts made by scientists everywhere in their pursuit of coming to know what’s true(tildeb)

    Geez, they must be pretty sensitive if little old me could do that. 😉

    Let me ask you something. Imagine the day we are able to create life completely from the start. In other words, imagine the ability to understand the mechanics and science behind forming life from an evolutionary beginning. Then imagine we find another planet that matches ours perfectly. Wouldnt it be something to use that knowledge to create life on it. Do you think that if we continue on our “evolutionary” pattern we may attain that level of intelligence in say a 100,000 years? Who knows it possibly could be much sooner than that. Crap, for all we know we might be descendants of Romulans. Oops wasnt that a Star Trek episode? 😉

    Comment by Titfortat — September 6, 2010 @ 3:54 pm | Reply

    • Geez, they must be pretty sensitive if little old me could do that. Not you… the attitude about being equally wise.

      Let me ask you something… We are on that cusp now but animating the inanimate is recreating a condition for life to begin. In this sense, it contains no ‘intelligence’ behind the life itself. It is a ‘natural’ process entirely. As for being descended from Romulans, our genetic tree is self contained from the earliest forms of life that existed here. Our lineage is from this place (these conditions) only. It makes no genetic sense to suggest that the earliest precursors for life as we know it to be came from somewhere else because even if it did it was in its most basic form (RNA from a molecule on an asteroid, for example) that then evolved over eons into all the life we find here today.

      Comment by tildeb — September 6, 2010 @ 4:45 pm | Reply

  5. i dunno, if ppl can figure out the why, they can deal with almost any how. even Nietzsche figured that one out. that’s where religion comes into play. something out of nothing doesn’t make sense to me, it’s not a compelling narrative. i have no interest in this. life is a mystery to explore not a problem to solve. if high-minded physicists thinks this helps them, that’s okay by me, but it really doesn’t affect how i live my day to day life.

    Comment by zero1ghost — September 6, 2010 @ 6:38 pm | Reply

    • The problem of starting with the what is that we frame it in a way that can lead us badly astray. Just look at metaphysics. Few people really get that epistemology determines ontology, or how we can know something determines what we can know. The same is true for our conclusions and opinions: how we think determines what we think. Change the former, change the latter, and this can have a very dramatic impact on how anyone lives his or her day to day life.

      Making sense of ‘something from nothing’ is not solved or reduced in any way by religious belief. It is compounded. The problem here is that people stop thinking the notion through to its logical conclusion when it comes to the religious belief that it must have taken a god to create whatever out of nothing and it is compounded by those who think the appearance of design requires a designer but exempts the complexity of exactly that kind of designer from exactly the same reasons!

      Comment by tildeb — September 6, 2010 @ 8:06 pm | Reply

      • never said “what” i said “why.” BIG difference.

        Comment by zero1ghost — September 6, 2010 @ 11:30 pm

      • And this is unknowable. The why starting point is an a prior fallacy: if you assume the answer – which is exactly what religious belief does in practice – then you will bend everything that follows to fit it, which completely disregards the importance of determining what’s true. If you care about what’s true, then you have to put aside the notion that it’s okay to start out with such unknowable answers because you have already undermined any way to determine if it’s true.

        Comment by tildeb — September 12, 2010 @ 11:52 am

  6. It makes no genetic sense to suggest that the earliest precursors for life as we know it to be came from somewhere else because even if it did it was in its most basic form (RNA from a molecule on an asteroid, for example) that then evolved over eons into all the life we find here today.(tildeb)

    Buddy, think outside the box. Im talking about genetics in its purest sense. We have now figured out how to take the RNA from an asteroid or something and we have the ability to place it to flourish in conditions similar to what exist on earth. In other words we know how to make life begin at its most basic level. Our intellect is now so developed we can make humans wherever we want, that is, if the conditions are conducive for that outcome. How difficult would that be if we continue on our present rate of intellectual development? Sometimes I wonder about people and their ability to dream the BIG BANG dream. 🙂

    Comment by Titfortat — September 6, 2010 @ 6:55 pm | Reply

    • Our rate of intellectual development? Do you mean knowledge? You can attempt to go make another human right now and I don’t think it requires drawing on a vast store of knowledge. It’s called sex.

      What do mean by ‘pure’ genetics? One with or without manipulation?

      What do you mean the ability to place it to flourish? There are no guarantees in genetic reproduction and by no means any way to ‘make’ anything flourish other than trying to optimize conditions for reproduction. What that results in is unknowable over billions of reproductive cycles.

      Where are you going with this?

      Comment by tildeb — September 6, 2010 @ 7:50 pm | Reply

  7. tildeb

    Are you not able to think BIG. Im talking about our way distant future. You know, when we will have the ability to make life from its basic ingredients. What would that be…..Come on……..nothingness……abiogenesis, replication, metabolism. Were in the future, we now no how to do it, so all we have to do is find another solar system with a planet similar to ours and POOF…………we are a God or a mad(brilliant) scientist. Come on, think BIG.

    Comment by Titfortat — September 6, 2010 @ 8:35 pm | Reply

  8. Hi Titfortat,

    What I think you are suggesting is that we may create life one day, therefore it is possible that other beings designed and created life as we know it (as we may do the same in future).

    You are making three critical mistakes here:

    Firstly, you assume that we will gain the knowledge to create life from non-living materials, i.e. you suppose that we will eventually do this.

    Secondly, you assume that life has to be designed to be created.

    Thirdly, you assume that the universe was created to support life.

    The first assumption is not proven, some people like Craig Venter have come close to creating new species, but even he admits that they are long way off creating a truly synthetic life form from non-living, or non-living derived materials. (i.e. from scratch using only materials found in the known universe).

    The second and third assumptions, are just wrong, evolution is true, and has proven that life evolves. Rather than the universe being created for life, what we observe is life adapting to the environment that it needs to live in; and in some cases changing the environment it lives in to make its survival more likely.

    Saying that we will one day gain the knowledge to build new life that will colonise planets, is not thinking big, it is circular thinking.

    Yes it is possible that life as we know it could have been designed and created, but who or what created the creator who created life as we know it?

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — September 7, 2010 @ 5:26 pm | Reply

  9. Rant

    Dont assume I assumed anything. I just said think BIG. The possibility is there. Shit even a child could see the potential.

    Comment by Titfortat — September 8, 2010 @ 1:43 am | Reply

  10. Living in fantasy wonderland does not make something true – you do understand that? Scooping out the Ocean with a dinner folk is possible, ‘the folk has the potential to scope liquids!’ [hallelujah wave your hands in the air – it’s a ‘potential’ scientific discovery!!!]

    But it doesn’t mean it will actually happen does it?

    What you are doing is exaggerating a potential outcome, by making it a claim – without any supporting evidence. Potentially there could be a creator… well yes, potentially there might not be one – this type of debate proves and discovers nothing.

    Potentially, all life might be a simulation in an alien supercomputer – but me saying so does not make it true, or prove that we will find out that this is true – does it? The only thing it actually proves is that humans have a vivid and dexterous imagination.

    Besides the problems and difficulty we have with the creation of life – to find and travel to another suitable planet is probably unworkable – space is vast (this we do know). Even if you travelled at the speed of light (which is believed not to be physically possible) it would take life times to travel to even the closest planetary systems to ours – which may be populated with planets as inhospitable for the accommodation of life as Venus.

    You might well say “but we might find another solution” and indeed might do – but then we might not as well, and until we find a realistic line of scientific enquiry it is almost pointless thinking about it unless you want to amuse yourself or others.

    By all means have a fantasy, and think big – but somewhere you need to balance your fantasy with what is plausibly true and realistic.

    Real things are vastly more interesting to study than fantasy, because what is real actually matters, in the present or not too distant future. By modern standards we in the west live like kings compared to our ancestors, but this is down to the solving of practical everyday problems, or accidental discovery, in other words most of our advances were not necessarily born through wishful thinking (like witchcraft and religion), but were born through necessity, convenience and the desire to understand what is observable and true.

    Sure some people find inspiration from sci-fi and fantasy, and that is ok, but there is a limit – most people seem to understand this basic concept including children.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — September 8, 2010 @ 2:36 pm | Reply

  11. Let’s start fresh, MT.

    You write Is an intelligence at the root of our origins? Yes. You are asserting that there is an intelligence at the ‘root’ of our origins. No, there isn’t… at least, no evidence that there is.

    You then write Our having the intelligence we have implies […] the origins that we have, […]. You are saying that our intelligence implies our origins. No, it doesn’t. Our biology does.

    You continue What the heck do you mean by “intelligent origins”? Where’d that come from? And what evidence (whether for or against) are you talking about?

    Funny you should ask that. I got it from you. And the (lack of) evidence I am pointing out affects you original assertion that there exists an intelligence at the ‘root’ of our origins. What evidence there is leads clearly in the direction of biological roots from this place without any interference from some other source except the local ones, namely, time and environment. No god is necessary. The same point reveals Hawking’s argument about cosmological origins: no god is necessary.

    Comment by tildeb — September 12, 2010 @ 3:29 pm | Reply

    • First, our biology is such as to have intelligence, Tildeb.
      Second, I didn’t say “intelligent origins”. What do you mean in saying this?

      Comment by Matthew Tweedell — September 12, 2010 @ 4:17 pm | Reply

      • (By the way, our intelligence is such as has this biology at its base. And without our intelligence, we would know no biology.)

        Comment by Matthew Tweedell — September 12, 2010 @ 4:31 pm

      • So is the biology of chimps, MT. So is the biology of daffodils, for that matter. This is the biology from which our intelligence has emerged. So your point about a ‘root’ of intelligence in order to be true must match that of our evolutionary beginnings, meaning that no god is necessary or, if it is, it looks exactly like evolutionary biology. In other words, there isn’t a shred of evidence of supernatural diddling.

        This is the second time you’ve asked me where I got the notion of “intelligent origins.” So I will answer a second time: you wrote Our having the intelligence we have implies, via the fine-tuning of our universe in accordance with the anthropic principle, the origins that we have, which in turn have meaningful existence due to conceptions originating in the intelligence that we have.

        You wrote it, MT. I am responding to your assertion that our intelligence implies our origins. You have it exactly backwards: our origins – rooted in molecular biology and not oogity boogity – are a PRODUCT of evolutionary biology that requires no imported explanation about supernatural diddling for purpose or meaning or morals or any other empty assertion some religious belief wishes to assume. There is no evidence of any diddling nor evidence of any intelligence in those roots whatsoever.

        Comment by tildeb — September 12, 2010 @ 5:29 pm

      • Do I give any “imported explanation about supernatural diddling”?

        Our intelligence having its origins yields what I would call “intelligence’s origins”. But if you wish to consider origins in the class of what may be intelligent, go right ahead.

        Human biology is similar but not identical to chimp biology, and daffodil biology is quite different—botany instead of zoology.

        I would rather leave it at “I think, therefore I am,” than to tag on “one lucky s.o.b.,” as you do.

        Comment by Matthew Tweedell — September 12, 2010 @ 6:13 pm

    • Why sure you do, MT. You even call it a ‘He’. Then you try to do the intellectual shuffle by playing the following word game: Our intelligence having its origins yields what I would call “intelligence’s origins”. If that was all you were talking about, then where did the ‘He’ come from? I’ll tell you: from the supernatural creator you believe in without any evidence to back up the assertion. And because we can trace our biological origins to the same root as every other living thing on the planet, I can offer evidence that the root of intelligence lies strictly in biology unaffected by any post-origin supernatural diddling. In comparison, you’ve got nothing to substantiate the ‘He’ other than religious belief. And I think it’s important to recognize the difference in appropriate awe for our being: the scientific one is informed whereas the religious one is imagined.

      Comment by tildeb — September 12, 2010 @ 7:00 pm | Reply

      • “If that was all you were talking about, then where did the ‘He’ come from?”
        Well, where did your “it” come from, Tildeb?
        These are pronouns in traditional grammatical gender according to the usage governing the conceived referent. If you wish to argue that usage, I assure you it can be found to be quite widely used at present and quite ancient in origin.
        You’re the one imagining things, as always.
        I really don’t appreciate you’re confounding things with unnecessary assumptions. Where some invoke supernatural agency, you invoke dumb luck. Yet you’ve claimed previously that your brand of atheism wasn’t merely adopting some other system of belief in place of religion and god(s), but was based on scientific naturalism. But this you point to in theory, understand only as convenient, and don’t always want to apply in practice.
        By the way, emergent properties are properties nonetheless. So is it that our origins are a property of our intelligence—that our intelligence has origins; or that our intelligence is a property of our origins—our origins have intelligence? I don’t care which approach you take (because the distinction is ultimately meaningless), but please be consistent, or it’s getting us nowhere. Now, one thing about implication is that a thing does imply its properties.

        Comment by Matthew Tweedell — September 12, 2010 @ 7:49 pm

      • I am sorry that cannot carry on an inquiry without scrambling behind semantics and pretending that there is confusion where there is none. I have challenged you to back up your assertions and all you can do is shield your assumptions by attempting to obfuscate and befuddle. You, not I claimed intelligence implied origins as a He. I am not an idiot nor are the other readers of this blog; the capital letter indicates not merely a pronoun like any other but (as you intended) a very specific subject you call god. Now go ahead and claim once again how I have misconstrued your assertion, that I have mangled the comprehension of what you mean. Because, after all is said and done, you know perfectly well that I do, indeed, understand what you mean by your use of this common language. What remains is also clear: you have failed to justify your assertion by trying (and failing) to attack me for misunderstanding. That’s disappointing because it shows a willingness to embrace intellectual dishonesty to keep your assertion unsullied by legitimate criticism rather than deal with the details of what’s true. And therein lies the lesson of making religious assertions: the devil, so to speak, is in the details that reveals the assertion to be empty and indefensible conjecture.

        Comment by tildeb — September 12, 2010 @ 11:11 pm

      • Either you are not understanding, or you’re b.s.-ing about “legitimate criticism”.
        “He” actually referred to that intelligence at the root of our origins. Now, whether that’s supernatural or not is another matter entirely; but currently you do not admit of any such real thing, so how that’s called is a meaningless debate anyway. But, yes, capital letter, as I said, as accords standard usage when used in reference to an ultimate Source.
        I have been honest to a word, but you appear not to consider what is actually being said in the words; you just keep changing the point you want to push. And I have not been making religious assertions. Of course, physics and metaphysics do have some say in what is theologically tenable, so the subject matter can overlap, but I’ve not been debating any theological argument or employing any theological techniques. Aren’t we capable of arguing from rationalism and naturalism? Preconceived notions should not rightly be assumed in such an approach simply based on the nature of the word used or on whom one is communicating with.
        Anything that I’ve failed to justify, you’ve failed to ask about. And of course no “evidence” can be given for what trivially is a tautology. (You however purport to support what you claim, frequently involving unneeded hypotheses, by the *lack* of evidence; I don’t—it wouldn’t be very intellectually honest, not to mention that it’s unhelpful.) You apparently prefer, though, to distract by pointing to various imaginary clowns to seemingly make a point where the substance is non-existent. (I suppose this is why didn’t actually cite anything “in the detail that reveals the assertion to be empty and indefensible conjecture,” though everyone from the author of the Rig Veda to Stephen Hawking reveals a similar metaphysical understanding, while your stuck on some oogity boogity that you argue over without even giving the matter definition.)
        If you have a point of disagreement, would you like to discuss it seriously?

        Comment by Matthew Tweedell — September 13, 2010 @ 1:46 am

  12. “MT: Human biology is similar but not identical to chimp biology, and daffodil biology is quite different—botany instead of zoology.”

    There is only one DNA structure that all living things share…

    The similarity between individuals can be used not only to decide who is related to who, but which species are related to each other, and descended from each other, and in some cases can even identify the geographical origin of the species as well.

    http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/news/060301_crime

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — September 13, 2010 @ 2:20 am | Reply

  13. The people who have contributed to this forum with the greatest faith are those arguing in favour of scientific positions they do not really seem to understand. Notions of multiverse and gravitation bringing itself into existence are fucking insane.

    Comment by Stephen O'Donnell — June 18, 2011 @ 5:11 pm | Reply

  14. Thanks for your response-

    First cause? Forgive me if I’m misinterpreting the question.

    Nothing makes itself, nothing brings itself into existence.

    Every physical event I witness has a cause. So I reckon a rule of thumb can be applied.Physical events are triggered by other natural events including human interventions. If the origin/creation event is the result of an intelligent intervention then that would be pretty convenient (and is a reasonable intellectual viewpoint). If the origin/creation event is triggered by a natural phenomena then it is a link in a chain or a complex system, but the chain would have to infinitely regress or we’d come back to the willful intervention anyway.

    Also, I can’t remember Hawking referring to gravity as a law…Surely gravity is a property?

    Comment by Stephen O'Donnell — June 25, 2011 @ 6:32 pm | Reply

    • I know it’s an hour long, but this video by the spectacular Lawrence Krauss (and I use that term ‘spectacular’ for his consistent ability to bring highly complex ideas into the common vernacular so that people like I can fully understand what he is describing… and that’s not so easy to do!) helped me immensely and perhaps you as well if you have the inclination.

      It seems to be a uniquely human need to understand how things are by how things were. But some of us go too far, and assume an absolute beginning dividing all the ‘somethings’ – all the ‘way things are’ – from some hypothetical ‘nothing at all’ and then assign that meaning to everyone who suggests any beginning other than magical poof-ing by some kind of oogity boogity agency. I think this is a mental problem of linear thinking… applying the same notion of, say, a story with a beginning, middle, and end, to all things. But that’s not really true of even a story, is it? Preceding the story was a back story, and preceding the author was the author’s parents. And so on. Is there ever a beginning starting from nothing-at-all in this sense? Can there be? I don’t think so. That’s why this argument is misguided when it comes to explanations of how things are… because it doesn’t deal with the suggestions of how new things – like life itself – have come to be without quickly substituting the magical poof-ing of an oogity boogity agency and calling that substitution an answer while ridiculing any other notion as an impossible something-from-absolute-nothing story.

      Well, Hawking and his co-author Mlodinow make clear that what they mean by ‘spontaneous creation from nothing’ does actually require something, namely, gravity from which all combinations of somethings derive. This not strictly ‘something from absolute nothing’ as such critics as yourself pretend but it gets across the hypothesis that ‘new’ things can spontaneously come about as long as there is gravity. This hypothesis has much evidence in its favour. Krauss also suggests as much using positive and negative particles… agin with evidence to support it. It is the theist who believes there must be a causal chain leading to ‘absolute nothing’, meaning the absence of everything, but this is not what any scientist I have ever read or listened to means when they talk about new things coming into being where prior there were none of these things; in this sense of newness only do they suggest something from nothing. The difference is very important if one wishes to come to know the hypothesis of how new things can come into being without requiring a magical poof-ing by an oogity boogity agency.

      It is following this causal chain of where stuff originated that we run smack into the belief that linear thinking is the only game in town, that it must always go back to absolute beginnings separate from ‘nothing’. But it isn’t the only game. There is also the notion that something has always been, without beginning and without end (but perhaps undergoing endless manifestations)… like a circle, if you will. This is very difficult for some humans (particularly William Lane Craig) to grasp: the possibility of a real, materialistic infinity. The only way we can know of it is to recognize our relative but expanding event horizon, but we don’t need more physics to understand this point.

      Another way to think of it is by its negation. For example, to speak of a time before time is incoherent. There cannot be a ‘before’ if there is no time. There is a time before this time, but there needs not be an absolute beginning of time in order for us to utilize the the very practical and material expression of time’s passing. Time simply is, without beginning and without end as far as we can tell. To suggest as you do that such an infinite regress of ‘befores’ is too problematic to be without poof-ing by an oogity boogity agency fails to appreciate the concept of time itself as a notion of relativity that grants us evidence of ‘befores’ and ‘afters’. One does not need a notion of god in order to understand time’s befores and afters any more than one needs a notion of creator god to understand how something can manifest into being for the first time in a material universe.

      Where infinite regress is important as a fatal weakness is to assign new manifestations of something to the necessity of a creator god… as if only by a creator god can we have an absolute and necessary beginning… forgetting that such an absolute notion itself is incoherent. But if god is prior to this absolute beginning, then we still do not have an absolute beginning because god is not exempt from the same causal chain. Something must have created god, as so on. Theists attempt to pretend that their god is exempt from exactly the same causal restrictions used to justify the creator god’s necessity! This is what I call a sleight-of-mind. You cannot be intellectually honest if you substitute arbitrary and convenient rules to explain the specific but then alter them to explain the general. If one claims this god or that one created anything, then one needs evidence to explain this necessary assignment or one should remember Occam’s razor. And god is a pretty complex beastie to have to justify first! Without such evidence found here in the natural universe for new somethings and yet insist that a creative and magical entity necessarily must intervene, one cannot do so and expect others to pay it any more mind than they would the delusional claims of anyone about anything for which there is no good reasons and no good evidence to inform it.

      Comment by tildeb — June 25, 2011 @ 8:16 pm | Reply


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