I guess how this works is I respond to each of your points and then perhaps bring up a few of my own branching out from those. Perhaps eventually we’ll either tire of each other or discover some equilibrium to agree upon (someday).
Thanks for writing back! I almost never hear back from people who don’t leave an e-mail address, so this is a treat.
My pleasure, initially I was a bit put off by writing to you, as I stated before I had the impression I would get some sacrilegious online debunking and made a fool of… but after reading your correspondence sections (Which I find absolutely amazing, this stuff should be taught at school!) I found that you and your readers had both a logical and rational approach to getting to the truth rather than some kind of socio-political mud slinging contest. I despise politics because I believe a lot of society is flawed: People getting away with murder, ahem.. winning elections and more relevant: throwing GOD in there to sound like some kind of mad holy war on crime. It damn well sure isn’t science!
Science is interesting in that it is a refining process as opposed to a means of revealing absolute truth. You’re right that science can be misinterpreted or misused or turned into arrogance, but I would say that these are usually examples of not of science, but of bad science. On the other hand, there are some thing so well established by science that we can go ahead and speak of them as facts without much trouble.
I read somewhere that humans instinctually assign probabilities to certain conditions of reality (apparently this is done in some region of the brain I cant remember exactly which). For example we would assign a 99.9% likelihood that there is actually a floor to step on after we get out of bed. There certainly is a possibility that someone (or some event) caused the floor to be removed so we recognise this fact but because of the low probability, we accept it as fact. Simply because we have to or we’ll all eternally be shivering under our bed sheets. Similarly we must approach science this way. Albert Einstein said that it would take an infinite amount of experiments to prove him right but only one to prove him wrong (Or something along those lines, sorry for just throwing things at you off the top of my head, feel free to correct me!) Anyway what he was getting at is that even though science may be able to convince us with 99.9% probability of how a mechanism works, its still not fact. Take projectile motion for example, there are simple equations based on drag, gravity, initial acceleration, projection angle, pitch, yaw, roll.. These methods of calculation can certainly predict how an object will travel perhaps to a mm of where it lands. However we will never hit the target exactly. This is due to 2 factors. Firstly there’s wind. Something out of our physical control which we will not be able to calculate it’s influence to a definite amount. And secondly, even if we somehow do, you cant define a point in space because then you would have to talk about sub-atomics and quantum theory… Which also may never be explained. What I’m getting at is that perhaps the entire question is wrong! There may never be an answer!
You suggest that perhaps God hasn’t been defined properly. Oddly, I’ve been getting a lot of e-mail on that subject of late, and it’s a subject I truly enjoy. The problem with some of your suggestions (creator, setter-offer of the big bang) is that those positions could, at least in theory, be filled by something that is not supernatural, so most religious people wouldn’t accept such a definition. If someone can come up with a definition of “god” that is a) logical, b) consistent, c) complete, and d) acceptable to most theists, I will be very excited.
I despise this word: “Supernatural” because of its religious links to vampires, ghouls, demons and whatever else you saw on buffy the vampire slayer. Now you say that god must be supernatural? Religions claims that?… however religions suck and I’d never believe in something that’s just pure ‘because it is!’ For all we know he might be some giant machine which has worked out some kind of equation to get us or ‘matter’ in this universe from A to B. And heres a question to tickle your fancy… If he was a machine, whats wrong with calling him some kind of divine being? You’re human. You have a brain, eyes, a nose and a few other parts but why does this matter to you if you can never know? Heck go ahead and call him god. That might be the closest you come to its true definition. Just don’t forget about newton in the process though
“God works in mysterious ways” I’ve heard that a few times! This is such a vague statement! It could be interpreted in any way you see fit really. Perhaps it even has some kind of logical, philosophical meaning in such we will never know how events will unfold definitely. Or it could just mean “You don’t get to know, you foolish mortal! God is god and that is that.” Whatever right? The bible is a funny thing, it’s a whole bunch of words… Translated.. With a new modified edition every few years? Debated and carefully selected on by a bunch of Greek rich folk? And written by other people? With the first half of it describing events with a probability of 1e-999 happening ?(which some religious folks actually use as a POINT for their arguments…. Yeah.) Hardly scientific… Anyway what was my point again?
It’s possible that there will be a big revolution in science some day that will make current scientific thought seem as outdated as astrology, but I doubt it. With each new discovery, we get closer to the truth, and although we still have a long way to go, I’d be surprised if we were horribly wrong.
We thought the world was flat due to our ‘science’ a while ago. We just gave it a new word and demanded the fools who write the books to actually prove it this time. Most of the laws in science are pure theory based on observation… If I could take you 50 years into the future we could go through all your highschool textbooks with a red marker and scratch of half of it which then will be proven wrong.
Regarding your bitching about my comments page. I hadn’t really thought about it, but you’re right. I’ve changed to page to, hopefully, make it more inviting. By the way, I do have a page with some of my best correspondence — http://www.iamanatheist.com/correspondence/notable/index.html
Good on you, this will definitely get more people commenting without fear of eternal damnation… lol… well nearly all but good effort! If I may be so bold as to make one suggestion: you might want to define the purpose of the website. Like a mission statement of a company, a proper, coherent website should be structured appropriately with an aim in mind being either humour or philosophical discussion (or both!) If you have a bunch of pages which seem to have different themes then people get the wrong impression on the rest of it. Don’t go changing everything I love how its setup, but just remember this We live in a seconds world out there and people drop in for a few seconds only… Its kinda like marketing. You want to give people something pretty and appealing yet perhaps useful?
If you were wondering, I actually came across your page using a toolbar called “Stumble-upon” (http://stumbleupon.com ) I had the “atheism websites” category ticked and eventually came across yours and was hooked by the bold “You are now an atheist” message.
Finally, regarding whether to assign “x” or “0” to unknowns. There are so many unknowns that I go ahead and assign “0” to the farfetched ones. It keeps life simple and stops me from having to consider every extreme possibility all the time. But I’m willing to be shown I’m wrong.
Hahaha too right!
I look forward very much to your response! Perhaps a first name or an alias? I’m not sure what I should call you…
Let’s start with science, probability, and fact. An interesting thing about science is that it incorporates its own inability to know things with certainty. The exclusion principle and chaos theory both indicate that we could never have an exact answer to the question of where a projectile will land, but scientists can quantify those uncertainties and work with them. What’s important, though, is that science is a refining process, so the longer we work on something the less likely it is that it will be completely overturned. For example, Einstein showed that Newtonian physics is incorrect, but Newtonian physics is so close to correct that it can be used to plot the trajectory of space probes.
I don’t know if I would agree with your prediction of being able to scratch out half of a high school textbook in fifty years. Most of the big revolutions in science (such as the shape of the earth) take place in areas that science hasn’t had much experience in. For example, high energy, small scales, oceanic depths, and the far past. We have been investigating all of these things for quite a while now, so I would be surprised if there was an earth-is-round-size change in any of them. There are still areas in which we have little experience (nano technology, genetic engineering, things at interstellar distances, artificial intelligence, human intelligence) and I could see revolutions in those areas as more possible.
Regarding God being supernatural. I would say that religion (at least, every religion I can think of that has a deity) assumes that deity to be supernatural, meaning not bound by the laws of science (at least to some degree). If the universe was created by a machine, I would not call it a divine being, and I doubt that most religious people would, either. For the sake of clarity, I would not use “god” to refer to a non-supernatural entity.
To me “God works in mysterious ways” usually seems to translate into “that seems to contradict what I say about God, but I’m sure that it really doesn’t.”
I appreciate the comment about better defining the purpose of the Web site. I am working on a change that will better separate the serious and silly portions of the site, and it will go live in about two weeks (which explains why I haven’t posted any letters recently, by the way).
So far as what to call me — several people have used “Declare,” and I kind of like that.