Saturday, September 29, 2012

Why is the world the way it is?

The universe could have been any way, as opposed to the way it is, which looks just like a universe that was created by natural processes.

If there was a God, the universe COULD have existed solely of a 12 x 12 x 9 foot room, a pool liner, a 42 gallon barrel of Wesson Oil, my sister and Brad Pitt. But it didn't.

I think that even my sister would agree that that is proof there is no God.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Certainty about God

It's often said that we're all born atheist.

Imagine - you're 3 or 4 years old, and the concept of God has never occurred to you. You are without a belief in God - the classic definition of atheist.

Then someone tells you about God, and you, being an obedient child, adopt the concept as an operative description of the world. Your belief in God might be 50, 90, 99 percent or more certain. (For the sake of realism, let's assume that absolute certainty is impossible, but that you will have some non-zero, non-one-hundred percent certainty in any proposition being true.)

As you grow up, your education about God ebbs and flows. If you have a devoutly religious family, and travel in devoutly religious social circles, you may tend to become more certain that God is a true proposition. The opposite may also pertain, that your family is not devout, even agnostic or atheist, and based on your own experiences and personal make-up, you will become more or less certain that God is a true proposition.

I've followed that second path, although the journey was not a straight line from 90 percent certainty that the concept of God is real to 99.999999 percent certainty that the concept of God is not real.

One aspect to our perception of reality is also how we define things. For instance, I am virtually certain (99.999...%) that Yahweh doesn't exist. He never appears, he never affects the world in a notable way, in fact, he's described in the one holy book that asserts his existence as incompetent, inconsistent, ill-tempered, petty, violent, and arguably the biggest murderer in history (Genesis chapters 6 thru 9). If he exists, he sounds like someone that we should terminate with extreme prejudice.

I'm less certain that a pantheistic concept of God does not exist. But. A pantheistic God, a God that we are part of, has different implications for my life than does a theistic entity such as Yahweh. One, I cannot discern the difference between "Pantheo" (or whatever we'd call this thing) and nature as it's been manifest to me throughout my life. Two, there's no doctrine, rituals, narratives or other trappings of typical religions that might have an affect on me. It really has no impact on the world.

Given these two conceptions of God (of many possible propositions about the world) it still makes sense to behave as if there's no God.

Pascal was a pussy!

Why faith is unreliable

Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance has an excellent post on faith that includes this explanation on how faith can be misleading:

...Here, as I see it, is the problem. Any time we have beliefs of any sort, we need to admit the possibility that they are incorrect. Even if we have think that some result has been reached by nothing but the application of pristine mathematical logic (e.g. the ABC conjecture), it’s always possible that we simply made a mistake — have you ever multiplied two numbers together and gotten the wrong answer? Certainly in an empirical endeavor like science, we recognize that our theoretical understanding is necessarily contingent, and are constantly trying to do better, via more precise and far-reaching experimental tests. These are methods of reaching knowledge that have built-in methods of self-correction.

So what about faith? Even if your faith is extremely strong in some particular proposition, e.g. that God loves you, it’s important to recognize that there’s a chance you are mistaken. That should be an important part of any respectable road to knowledge. So you are faced with (at least) two alternative ideas: first, that God exists and really does love you and has put that belief into your mind via the road of faith, and second, that God doesn’t exist and that you have just made a mistake.

The problem is that you haven’t given yourself any way to legitimately decide between these two alternatives. Once you say that you have faith, and that it comes directly from God, there is no self-correction mechanism. You can justify essentially any belief at all by claiming that God gave it to you directly, despite any logical or evidence-based arguments to the contrary. This isn’t just nit-picking; it’s precisely what you see in many religious believers. An evidence-based person might reason, “I am becoming skeptical that there exists an all-powerful and all-loving deity, given how much random suffering exists in the world.” But a faith-based person can always think, “I have faith that God exists, so when I see suffering, I need to think of a reason why God would let it happen.”

This general line of thought is certainly worth including in any discussion with folks that promote magical thinking.

Update 1 - Cosmic Variance commenter Neal J. King had this little gem to contribute:

Scientific knowledge has to be self-consistent.
Faith-based knowledge has to be emotionally satisfying to the individual.
As long as the faith-based knowledge is not inconsistent with (has no intersection with) the scientific knowledge, who, aside from the individual, has to care about it?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Everybody knows what God is!

"...everybody knows that God is a deranged shapeshifting hunchback with a unicorn fetish."

Iain Walker, in a reply to P.Z. Myers on Pharyngula -
October 22, 2007, 10:55 am