The Cosmological Breakdown

This is an actual picture of the universe as it was over 13 billion years ago, constructed from actual light that we have actually observed. It's amazing.

This is a picture of the visible universe as it was over 13 billion years ago, constructed from actual light that we have actually observed. It’s amazing.

“I can’t imagine any way for this universe to exist other than an intelligent designer.” -Lots of theists who apparently don’t have much of an imagination.

When I try to demonstrate why the Christian god in particular is incompatible with reality, most Christians fall back on deistic arguments to maintain that there must be a god because of X and Y. The variables are many…life, consciousness, morality, personal feelings, and so on. Most arguments structured in this way are fallacious and/or employ untrue premises, and even if they’re valid they can at best only point to the vague and absent god of deism.

The cosmological argument is something I haven’t addressed much, due to my own lack of knowledge. I even used it myself in one of my old articles when I was still loosely a Christian, as I hadn’t learned enough about cosmology at the time. The argument goes like this: according to all known laws of physics, something cannot come out of nothing. If at some point absolutely nothing existed, then absolutely nothing would exist still. The fact that the universe exists (if it’s truly a fact) offers us two options: either the universe is eternal, or it was caused by something else that is eternal.

The first mistake most theists make when using this argument to prove the existence of a god is assuming that the universe cannot be eternal, because the science on that matter is still an open question. The Big Bang theory seems to imply that the universe began to exist, but what if the Big Bang was simply an explosion that resulted from the gravitational collapse of a huge amount of matter?

If science determines that the Big Bang was preceded by the collapse of a previous version of the universe, it would be more logical to assume there is no deity, as such a situation would prove the universe could be eternal, rendering an eternal cause for the universe not only unneeded but irrational. However, if we determine that the universe must have begun with the Big Bang and will expand for eternity, it would be more logical to assume that it came from something else.

This is where theists make their second mistake. They assume that if the universe came from something else, it must be something intelligent, eternal, and [insert list of attributes specific to their particular god here]. I admitted in my old article that it’s a leap in logic to go from “the universe must have had an external cause” to “the external cause of the universe is an anthropomorphic deity with this specific list of attributes”.

In fact, as I’ve discovered in the year or so since I wrote that article, there are numerous possible explanations other than a traditional deity for a universe that had a beginning. Here are a few:

  1. Universes are formed inside black holes. Since events inside black holes do not happen according to the timeline of our universe, literally anything could happen in there and nothing in this universe would ever know. There could be an entire universe like ours inside every black hole, expanding infinitely in its own separate bubble of spacetime.
  2. Or maybe a white hole?
  3. The universe was created by a five-dimensional being in a very different sort of reality as a piece of art or an experiment. Perhaps the creator doesn’t even know that life has arisen in at least one minuscule corner of his creation.
  4. A being that had always existed created the universe out of itself, using up all of itself in the process so that it no longer exists. This would be more accurately described as metamorphosis than creation, and it’s an entertaining mixture of theism and materialism.

All of these are, of course, pure speculation and unlikely to be true, but the point is that they are just as likely as an eternal deity given the evidence we have. If you took a religion that worships nature as god, and applied to it the same reasoning used by Christian apologetics, you could “prove” #4 as well as any apologist “proves” Christianity. In fact, you’d probably have an even stronger argument since Christianity cannot logically account for the glaring absence of god and the pointless suffering of millions of innocent children without manipulating or ignoring large portions of the bible.

Another problem with the cosmological argument is that it often ignores the important distinction between the sort of “creation” we’ve observed and the sort posited by theists. We have only ever observed things being created out of other things…or in other words, we’ve never observed true creation, only the rearranging of existing material. The creation of the universe by god, however, is commonly claimed to be creation out of nothing, which we have never observed, and conflating such a situation with creation out of existing material renders the argument invalid. Of course, they can’t claim god made the universe out of existing material because that would require the material to be as eternal as god, refuting the claim that god is required to create material in the first place.

So the truth is that the cosmological argument for the Christian god rests on assumptions that are not backed up by conclusive data. Even if those assumptions were true, the best the argument can do is establish the existence of a generic deity. This is hardly a convincing argument for the very specific deity of Christianity.

Image: NASA

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15 responses to “The Cosmological Breakdown

  1. Hi! I never intended to be that person who always crops up in someone’s blog disagreeing with them, but since you yourself keep referencing your previous blog posts, I figure you don’t mind. And as I said on your most recent post, let me know when/if you want me to shut up and go away and—I will.

    So, all that said—you’ve made a good point. And I think I’ve acknowledged before that even if someone demonstrates that there must be something supernatural, that doesn’t automatically prove the existence of the Christian God. But—and I’ve said this before as well—it is a good starting place. After all, there’s no point giving all the reasons that the God of the Bible is the true God if someone’s still saying, “How do you know there’s any God at all?”

    It’s true that it’s not the best reasoning to say “the Christian God must be real because there must be some sort of supernatural something,” but most people, myself included, can’t always think well on their feet. (We have an advantage in that we’re doing this in writing, and we have as much time to think as we need or want.) Besides, it’s also not good reasoning to say, “there can’t be a supernatural being because your specific God can’t be real.”

    So it seems we both favor inductive reasoning. In your In the Beginning post, you started with the thought experiment of their being nothing. But then you jumped ahead to why a literal reading of Genesis can’t be true without really showing any in-between steps. And that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for what you were trying to do. But the point is you started off inductively. You didn’t start with a premise, and then try to prove it (which is also a legitimate way to argue, but I believe less useful for our purposes).

    Anyway, I’m trying to do the same thing. Of course it’s no secret that I’m a Christian, and I won’t insult your intelligence by trying to pretend that I don’t want to end up demonstrating that Christianity is true. But I’m not saying “Premise: the Bible is true. Proof: #1 the God of the Bible must be real because the universe can’t be eternal.” You’re correct in saying that that’s bad reasoning; it in no way proves the premise. So I’m not in any way, shape, or from under the delusion that I’ve already established that the Bible is true, and that a theistic God of certain characteristics is real. This is a start.

    I’m trying to start with the idea that the supernatural—note at this point I’m not even saying a supernatural Being—has to exist. And I want to reason up from there. At this point in the reasoning, “the supernatural” could be the World Soul. It could be a five dimensional being oblivious to our existence. At this point, it could even be a being who used up itself in Creation and no longer exists. All I’m really trying to establish at this point is that, while–in fact, because–the world runs on scientific principles, it cannot have a purely naturalistic origin.

    You proposed that our universe could have come from a collapse of a previous universe which came from a previous universe ad infinitum. But that doesn’t really address the second law of thermodynamics. Since no new matter is ever added, how can there be enough usable matter for an eternity of universe explosions?

    Your other—less serious—explanations of black holes and white holes have the same problem. It doesn’t actually answer the question of where the matter came from and/or how it could be eternal. And the other two less serious possibilities allow for the supernatural, which—for now—is my whole point.

    I’m not sure I understand what point you’re making in your penultimate paragraph. I mean, of course we haven’t observed God creating the universe out of nothing. We haven’t seen the universe created from a Big Bang, either. Or from a black hole. No matter what anyone believes about the origin of the universe, that person didn’t see it happen. If one belief about the origin of the universe crumbles for that reason, they all do.

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    • “the supernatural has to exist”

      Why? You claim it’s because the universe and/or matter can’t be eternal. But why? If a god can be eternal, why can’t matter be eternal? If you can assume a supernatural cause for the universe, I can assume an undiscovered natural phenomenon that “resets” it and gets around the thermodynamics issue. Why is a supernatural explanation inherently more reasonable than an unknown natural explanation? I’d be more inclined to guess a natural explanation since, as far as I know, every single mysterious phenomenon we’ve explained has turned out to be natural. On the other hand, I’m completely open to the possibility of the supernatural…I just disagree that it has been established via logic or evidence.

      I’m not saying I “believe” either way…I refrain from believing any specific hypothesis because I have no data or logic that can actually verify any of them. Which is probably why I didn’t start with a premise. I’m not trying to push a specific explanation for things, I’m trying to challenge the people who claim to have specific explanations to actually back up their claims with testable evidence. I don’t want to believe, I want to know.

      The second law of thermodynamics isn’t really a problem when we’re talking about situations in which ALL of the laws of physics break down. Inside black holes and at the moment of the Big Bang are points in spacetime where our knowledge of physics doesn’t work. For all we know, compressing a huge amount of matter into a tiny amount of space could simply result in a Big Bang that flings matter into an infinitely expanding realm of spacetime, which would be separate from ours due to relativity. That could just be how the universe works in those situations. Perhaps we’ll figure it out someday and have to revise or refine our laws of thermodynamics, just like Einstein helped us revise Newton’s laws of gravity.

      The penultimate paragraph of my article merely addresses the argument that the universe must have an intelligent creator because we never see anything being created without one. Apologists like to say “if you see a car, you know someone designed and created it”. The problem is that they’re talking about two completely different sorts of creation–the car isn’t created from nothing, it’s just assembled out of other things that already existed. So either they are claiming god created the universe out of other things that already existed (eternal matter), or the argument is a complete non-sequitur due to their equivocation on the definition of “create”.

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    • P.S. I much prefer to discuss specific ideas on the articles I wrote about those ideas, instead of long and sometimes rather vague discussions about everything at once. It’s a lot easier to keep track of what’s going on when we’re discussing one concept at a time.

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      • I guess our conversations have gone rather all over the place, haven’t they? And you’re right; it is better to be more focused and specific. I’ll see if I can park here for a while. I think we’re at a good—and more specific—place.

        So, we’ve established that we’re dealing now with origins, more specifically, the origin of matter, and whether or not it is or can be eternal. We both agree that in order for matter to exist in the way it does now in our universe, something must have happened that isn’t happening now, or at least isn’t happening now to the matter we can observe in our universe.

        So really, the only question we’re wrestling with at this moment is, “is that ‘something that happened’ natural, that is, a natural reason that the known laws of physics didn’t apply, or is it supernatural?”

        You’ve raised a good point, and in fact you’ve addressed the issue more squarely and honestly than anyone else I’ve ever seen. And it is within the realm of possibility that there could be an unknown scientific principle that would allow the second law of thermodynamics to not come into play, although Bill Nye would disagree with you. Being finite, there’s always that possibility. That’s why a good scientist will often hesitate to be absolute about his findings or conclusions; he knows that more information may come up that would make that conclusion false. And that’s what makes science fun. There’s always more to discover and find out.

        Of course, there’s no evidence that anything natural could ever overrule the second law of thermodynamics, but no scientific evidence has produced the supernatural, either. I could just turn the question back and say, “well, if you’re willing to believe in a natural law you can’t see, why not believe in a God you can’t see?” but that would get us precisely nowhere. And it would be very lazy reasoning on my part.

        Besides, you addressed that. You said you’d sooner believe in a purely natural explanation because everything we’ve ever observed has turned out to be natural and you haven’t seen any evidence for a god.

        Here’s the thing, though: all the things we’ve looked for an explanation for are physical things, physical phenomena. So we expect the answer to lie in the realm of scientific laws. The answer for the things we observe can’t be a supernatural miracle, because a miracle is by definition something out of the ordinary, something we’re not observing all the time. And we’ve already agreed that something out of the ordinary happened when it comes to origins, because things aren’t springing into existence in front of us now. So how can we determine the likelihood of the supernatural based on what we see now when the whole point is that we’re discussing something we *can’t* see now?

        As far as evidence, what sort of evidence are you looking for? After all, one can’t have physical evidence of a Spirit Being. That would be like setting up a video camera in the hopes of seeing an invisible creature. There may be other ways of proving its existence, like a heat sensor, but you can’t prove the existence of something invisible with a camera. So what sort of evidence would you expect to see if there was a god?

        Now all that, and I still haven’t given you a single reason to believe in a god over a natural explanation. Because we’re very much dealing with the hypothetical (“which do we think might be more likely?”), I don’t have a super strong reason at this point.
        But there is this: if we can say at any point in science, “maybe in this situation there’s something unknown that doesn’t follow all the rules we’re aware of”, science gets slightly undermined. Why follow any train of scientific reasoning if it might not be valid at any given point? On the other hand, if we can say, “there is a god who set the scientific laws in motion, and sometimes He intervenes, but most of the time He just lets things run their course” then, ironically, we have more of a basis for trusting in science, because we know where those scientific laws come from.

        Like I said, I know that isn’t the strongest or most compelling reasoning out there. But I think it’s at least worth considering.

        P.S. Thanks for your patience. I know I’ve been bugging you for ages all over your website, and you haven’t once told me to be quiet and leave you alone. And I genuinely appreciate that. We may disagree on some pretty fundamental issues, but I think you’re a nice guy. Really. : )

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      • You’re exactly right about what makes science fun. There’s another unique feature that sets it apart from religion and superstition: because of its acceptance of the fact that it is flawed and limited, it works. It’s the most successful method of exploring knowledge of reality. The industrial revolution, elimination of smallpox, putting a man on the moon, engineering crops to produce more vitamins for people who primarily depend on those crops for food, pretty much everything about modern buildings, systems to detect and track tornadoes and hurricanes, and I could go on for hours.

        Science works. Sometimes it’s wrong, but we all know that, and that’s why we’re able to discard flawed ideas as soon as we realize they do not adequately explain reality. Which is why we are able to more quickly and effectively find the truth and apply it in whatever creative ways we can think of.

        You can always hypothesize about things you can’t physically observe or interact with in any way, but when scientists do that they don’t usually act like they know the things exist. Consider dark matter, which either exists or Einstein’s theories and/or our current model of physics are wrong. Both of those things, however, have accurately explained what we observe and made predictions which were then proven by later experiments and observations. In fact, GPS only works because we know about relativity.

        So everything we know about the real world seems to indicate that somehow we are unable to detect a shockingly large amount of the mass that exists in the universe (by the way, mass = a physical manifestation of energy in spacetime). If anyone wants to explain this invisible mass, they will have to present direct evidence of the reality of their explanation. This is why the Higgs Boson was a hypothetical particle for so long. Even though all the math and physics we knew said it should be real, we just didn’t have actual evidence. That changed not very long ago, as we’ve confirmed its existence.

        What I’m getting at here is the fundamental difference between a method of thought that produces consistently accurate answers and useful knowledge, and pure speculation about the possible existence of things we’ve never observed in any way.

        Based on what I observe in the universe, though, I can rule out certain types of gods. An omnipotent and omniscient god, for example, couldn’t possibly be a god who loves humans. Perhaps there is a god who doesn’t know we exist, perhaps there are millions of gods living in their god world making universe engines to power their civilization, perhaps they know of our existence and just don’t care.

        If you’re not producing testable and observable evidence that directly confirms the existence of something, you can propose any hypothetical scenario that explains logically how the universe got how it is, and it remains just another possibility. It contributes nothing to the future progress of humanity and cannot really be applied to things outside of our own minds. I know some people feel like their religion makes them a better person, but there are other methods of being a better person that, statistically, seem to work better.

        So I can’t think of much practical use for believing in anything that we haven’t at least predicted using established truths. I do feel pretty safe in believing a solar eclipse will sweep across the entire continental US next August 21st starting at 9:05 AM at the location I plan to watch it from, which is a 100-mile drive from my house. Because science has proven it knows about eclipses by predicting every single one I’ve seen in my life. I do not feel confident believing any claim about supernatural things because every supernatural claim I’ve heard is either confirmed to be false or in the untested hypothesis stage. To get past that stage, a hypothesis must be backed up with testable evidence that makes useful predictions.

        I guess that’s my long-winded justification for thinking a natural cause for the universe seems more likely. But there’s another way to think about it.

        According to Einstein’s theories, space and time are actually spacetime, a single four-dimensional…uh, space. In which case talking about “before” the start of time might be as nonsensical as talking about objects with negative size. Objects of negative size literally define themselves out of existence. Of course this doesn’t really explain anything about how or why the universe seemed to “start”, but illustrates how woefully unprepared we are, even in terms of basic logic, to make any statement like “X must be the cause of the universe because of (insert thing about the physical universe)”.

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      • I think what’s starting to develop is a question about knowledge. Is all knowledge equal? Is there only one way to arrive at knowledge? You keep talking about observation, which is of course the foundation of science, and rightly so. But no mortal human alive today has observed the beginning of our universe. Scientists could say, “based on the data we have, we think the world may have begun this way,” or they can say, “based on the data we have, we don’t think this is a possible beginning for the world” but how can they ever be sure? Is the scientific method capable of providing certainty when it comes to origins? And if not, does it mean we can’t be sure, or does it suggest that for some types of information, there might be other ways to arrive at truth?

        At the stage of the discussion we’re at, I don’t want to get into a defense of god or God having any specific characteristics. But I will suggest that if you’re willing to consider a scenario in which the second law of thermodynamics may not come into play even though it’s hard for us to understand or reconcile everything together, it might not be a good idea to one hundred percent reject the idea that there could be a loving, omnipotent, and omniscient God, even if the idea may be hard to reconcile at present.

        I guess I’m just repeating what I said earlier, but what testable and observable evidence could directly and conclusively confirm *any* scenario about the beginning of the universe, natural or supernatural?

        I’m still a little confused as to what kind of evidence you’re looking for. What predictions could one make about there being a god that would prove His existence in a way similar to proving when the next solar eclipse will be? God is not a physical phenomenon which physically manifests itself at regular intervals. So what reasonable proof do you want?
        And finally, this isn’t the most major point, but since —as you said—we understand so little about the universe, does it really make sense to cite a mindless process as the cause? This is perhaps a different philosophical question, but can something with no intelligence produce a highly intelligent creature? Does it really make sense for us to be the most highly evolved creatures on this planet, and yet still be unable to understand the world around us, a world that has no intelligence higher than we ourselves?

        Incidentally, when I was a little kid, five years old, and I wasn’t quite sure what I believed, that was one of the main reasons I didn’t accept atheism. It just seemed like if there the natural world was all there was, it should be easy for us to understand. Of course, the random thought of a five-year-old doesn’t constitute proof; I just thought it might interest you.

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      • What is knowledge? Is it something you think is true? What distinguishes knowledge from beliefs or anything else we think? Are you able to obtain knowledge without using your senses? If not, then observation (in the sense of obtaining data through your interactions with the world around you) is not only the basis of science, but the basis of all ideas, period.

        And that’s my point. There is no other way to obtain knowledge. There is nothing special about knowledge that separates it from beliefs or anything else that goes on in your head. The only difference is the amount and quality of observation that backs up the idea. Religion inherently opposes rigorous testing and distorts facts, while science is the exact opposite. Why would I want to follow a method of “finding knowledge” that so frequently opposes the only method there is for obtaining accurate knowledge, and which has failed so many times?

        I say there can be no God who is omniscient and omnipotent and loves humans because that is the logical implication of the problem of evil. Does God have the ability to eliminate evil and not the will? Then he is not loving. Does he have the will but not the ability? Then he is not omnipotent. If he has both the will and the ability, evil would not exist. If he has neither, then again he’s not omnipotent and who cares what he thinks? The point is that those three attributes would result in certain observable results in the physical world, and what we really see is the opposite.

        This is precisely how testable and observable evidence can confirm something that we’re unable to repeat or observe. We look at the results. You seem to struggle with this concept, like most religious people do. But the universe runs via many simple and some complex mechanisms that we can understand. When we learn to identify the results of phenomena, we can be quite certain that those phenomena occurred despite never observing them directly. An example is our ability to locate black holes by looking at the movements of other things around them to calculate the gravitational effect, location, and mass of the black hole. No direct observation of the black hole is needed because our understanding of math and physics can precisely tell us where it is and how massive it is.

        That’s what I mean by evidence. Simply compare what we can observe to what we should expect to observe if a given hypothesis were true. If they don’t match, you’ve effectively ruled out that hypothesis. If they match, that doesn’t mean you’ve found the truth either…only that you found a hypothesis that is logically consistent with evidence. In order to confirm it, you’d need evidence for which the hypothesis is the only possible answer (at least, within the limits of our knowledge). And that is where I think most people would put the line between belief and knowledge.

        There were many examples of that in my article about young earth creationism. To restate one, we’ve got ocean sediments that are comprised of particles so tiny that they couldn’t possibly be laid down catastrophically. The physics of how tiny particles act in water makes it clear that the result we observe could only happen in calm water. We can determine the speed at which the sediment was deposited in the same way…by observing it and ruling out possibilities that are not compatible with the results.

        So, to state it simply, if there was a God with certain attributes, we could easily figure out what sort of effect such a God would have on the physical world, and at that point we can make observations to either confirm or disprove the hypothesis.

        And of course I reject the idea that we can’t understand the world around us; you’re the one making that claim in order to propose a hypothesis incompatible with almost all evidence. It’s also kind of silly to compare human intelligence to the universe’s lack of intelligence…what is it exactly that you think makes human consciousness any more complex or special than anything else? Your whole point here is propped up on the unspoken assertion that intelligence is some special sort of phenomenon that defies the laws of physics. It really isn’t…it’s just a little more difficult to understand than the phenomenon of reacting baking soda and vinegar.

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      • If you start with the premise that observation and the implications thereof is the only way to arrive at true knowledge, you’re stuck with the materialist catch-22. How do you know that observation is the only way to arrive at knowledge? You can’t reach that conclusion by observation, and by your own premise, only a conclusion we arrive at by observation is valid. So materialists defeat their own argument. Their belief doesn’t fit their own criteria. It would be like if I said, “Onli stataments with no speling erors are valid.”

        Also, if you limit yourself to what we can observe, measure, or test, you shut off whole areas of study, like history. Even if you rule out the supernatural, you still have to deal with events that don’t happen on a regular basis or according to a measurable process, like wars and battles and elections.

        And what about things like crimes? How do they determine if someone’s innocent or guilty of a crime when there are no witnesses? Forensic evidence helps a lot, but it’s hardly an exact science like chemistry.

        Even something like math—you can’t observe math. Math is a concept. And yet it’s the foundation for science and a whole bunch of other things.

        And language. You can’t weigh language on a scale or measure it in inches, but it’s very real. We can work with it and draw conclusions from it.

        And I don’t want to get into a political discussion, but what about politics? You post about that a lot. How can science tell us whether the government should pay for college, or whether there should be laws against discrimination, or whether the death penalty is appropriate? You could say, “we can scientifically determine which actions are effective,” but how do you determine what’s effective? What’s the goal? Can science tell us what a government should be and do?

        I didn’t say that we can’t understand the world around us, just that it isn’t easy to understand. My point is not that we’re qualitatively different from the results of any other scientific process that we observe. (I believe we are, but that’s not what I’m trying to demonstrate here and now.) My point is, if we can understand the process, why are the results of that process so hard to understand? You’ve been talking about how we observe evolution and generic change and improvements over time. It’s not hard to understand. So for example, if our brains came about as a result of that easy-to-understand process, why are our brains so complicated? How could this process produce something harder to understand than it is itself? I know it’s not the best reasoning, but I think it’s a fair question.

        The irony is that I’m the one who’s not shutting the doors on knowledge because I’m not limiting it. I acknowledge that there’s a large body of knowledge that we can gain by observation and experimentation. I like science and I appreciate it and the developments we’ve made as a society as a result of science. But I don’t believe that science is the one and only way to understand life.

        I don’t believe science is a uniquely perfect way to arrive at truth. Science is conducted by scientists who, like all human beings, are flawed, and history is filled with accounts of scientists and pseudo-scientists who scientifically “proved” things with sloppy research or downright dishonest methods. And that’s not going to change as long as human beings remain human beings. Again, that’s not to discredit science; it’s just to illustrate that it’s not as objective as people make it sound.

        As far as the character of God, that just leads to the question of morality. For us to say that a good God would do or not do something is to make ourselves the standard for morality. We could have that conversation, but at this point, I think it would just derail us from the main point of our current discussion.

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      • I’m not starting with that premise. That was the conclusion drawn from these prior premises:

        -Knowledge, beliefs, ideas, everything that goes on in your head is the same thing: a thought, which is the result of data entering the brain and being processed
        -Every piece of data that goes into the brain comes through the senses (i.e. is observed)

        Therefore, knowledge and beliefs are both equally the result of observation, and observation (basically any feedback from your body to your brain) is the only ultimate source for either. I was not saying that knowledge can only be gained through observation, I was saying that biologically, there is no difference between knowledge or beliefs or anything else you think. All of it is based on data that got to your brain through your senses (including abstract concepts which are logically derived from previous knowledge which ultimately came through the senses). The only real difference between knowledge and any crazy ideas people come up with is that “knowledge” corresponds to something real. Right? Knowledge is “true ideas”? That would mean knowledge is the ideas you have that accurately represent an observable reality.

        You’re still struggling with the idea that we can know things that themselves cannot be observed, measured, or tested by doing clever experiments to observe, measure, and test OTHER things that can give us clues for ruling out false hypotheses. I even gave you multiple examples in my comment, explaining how various things which we can’t directly observe can still be known based on observations of other things. You completely ignored my example and claimed I’m shutting off all sorts of study, like history, which is ridiculous because history is known by observing the results of it (archaeology, ancient literature, ancient art, etc.). Every single thing we know about history is based on observing things that resulted from it!

        Math? The whole basis of math is the concept of things in the real world having quantities. Two sheep plus two more sheep equal four sheep, now I have to buy twice as much sheep food. Just because we’ve gone farther with it (negative numbers and lots of weird stuff) doesn’t mean all abstract math is completely separate from reality. Not only are the fundamentals of math derived from everyday knowledge based on observation of the world, but a lot of complex mathematics is related to real things, like all the math that comes out of physics and so much more. (Also, unless you’re discovering new things in the field of mathematics, everything you know about math probably came from learning it. Like, from books. Which you see. Which is observation.)

        Language is observed by hearing spoken and seeing written words.

        How do we determine what’s effective in politics? By observing the results of things people have already done to see if their actions were effective or not.

        “If we can understand the process, why are the results of that process so hard to understand?” I think we understand the process and the results to about the same level, seeing as our knowledge of the process came from studying the results.

        “How could this process produce something harder to understand than it is itself?” How does a single cell grow into an adult human? How does a small amount of rocket fuel create an explosion so much bigger than itself? So many questions…so many answers. Within systems that follow rules in predictable ways, a very simple set of rules can result in tremendously complex and beautiful results when things happen through time. Depending on how you perceive those results, you might call them “difficult to understand” or “easy to understand” or whatever. That’s irrelevant, because it’s just a measure of your ability to understand certain things.

        When I said you were the one claiming we couldn’t understand the world around us, I was referring to your rejection of geology, paleontology, and biology on the grounds that we can’t know how things got the way they are by studying them. You dismiss those fields of study in order to claim that a myth with no supporting evidence is the true story of how things got the way they are.

        I don’t think science is the one and only way to understand life either. Or that it’s a uniquely perfect way to arrive at truth. I believe what I actually said was this: “Because of its acceptance of the fact that it is flawed and limited, it works. It’s the most successful method of exploring knowledge of reality.” So what I meant was that science is uniquely useful. It has produced the best results. The use of it has improved the world in many ways…and it has also caused suffering. That’s because science is a tool wielded by humans. Just like your kitchen knives are uniquely useful for cutting food but may also be used to commit murder, science is uniquely useful for just about everything we do but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect or the only way. It’s just the most successful way. You might be able to cut your vegetables with a fork, but it won’t be very successful if your goal is neatly diced cubes.

        I have plenty of articles on morality, which probably address every argument you would make. If you have anything new, I would be interested to hear it.

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      • Hi!

        So, how do we know that every piece of data that goes into the brain comes through the senses? How do we know that no thoughts are simply innate, things we know without observing? How could we prove it one way or the other?

        I don’t have a problem with deriving something non-physical via physical observation. Remember, I’m the one who believes in God! See, that’s my point. You take physical things, and you use it to draw all sorts of conclusions about abstract matters like math and language, but then when it comes to God, suddenly it’s “show me. Show me evidence. The existence of the universe isn’t good enough. There could be another explanation. Morality isn’t good enough. There’s another explanation.” So which is it? Either we can derive the existence of non-physical things by looking at the world around us, and belief in God is at least reasonable, or it’s not legitimate to derive the existence of non-physical things by looking at the world around us, and you’ve just crumbled all of history, logic, and even math.

        Creationists don’t reject geology, paleontology, etc.; that’s just propaganda. There are many Christian scientists who believe the Genesis account as it’s recorded in the Bible. Christians merely interpret the same evidence differently. We don’t deny the evidence. We don’t deny that things we observe can give us indications about things that happened in the past. We just come to a different conclusion about that past, *based on the same evidence.*

        Science is uniquely useful for a lot of things. But it depends on what you want to do. Science is the best way to make medicines and find cures for diseases and make technology and many other things. However, science is spectacularly unhelpful when it comes to questions like, “should I use this knife to cut my food or to murder someone?” Or, “it is moral to euthanize the elderly?” Science hasn’t proved very helpful in answering, “why do people go into schools and shoot innocent people, and what can we do about it?” And having taken a course in Abnormal Psychology, I can say with some authority that science has performed feebly at best when it comes to helping people with emotional problems.

        I’d like to get into the discussions of morality again at some point, but I’ll leave it alone for the time being.

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      • Every thought you have is ultimately a product of external data reaching your mind through your body because that is how thinking animals work. It’s basic biology. Every thought and emotion can be traced to physical processes in the brain that are responses to either the external world or memories of the external world. You cannot present a single thought that didn’t originate in your experience of the world. Go ahead and try. I think you’ll see quickly why this argument is simply common sense logic.

        Damn it, stop equivocating on the definition of evidence. You can verify the existence of invisible things or the truth of abstract ideas by assembling evidence that rules out /all/ other possible explanations. The “evidence” you claim for your god could be just as easily (and more logically) explained by an almost infinite number of other hypotheses, which means it does not “support” your god, in the sense of ruling out alternatives. I think you understand this, but you insist on being dishonest about it because there really is no conclusive evidence for your side. You are claiming I must either accept the supernatural, or give up entirely on proving non-visible and abstract things. This is like claiming I must either accept that aliens routinely abduct humans, or I can’t believe black holes are real. You could use the same argument to support any supernatural being you want and it would be just as illogical for all of them. It’s a complete non-sequitur and I don’t think you’re stupid enough to actually believe it’s a valid argument. After all the things I’ve said about the nature of evidence and finding truth, you must have known I’d see right through the gaping holes in that logic.

        You most certainly reject those fields of science, because the discoveries they have made directly disprove your claims. You can’t possibly be accepting the evidence, because it clearly rules out your position. You’re not just proposing a different interpretation, you are proposing a mythology that is completely incompatible with reality and cannot explain the evidence. I’ve given numerous examples, including the six million annually-deposited layers of the Green River Formation. Your interpretation has no choice but to simply ignore the reality that there are millions of annual layers. That’s not a different interpretation, that is a rejection of reality.

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      • Um, none of us can remember the first several million thoughts we had. We all started off as infants incapable of articulating our thoughts. It’s impossible to prove one way or the other whether any of those thoughts came from something other than the external world. But I’m not sure if the question is pertinent to our discussion at this point anyway.

        I didn’t say I had offered conclusive proof or evidence for the existence of the God of the Bible, or any personal God, for that matter. This evidence-building thing takes time, you know. Your blog post is about the origin of the universe. At this point, all I’m trying to do is demonstrate that *when it comes to origins*, believing in a purely naturalistic explanation is no more reasonable than believing in a supernatural explanation. You yourself said earlier that none of the laws of physics would apply at the very beginning. So *when it comes to origins,* you can’t go by any of our known, observable laws. And if you could and did, then a purely naturalistic explanation would be impossible, because of the laws of physics which are currently in effect such as the second law of thermodynamics. Your reasoning seems to be, “well, if we don’t need god for anything else, why would we need god at the beginning?” but we’ve already established that whatever was going on at the very beginning was very different from anything that’s happening now.

        As for scientific discoveries directly disproving my claims, in the first place, I’ve made very few claims. As I said much earlier, I’m making no secret of the fact that I’m a Bible-believing Christian, but as of yet, in this conversation, I haven’t proposed that the Bible is true. We haven’t got that far yet. If I was trying to prove that the Bible is true, I would have started at a completely different place. (A year ago or so, I actually would have started with the second law of thermodynamics and so forth; I’m beginning to think there are more compelling reasons, but that’s for another discussion.)

        Secondly, what we observe now in the present can’t *directly* disprove that something happened in the past. We can only make inferences. And we certainly can’t use the scientific method to “rule out all other explanations” about something that happened in the past.

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      • I’m just talking about the biology of consciousness. Your speculation about the possibility of thoughts coming from places other than your own brain ignores the fact that thoughts have never been demonstrated to come from anywhere other than your own brain. See my articles God and Myself, and Questioning the Supernatural for more. You’re proposing something that is as well supported by evidence as the tooth fairy.

        I’m not talking about conclusive proof. I’m just talking about evidence that points positively to the thing you claim it supports. I’m trying to explain that in order for a collection of data to be “evidence for” a proposition, it must do two things: indicate that the effects explained by the proposition are indeed real, and explain why other propositions are less reasonable or unable to account for the effects. There is no data that has done either of those things for supernatural forces. Every piece of evidence you cite can be easily explained by natural causes that are consistent with our current knowledge of reality, and none of it implies that supernatural forces are in any way more likely. The only way your evidence points to anything supernatural is if you employ an ad hoc fallacy to simply assert that it does. I could then assert that the very same evidence points to the existence of sentient black holes that commit suicide to create a Big Bang in a new bubble of infinitely expanding spacetime, and you would think I’m crazy but it would be no less reasonable than your proposition given the data we’re working with.

        The laws of physics are descriptive, not prescriptive. They describe how spacetime and energy interact within our reality. In extreme situations like the Big Bang and black holes, our understanding of physics breaks down because our current understanding, while remarkably accurate, is still incomplete. All that tells us is that further study is needed. What it does not tell us is whether the previous condition of reality led to this one via natural processes or the actions of intelligence. There are plenty of hypotheses that are consistent with our current understanding of the universe and show possible ways that natural processes in a physical universe could result in what we call the Big Bang. In fact, we have a widespread example of natural processes causing a very similar sort of situation: black holes.

        And for all your talk about the second law of thermodynamics, you fail to understand that it applies to closed systems. Nobody has demonstrated that the universe or spacetime is a closed system, and in fact many of the possible explanations propose that it isn’t. What you see as “order” can result from random natural processes on a more fundamental level of existence that we still don’t fully understand. Quantum mechanics does begin to answer some questions about what those processes might be.

        The entire purpose of the scientific method is to rule out possible explanations. That’s literally how it works. You collect data, you form educated guesses to explain it, and then you do experiments that are specifically designed to disprove your guess if it’s incorrect. The process relies on identifying every possible way in which your guess could be wrong, and testing those weaknesses until it’s either confirmed or disproven. Just because something happened in the past doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find the truth about it, because direct observations can often be made of the effect it had.

        Once again, you’re denying that we can actually understand the world around us and how it got this way through studying geology, paleontology, and biology. You just keep going around and around that circle. When I tell you that the age of the earth has been confirmed by direct observation of evidence, you claim we can’t actually know anything about the past. And then you claim we can know things not just in the past, but outside of spacetime itself, and when I point out your utter lack of direct observations to support those things, you insist that my position would also rule out knowing history and mathematics, despite the fact that we do have direct observations to confirm the truth about those things. This is clearly a double standard and a dishonest argument, and I do not appreciate it.

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      • As far as consciousness, I’m not proposing anything beyond ‘we don’t know’. You were the one who made the statement that all our thoughts come from our senses and what we infer from them. I’m merely making the point that the statement ignores a huge amount of unknown data, that is, what we thought in the first couple of years of our lives, if not more. And since the question is about the origin of our thoughts, our first thoughts are the key. We can only know that all thoughts come from our sense if we have complete knowledge of all our thoughts, which we don’t.

        The conversation didn’t start with me writing a blog article titled ‘Evidence for God’ in which I offered the existence of God as proof. You said the cosmological argument is insufficient because physics offers other explanations. At this point, all I’m trying to say is the same thing I said about consciousness. We don’t know. From a physics standpoint, we don’t know. You yourself just said that further study is needed. From a physics standpoint, further study could reveal exactly how the world came about through natural processes, or it could prove conclusively that the world couldn’t possibly exist without intelligence. We don’t know. That’s all I’m saying.

        I’m not talking about the age of the earth; we had that discussion on another one of your posts. I’m talking about origins. And you’re putting words in my mouth. I never said we can’t possibly figure out anything about the past. I’m questioning dogma, the idea that we know 100% for sure that such and such happened because of what we see now. It doesn’t mean we have absolutely no idea. I’m just saying it’s not sufficient to disprove God. Since I haven’t as yet offered much evidence /for/ the existence of God, you don’t have to worry too much about disproving God anyway. And when did I say we could know things outside of spacetime? I’m not the one making the cosmological argument. I’m just answering your answer to it. I know you’re not actually ruling out history and mathematics. I brought that up to illustrate that we all work with fields of study that don’t pertain to direct observation.

        I’m not sure how much farther we can really go with this discussion. Perhaps we could table it until either physicists study origins more, or until I study physics more (after I graduate from college and conceivably have more time) or both.

        I’m debating with myself about whether I should go to one of your blog posts about God and morality and tackle that subject…

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      • If you decide to tackle morality, please read all my articles on the subject and try not to reuse all the same old arguments I’ve already debunked.

        Your thoughts as a baby aren’t relevant–this line of conversation was about whether you can claim that any current knowledge you have was obtained without the use of your senses and interpretation by your brain. And the original point was that there’s no difference between knowledge and beliefs, because both are thoughts you have in response to external stimulus, and your thoughts are unreliable as a basis for finding truth. Even if a thought came straight from a god, it still manifests as a physical process in your brain, meaning your brain is the ultimate authority over everything you think (duh, “thinking” is by definition an action performed by your brain). So whether a piece of knowledge originally reached your brain through your senses or straight from a god, in the end when you use it or express it, it’s the same thing…a model of external evidence that has been observed by your brain. Observation is the only way to find truth because observation is the only way to know anything. That’s the point. Perhaps the argument that everything we know comes through our senses should’ve been left out, but it’s pretty well supported by science at this point. Maybe in the future we’ll beam knowledge directly into our brains, but I’d argue that it’s still coming through your physical senses. You’re just sensing it in an unconventional way.

        “We don’t know” is all you’re saying? What about this: “Either we can derive the existence of non-physical things by looking at the world around us, and belief in God is at least reasonable, or it’s not legitimate to derive the existence of non-physical things by looking at the world around us.” I’m telling you that belief in god is not reasonable because there is no evidence to indicate that the existence of the supernatural is even possible, let alone true. I’m telling you it’s as unreasonable as believing the universe was created by a suicidal sentient black hole. We don’t know, indeed. Therefore it’s unreasonable to believe something about it. If you really were just trying to say that we don’t know, then we would be in agreement, because I think it is unreasonable to hold any belief about anything outside of the observable universe.

        You said: “What we observe now in the present can’t *directly* disprove that something happened in the past. We can only make inferences. And we certainly can’t use the scientific method to “rule out all other explanations” about something that happened in the past.” And I’m saying you’re wrong. We can disprove a worldwide flood and young earth creationism in general because what we observe cannot be explained by those hypotheses. If those things had happened, we would observe very different evidence today. They are disproven by direct observation of present reality.

        Why are you questioning the idea that we know “100% for sure”? I have never taken that position. We can never know anything with 100% certainty, because in order to be that certain we would have to know literally everything. You could avoid some confusion if you respond to things I actually believe and say, instead of arguing a point that has nothing to do with the conversation.

        The problem is this: every time I object to your claim that belief in the supernatural is reasonable, you say I’m ruling out knowing anything that we can’t directly observe. And every time I tell you that data can prove or disprove hypotheses about things we can’t directly observe (like the age of the earth), you argue that it can’t. You are simultaneously arguing that it’s reasonable to believe something we can’t observe (god) based on what we observe today, and that it’s unreasonable to believe something we can’t observe (long-term evolution or the age of the earth) based on what we observe today. Even more frustrating is that the one you think we can know is unsupported by observable evidence, and the one you think we can’t know is very well supported. We have plenty of direct observations that point decisively to evolution (I don’t know of any other hypotheses at the moment that can logically explain all the data), whereas we have zero direct observations that point decisively to anything supernatural (there are plenty of other hypotheses that can logically explain all the data). The fundamental difference is that one is a theory supported by hundreds of years of experiments and explains the evidence better than anything else, and the other is a hypothesis that has repeatedly failed experiments and does no better than numerous other hypotheses at explaining the evidence. Do you get it now?

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