November 2007

I’ll do my best to respond in a logical and somewhat ordered way so that other readers can follow. Hope it makes sense:

Let’s start with the Question of Origin:

To quote you:

“I say that God does not exist “so far as I can tell” because to the limit of my experience and knowledge I see no compelling evidence that God exists. I am open to the possibility of evidence outside of my knowledge and experience. I look to you to supply such evidence.

When you say that you are looking for evidence outside of your knowledge, I then bring you the theory of general relativity and it’s continued solidity today as an explanation for a created and ordered universe. If you think that all that this proves is that the universe has a starting point, then let’s move to the following: this taken in hand with the second law of thermodynamics, which states that things, when left to themselves move towards death, entropy, and not order. Evolution would state that what applies to the whole (an ordered universe.. and yes, this universe does show order. Just look at our conversations, as we put them in a way that makes sense to one another) did not apply to it’s parts (a series of random disordered events that somehow defied the law of thermodynamics and resulted in the world we see today). To put the odds of this happening into terms all can understand, this is like an explosion in a junk yard resulting in the creation of Boeing 757 jumbo jet. Sound likely? To be clear, I do believe in micro-evolution. Not macro. So you would say to me: (to quote you)

Can I support scientific evidence that God is not necessary? Yes and no. If we’re just talking about the origin of the universe, there are a number of scientific theories for how our universe could exist without a deity. However, most of them are relatively recent science, so they still need study…including theories not yet conceived or proven — could (My own words…can I emphasize “could”?)explain the creation of the universe. You then discuss alternatives I think that brane theory is, currently, the most exciting. Stephen Hawking also has a theory in which the Big Bang’s singularity does not exist and there is no boundary there. Frankly, I haven’t read enough of that theory to understand it, but I think it is more likely that a theory I don’t understand is true than God exists (me again…why?) But as I said earlier, this is a young field of research

So here, you have personally presented me with a series of options, which include:
a) A number of infantile theories that have yet to be thought out (yet you prefer them over hard data).
b) Some that have not even been thought of yet
c) Ones that you don’t understand (I.e. Hawking’s theory…which is just that…theory as opposed to proven science)

You then want me to believe that Occam’s Razor, (just use your pyramid illustration) the most logical and reasonable explanation , leads you to something you cannot even explain or reason into a formulaic explanation? I am sorry, but I think you may be doing yourself a disservice. I do not know you as a man, I do not know your heart, but I wonder if any amount of evidence, short of you being brought to heaven and shown it (and know this; many men who witnessed dozens of Jesus’ miracles in the bible, still never believed and lived the life of a skeptic, so even a miracle proves nothing to many) would ever convince you. I would say to read Luke 16:19-31 to get the gist of what I am saying. Again, that is for you to say. I say this as honestly and respectfully as I can: Although you say otherwise, and maybe that’s just to give the impression that you are open minded, could it be that you don’t want to believe?

It seems to me that an all-powerful being would be a pretty significant entity, so explanations that do not appeal to such a thing should be preferred. At best, science could say “at this point, science does not apply,” after which theologians could posit a deity.

Specifically your quote “explanations that do not appeal to such a thing should be preferred” is interesting. Can you tell me these explanations?

With both the fish and the universe, scientific theories need to be exhausted before deities areinvoked.

Q: By what authority can you say this? Is that statement exposed to the same level of scrutiny to which you say scientific theories need to face? Does that statement need to be exhausted?

Exhausted? Will you know when they have been completely exhausted? Will you be alive at that point? How will you know? How about just presented with some sort of hard data that makes it slightly plausible?

I would say that if you are waiting for infinite wisdom on one or the other, you will never believe in anything, because you will never have it. We take a lot on faith in our day to day lives (the sun will rise, my car brakes will work when I depress the peddle, etc.)and to other readers I would say that an honest and open search for the truth is necessary. Certainly, a faith coerced is no faith at all and therefore I would never attempt to make someone believe what I do. Conversely, I would say, consider all the evidence, with an open heart willing to be lead.

On to Morality:

My 2Q system of belief examination can help one go a long way toward creating a morality that is not based on anything supernatural or emotional. In brief, I suggest that you go through your beliefs and for each one ask two questions: “Does my philosophy contradict itself?” and “Would I condemn another for reasoning as I do?” If you can answer “yes” to either of these questions, then your belief is in need of revision.

Certainly your stance on morality being innate is interesting. But unfortunately, it is very flawed. It is circular reasoning that just goes around and around. By your rationale, because you wouldn’t like me killing you doesn’t mean it is immoral to kill you. It is just your preference just as it might be someone’s preference to kill you. Is one right and one wrong? By whose standard do you judge? This is where we differ. If it is indeed personal (you call them “your beliefs”), it again is neither right or wrong, just a feeling. There is no moral absolute to call it wrong. And yes, many people who call themselves Christians go out and do things in Gods name illogically to meet their own needs. This neither proves nor disproves the existence of God but only confirms our need to carefully follow Him. Nowhere in the new testament are we commanded to go and kill someone. In the old testament individuals did go and kill their own children, Jeremiah 19. God says He neither commands this or even thought of it. In other words, He was outraged that people were doing this and they were punished. So tell me: by what authority do you use your “Q2″ system? Why is this how we decide what is right and what is wrong? What happens when two people arrive at two totally opposite conclusions. Is that not the reason we have prisons? This is the problem that arises when men play god and put their own systems in place by which to differentiate right vs. wrong. (this is exactly what Nazi Germany did)

Take the following: When you decide for yourself that this is what you want and I decide for myself that this is what I want and so on and so on , who is right? all of us?

Bertrand Russell was asked in a debate “how do you differentiate right vs. wrong?” He responded by saying “the same way I differentiate green from red”. “wait a minute” said his opponent, “you differentiate green from red based on vision. how can you tell right from wrong based on sight?”

Bertrand Russell went on to say that he knew based on feeling.

My question, and the one Ravi Zacharias asks is this:

“Mr. Russell, in some cultures they love their neighbors, and in others they eat them, all on the basis of feeling. Do you have a personal preference?”

Such large and important things can not be decided based on feeling.

Truth is not subjective, and when your “q2″ system tells a person to ask oneself for answers, that is a subjective system. Without an objective truth by which to measure, it simply pits your personal choices against mine. If you believe one thing and I believe another, how do we know what is right? If I ask myself the question you pose and then decide killing you is ok, what would you say? You’d probably say “Well then, is it ok if I kill you?” To which I would say “sure…let’s have at it and see who kills who first!”.

If I succeed, was I the one in right?

The Christian says no. Why? Because regardless of what you think or what I think, God has given us a moral law by which to abide. If I behave differently, I will pay the consequences. Maybe not here on this earth, but later where ultimate justice is carried out. (that takes us into a later argument on life and meaning).

Personally, my conscience would have big problems with doing either of these things. I assume yours would as well.(in ref to killing)

I’d say that logic is outside of myself and is unchanging. That, to me, makes it a good basis for morality. In fact, I’d say that it may be a superior basis for morality, because people’s sense of conscience can be seriously out of whack with what I’d consider moral.

The logic is outside of yourself? Where is it? Not with your system. Yours simply involves “questioning yourself”. I see no reference to an outside logic. The part of your statement I put into bold is troubling to me. Christians, myself included, do not use others as our moral measuring stick. Yes, people do have warped morals, and you are able to say that b/c you know what is right and wrong. A Theist is not made perfect by his belief system, but he does have a basis by which to measure his level of performance ( I.e. Christ). If you look to other Christians amoral behavior as a method by which to disprove a higher moral authority and law, you will always be let down. Augustan said “You never judge a philosophy by its abuse”. Wise? Atheism, logically can lend itself to destruction, especially devoid a moral law. Darwin said as much! Darwin said the thing that bothered him the most of his theory, was that the very ascendancy of evolution had survived by way of violence and aggression. Germany was the most educated society in the world at it’s time, killing at day in the camps while it’s perpetrators were listening to music the of Vagner at night. Why were they wrong?

So my question in summation would be this: If we both answer differently to your “q2″ Questions…who is ultimately right? If I say killing you is ok, and you say it is wrong, what then?!? If I stand before a judge after killing you and say “but judge, I used his questioning system, said yes to both, and killed him before he could me”. Why am I wrong? Men like Ted Bundy, the Menendez brothers, Jeffrey Dahmer, Hitler, Stalin, on and on, answered in this way. Why were they wrong? Because the Author of “Q2″ asked himself and came up with “no”? Or is it because of a greater moral authority?

I’ll respond lastly to this statement:

You ask why people turn to God instead of to great thinkers on their death bed. Assuming that this is indeed the case, a cynic might say that it’s probably because we don’t do our best thinking when we’re dying. A more generous person might say that it’s because it’s comforting to believe that death is not the end.

You say that those explanations may be the case. So, you would also have to admit that quite possibly, it is that very moment that we are on the death bed of our life, when all the façade is stripped away and all else fades…it is only then that we are finally thinking clearly? And why is it comforting to think “death is not the end?” I believe it is because we were created by a God, leaving us with a longing that only he can fill making this life meaningful. Leaving us with questions like “what is my purpose in life?” But that if for a later conversation.

Best Regards and thanks for reading!

We’re certainly keeping each other busy, aren’t we?

Starting at the top, relativity isn’t something outside of my knowledge. I’ve read quite a bit about it, and I am familiar with attempts to use it as evidence for creation. Keeping this theory in mind, if one works backwards from the expanding universe toward the Big Bang, one ends up with the universe beginning as a singularity. There are two problems with this from the relativistic perspective: 1) The theory of relativity breaks down at this scale (it’s the realm of quantum physics), and 2) because a singularity is a physical impossibility, a singularity in physics is a sign that something is wrong with a theory. There are theoretical physicists working very hard on this problem. This is why I say that relativity can’t tell us what happened at — let alone before — the moment of the Big Bang.

Next we have the Second Law of Thermodynamics. You slightly misstate the theory, in that you did not mention that it only applies to closed systems. I assume you skipped this because you took it for granted, so that’s fine. You say that evolution would say that the Second Law applies to the whole of the universe but not to its parts. A physicist who is an expert in the Second Law would say the same thing — the Second Law only applies to complete systems, and there is nothing wrong with a system having pockets of order. In our system, the entropy generated by the sun far offsets what little negative entropy there is from life, so the Second Law is preserved.

I also disagree with your statement that our universe is ordered. Our conversation not withstanding, on average, the universe is essentially random.

The argument about an explosion creating a 757 is, in essence, a straw man. Evolution is a specific natural process that results in a certain kind of order — it is not equivalent to an explosion. Natural processes create order all the time.

Your referring to current theories in physics as “infantile” seems below you. And your referring to Hawking’s theory as a “theory… as opposed to proven science” seems to be a misunderstanding of how the word “theory” is used by scientists. Relativity is a scientific theory and you seem to give it a lot of weight.

I don’t prefer “infantile theories” to hard data. I also don’t see any hard data pointing to the existence of a creator.

You say, “You then want me to believe that Occam’s Razor, (just use your pyramid illustration) the most logical and reasonable explanation , leads you to something you cannot even explain or reason into a formulaic explanation?” Oversimplifying a bit, I’m looking at choosing between something I don’t know (a current scientific theory or a future scientific theory) that fits the known universe and something I don’t know (the supernatural) that isn’t part of the known universe. I’d say that Occam’s Razor prefers the explanation that does not add the supernatural into the mix. The fact that some current theories, such as brane theory, seem quite plausible just tilt the scale more in this direction. Look at it this way — if you saw something in the night sky and didn’t know what it was, would you say it was more likely something natural that you currently can’t explain or an extraterrestrial space ship? Occam would say it’s more likely I’m ignorant of something than it is likely that something significantly new exists.

I assume from your question, by the way, that God is something you can explain or reason into a formulaic explanation. I’d be interested in hearing that. I’ve never heard God described in anything but general terms (infinite, eternal, necessary, etc.) that tell me nothing of what God really is.

Would any amount of evidence ever convince me? Yes. I started out as a believer in God. I spent many years searching for a way to prove my belief. Unfortunately, the more evidence I looked at, the more I found evidence for God wanting. Why wouldn’t I want to believe in God? As you pointed out, there are a lot of benefits that go along with belief.

You ask what explanations there are that do not appeal to an all-powerful being as the creator of the universe. There are many. First would be those scientific theories we’ve already discussed. Second would be theories outside of science that involve the supernatural but do not require an all-powerful being (such as some forms of deism).

You ask by what authority I say that scientific theories should be exhausted before deities are invoked. Occam’s Razor is the authority here (keeping in mind that the Razor is a guideline, not a law). Acting otherwise leaves one open to belief in many things that are likely not correct (pseudoscientific medicine, false gods, etc.).

You ask how I will know when all theories have been exhausted, and whether I will be alive at that point. I’d consider all theories exhausted when we can’t see the possibility of a natural explanation. Two hundred years ago, there was effectively no conceivable non-supernatural explanation for the universe’s origin, so at that time Occam’s Razor preferred theism. But we’ve learned quite a bit in those years. Whether or not I will be alive to see the problem solved is moot. I’d like to be. But in the meantime, I see no reason to claim I know the answer to a question that is still under discussion. All I can do is assign probabilities to the best of my ability, and the more we learn the more remote the probably of God seems to be.

You talk about our having a lot of faith in our daily lives — in the sun coming up, etc. You are describing faith in the sense of trust — belief that things will continue into the future as they were in the past. If I had to use this kind of trust to decide the matter at hand, then I’d trust that science will explain everything in natural terms in time. Over the course of history, this has happened over and over — things credited to God are found to have natural explanations.

We need to define some terms as we get into morality. I define morality as a set of rules for correct conduct, and I say that some elements of morality can be shown to be global. You seem to be saying that there is a metaphysically true “right and wrong” that we call morality — something that perhaps would exist even if humanity didn’t exist. If that is the case, how do you demonstrate it?

My referring to my beliefs as “my beliefs” is not meant to imply that they are just feelings. Rather, it is intended as a polite acknowledgement that we may disagree.

Okay, now we get into the area where words have to be chosen most carefully because vocabulary is going to be a big issue. You say that in my morality murder has “no moral absolute to call it wrong.” This is true in the sense that there I do not believe there is any master list of things we can compare our morality to in the same way there is a ruler we can use to measure the length of a board. However, I am not a moral relativist. I think that murder (defined carefully) can be shown to be immoral in any coherent set of morals, so in that sense it is a moral absolute. I see evidence that my system of morality is more than just my personal preference in the fact that my morality prohibits me from doing some things I might otherwise like to do.

You ask what would happen if I met someone who thought that it would be okay to kill me because they didn’t mind if I killed them. If we’re talking about someone walking up to me and saying this, then either they are reasoning dishonestly (for example, they say they don’t mind being killed because they think it is unlikely they will be killed) or they are not sane (and I’m guessing you would agree that both the reasoning and the moral sense of an insane person are proof of nothing).

But let’s look at a situation in which two reasonable people agree to “have at it and see who kills who first.” Since you like to use the Nazis as an example, let’s imagine that you are an American commando who has been dropped inside Germany to sabotage a fuel refinery. On your way into the plant, a military guard spots you. No matter which one of you kills the other, neither is going to go to prison for murder, and neither of you would blame the other for pulling the trigger (because you would have done the same in the other’s position). Some would say that, if you killed the guard, God would not punish you. There may be situations in which one or the other of you is morally wrong due to special circumstances, but as a general example, this shows that it is true that under 2Q there are times when it may not be immoral to fight to the death. (By the way, I’d argue that World War II not being a moral war in the first place is not relevant to the situation.)

Sidestepping into the Bible, so far as I can recall you are right that nowhere in the New Testament are people commanded to go and kill someone. You mention God being displeased with people in the Old Testament who killed their own children. But what about people who killed the children of their enemies (e.g. Psalm 137:9)? I don’t recall that being condemned. Slavery also does not appear to be condemned, but many people would consider it morally wrong.

You ask by what authority I use 2Q. Well, it’s based on two principles that I think all reasonable people would agree upon — that we shouldn’t contradict ourselves and that we can’t blame others for acting as we do — so I’d say I am logically required to use it. What happens when two people arrive at totally opposite conclusions? If they both reasoned correctly, then they have to respect each others’ reasoning. However, I contend that such differences of opinion will be morally very minor — for example, Nazi Germany would fail the 2Q test because the belief that you can morally kill others because God has destined you to take over the world fails the second question test.

To keep us on track, I’d like to know a little more about your system of morality. So far, I understand that your morality is unchanging and that that it is linked to your conscience. You say that God has given you a moral law. As an example, can you tell me when this moral law says that killing another person is justified? I’d also like to know if you believe that morality changed after Jesus. For example, the Old Testament seems to say that it is moral to execute someone for homosexuality, but I assume this is no longer the case.

You say that your conscience comes from God. Am I correct in saying that if that is the case, you would also say that your complete moral sense comes from God? The reason I ask is that some people’s moral sense is offended by acts attributed to God — such as allowing babies to die in a disaster in which some bad people survive. I understand that there are perfectly reasonable explanations for why a benevolent God would allow such a thing to happen, but why should such explanations be necessary? If our moral sense comes from God, then shouldn’t we sense that babies dying in a disaster isn’t evil?

You question whether logic is outside of me. Certainly it is. Logic is a mathematical system with certain rules that cannot be broken, no matter how much I want to break them. My reasoning is my own, but if you can show that my moral reasoning breaks the rules of logic, then I am forced to change my mind. This is why I have certain moral opinions that I don’t like (such as my opinion of the death penalty). The rules of logic won’t let me change my mind just because I want to.

You say that Christ is a basis on which to judge morals. I agree that for the most part Jesus (as presented in the Bible) is an excellent example of a moral individual. But there are three reasons I think you can’t say that Jesus is your complete source of morality. 1) The vast majority of Christians seem to not follow Jesus’ example. I understand that everyone must fall short of perfection, but I don’t even see most people trying. Few people give up their possessions and leave their family to follow Jesus’ example. 2) Jesus does not offer solutions to all moral problems. He doesn’t address slavery very well, for example, and was in no position to comment on stem-cell research. 3) Those who say that they are following Jesus when what they mean is that they are following feelings informed by Jesus need to demonstrate why their feelings contain more moral information than my own.

You are definitely correct, by the way, that a philosophy can’t be judged by its abuse. You ask again why Germany was wrong. I think I’ve covered that. But let me ask you, if a country’s leader believes that God has destined his people to take over another land by invading and killing (or, perhaps, enslaving) its inhabitants, do you think that leader is morally justified in leading his country to war? (By my 2Q system, I’d say he is not.)

You ask about Bundy, the Menendez brothers, Dahmer, Hitler, Stalin, etc. None of these people would pass 2Q, even if we could pretend that they were sane. Bundy and Dahmer had self-contradictory beliefs (they killed but wouldn’t want to be killed). Hitler believed that he was justified by destiny, and Stalin killed for political gain — both of which fail the second question test. The Menendez brothers claimed that they killed their father to stop abuse, but they killed their mother because she was a witness, and the latter can’t be justified under 2Q, even if the first could.

Let me ask about another person– Abraham. Abraham was willing to kill his own son because God asked him to, and — I assume — would have gone through with it had God not stopped him. Would you say that it’s moral to kill someone at God’s command? If so, would you hold innocent someone who killed another because they were sure God wanted them to? (By the second question of 2Q, killing at the command of God would not be allowed.)

Final questions — is it possible that we think most clearly on our death beds? I suppose it’s possible, but I think the fact that most people don’t die at a time when they are in great physical and mental health argues against this. I also don’t think that people tend to do their best thinking under stress, and dying can be quite stressful.

Why is it comforting to believe that death is not the end? Because I don’t want to die. Similarly, a mother might find comfort in the belief that her daughter who was kidnapped a decade ago is still out there somewhere alive, but that’s not evidence of anything.

You end by saying that you believe God has left us with a longing that only He can fill. That’s possible, and it has a certain poetry to it. It’s also possible that some people have such a strong emotional need to be taken care of that they need to believe in a caregiver, whether he exists or not, and only give that belief up when presented with overwhelming evidence. Such a thing would explain why so many Holocaust survivors became atheists or agnostics — they got their evidence that they weren’t being cared for.

Posted on November 13, 2007 at 12:20 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: 2Q, About atheism, Discussion, Evidence

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