Feb 24 2012

Richard Dawkins – Agnostic

This is actually old news – Richard Dawkins, perhaps the world’s most famous atheist, discusses atheism vs agnosticism at length in his book, The God Delusion (you can listen to the relevant section here.) In a recent debate with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, Dawkins acknowledged that he is not 100% certain of God’s non-existence, and when asked if he is therefore an agnostic, he said that he was.

These statements have to be put into context, however – which Dawkins did in his book and elsewhere. In The God Delusion he outlines 7 stances toward the probability that God exists. He put himself into category 6, a strong atheist but less than 100% certain that God does not exist. He states he is less than 100% certain as a matter of principle – because a mere human cannot be 100% certain of anything. Only fanatical belief results in 100% metaphysical certitude. So he is as strong an atheist as a rational and intellectually honest person can be.

How, then, can we make sense of Dawkins acknowledging that he is also an agnostic. A report of the debate states:

The philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny, who chaired the discussion, interjected: “Why don’t you call yourself an agnostic?” Prof Dawkins answered that he did.

In the live debate Dawkins apparently decided not to get into exactly what he meant by that, but again we have the answer in The God Delusion. Dawkins distinguishes two kinds of agnosticism – temporary agnosticism in practice (TAP) and permanent agnosticism in principle (PAP). TAP is the kind of agnosticism you have toward a scientific question that can potentially be answered but we currently lack the information necessary to arrive at a firm conclusion. He gives the question of life on other planets as an example – we will eventually answer this question, but currently do not have enough information to do so.

PAP refers to questions that cannot be answered ever because they are simply outside the realm of science and evidence. Dawkins does not give an example of PAP, so I am not sure that he has the same concept of unanswerable questions as I do. One example I typically give is the notion that our entire universe is an elementary particle in a far greater universe. In short – any statement about reality that has no observable effect on our universe and therefore there is no observation we can make or experiment we can conduct that can be brought to bear either for or against the notion. Another common example is the claim that an all-powerful being created the universe 5 minutes ago but crafted it to look exactly as if it had evolved naturally over 13 or so billion years, complete with all of your memories.

So far so good – I find myself in agreement with Dawkins’ explanation of agnosticism. Where we disagree in on where to place the god hypothesis. Dawkins argues that the claim that a god exists is a factual claim about the universe and therefore is answerable by science. He is therefore a TAP agnostic with regard to any god or gods, because we can theoretically answer the question with evidence.

I disagree – but with a clarification. It depends on what kind of god you are talking about. An interventional god that messes with the natural laws of the universe is theoretically testable. At least we can determine that physical laws that appear to be fixed are at times arbitrarily suspended. A non-interventional god, however, would not be testable. The notion of a god that exists, is outside the laws of the universe, and does not interfere with the universe in any way, or manifests his will only in a way that is indistinguishable from events playing themselves out according to the physical laws of the universe, is not testable. The only philosophically tenable position one can have toward such a notion is PAP.

Dawkins states that God himself can manifest and settle the question definitively. This is wrong, however. If a god-like persona appeared, claimed to be the God of the bible, and manifested a few impressive miracles as evidence, we could still not know that this was actually God. It could be a representative of a fantastically advanced alien civilization pretending to be the God of our mythology. This all depends, again, on how you define God – perhaps God is a super powerful alien.

Dawkins, unfortunately, does not make such distinctions. Many agnostics, however, do. One might argue (and many people have certainly argued this to me) that all that matters is the kind of god believed in by most of the world’s religions, not some hypothetical god defined by nitpicking philosophers. Fair enough, depending on what your purpose is, but the point is that any position toward atheism and agnosticism should be philosophically sound. We can start from that position (clearly defining different concepts of god, just as Dawkins defines different types of agnosticism).  Then, when confronting any claim or belief in god, or any supernatural claim, the burden of clearly defining terms is on the believer.

If an individual or a religion professes belief in an interventionalist god, then that is a testable belief and science can be brought to bear, at least in principle. If they profess a more deist position, that a god exists or there is some undefinable spiritual dimension to the universe, then at least we can force them out of the realm of science and into the area of PAP.

Dawkins (sort of) acknowledges the agnostic position, but then states that where agnostics go wrong is in premising their agnosticism on the assumption that the god hypothesis and the no-god hypothesis are on equal footing. This, in my opinion, is a straw man argument. I certainly don’t believe that. Dawkins also acknowledges that some agnostics claim that you cannot even ask the question of probability with regard to PAP questions. This may be the correct position to take, but again we run into a problem of definition – what do you mean by “probability?” With regard to PAP questions there is no rigorous mathematical probability that can be calculated, because we are outside the realm of evidence. At best we can have a vague sense of high or low probability.

Dawkins then goes into a discussion of Russell’s Teapot, which is relevant – we can invent an infinite number of untestable hypotheses (either TAP or PAP), and there is no reason to think that any one of them is true or has anything other than a vanishingly small probability of being true. What are the chances that if I make up a fantastical story of the universe that it somehow turns out to be a true and accurate description of reality? Unless I am somehow being influenced to come up with something that describes reality, it seems obvious that the probability is pretty small, and gets smaller the more arbitrary, specific, bizarre, and at odds with what we already know the made-up belief is.

For example, I can come up with the idea that every planet in the universe is possessed by a spirit that lives at the center of the planet and monitors their planet’s goings on. I just made that up – what are the chances that it’s actually true? What if I went into extreme detail about the characteristics of each spirit, giving them names and personality quirks – the probability that those details are accurate would drop further.

Dawkins is correct that there is no reason to believe that any tenet of faith of any of the world’s religions are anything other than made up stories that happened to be endorsed by one or more cultures. There is no good reason to suppose that they are any more likely than any arbitrary fantasy that an imaginative person can invent.

All of this simply has nothing to do with agnosticism – it is correct, but a straw man. One can be a philosophical agnostic and still be an atheist in that they lack belief in any god or anything supernatural. In fact I put myself into category 6 right along with Dawkins. We both also accept the label of “agnostic” to describe our position. The difference is, Dawkins believes that the god hypothesis falls into the TAP category of agnosticism, while I say – it depends. It depends on the definition of “god” – for some TAP applies, for others PAP does.

 

 

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223 responses so far

223 Responses to “Richard Dawkins – Agnostic”

  1. Neilon 24 Feb 2012 at 11:37 am

    I wouldn’t say Dawkins is using a straw man argument when we says that people claim the god proposition is “50/50 simply because we can never truly know for sure.” While it may seem like that’s what he’s doing, that’s because you’re thinking about it far too rationally. Several people I’ve spoken with have made that exact “50/50″ claim, and I don’t tour the world arguing with people about the existence of god, so I’m sure he’s heard it enough that it’s stuck in his head as a fairly common agnostic/deistic position.

  2. Steven Novellaon 24 Feb 2012 at 11:59 am

    Neil – there may be people who hold the 50/50 position. The popularity of that position among agnostics is irrelevant (for the record, all the skeptics I personally know who are agnostics do not hold the 50/50 position). The point is – agnosticism is not dependent on the premise of equivalence between the god vs no-god hypotheses, as Dawkins claims.

  3. nybgruson 24 Feb 2012 at 12:22 pm

    I’m with you on this one Dr. Novella.

    Another interesting and related concept that I have toyed around with (and am apparently at odds with Sam Harris on) is the concept that there cannot exist a metaphysical or supernatural aspect to the universe.

    My argument is this: if a theist or other metaphysicist posits the existence of a supernatural power then only two possibilities exist.

    1) The supernatural power exists completely outside the realm of our existence. It has no influence on anything happening in our universe in any way, shape, or form.

    2) The supernatural power may or may not exist inside our realm of existence, but does have influence on goings on in our universe, however that may be.

    If (1) is true, then for all intents and purposes said supernatural power may as well not exist. If it cannot, or will not ever, interact with our universe in any way then not only is it completely impervious to our detection, but it is also never going to impact anything relevant to us. Hence, its existence and non-existence are completely equivalent from our point of view.

    If (2) is true, then at some point we will be able to detect its existence. Whether directly or not, for it to effect change of any kind in our universe, we must be able to detect it using the abilities and scientific tools we have – which, by definition, must arise from the physical reality of our universe. Therefore, the supernatural being ceases to be supernatural since it acts on physical processes in ways detectable by natural beings. In the same way that we cannot directly detect the wave pattern interference of electrons through a double slit, yet we still know the electrons exist and are indeed interfering, we would know that the supernatural being exists and exerts some influence through physical forces on the natural universe.

    To me, (1) becomes a totally moot point – and exactly where the God of theism exists.

    (2) is a trickier scenario. Sam Harris stated once that supernatural things are falsifiable because we can detect them via empirical observation (theoretically). However, to me, if it can be detected by physical means, then where is the supernatural aspect? At one time a lode stone was considered supernatural – it had apparently “spooky” effects causing action at a distance with nothing in between. Yet a deeper understanding shows us nothing supernatural about magnets.

    I posit the same conclusion about a supposedly supernatural being (“god”) influencing the universe in any way – at first it may seem “spooky” and action at a distance, but as quantum mechanics is showing us, that has invariably meant we simply didn’t yet understand the non-supernatural nature of the forces involved.

    For these 2 simple reasons, I feel that I can thoroughly reject the concept of a god of any kind, particularly any god of any earthly religions.

    However, I must reserve myself in the Level 6 category since I cannot 100% deny that there might possibly exist a “god” which created everything and then will sit dormant for the remainder of eternity. I just think that is an exceedingly unlikely and genuinely preposterous conclusion.

  4. daedalus2uon 24 Feb 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Holding that there is a 50/50 position is PAP. There is no way, even in principle to calculate or estimate a probability of such a thing.

  5. Zhankforon 24 Feb 2012 at 12:35 pm

    When discussing my atheism with people, I usually acknowledge that, from an academic standpoint, I’m actually an agnostic, in that I can’t rationally discount with 100% certainty the possibility that an unobservable god exists in some form.

    The reason I identify as an atheist is admittedly more emotional than rational – I simply find that equivocation on an ultimately meaningless distinction (between “no god” and “no observable god”) utterly intellectually unsatisfying. The meat in between my skull bones wants a nice, wrapped-up answer, so I give it one in atheism.

  6. Neilon 24 Feb 2012 at 12:44 pm

    I guess when I watch that video (and after having read The God Delusion and watched other videos of his talks and debates), I don’t think he’s making that sort of broad claim outside of the context of that discussion. You are totally correct and I understand what you’re saying, but because this debate was with a prominent Christian, he’s somewhat bound to that framework…at least maybe subconsciously as he’s having the discussion in real-time.

    It’s interesting to hear your opinion on agnosticism in some detail. Did you ever read what PZ had to say about how he could never be convinced of the existence of god? He and Coyne went back and forth a little bit. Pretty fun read. I happened to side with PZ on this one.

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/10/eight_reasons_you_wont_persuad.php

  7. utilnatindoon 24 Feb 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I think Dawkins position is similar to B. Russel (from Wikipedia): “…speaking to a purely philosophical audience, I would say that I am an Agnostic. But speaking popularly, I think that all of us would say in regard to those gods that we were Atheists. In regard to the Christian God, I should, I think, take exactly the same line.”

    My impression of Dawkins position is that he’s TAP to unfalsifiable (yet?) claims (e.g. god the first cause), and PAP to falsifiable claims (e.g. god who answer prayers).

    So I see no difference between his and Steven’s position.

  8. mufion 24 Feb 2012 at 2:32 pm

    And then there are those theologians (like Spinoza, Kaplan, Tillich, or Lerner) who, when pressed or read closely enough, sound a lot like atheists, except that they apparently see (or saw) God language as bearing lasting value (say, in a psychological or existential sense) – for example, as a surrogate for ultimate reality or for some praiseworthy aspect of nature (say, related closely to ethics and/or aesthetics).

    Of course, it also doesn’t hurt (from a prudential standpoint) if it helps such figures to capitalize on Judeo-Christian cultural traditions, so as to gather a flock and make a career in the clergy (which, I feel obliged to say, Spinoza did not do), while nonetheless preserving some degree of intellectual integrity.

  9. BillyJoe7on 24 Feb 2012 at 3:14 pm

    I prefer to put it in the pleural: gods are failed hypotheses and should be removed from any rational consideration by Ockham’s Razor.
    I am not interested in putting the view that I am agnostic about gods, just as I’m not interested in putting the view that I am agnostic about faeries at the bottom of gardens. It’s an irrelevant question and just gives religious folks somewhere to rest their hats.
    Simply, gods do not exist. Period. Nothing to se here folks. Let’s move on.

  10. mufion 24 Feb 2012 at 3:29 pm

    PS: My last comment notwithstanding, I can think of many better uses of my time than mouthing out-dated prayers, whose language – no matter how radically reinterpreted by savvy theologians for modern critical thinkers – was clearly crafted as a means of praise and petition for a personal deity, who is capable of intervening in daily human affairs. Indeed (as BillyJoe7 put it), let’s move on.

  11. cwfongon 24 Feb 2012 at 3:52 pm

    Occam’s razor: “The simplest explanation will be the most plausible until evidence is presented to prove it false.” Which is of course a skeptical rather than a certainistic position. As is agnosticism.

  12. ConspicuousCarlon 24 Feb 2012 at 7:37 pm

    I don’t bother to call myself an “agnostic”.

    It is a simple matter of fact that a person either does or does not have an affirmative belief in the existence of a god. If they don’t, that’s atheism. If there is no evidence for something, then you don’t [generally] have a belief in it. If you are not sure, then you don’t have a belief in it. These are all a-theist positions.

    “Agnosticism” is not a preceding or central default position. It is an expanded analysis of the claim in regards to whether or not it is testable in nature. We don’t have to get into all of that. It is not our intellectual responsibility to try to make sense of other people’s unsupported nonsense. We can do it if it interests us, or if we want to understand the odd motivations of other humans for practical reasons. But we don’t need to play such games with illogical claims before describing ourselves as not believing in it.

  13. nybgruson 24 Feb 2012 at 8:36 pm

    I believe this handy chart helps clarify things a bit. Agnostic and atheist are not mutually exclusive terms

  14. cwfongon 24 Feb 2012 at 8:41 pm

    It is our intellectual responsibility to determine whether “truths” other people are determined to teach are nonsense. Logical claims based on what may be ultimately false premises are not that easily discovered to be nonsense. The ability of mother nature to mimic intelligent designing might be one example.

  15. DLCon 24 Feb 2012 at 9:34 pm

    I take the position that the default position should be that a thing does not exist unless it can be shown to exist by empirical evidence. I will also assume the possibility of a thing’s existence if logical proofs can be offered, or a logical hypothesis presented. However, the default position must be “non-existence”.

  16. cwfongon 24 Feb 2012 at 9:49 pm

    If you’re born into a Judeo-Christian culture, Bibles, Torahs and the like are empirical evidence of a God’s existence.

  17. BillyJoe7on 25 Feb 2012 at 12:41 am

    cwfong,

    I don’t know why we always disagree.

    “If you’re born into a Judeo-Christian culture, Bibles, Torahs and the like are empirical evidence of a God’s existence.”

    Postmodernism just doesn’t cut it in science.
    Unless of course you meant “are (falsely) seen by them as empirical evidence of God’s existence”.

    “Occam’s razor: “The simplest explanation will be the most plausible until evidence is presented to prove it false.””

    Wikipedia?
    More simply: Don’t make unnecessary assumptions.
    (The Ockham’s Razor version of Ockham’s Razor!)
    I submit that gods are unnecessary assumptions.

    “Which is of course a skeptical rather than a certainistic position. As is agnosticism.”

    So what about those faeries?
    Do you really want to make the point that you are agnostic about faeries?
    If not, why do gods deserve special treatment?

    “The ability of mother nature to mimic intelligent designing…”

    The boot’s on the other foot actually.
    The intelligent designer seems to want to mimic nature – particle physics, cosmology, and evolution – whereas he could have done it any way he wished (ie supernaturally).
    (Okay I’m repeating myself from the other thread, but still)

    “It is our intellectual responsibility to determine whether “truths” other people are determined to teach are nonsense. ”

    Um…I couldn’t agree more.

  18. BillyJoe7on 25 Feb 2012 at 12:54 am

    nybgrus,

    “I believe this handy chart helps clarify things a bit.”

    That’s a pretty accurate pictoral representation.
    The scientific position would put you to within a cat’s whisker of the top right hand corner.

    “Agnostic and atheist are not mutually exclusive terms”

    Yes, many misunderstand it as: theist – agnostic – atheist.

  19. cwfongon 25 Feb 2012 at 2:03 am

    BJ7, you have a perfect right to base your own certainties on probabilities, as it seems you can’t make any finer distinctions. But to blame your limited analytical ability on Occam’s razor is a bit much, unless again you have really assumed all necessary assumptions are certainties.

    And now you’re saying that mother nature doesn’t mimic intelligent designing? Another thing that would make neoDarwinists laugh, because that’s actually the strongest part of their argument. Have you not heard of the stochastic process of evolution? Even Margulis would have agreed that organisms take advantage of random acts of mother nature to evolve designs.

    And Bibles aren’t “falsely seen” as evidence by anyone. They are a form of evidence of something that agnostics, atheists, and others contend are false beliefs. To change my sentence, as you have, shows a failure to understand that evidence which turns out to affirm its intended opposite is still evidence.

  20. cwfongon 25 Feb 2012 at 2:20 am

    “Do you really want to make the point that you are agnostic about faeries?
    If not, why do gods deserve special treatment?”

    How do you know to a certainty that if there are Gods, they can’t be faeries? Or vice versa.

    Occam’s razor says you should lay off of these otherwise inaccurate analogies. They’re unnecessary.

  21. BillyJoe7on 25 Feb 2012 at 5:59 am

    Cwfong,

    “And now you’re saying that mother nature doesn’t mimic intelligent designing?”

    I am just pointing out the deeper meaning of statements comparing nature and intelligent designers.
    We know nature exists. We don’t know intelligent designers (gods) exist. So, I’m putting nature first as a given, and I’m saying that intelligent designers, if they exist, seem to mimic nature. Intelligent designers, if they exist, apparently choose to do exactly what nature must do according to particle physics, cosmology and evolution. It need not have been so. An intelligent designer could have done anything he wanted, yet he chose to mimic what nature is constrained to do.

    To be more concrete:
    Gods do not need to create a universe (in which life occupies less than a trillion trillion trillionth of its volume). Just a solar system would do. He needn’t have taken 13 billion years to create homo sapiens (who have lived for less than one trillionth of that time). There would have been no need for 999 out of 1000 species to go extinct. Need I go on…

    “Another thing that would make neoDarwinists laugh, because that’s actually the strongest part of their argument [that nature mimics intelligent design].”

    Of course it is. But it is a joke on gods! That’s why they laugh. There is no need for intelligent designers. Nature does the job all on its own. My statement, if told to a neoDarwinist, would actually re-double their laughter – a joke on top of a joke as it were.

    “Have you not heard of the stochastic process of evolution?”

    You are missing the wood for the trees.
    The probabilistic nature of quantum physics and the stochastic nature of evolution do not impact my argument that there are very serious constraints placed on nature compared the unlimited choices of gods. Yet they choose to do what nature is constrained to do. That is my point.

    “To change my sentence, as you have, shows a failure to understand that evidence which turns out to affirm its intended opposite is still evidence”

    As if religious folk find evidence in their holy books opposite to what they believe!

    “How do you know to a certainty that if there are Gods, they can’t be faeries? Or vice versa.”

    Do you really expect me to take your question seriously?
    How do I know there is no invisible, untouchable, weightless pink pussy-cat sitting on my keyboard?
    As I said, I’m not interested in expressing agnosticism about the existence of gods and faeries (and invisible, untouchable, weightless pink pussy-cats). Their existence is indistinguishable from their non-existence. Don’t waste my time.

  22. cwfongon 25 Feb 2012 at 12:39 pm

    So apparently you didn’t like Dr. Novella’s blog post, and have wasted your time responding to it ??

    “As if religious folk find evidence in their holy books opposite to what they believe!”
    They don’t, we do, that was the point.

  23. sonicon 25 Feb 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Good point about TAP v PAP. I think Dr. N.’s position is more correct than Dawkins’.

    Just for fun, I would suggest that the evidence from science supports an agnostic theist position.
    How about this–

    It seems the notion that the universe had a beginning was a prediction of theism, for example (Augustine). Materialism predicted a universe that was eternal– no beginning and basically unchanging.
    The big-bang probably counts for theism/deism.

    Currently there are two main descriptions of quantum mechanics– Copenhagen and the ‘multiverse’.

    From the stand point of the Copenhagen — if you ask “How did the universe become real?”, a legitimate answer is “When a measurement was taken from outside the system.”
    Isn’t that something? Weird. But certainly in agreement with theism.

    The multiverse consists of some large number of universes just like this one. We can never directly contact these other universes apparently.
    So this universe is the product of a universe of universes that we can never measure directly.
    I’m not sure– but how different from theism is that? Are we splitting hairs?

    I understand the cosmologists claim that the universe is made up of 90-98% dark matter/energy. That is to say much of what we observe is best explained by postulating something that has never been encountered or measured.
    This is not in disagreement with theism.

    Of course there is my favorite finding of science– that “Life comes from life”.
    And this is the same problem as “what caused the first cause?”

    I don’t know if these are messages from god or not– but if they are– god seems one cryptic being.
    How cool.

    Not bad, huh?

  24. mufion 25 Feb 2012 at 1:20 pm

    nybgrus:

    Cool chart. I wonder if there’s an on-line questionnaire that, when evaluated according to some algorithm, positions one somewhere on the chart [similar to this political spectrum quiz (which, in case you're interested, informs me that I fall into the left-libertarian square: more left than libertarian, saying "You are a left moderate social libertarian. Left: 5.99, Libertarian: 1.52")].

    My intuition tells me that I’ve always fallen into the left-hand/agnostic side – even when I was going through a theistic phase, way back when. But the difference is that, when I was a theist (or was willing to act as if I was), I would never have admitted such thoughts to my fellow adherents, whereas I feel little or no such reservations with my atheist fellows.

    I suspect that it boils down to a fear of ostracism. I was not only a theist once – I was also an active member of a theistic religious community. By contrast, as an atheist, I am just one of many cats who cannot be herded; in other words, who are turned off by the idea of “organized atheism” (except, perhaps, to the degree that we are put on the defensive by theocrats – although, historically, liberal theists have served just as well as allies in that fight).

  25. mufion 25 Feb 2012 at 1:47 pm

    sonic: I see that you continue to confuse philosophical interpretation of science with science. Neither claim (i.e. that “a measurement was taken from outside the system” or that “this universe is the product of a universe of universes”) is known to be a scientific fact, and your suggestion that either counts as a confirmation of theism is ridiculous.

  26. cwfongon 25 Feb 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Aren’t all scientific facts a form of educated speculation? Aren’t all measurements of, for example, the sources of the light from the early universe, made from outside that long changed system. Doesn’t everything change even as attempts are made to measure it? Admittedly each multiple universe theory is just that, a theory, but even Hawking accepts his theory as factual. (I don’t, but then I could be wrong.)

    Sonic, for all I know, may see the universe itself as the equivalent of a Godlike or Godly structure, with life forms as its substantive children. When they pray, it’s essentially to each other, and thus, in our apparent ignorance, has become a culturally effective practice.

  27. mufion 25 Feb 2012 at 2:58 pm

    Firstly, I apologize to sonic for my last statement. I was called away, so I ended the comment more curtly than I wished I had.

    That said, numerous metaphysical ideas are logically compatible with discoveries in modern physics (e.g. Big Bang and QM theory). Just because theistic ideas count among them hardly qualifies as an argument in their favor – as if theism somehow wins by default.

    cwfong: As Dr. Novella has argued here before, Hawking is a very good physicist, but his metaphysical speculations are nonetheless just that, to which the most appropriate response is, in my opinion, an agnostic one.

  28. Mlemaon 25 Feb 2012 at 5:18 pm

    I wonder if my liver cells believe in me.
    I wonder if it matters?
    All I know is that I can’t live without my liver.

  29. cwfongon 25 Feb 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Your liver believes in you with a theistic reverence.

  30. PharmD28on 25 Feb 2012 at 9:50 pm

    I grew up mormon (not very devout at all though :D ) and during college I was “agnostic christian” (Im not sure if that is a proper phrase or not)…anyway, even after college I did not fully understand evolution or anything about cosmology….the more I learn about how life evolved on this planet, how planets evolved, etc….the more I see no reason to worry about the god question at all…..

    I find the whole agnostic label technical, tedious, and pointless beyond perhaps some pedantic philosophical distinction….I am relatively new to atheism, and some of you likely are much more educated on such things so I try and keep an open mind and continue to see where people are coming from with this, but in the end, I like Dr. N find the label of “atheism” most accurate in any sort of practical terms.

    On the point about Occam’s Razor:

    Even with all of the uncertainty and much we will likely learn about the universe, or even what we may functionally never be able to know about the universe…I guess I kinda fail to see how assuming that a god started it all in some way is a more “simple” assumption….to me it does not explain anything….I am not so sure it is even “simple” in of itself?

    Anyway, I am fairly new to all of this, so take it easy on me, but I will be interested to continue to contemplate such matters…take care.

  31. neilgrahamon 25 Feb 2012 at 10:38 pm

    To insist on talking about the ‘supernatural’ in relation to ‘religion’ is , to say the least misleading. The term ‘supra-natural’ has fewer pejorative connotations.

  32. cwfongon 25 Feb 2012 at 10:46 pm

    Pascal Boyer writes that “we are thus guided by instinct toward religious beliefs, ‘hardwired for God.’”
    Scott Atran wrote similarly about what some had seen as “God genes.”
    So Occam’s razor, if taken seriously, would decree that theistic belief is simpler for humans than non-belief.

  33. BillyJoe7on 25 Feb 2012 at 10:48 pm

    cwfong,

    “So apparently you didn’t like Dr. Novella’s blog post”

    I’m just a little further along the spectrum than he is, but not much. It more or less amounts to him thinking it’s worthwhile considering and answering the question of agnosticism about gods whilst I am about as interested in considering and answering that question as I am in considering and answering the question of agnosticism about faeries…and that cat!

    “…and have wasted your time responding to it ??”

    I don’t know what you mean.

    “ [religious folk] don’t [find evidence in their holy books opposite to what they believe], we do, that was the point”

    Your point was as clear as mud, but thanks for clarifying.
    And I take it you now see my point about gods mimicking science…now that I have clarified my point.

  34. mufion 25 Feb 2012 at 11:22 pm

    The suggestion that we are “hardwired for God” has long struck me as a culturally biased position, which fails to account not only atheists but for non-theistic religious traditions (like Buddhism), as well, and begs the question “which God?”, besides.

    If anything, we’re hardwired with hyperactive agency detection, which (as the name suggests) can be maladapative in many situations, and says little or nothing about metaphysical truth.

  35. cwfongon 25 Feb 2012 at 11:27 pm

    No, your point is still as clear as mud.

    You wrote: “An intelligent designer could have done anything he wanted, yet he chose to mimic what nature is constrained to do.”

    But nature isn’t constrained to follow a predeterminate path, so why isn’t the opposite more probable – that any putative intelligent designer would have been constrained to do what nature chose to do intelligently.
    Because what you seem to forget is this – if it’s your argument (and correctly) that there is no intelligent designer outside of nature, you must or should restructure your premises to reflect that nature must then furnish its own intelligence..

    But instead, you have looked to find a conclusion that you liked instinctively (especially if it fits some anthropic dogma you’ve been told of), and you then work backwards to establish an imaginary and untenable premise.
    This is of course the improper use of the inductive process for deductive purposes.
    Or, in the vernacular, your thinking process here is bassackwards.

    Good logic really doesn’t work this way, but hey, whatever makes you happy.

  36. BillyJoe7on 25 Feb 2012 at 11:29 pm

    sonic,

    I’m not sure that science ever predicted that the universe was eternal. It just seemed to be a given. Remember, it was Einstein’s greatest mistake to accept that given rather than question it. It could have led him to discovering the expanding universe and then, working backwards, to the big bang hypothesis. But the BB is now a theory with almost incontrovertible evidence in its favour. That’s how science works. Change with the evidence. That’s how theism doesn’t work.
    So, no, the BB does not count for theism/deism. It was science at work.

    And you don’t understand measurement in quantum experiments. Study the double slit experiment. The measurement is not taken from outside the system. It is taken from within the system. The sensors are part of the system and they interact with the system to change an interference pattern into a scatter pattern. The experimenter could fal down and die after setting up the experiment and it will still happen.
    Quantum physics is weird, yes, but nothing here for theism.

    And who said there can never be evidence for a multiverse.
    In fact, apart from being consistent with theory, there already is some prelimiary evidence for a multiverse. There is evidence that, in some region of this universe, a galaxy cluster is moving in a direction that suggests a gravitational effect from another universe. Even if that doesn’t pan out, it shows a possible way that evidence for a multiverse can be forthcoming in the future. And, again this is science working. Religion sits back and cherry picks the evidence obtained by science that suits its purposes, whilst ignoring the almost insurmountable evidence against it that delivers it into the arms of the Grim Reaper brandishing Ockham’s Razor.

    And you misunderstand dark matter and dark energy. The evidence is that there is something within galaxies that prevents their spiral arms from spinning outwards. The dark matter is there, it just hasn’t been characterised, hence the nomenclature. Gods, however, have no ‘reason to be’.
    Same with dark energy. Physicist have evidence that the universe must contain more energy than we have detected so far. We can only detect energy that “shines”. If it doesn’t “shine” we cannot detect it. Hence “dark” energy. Again, dark energy has a ‘reason to be’, unlike gods.

    As for abiogenesis, we have every reason to think that life came from non-life. The mere fact that there are entities which cannot be confidentally classified as either life or non-life should suggest that is true. Are viruses life or non-life? If viruses are life, what about prions? And there are reasonable mechanisms by which life could have arisen from non-life. The knock out blow hasn’t yet come, may never come, but to say “gods did it” suggests you have missed an important history lesson.

    Anyway, I suppose you were just joking.
    You know all this. Right?

  37. cwfongon 25 Feb 2012 at 11:35 pm

    mufi, hyperactive agency detection device was what Boyer was referring to as the so called God gene. It doesn’t have to be metaphysically true to be instinctive.

  38. cwfongon 25 Feb 2012 at 11:41 pm

    “But the BB is now a theory with almost incontrovertible evidence in its favour.” Wrong as usual.

  39. cwfongon 25 Feb 2012 at 11:49 pm

    And BJ7, sonic can take care of himself, but I have to note that you’ve set up a row of straw men there that’s unusual even for the likes of you.

  40. BillyJoe7on 25 Feb 2012 at 11:54 pm

    cwfong,

    “So Occam’s razor, if taken seriously, would decree that theistic belief is simpler for humans than non-belief.”

    You can’t be serious!
    That is not a valid application of Ockham’s Razor.
    Evolutionary posits that belief in higher powers is hardwired into our brains as a survival mechanism. Young animals implicitly trust the decisions of adult animals, otherwise they don’t get to be adult animals themselves. Theistic belief is an exaptation of this survival mechanism.
    In short, theism is the result of evolution, not a necessary assumption underlying the workings of nature.

    “…so why isn’t the opposite more probable – that any putative intelligent designer would have been constrained to do what nature chose to do intelligently.”

    First of all, nature is not intrinsically intelligent. Via evolution, nature gives rise to intelligence.
    Secondly, you are going to have to define your version of “intelligent designer” before any firther discusion can take place. And I will tell you why. You have already excluded omnipotency as a characteristic of your intelligent designer. And you will find that, as the discussion propresses, you wil have to continue to excise characteristic after characteristic untill there is nothing left of your intelligent designer but deism. Then, Ockham’s Razor.

  41. BillyJoe7on 26 Feb 2012 at 12:02 am

    cwfong,

    Sad to inform you, but you do not have the imprimatur of truth. If you can’t back up what you say, or you can’t be bothered, then there is no point in saying it and you might as well remain silent.

  42. cwfongon 26 Feb 2012 at 1:04 am

    So far, BJ7, you’ve again missed every point you needed to. I’ve argued that there’s no intelligent designer outside of nature. You’re the one that’s argued as if there is or could be. So is your misunderstanding dishonestly contrived or just incurably ignorant? Or both?

    You wrote: “Evolutionary posits that belief in higher powers is hardwired into our brains as a survival mechanism. Young animals implicitly trust the decisions of adult animals, otherwise they don’t get to be adult animals themselves. Theistic belief is an exaptation of this survival mechanism.”

    Baloney. ‘Why did the the adult animals make these alleged decisions’ is the question you’ve made no attempt to answer. Several authors have written about this subject (Boyer and Atran included) and you seem completely ignorant of the scientific explanations given for the evolution of this instinctive process. And even if your imaginary version was correct, it would go to prove my point rather than yours. Instincts reflect our simplest way to answer the questions they were designed to answer. Whether they were metaphysically right or wrong is irrelevant to the fact that they were successful adaptations of biological strategies.

    “First of all, nature is not intrinsically intelligent. Via evolution, nature gives rise to intelligence.”
    Intrinsic or not, nature gives rise to intelligence, which you earlier were somehow unable to argue.

    As to which of us has the imprimatur of truth, if that’s to be determined by who backs up their arguments by presenting reputable source material, it’s definitely not you.

    But if you think you’d like it, try it. Or get a tutor. Christ all mighty, get something.

  43. BillyJoe7on 26 Feb 2012 at 2:03 am

    cwfong,

    “I’ve argued that there’s no intelligent designer outside of nature.
    You’re the one that’s argued as if there is or could be.”

    Here is my first comment in this thread:

    I prefer to put it in the pleural: gods are failed hypotheses and should be removed from any rational consideration by Ockham’s Razor.
    I am not interested in putting the view that I am agnostic about gods, just as I’m not interested in putting the view that I am agnostic about faeries at the bottom of gardens. It’s an irrelevant question and just gives religious folks somewhere to rest their hats.
    Simply, gods do not exist. Period. Nothing to se here folks. Let’s move on.

    Okay, I hope we’ve got that straightened out!

    “Intrinsic or not, nature gives rise to intelligence, which you earlier were somehow unable to argue.”

    Again, where have I said anything that could possibly have been interpreted as meaning that I don’t accept that evolution gives rise to intelligence?

    “Instincts reflect our simplest way to answer the questions they were designed to answer.”

    Designed to answer???
    How about: mindless processes hardwiring behaviours into instincts.
    So (as with theism) instinct is the result of evolution, not a necessary assumption underlying the workings of nature.
    Ockham does not apply.

  44. BillyJoe7on 26 Feb 2012 at 2:07 am

    TRY AGAIN :(

    cwfong,

    “I’ve argued that there’s no intelligent designer outside of nature.
    You’re the one that’s argued as if there is or could be.”

    Here is my first comment in this thread:

    I prefer to put it in the pleural: gods are failed hypotheses and should be removed from any rational consideration by Ockham’s Razor.
    I am not interested in putting the view that I am agnostic about gods, just as I’m not interested in putting the view that I am agnostic about faeries at the bottom of gardens. It’s an irrelevant question and just gives religious folks somewhere to rest their hats.
    Simply, gods do not exist. Period. Nothing to see here folks. Let’s move on.

    Okay, I hope we’ve got that straightened out!

    “Intrinsic or not, nature gives rise to intelligence, which you earlier were somehow unable to argue.”

    Again, where have I said anything that could possibly be interpreted as meaning that I don’t accept that evolution gives rise to intelligence?

    “Instincts reflect our simplest way to answer the questions they were designed to answer.”

    Designed to answer???
    How about: mindless processes hardwiring behaviours into instincts.
    So (as with theism) instinct is the result of evolution, not a necessary assumption underlying the workings of nature.
    Ockham does not apply.

  45. cwfongon 26 Feb 2012 at 2:45 am

    BJ7 asks: “How about: mindless processes hardwiring behaviours into instincts.”

    And for a minute there you held that evolution gives rise to intelligence. But now you seem to say that this intelligence has nothing to do with the evolution of intelligent instincts. That they are hardwired by “mindless processes.” How did you come to that conclusion, which is basically an acknowledgement of ignorance of the heritable process? Any source material to give it the “imprimatur of truth?”

  46. cwfongon 26 Feb 2012 at 2:57 am

    Also, the premises used to set up the other questions you want answered are false. But you knew that.

  47. BillyJoe7on 26 Feb 2012 at 4:14 am

    cwfong,

    The basis of evolution is mindless processes:
    Random mutation and natural selection.

    These mindless processes gave rise to intelligence.
    Intelligence was then co-opted into the evolutionary process.
    …which, at its base, is mindless processes.

    Over time, in certain members of certain animal species, intelligence was the means whereby these members could opt out of the evolutionary process.
    Escaping the tyranny of their genes.
    …by using contraceptives for example

    In short, intelligence is the result of evolution, not a necessary assumption underlying the workings of nature.

  48. BillyJoe7on 26 Feb 2012 at 4:16 am

    cwfong,

    “Also, the premises used to set up the other questions you want answered are false.”

    Which questions?
    Which premises?

  49. nybgruson 26 Feb 2012 at 9:40 am

    @mufi:

    Apparently I am a social libertarian (Left 3.36, Lib: 3.74) which I find interesting because I tend to disagree with most politicians who claim to be libertarian. It is probably my non-interventionalist leanings as well as my immigration reform leanings (btw, I myself am an immigrant to the US).

    I too am turned off by the notion of “organized atheism” – however I am turned off by those movements that seek to mimic the theistic traditions and organization (like that inane temple that was proposed in London or atheist “churches”). I am, however, for the organization of secular humanists (which by definition are atheist, but the contrapositive is not true) into a politically active group.

    I think that the liberal theists have done a good enough job combatting the evangelicals and fundies, but that is no longer enough. The very premise of fantastical thinking and magic are wrong, no matter how temperate you are in your interpretation and application of the ideals that such thinking ultimately espouses. I also believe that getting the right answer (do unto others…) for the wrong reasons (because Jeebus said so…) is also a detriment to the individual and society on the larger scale.

    As it stands currently, I see the acceptance of liberal theists as allies to be a sometimes necessary evil – but an evil none-the-less (and to head off anyone, I do not mean it in the biblical sense, merely as common language of an old adage). The message that sends is, in effect, “Believe your crazy nonsense and magical thinking – that is OK as long as you are reasonable about it” and sets up this dichotomy where it is still acceptable and reasonable to “just believe” in something.

    I can see the argument for utilizing that avenue for Machiavellian purposes (well, this theist disagrees and is more moderate yet still believes in the same sky fairy as you + the notion that you alienate fewer people that way) but ultimately I see it as a poor tack to take. Kind of like pumping someone with fluids as they hemorrhage to death so you can work on that horribly infected ingrown toenail. Stem the hemorrhage (any theistic and magical thinking) and the the toenail is easy pickens later on (the fundies and extremists). After all – the extremists gain (false) legitimacy through claims of the popularity of their brand of magical thinking and indeed come from the existence of their “moderate” counterparts, who in turn implicitly must support the existence of the extremists. After all, how hollow does it ring to say “Well, I believe in the veracity of every major tenet these folks do, and indeed I thoroughly believe in the method by which they derived their extreme views, but, well, um, they are just wrong (though I can’t clearly explicate why).” Of course the rhetoric becomes quite obfuscated and rife with logical fallacy that what people say isn’t so clear as that, but it is never-the-less exactly what is being said.

    Perhaps I’ve run off the rails a bit at this point. I guess in a nutshell I was simply trying to say that whilst historically the liberal theists have done us well, that currently is failing and is ultimately an untenable alliance.

  50. nybgruson 26 Feb 2012 at 9:54 am

    @sonic:

    It seems the notion that the universe had a beginning was a prediction of theism

    Incorrect. The universe began, and theism invented a reason why.

    Materialism predicted a universe that was eternal– no beginning and basically unchanging.

    Also false. Materialism, as you put it, has proferred many options for the existence and state of the universe. Not merely the one dichotomous enough to force a choice towards theism.

    The big-bang probably counts for theism/deism.

    It equally counts towards materialism. It is also a derogatory term used as a kind of ad hominem when the initial theory was posited back in the 70′s (or was it 60′s?). It is also a term no longer used or taken seriously by any legitimate cosmologists today.

    So this universe is the product of a universe of universes that we can never measure directly.
    I’m not sure– but how different from theism is that? Are we splitting hairs?

    Unless you are calling those other universes “god” it is entirely different. It is also fundamentally different in that religion – theos – claims a personal god of unique character and sentience. If you begin to equate the natural universe(s) with “god” you have distinctly left the realm of theos and fallen into some sort of deism (which, IMO, is merely the last string to cling onto the notion of a “god” without actually being able to believe in one).

    I understand the cosmologists claim that the universe is made up of 90-98% dark matter/energy. That is to say much of what we observe is best explained by postulating something that has never been encountered or measured.
    This is not in disagreement with theism.

    The fact that something is not in disgreement with theism does not in any way support theism. Russel’s teapot is also not in disagreement with theism. Nor is the existence of atheists. You should also note that dark energy/matter is not an actual “thing” – it is a placeholder that currently describes that which we have not yet understood. Much like the origin of the term “X-rays.” It was unobserved and not understood at its discovery, yet its existence was incontrovertible. We now know that X-rays are merely high energy EM waves, exactly the same as visible light or radio waves. The “X” (as in “unknown”) nomenclature is no longer needed, but hangs out because of convenience and convention.

    So no, dark matter is not an interesting topic in the support of theism.

    Of course there is my favorite finding of science– that “Life comes from life”.

    If you read a biology textbook from 50 years ago, maybe. The current understanding is not so provincial. And theories of abiogenesis are quite good and becoming much more robust.

    The correct finding of science is “Life comes from life… most rapidly and efficiently.”

    And this is the same problem as “what caused the first cause?”

    Not even close. The explanation of the origins of life via abiogenesis involves taking the simplest replicating things and growing in complexity.

    The theistic explanation for “what caused the first cause” (a very popular and very wrong postulate by William Lane Craig) posits not only complexity leading to simplicity leading again to complexity, but the most complex thing imagineable leading to simplicity and back again to much less complicated things. As much as WLC will deny it, this sets up an infinite regress that gets us nowhere, and thus is in distinct opposition to a theist perspective.

    I don’t know if these are messages from god or not– but if they are– god seems one cryptic being.

    So cryptic as to be ridiculous to exist.

  51. mufion 26 Feb 2012 at 11:02 am

    nybgrus: in a nutshell I was simply trying to say that whilst historically the liberal theists have done us well, that currently is failing and is ultimately an untenable alliance

    Failing relative to what? A strategy that pretends that atheists are powerful enough to defeat theocratic forces on their own?

    Sorry, but if that’s what you mean, then I feel obliged to say: that strategy is based on a fantasy, unhinged from political/demographic/sociological reality. If not, then I’m not sure what strategy you mean to propose.

    Then again, if you simply mean to suggest that we atheists should stay on message and never for a moment suggest that, just because liberal theists are our necessary political allies (and not merely “sometimes”, but in most major battles against theocracy), we are any less firm in our rejection of theistic doctrines, then I could not agree more.

  52. cwfongon 26 Feb 2012 at 12:22 pm

    BJ7 writes:
    “The basis of evolution is mindless processes: Random mutation and natural selection.”
    Mindless processes, and voila, we got a mind. Works for me.

  53. milotoaston 26 Feb 2012 at 2:37 pm

    BillyJoe7: You are talking the most sense in these comments. The whole discussion reminds me of an Interview with Douglas Adams. http://atheists.org/Interview%3A__Douglas_Adams

  54. cwfongon 26 Feb 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Wasn’t it Douglas Adams who wrote:
    “There are causal arrows leading from genes to body. But there is no causal arrow leading from body to genes.”
    Pure genius.

  55. BillyJoe7on 26 Feb 2012 at 3:36 pm

    cwfong,

    Your sarcasm regarding DNA’s comment is noted.

    Of course he was not entirely correct with his statement but, as a summary of the state of play encapsulated in a short sentence, it expresses the truth pretty well. The environment does have an effect on genes which can be passed on to following generations, but the effect is limited and transient, lasting at most only a few generations. There has never been shown to be a role for such limited transient effects to achieve evolutionary change.

    DNA’s hat may be hanging by its rim, but yours is not even on the hook.

  56. cwfongon 26 Feb 2012 at 4:07 pm

    DNA didn’t write that, and I didn’t say he did. It was Richard Dawkins.
    http://www.andrew.cmu.edu/user/jksadegh/A%20Good%20Atheist%20Secularist%20Skeptical%20Book%20Collection/Extended%20Phenotype%20but%20not%20too%20extended%20-%20Dawkins.pdf

    Gotcha again.

  57. cwfongon 26 Feb 2012 at 4:16 pm

    Of course I may be just as dumb as Eva Jablonka, who I’d always thought was smarter than the average biologist until Dawkins took time to put the matter straight.

  58. jt512on 26 Feb 2012 at 5:13 pm

    # daedalus2uon 24 Feb 2012 at 12:27 pm wrote:

    Holding that there is a 50/50 position is PAP. There is no way, even in principle to calculate or estimate a probability of such a thing.

    If you are saying that there is no way to rationally assign a probability to an event that is PAP, then I disagree. I see no reason why, if we can assign a probability to a question whose answer we don’t know, but that in principle we could know, that we couldn’t assign a probability to a question whose answer we cannot know in principle.

    I don’t know whether there is a teapot in orbit around Saturn, but in principle the answer is knowable. I would say that the probability of the proposition is very close to zero. On the other hand, I can’t know in principle whether the known Universe is just “an elementary particle in some far greater universe.” Yet I would also say that that probability is close to zero. Why? Like Steven said, how likely is it that the nature of the universe corresponds to a fanciful idea that some person just made up? There are an infinite number of such fanciful ideas, and so it seems rational to assign to each of them a probability very close to zero. Perhaps even zero itself.

  59. BobbyGon 26 Feb 2012 at 9:38 pm

    “Dawkins states that God himself can manifest and settle the question definitively. This is wrong, however. If a god-like persona appeared, claimed to be the God of the bible, and manifested a few impressive miracles as evidence, we could still not know that this was actually God.”
    ___

    Give it UP, already. “God himself” The (patriarchical) anthropomorphism. “Persona” etc. Jeez. How narrow and speciocentric.

    Zukav (yeah, I know…):

    “That which is is that which is. That which is not is that which is. There is nothing which is not that which is. There is nothing other than that which is. Everything is that which is. We are a part of that which is. In fact, we are that which is.”

  60. sonicon 26 Feb 2012 at 9:42 pm

    mufi-
    Perhaps I should say that the findings of science are not in disagreement with the notion of theism- or are congruent with– or don’t disprove– or…. Perhaps the word I used ‘supports’ was overly strong. I was using the word ‘agnostic’ to indicate the inherent uncertainty of the position and hoping that one would conclude that all statements are in fact much less than certain on this matter.
    That is to say that an agnostic theist would look at the results I mentioned and say– “I don’t know, but these findings agree with my basic concepts very well.”
    That is to say the findings support an agnostic theism.
    Just so we are clear as to word choice.

    As to what is ridiculous– perhaps my thinking that I could know the answers to questions like “Is there a god?” That is ridiculous.

    cwfong-
    To continue the reasoning- if god is cryptic, then there will be many interpretations of his meanings.

    PharmD28-
    agnostic can be used as a means of not having to prove your case– “I’m not the one making the factual claim…”
    It can be used that way and it becomes pointless and pedantic like you say– but it is also an accurate description of most people’s thinking– everyone has doubts.
    So the term can be abused- but it is not worthless.

  61. BillyJoe7on 26 Feb 2012 at 10:24 pm

    cwfong,

    “Wasn’t it Douglas Adams who wrote….DNA didn’t write that, and I didn’t say he did”

    I see you are reduced to petty point scoring in an attempt to salvage something from this thread.

    “Mindless processes, and voila, we got a mind. Works for me.”

    I’m glad you see the light…finally.
    It must always be simple -> complex, otherwise you don’t have an explanation.
    Congratulations.

  62. cwfongon 26 Feb 2012 at 10:51 pm

    Gee, you left off the smiley what me worry face.

  63. cwfongon 26 Feb 2012 at 11:01 pm

    sonic, to further continue the reasoning, if the universe is in fact a super organismic collection of more or less intelligent organisms, then it would be as godlike to us as Miema’s body is to her liver.

  64. sonicon 26 Feb 2012 at 11:12 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    You have every reason to believe that which has not been demonstrated. (abiogenesis)
    When you consider that abiogenesis is non-falsifiable–
    why we can say that you have every reason to believe a non- falsifiable hypothesis that has not been demonstrated.
    Congrats!

    nybrus-
    Regarding history-
    I’m going with Vitzthum on the history–(talking about the assumptions of Democritus, Epicurus, Lucretius, d’Holbach, and Buechner)-
    “These metascientific assumptions were, first of all, that material or natural reality formed an unbroken material continuum that was eternal and infinite. Nature had no beginning or end…”

    Regarding the ‘big bang’– here is NASA’s take-
    http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/universe/
    for more on ‘big bang- try science daily
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/articles/b/big_bang_nucleosynthesis.htm

    I guess the people who work for NASA and Science Daily aren’t legit.
    Who is? What term do they use today?

    Regarding abiogenesis–
    Let’s suppose that the history is something like the future. Claims that “This is the way,” have been with us since Miller-Urey.
    How many years from now, (assuming no demonstration has occurred) will it be OK to question this?
    10? 50? 1,000,000,000?
    What if I started all ready?

    cwfong-
    at least that much.

  65. BillyJoe7on 27 Feb 2012 at 5:09 am

    sonic,

    Regarding abiogenesis:
    If there are entities in existence today that are impossible to confidently characterise as either life or non-life, does that not mean that there is essentially no difference between life and non-life at the interface, and that, therefore, when life arose from non-life, nothing much needed to change? Just like evolutionm itself. Opposed to this, we have what? Well, you tell me. What is your hypothesis?

    Regarding Big Bang Theory:
    I’m with you here. I think that what nybgrus meant is that cosmologist do not like the term “Big Bang”. If true, I didn’t know that. But, regardless of what you call it, it is still the prevailing theory because it is the only theory that takes all the known facts into consideration. Nothing else comes anywhere close.

  66. BillyJoe7on 27 Feb 2012 at 5:19 am

    sonic,

    “As to what is ridiculous– perhaps my thinking that I could know the answers to questions like “Is there a god?” That is ridiculous.”

    What is ridiculous, is thinking that you cannot answer this question in the negative without an almost zero probability of being incorrect. Is there an invisible, weightless, pink pussy-cat sitting on my keyboard? No, there is not. Probability of being incorrect: as vanishingly close to zero as not to matter. Is there a god? Tell me why my answer should be any different?

  67. nybgruson 27 Feb 2012 at 9:58 am

    @mufi:

    A strategy that pretends that atheists are powerful enough to defeat theocratic forces on their own?

    I think that is what we need to do. It isn’t “failing” in the sense that we are losing ground currently by alliance with so-called “moderate” theists. It is failing in the sense that it is, IMO, a strategy that will ultimately fail to achieve anything but short-term goals.

    if you simply mean to suggest that we atheists should stay on message and never for a moment suggest that, just because liberal theists are our necessary political allies (and not merely “sometimes”, but in most major battles against theocracy), we are any less firm in our rejection of theistic doctrines, then I could not agree more.

    That is pretty much what I mean. However, there is a lot of rhetoric from the secular crowd that essentially boils down to “Everyone is entitled to believe what they want, and that is totally OK, and may be true for you, just don’t force it on me.” It is a question of framing – which PZ Myers recently posted on. In essence, it is a tack that addresses the short-term goals of getting the really bad stuff taken away while giving some creedence and foothold to the premise upon which theistic logic is based upon.

    I’m not saying this is the majority of the secular movement – I am just saying it is a significant factor and one that is indeed a failing strategy.

    Hopefully that clarifies things a bit.

  68. nybgruson 27 Feb 2012 at 10:06 am

    If you are saying that there is no way to rationally assign a probability to an event that is PAP, then I disagree… I don’t know whether there is a teapot in orbit around Saturn, but in principle the answer is knowable. I would say that the probability of the proposition is very close to zero. On the other hand, I can’t know in principle whether the known Universe is just “an elementary particle in some far greater universe.” Yet I would also say that that probability is close to zero.

    There is no way to assign the probability.

    What is the probability that this is the only universe? We have no idea because we have a sample size of 1.
    What is the probability that life can arise on earth like planets? We have no idea because we have a sample size of 1.

    What is the probability that the universe is an elementary particle in some far greater universe?

    Well, based on what we know, we equivocate and say it is “pretty low, probably close to zero.” That is not assigning a probability. It is not an actionable stance. We have no idea what the denominator is. Hell, we have no idea what the numerator is. We are saying it is a “low probability” on philosophical principle. Life may indeed be unimagineably common. We don’t know.

    Assigning a probability means putting a number to it. You can’t. The best we can do is put a vague general feeling to it, which can be overturned in an instant.

    What is the probability that FTL neutrinos exist? That would be near zero and we can confidently say so.

    What is the probability of a PAP or TAP type question? We can only have a vague notion which requires very little evidence (unlike the FTL neutrinos) to completely overturn and go from zero to 100.

  69. nybgruson 27 Feb 2012 at 10:10 am

    @sonic:

    Perhaps I should say that the findings of science are not in disagreement with the notion of theism- or are congruent with– or don’t disprove– or….

    If you twist and contort the definition of “god” enough, sure you can make anything congruent with anything.

    Science is also not discordant with the notion that our entire universe is but a single molecule on the horn of an epic unicorn.

    However, science is completely at odds with every form of religion and every god proposed so far. There is no room for any human god.

    The only “god” that science still has room for is a very lacksadaisical, rather impotent, and almost entirely irrelevant one.

    That is to say that an agnostic theist would look at the results I mentioned and say– “I don’t know, but these findings agree with my basic concepts very well.”

    Only if you bend and twist both the finding and the basic concepts rather extensively.

    That is to say the findings support an agnostic theism.

    Even with your most recent train of logic, that doesn’t pan out. Sorry Sonic.

  70. nybgruson 27 Feb 2012 at 10:13 am

    re: the Big Bang Theory:

    I’m with you here. I think that what nybgrus meant is that cosmologist do not like the term “Big Bang”. If true, I didn’t know that. But, regardless of what you call it, it is still the prevailing theory because it is the only theory that takes all the known facts into consideration. Nothing else comes anywhere close.

    BJ7 is correct.

    It is still referred to by that old moniker, in the same way that XRays are still called XRays.

    It is inflationary cosmology though – no “bangs” involved.

    As per the TalkOrigins summary

    “There are a number of reasons that these misconceptions persist in the public mind. First and foremost, the term “Big Bang” was originally coined in 1950 by Sir Fred Hoyle, a staunch opponent of the theory. He was a proponent of the competing “Steady State” model and had a very low opinion of the idea of an expanding universe…. With these and other misleading descriptions endlessly propagated by otherwise well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) media figures, it is not surprising that many people have wildly distorted ideas about what BBT says.”

  71. mufion 27 Feb 2012 at 11:11 am

    nybgrus: …there is a lot of rhetoric from the secular crowd that essentially boils down to “Everyone is entitled to believe what they want, and that is totally OK, and may be true for you, just don’t force it on me.”

    When I think of “the secular crowd”, I think of anyone who supports the ideal of secular government and/or religious disestablishment – in other words, a group that includes liberal theists like Roger Williams (e.g. see this recent NYT piece) and his ideological descendants.

    So, from a political/legal standpoint, a secularist position is: It is OK to believe what you want, so long as you agree to suffer those who believe otherwise – no matter how confident you are that they are wrong.

    However, I don’t think there is anything inherent to secularism that demands that we equate such tolerance (which has been a wonderful boon to nonbelievers) with philosophical agreement on matters metaphysical, let alone scientific. If it did, then what would be left for us to tolerate?

    Of course, like anything in law, these legal principles are subject to interpretation, such that a creationist may interpret secularism as a defense of parity in public school science curricula. That may be an inherent risk in secularism, but the political alternatives are (in my opinion) worse, and, in any case, it won’t prevent us secularists (again, including liberal theists) from building and protecting a “wall of separation” between church & state in public institutions.

  72. cwfongon 27 Feb 2012 at 11:46 am

    sonic, you are being asked to deal with counter arguments that are in the end as useless as the Russell’s teapot one turned out to be. We have this propensity to feel that there’s a higher intelligence than ours that makes things in our universe orderly, and it’s likely neither a utensil or some lower form of animal.

  73. mufion 27 Feb 2012 at 11:52 am

    PS: nybgrus, you may find the “wall of separation” to be an unsatisfying goal. If so, then I understand, but I think it boils down to that cliche that “politics is the art of compromise.” If atheists keep at it long enough, who knows? Maybe civil society will slowly evolve to the point where the wall is no longer necessary. I’m not so optimistic about that (particularly since “church” is now used as a placeholder for virtually any religion, not necessarily a theistic one), but a world “with no religion” (to quote John Lennon) doesn’t sound too bad to me, given my own experiences with religion.

  74. sonicon 27 Feb 2012 at 1:23 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    Re: abiogenesis-
    If we are ignorant do we need to continue to be?

    As to the big bang– here is a quote you might enjoy- from astrophysicist Christopher Isham.
    “Perhaps the best argument in favor of the thesis that the Big Bang supports theism is the obvious unease with which it is greeted by some atheist physicists. At times this has led to scientific ideas, such as continuous creation or an oscillating universe, being advanced with a tenacity which exceeds their intrinsic worth that one can only suspect the operation of psychological forces lying very much deeper than the usual academic desire of a theorist to support his or her theory.”

    To know if god exists, I’d have to know what god is like. To know what god is like I would have to know what could be the ‘first cause’ of this universe.
    I don’t have a clue what could create this universe- (although it seems that straw men have been ruled out) ;-)
    It’s ridiculous to think I could know what I don’t have a clue about.
    But I am ridiculous. I think I can know. I know I don’t know, but I have hope…

    Being human is pretty funny most of the time. :-)

    nybrus-
    You would prefer “The Big Inflations (as many as we need) Theory”?
    Rolls off the tongue. Captures the imagination.

    So how many years before it would be acceptable to question abiogenesis?

    cwfong-
    You thought there was a reasoning argument against ‘first cause’?
    Or that the actual findings of science don’t support an agnostic theistic view?
    I’m not sure if there is an intelligence behind this mess or not, but like I say– I don’t know what could start this universe.
    It seems everyone else does.
    Sometimes I feel so alone… :-)

  75. cwfongon 27 Feb 2012 at 1:35 pm

    Sonic, I think that it’s first cause all the way down. Therefore no theistic view in sight. Intelligence evolves itself intelligently. Although as certain holdout areas would indicate, some intelligences are less happily evolved than others.

  76. BillyJoe7on 27 Feb 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Sonic,

    I see you’ve cherry picked another quote. ;)
    There is no unease amongst atheist physicists that I have noticed regarding BB/IC. They seem to easily accept where the evidence leads. In any case, the present level of evidence is consistent with the view that the universe can create itself out of nothing. There is also the fact that time does not exist unless there is something, which means that the universe/multiverse has always – at all times – existed. There is also no reason to think that nothing rather than something is the default. Virtual particles would tend to suggest oterwise – they flit in and out of existence quite happily throughout so called empty space.
    There’s no need to feel alone. :)

  77. BillyJoe7on 27 Feb 2012 at 3:39 pm

    I see cwfong has retreated back into his mask again when challenged by details.

  78. cwfongon 27 Feb 2012 at 4:07 pm

    Hard to seriously discuss anything of substance with someone who believes that the universe can create itself out of nothing.
    Demonstrating that details are a challenge for you to even form a proper question with.

  79. mufion 27 Feb 2012 at 5:01 pm

    cwfong to BJ7: Hard to seriously discuss anything of substance with someone who believes that the universe can create itself out of nothing.

    Does it help if I assert that nothing creates the universe? How about if I add that nothing is God? or God is nothing?

    Oh, right, you prefer “intelligence” to “God.” I’ll let you make the required substitutions.

    :-)

  80. nybgruson 27 Feb 2012 at 5:01 pm

    @mufi:

    you may find the “wall of separation” to be an unsatisfying goal.

    Exactly. That is what I mean about near and far term goals. The wall is already there. It has been. It is being eroded. Our focus should not be to repair and maintain it and be happy. It should be to demonstrate why the wall needn’t exist since the only thing on the other side of it is childish fantasy and nonsense that doesn’t exist in the first place.

    I’m not so optimistic about that (particularly since “church” is now used as a placeholder for virtually any religion, not necessarily a theistic one), but a world “with no religion” (to quote John Lennon) doesn’t sound too bad to me, given my own experiences with religion.

    Optimism is irrelevant. If we don’t strive for that goal it will never happen, and that is a fact. Whether it ultimately does or does not (and our current thoughts on the likelihood of that actually happening) matters not – we must still endeavor to make it happen and keep our eyes on the long term prize, not equivocate happily and tolerate bad ideas because it is a good thing. We should only tolerate the bad ideas because that is the logical and rational thing to do for all ideas. But we should never tolerate them in places where they matter – science, medicine, politics, etc.

    Working with any theists to any end goal at the very least tacitly acknowledges that stupid and crazy ideas are OK as long as they aren’t too stupid or crazy and if they are kept to oneself. A better goal is to show people why they are stupid and crazy and have fewer people to inhabit the imaginary side of the wall.

    Having said all that, I am actually optimistic about a Lennon-esque future. My 8 year old nephew is more knowledgeable about the world around him than the average man was just a hundred or two years ago. Education and knowledge – the single biggest scourge of religiosity – is at the instantaneous fingertips of vast swaths of humanity and growing without bound. The church’s (in the sense you just wrote) ability to stifle differing opinions and knowledge that contradicts dogma is rapidly evaporating. I see no reason to hold quarter for faith based “knowledge” and ideas.

    Having said all that, I also acknowledge that the world is much messier than we’d like and my “purist” stance on the matter, while theoretically wonderful, is practically unachievable…. for now. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it.

  81. cwfongon 27 Feb 2012 at 5:19 pm

    mufi, I have no idea what you’re talking about. See John Wheeler on the question of the “nothingness” that existed prior to the big bang. I’m not a disciple of his, but that’s another story. Also see Lawrence Krauss who makes a distinction between a mathematical and a functional nothing.

  82. sonicon 27 Feb 2012 at 5:32 pm

    cwfong-
    I find that thinking appealing as well.
    An experimental look that seems up this alley–
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2958.2009.06831.x/abstract

    BillyJoe7-
    Do ever get a good laugh when you discover you have said something really stupid?
    If so, google ‘christopher isham’ and then compare his knowledge base of what physicists are like compared to yours.
    If you can’t laugh, then don’t do the google thing.

  83. mufion 27 Feb 2012 at 5:38 pm

    nybgrus:

    If you truly believe that the wall of separation is being eroded, then your optimism perplexes me, as it suggests to me two logically incompatible trends: one in which the institutions of education/knowledge are being hijacked (or taken back) in service to theocratic goals; and another in which the nation’s youth are nonetheless somehow acquiring the education/knowledge required to frustrate those goals. [Note: I'm not saying that I accept either of those factual claims. I'm simply pointing out an apparent contradiction in your statements.]

    Also, I’m now reminded of a post that I read on Paul Krugman’s blog this morning, which channeled Chris Mooney. Of course, his focus is more on political conservatives (who may or may not be religious), but we both know that there’s a lot of overlap there, which bears on our thread, particularly with regard to the differential effects of higher education.

    Here’s a taste (with the upshot appended at the end):

    For Republicans, having a college degree didn’t appear to make one any more open to what scientists have to say. On the contrary, better-educated Republicans were more skeptical of modern climate science than their less educated brethren. Only 19 percent of college-educated Republicans agreed that the planet is warming due to human actions, versus 31 percent of non-college-educated Republicans.

    For Democrats and Independents, the opposite was the case. More education correlated with being more accepting of climate science—among Democrats, dramatically so. The difference in acceptance between more and less educated Democrats was 23 percentage points.


    Indeed, if we believe in evidence then we should also welcome the evidence showing its limited power to persuade–especially in politicized areas where deep emotions are involved. Before you start off your next argument with a fact, then, first think about what the facts say about that strategy. If you’re a liberal who is emotionally wedded to the idea that rationality wins the day—well, then, it’s high time to listen to reason.

  84. mufion 27 Feb 2012 at 5:43 pm

    cwfong: I was just having some fun.

    To be serious, I’m a pragmatist and a metaphysical agnostic. Whereas many mathematicians, philosophers, and physicists are Platonic realists, for whom it makes sense to speak of numbers and equations as if they are real (albeit, not necessarily physical) entities, such language only makes sense to me metaphorically.

  85. mufion 27 Feb 2012 at 5:44 pm

    PS: The same is true of my reaction to BJ7′s remarks about nothing.

  86. cwfongon 27 Feb 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Jesus, sonic, to bring up adaptive mutation here is like playing with the ancient element of fire.

  87. nybgruson 27 Feb 2012 at 6:04 pm

    @mufi:

    You don’t think there can be erosion at the same time as repair? It is the old guard in the heaves of death throes doing the eroding. It is the new guard doing the repairing.

    I say that it is eroding… perhaps it is more accurate to say that there is a concerted and powerful effort to erode it. Look at the political rhetoric of the Kennedy era and compare it to that of the Santorum and even Paul era. The wall existed and was respected as late as Kennedy – it is denied to exist and the politik of today is (trying at least) to tear it down.

    My optimism comes from the fact that those who are eroding the wall will be dead in a few decades and those that will replace them will be better than ever before. We just need to hold the line until then, so as not to entrench theocratic policies and logic into the very working of our governance and social order. And I see that happening regularly, despite the desperate groans of the theistic right. And that gives me optimism.

    And as I said, a short term goal would be to hold hands with those on the other side of the wall and smile at each other while lauding the wall. That is all well and good. But short term.

    I also have read Chris Mooney and understand the science of why we don’t believe in science. That demonstrates to me a necessary evil, but does not change my attitude that the facts reign supreme and the wall shouldn’t exist. I do vacillate a bit between the Myers and Moody attitude on the matter, but I consistently find myself understanding Moody yet agreeing with Myers.

    Regarding Krugman’s post – I don’t think that level of education accurately reflects what a person is actually inclined to think nor influence their actions (at least, I should say that there is always a large set of outliers despite the general trend you and I can likely agree on). As an attending of mine once said, a duck with a PhD is still a duck. We musn’t forget that theistic ways of thinking always supercede any education, knowledge, and logic. Couple that with the material atavism of the typical right winger and we have an easy recipe for educated people denying climate change. The denial stems not from a lack of education but from a theistic outlook that only god can destroy the earth, so no human action can, and from a right wing outlook that short-term capitalism is always the goal at any cost.

  88. mufion 27 Feb 2012 at 6:54 pm

    nybgrus: perhaps it is more accurate to say that there is a concerted and powerful effort to erode it

    No argument there!

    My optimism comes from the fact that those who are eroding the wall will be dead in a few decades and those that will replace them will be better than ever before.

    As much as I’d like to believe that, I’m not convinced that such optimism is warranted. If you find my attitude depressing, then you can translate that into a positive cautionary message: Keep at it, but don’t ever get complacent!

    BTW, Krugman seems to think that his field has moved backwards from what it was, say, 40 years ago – away from evidenced-based analysis and towards ideology and tribalism. I’m not in a position to agree or disagree with him (it might just be a symptom of age), but it’s why he’s quoting Mooney.

    On the lighter side, I do take some comfort from certain demographic trends – particularly those in my region of the USA (the Northeast) and countries in Northwestern Europe (some of the most culturally irreligious of which still have established churches).

  89. ccbowerson 27 Feb 2012 at 9:41 pm

    mufi-

    I’m not sure how you would interpret that quote you posted re: Republicans and Democrats, but to me it has less to do with political affiliation and more to do with ideological committments conflicting with the science in the given example. People who identify themselves with the Republican party are more likely going to have ideological committments (e.g. libertarian, religious, and pro business perspectives) that conflict with climate science. More education in this group allows for more intellectual confidence to engage in motivated reasoning with confidence. For the educated Democrats more education increases acceptance of climate science because there is less conflict between climate science and their ideologies.

  90. nybgruson 27 Feb 2012 at 10:13 pm

    ccbowers said it much more clearly and succinctly than I did. I second exactly what he said.

    as for your lack of optimism, let me be clear. Just because the main force of those eroding the wall will be dead in a few decades doesn’t mean our goal will be realized in that time frame. I don’t think it will even be realized in my lifetime, or probably my grandchildren’s lifetime. My optimism is long term… so no need to warn me against complacence, though it is a welcome reminder and always good to bring up from time to time.

    I am also happy at the change of demographics – though it is much less noticeable in my new locale. I am currently one timezone behind you now and much, much closer to the equator, if you catch my meaning.

  91. mufion 27 Feb 2012 at 10:28 pm

    ccbowers:

    Both sides have their biases and preconceptions, but Mooney’s point is that (statistically, which of course allows for individual exceptions) they are not equivalent in terms of how they respond to challenging information.

    In particular, <a href="“>he argues that the “smart idiot” effect – where “politically sophisticated or knowledgeable people are often more biased, and less persuadable, than the ignorant” – is limited to Republicans. For example:

    Nuclear power is a classic test case for liberal biases—kind of the flipside of the global warming issue–for the following reason. It’s well known that liberals tend to start out distrustful of nuclear energy: There’s a long history of this on the left. But this impulse puts them at odds with the views of the scientific community on the matter (scientists tend to think nuclear power risks are overblown, especially in light of the dangers of other energy sources, like coal).

    So are liberals “smart idiots” on nukes? Not in Kahan’s study. As members of the “egalitarian communitarian” group in the study—people with more liberal values–knew more science and math, they did not become more worried, overall, about the risks of nuclear power. Rather, they moved in the opposite direction from where these initial impulses would have taken them. They become less worried—and, I might add, closer to the opinion of the scientific community on the matter.

    You may or may not support nuclear power personally, but let’s face it: This is not the “smart idiot” effect. It looks a lot more like open-mindedness.

  92. mufion 27 Feb 2012 at 10:30 pm

    Sorry about the broken link. Here it is in in full:

    http://www.alternet.org/story/154252/the_republican_brain%3A_why_even_educated_conservatives_deny_science_–_and_reality/?page=entire

  93. mufion 27 Feb 2012 at 11:22 pm

    nybgrus:

    See my reply above to ccbowers.

    It’s not my intention to dash your hopes for a future in which it’s no longer necessary to legislate a wall of separation in the USA (if not elsewhere), so as to contain religion within civil society and to keep it from overtaking the reins of government (as it so often has throughout history and does around the world today). I just don’t see that there’s any sort of iron law in history that guarantees that outcome – which is partly why I think you are wise to refrain from making any specific predictions regarding its arrival.

  94. BillyJoe7on 28 Feb 2012 at 4:18 am

    cwfong,

    “Hard to seriously discuss anything of substance with someone who believes that the universe can create itself out of nothing.”

    It is not exactly a new idea. And it’s not my idea. And it beats goddidit or intelligencedidit or whatever it is you believedidit.

    “Also see Lawrence Krauss who makes a distinction between a mathematical and a functional nothing.”

    Lawrence is pre-emminent amongst physicists in supporting the view that the universe can form from nothing borrowing widely from both cosmology and particle physics. There is not a need for even a deist god in his explication. Nor a cosmic intelligence or whatever.

  95. BillyJoe7on 28 Feb 2012 at 4:35 am

    sonic,

    “Do ever get a good laugh when you discover you have said something really stupid?”

    Referring to my comment about atheist physicists not being at all uneasy about the BB?
    Well, if that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever said I’ll wear it.
    I’d hate to drown in your depth of stupid though ;)

    “If so, google ‘christopher isham’ and then compare his knowledge base of what physicists are like compared to yours.”

    Oh wait, you mean that person who wikipedia covers in just one short paragraph?
    I particularly liked the sentence that commences “As a practicing Christian, Isham…..”.
    Now that’s as good a belly laugh as I’ve had all day! Yep, I’m going to real bothered by a practicing christian physicist who thinks that atheist physicists are uneasy about the BB, yessirreee!

  96. nybgruson 28 Feb 2012 at 7:22 am

    …as to contain religion within civil society and to keep it from overtaking the reins of government (as it so often has throughout history and does around the world today). I just don’t see that there’s any sort of iron law in history that guarantees that outcome…

    My goal is not an iron law. My goal is to actually have enough people finally not believe anything (just for the sake of believing it) and to make faith the bad word that it is that those left who do “believe” and “have faith” be the object of ridicule and mockery by essentially everyone that matters. Just like any other marginalized cult – I simply want them all marginalized.

    A world where “Actually, the evidence states…” followed by “Oh, thank you for pointing that out, I will now change my view on the topic” is the norm and statements of “Don’t you just believe….?” are met with unashamed laughter.

    I don’t want to legislate the wall into permanence… I want it to have no need to exist because there exists no one on the other side of the wall.

    That is achieved through education and consistent and open mockery and ridicule of anything based in faith, belief, or “ancient wisdom.” It is also not a guaranteed outcome just from education, nor really a guaranteed outcome at all. That is why we must never be complacent and utilize the moderate theist as an ally less and less. It is also why it will likely not happen in the next few generations.

    But that is the world I dream of. Much like the world of Star Trek and Captain Picard ;-)

    (I never said I wasn’t a giant nerd)

  97. ccbowerson 28 Feb 2012 at 10:27 am

    “Both sides have their biases and preconceptions, but Mooney’s point is that (statistically, which of course allows for individual exceptions) they are not equivalent in terms of how they respond to challenging information.”

    Well, I suspect that this may be true, but I’m not sure that this is demonstrated. I’m not sure that a stance on nuclear power is something that “liberals” are as ideologically committed against in the same way that people are to climate change. It may be coincidental that there appear to be more science that conflicts with ideology for one group in comparison to another, and I think the evidence for a fundamental group differences with regards to science in general needs to be stronger than simply picking two topics (since the difference may be in the nature of the topics in comparison).

    Now, that is not to say I necessarily disagree with Mooney I just think he is overstating his case. Personally I do think that certain ideologies lend themselves to a general distrust of science, but I think you have to be more specific than Democrat or Republican (or liberal, conservative). Any effect seen between such broad categories are likely because these broad categories are surrogate markers for a more specific, narrow and topic relevant ideological bias. Perhaps you are already familiar, but Mooney debated this topic with Dan Hahan on the ‘Point of Inquiry’ podcast, and overall it was a good discussion. I think my opinion is somewhere between the two, but leaning towards Dan

  98. cwfongon 28 Feb 2012 at 12:20 pm

    BJ7 in the bliss of his ignorance writes:
    “Lawrence is pre-emminent amongst physicists in supporting the view that the universe can form from nothing borrowing widely from both cosmology and particle physics. There is not a need for even a deist god in his explication. Nor a cosmic intelligence or whatever.”

    Here’s what Krauss says in his new book intro:
    “Because of the clear interest in the subject, and also as a result of some of the confusing commentary on the web and media following my lecture, I thought it worth producing a more complete rendition of the ideas that I had expressed there.
    Here I can also take the opportunity to add to the arguments I presented at the time, which focused almost completely on the recent revolutions in cosmology that have changed our picture of the universe, associated with the discovery of the energy and geometry of space, and which I discuss in the first two-thirds of this book.”

    Energy and geometry of space. Or as BillyJoe7 would reply, “whatever.” He doesn’t have to read the book as he’s as familiar as he can be with whatever.

  99. BillyJoe7on 28 Feb 2012 at 3:15 pm

    cwfong,

    You are under a false impression.
    I read books that I consider worth reading. You cannot read everything that comes across your desk and every link and every book reference provided on blogs. You have to descriminate. So far I have seen no reason to read any references you have provided (well, after the first few).
    But I have read Lawrence Krauss’ “The Universe from Nothing”.

    The bottom line is that subatomic entities can spontaneously come into existence as can spacetime.
    No god or intelligence needed.

  100. Mlemaon 28 Feb 2012 at 3:18 pm

    First cause = my awareness

  101. Mlemaon 28 Feb 2012 at 3:21 pm

    BillyJoe7

    how do you know what’s needed for subatomic entities to spontaneously come into existence?

  102. cwfongon 28 Feb 2012 at 4:17 pm

    BJ7: *But I have read Lawrence Krauss’ “The Universe from Nothing”.*

    Assuming you’re not lying, did you understand the mention of energy’s role in the spontaneous emergence of particles? Did the mention of the existing wave function mean anything to you. Did you not understand that the geometric space that existed prior to the bang was in itself a something, and that there was no evidence or theory that demonstrated the possibility of a complete vacuum of some form of energy in that space?

    And your admission that you poo-poo scientific papers cited without even reading them is the cherry on the cake.

  103. mufion 28 Feb 2012 at 11:51 pm

    ccbowers:

    I just listened to Mooney’s interview with Dan Kahan.

    I say “interview” because it wasn’t much of a debate, IMO, although I would agree that Kahan clearly resisted any commitment to Mooney’s interpretation of the relevant data (including Kahan’s own) as it bears on (a)symmetry with respect to how different political-ideological/value groups respond to challenging evidence.

    Maybe I should wait until after I’ve read Mooney’s upcoming book (and critical reviews thereof) before I say more on this topic.

  104. BillyJoe7on 29 Feb 2012 at 5:39 am

    cwfong,

    “And your admission that you poo-poo scientific papers cited without even reading them is the cherry on the cake”

    You are simply lying.
    I challenge you to quote my actual words where I say that.

    “Assuming you’re not lying”

    Can you say ‘projection’?

    Anyway….
    This is the books title: “The Universe from Nothing”.
    The. Universe. From. Nothing.

    And here are a couple of quotes from the book to make it clear that that is exactly what he is saying:

    “The answers that have been obtained from the staggeringly beautiful experimental observations, as well as from the theories that underlie much of modern physics, all suggest that getting something from nothing is not a problem.”

    The following is necessarily a paraphrase of the actual words in the book in order to reduce it to manageable size:

    “A century ago you could have described “nothing” as purely empty space possessing no material entity. But the results of the past century have taught us that empty space is not nothing but rather a ‘quantum vacuum’.

    So what about ‘nothing’ as the absence of space and time itself? As I shall describe, we have learned that space and time can themsleves spontaneously appear.

    But then if there is the potential (via the laws of nature) to create something, is that really a state of true nothingness? I argue that the laws themselves also arose spontaneously, as I will describe might be the case.

    But then is the system in which the laws may have arisen not true nothingness? Tutles all the way down? I don’t think so. My purpose here is to demonstrate that, in fact, science has changed the playing field so that these abstract and useless debates about the nature of nothingness have been replaced by useful, operational efforts to describe how our universe might actually have originated.

    An exciting series of developments in cosmology, particle theory, and gravitation, have completely changed the way we view the universe. My immediate motivation for writing this book is the discovery that most of the energy in the universe resides in some mysterious form permeating all of empty space.

    This discovery has produced remarkable support for the idea that our universe arose from precisely nothing”

    Lete me repeat that last sentence:

    “This discovery has produced remarkable support for the idea that our universe arose from precisely nothing”

  105. cwfongon 29 Feb 2012 at 12:48 pm

    “My immediate motivation for writing this book is the discovery that most of the energy in the universe resides in some mysterious form permeating all of empty space.” Right.

    And energy is not nothing if it’s “some” thing, mysterious or not. And you can’t seem to grasp that the existence of a space that allows particles to arise from energy’s mysterious form is in itself a something. And if we came from a true nothing in the epistemological sense there would have been no space at all to come from, but as far as science or philosophy can tell us, it’s space all the way down.

    “I argue that the laws themselves also arose spontaneously, as I will describe might be the case.”

    And ‘might’ not be, of course. But this is not an affirmation of nothingness either, as I can agree that laws evolved from virtual lawlessness with the consistency of the trial and error process through which all strategic systems in the universe will have evolved.
    And you thought that “spontaneous” refers to nothing, right? Except that it doesn’t. Not even Krauss’s mathematical nothing. And what was it again that he wrote about the wave function? Nothing?

    You simply can’t understand what you read (even if you only read reviews), and unless you find something that seems to affirm the presumptions on your check list of ignorance, you don’t even see it. You can’t. You lack the capacity.

  106. ccbowerson 29 Feb 2012 at 3:07 pm

    Mufi-

    I think we must specify what we are implying by a difference between groups with regards to science and discomfirming information. I think that is where some of the disagreement lies. If you are saying that one group is fundamentally different with regards to their processing of disconfirming evidence, I disagree: this has not been demonstrated. If you are saying one group appears to discount information that counters their ideological biases, perhaps because they happen to have more ideological biases that are in conflict with science, then I could see that being true (and I agree it likely is true). This appears to be why Mooney and Kahan disagree, but not really

  107. BillyJoe7on 29 Feb 2012 at 3:33 pm

    cwfong: “You simply can’t understand what you read…and unless you find something that seems to affirm the presumptions on your check list of ignorance, you don’t even see it. You can’t. You lack the capacity.”

    Again, can you spell “projection”?
    Really, see how you cherry-pick to support your preconceptions. Here is your selective quote:

    Krauss: “My immediate motivation for writing this book is the discovery that most of the energy in the universe resides in some mysterious form permeating all of empty space.”

    To which you respond:

    cwfong: “And energy is not nothing if it’s “some” thing, mysterious or not.”

    But you leave off Krauss’ very next sentence which is the point of the whole thing:

    Krauss: “This discovery has produced remarkable support for the idea that our universe arose from precisely nothing”

    Let me repeat that again with emphasis:

    Krauss: “This discovery has produced remarkable support for the idea that our universe arose from precisely nothing”

    cwfong: “And you can’t seem to grasp that the existence of a space that allows particles to arise from energy’s mysterious form is in itself a something.”

    And you can’t seem to keep reading to the end:

    Krauss: “So what about ‘nothing’ as the absence of space and time itself? As I shall describe, we have learned that space and time can themsleves spontaneously appear.”

    Let me repeat that again with emphasis:

    Krauss: “we have learned that space and time can themsleves spontaneously appear”

    And again you quote Krauss:

    Krauss: ““I argue that the laws themselves also arose spontaneously, as I will describe might be the case.”

    To which you respond;

    cwfong: “But this is not an affirmation of nothingness either”

    But, again, you can’t seem to read to the end. Here is what follows:

    Krauss: “But then is the system in which the laws may have arisen not true nothingness? Tutles all the way down? I don’t think so. My purpose here is to demonstrate that, in fact, science has changed the playing field so that these abstract and useless debates about the nature of nothingness have been replaced by useful, operational efforts to describe how our universe might actually have originated.”

    In that sentence he has characterised jokers like you to a tee.

    “even if you only read reviews”

    Who are you lying to now?
    Now, what is the title of that book again?
    Repeat after me:

    “The. Universe. From. Nothing.”

    Thank you

  108. cwfongon 29 Feb 2012 at 4:40 pm

    BJ7,
    You don’t actually have that book, do you, since everything you’ve quoted is in the book reviews. Or if you do have it, you’ve resorted to the reviews to try to understand it.

    If Krauss was arguing that there was no space before the big bang, I didn’t see it, as turtles all the way down refers to the origin of the material universe and not of the vast space that is required to contain it. You have no argument that says at one time there was no space, do you? Of course not. Since neither does Krauss.

    Does Krauss speak of mysterious energy in that space or doesn’t he? Look at your own quotes, too late to erase them.
    And look again at this: “Empty space is complicated. It is a boiling brew of virtual particles that pop in and out of existence in a time so short we cannot see them directly.”
    Is this not what he means by “Nothingness is inherently unstable”? I’d say yes, but that’s just the scientific view.

    Also there’s the theory of the multiple universes that Krauss dealt with:
    “Each different universe within the multiverse could have different laws of physics, and that’s really interesting, because it could mean in that case that the laws that we see here are not, are not fundamental at all. They’re just an accident, an environmental accident.
    Our current best idea of what happened in the early universe is this idea called inflation that says our universe expanded very, very fast in a very short time. But in fact, as a result, that means there could be other regions in the universe that did the same thing, and are forever beyond our horizon, we’ll never see them. And in fact, there could be an infinite number of different universes that are causally disconnected.
    The other possibility for a multiverse comes from recent ideas from particle physics which suggest perhaps that there may be extra dimensions in nature. And it’s possible that there could be other universes, literally a millimetre away in an extra dimension, and we wouldn’t know about it.
    There could be an infinite number of three-dimensional or four-dimensional universes like our own embedded in that larger space. So not far removed in our three-dimensional world, but far removed or maybe even close up in a little extra dimension, just above your nose. ”

    Did these other universes all come from the same big bang? If not, perhaps there was something out there in space before we were. So if in your view we came from nothing nowhere, how does that fit with the Krauss speculation that these other universes were something somewhere?

    Your answer will be another doozy, of course.

  109. Mlemaon 29 Feb 2012 at 6:26 pm

    Positively fascinating!

  110. mufion 29 Feb 2012 at 10:12 pm

    ccbowers:

    If Mooney is correct, then conservatives and liberals (or other closely correlating groups) are asymmetrical in this regard.

    In other words, if he is correct (and Kahan by no means refuted him in that talk, so much as expressed some skepticism towards the idea), then the former group is demonstrably more predisposed than the latter to reject information that challenges their prior beliefs. (And he information, Mooney claims, isn’t limited to scientific topics. It also extends to rumors about political figures – e.g. re: the personal histories of Pres. Obama or George W. Bush – and the opposing group’s responses to counter-evidence that debunks those rumors.)

    That said, I am not certain that Mooney is correct (thus, the “wait and see” language of my last comment), nor am I certain that he’s incorrect. But I do find his hypothesis to be quite plausible, given my personal experience, having spent significant amounts of time in both political-ideological camps.

    And (need I add?) just because symmetry is elegant and might seem “fair & balanced” on the surface, doesn’t mean it’s true.

  111. BillyJoe7on 01 Mar 2012 at 5:50 am

    cwfong,

    “You don’t actually have that book, do you”

    I have the book.

    “since everything you’ve quoted is in the book reviews.”

    I challenge you to link to them to show I have used only quotes used in the reviews.
    It would be a strange coincidence that the bits I have chosen are exactly those you have found in reviews, so I’m confident you can’t do it.

    In the mean time, drown in the following quotes from the book:

    “As I have defined it thus far, the relevant “nothing” from which our “somethng” arises is “empty space”. However, once we allow for the merging of quantum mechanics and general relativity [quantum gravity], we can extend this argument to the case where space itself is forced into existence.”

    “The lesson is clear: quantum gravity not only appears to allow universes to be created from nothing – meaning, in this case, I emphasise, the absence of space and time – it may require them. “Nothing” – which in this case means no space, no time, no anything! – is unstable.”

    There is still the laws of physics that haven’t been accounted for. Strauss brings in the multiverse at this point, the point being that, in the multiverse, no special laws were required and that the special laws of our particular universe resulted from random shuffling until the right combination produced a universe conducive to life (albeit, in only one trillion, trillion, trillionth of the volume of that universe)

    “Why is there something rather than nothing? This question must be understood in the context of a cosmos where the meaning of these words is not what it once was, and the very distinction between something and nothing has begun to disappear, where transitions between the two in different contexts are not only common but required”

  112. BillyJoe7on 01 Mar 2012 at 5:52 am

    …shit, I mispelled his name. Krauss it is.

  113. cwfongon 01 Mar 2012 at 12:54 pm

    Nothing is always something in other words.

  114. cwfongon 01 Mar 2012 at 1:21 pm

    By the way, did you notice that my Krauss quotes about the multiverse are not in the book? They were in an interview with Krauss found here: http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/3245822.htm
    Go back to the library and look.

    “Also see Lawrence Krauss who makes a distinction between a mathematical and a functional nothing.”
    What I said. And you still don’t get it.

  115. BillyJoe7on 01 Mar 2012 at 1:21 pm

    His idea, and he is not the first to voice it, is that “nothing” is unstable and that, therefore, “something” is inevitable. An other way of stating this is that “nothing” is not the default state. There has to be “something”.
    You may disagree, but you can’t deny that this is what Krauss is saying in his book.

  116. cwfongon 01 Mar 2012 at 1:39 pm

    You are now pretending to have been saying what I said from the beginning that Krauss was saying, is that it?

  117. BillyJoe7on 01 Mar 2012 at 1:44 pm

    Seems we cross posted!

    “By the way, did you notice that my Krauss quotes about the multiverse are not in the book?”"

    I said I’d read the book, not that I’d memorised it!
    He certainly talks about inflation and extra-dimensional multiverse in the book. Nothing sounded new to me in your reference.

    “Go back to the library and look. ”

    You know I have the book. Why don’t you just admit it.
    You took a gamble and lost. Get over it.

    “And you still don’t get it.”

    At this point, I’ll just refer back to my previous posts and leave it to others to decide who has made their case.

  118. BillyJoe7on 01 Mar 2012 at 2:05 pm

    “You are now pretending to have been saying what I said from the beginning that Krauss was saying, is that it?”

    The universe from nothing: no matter (quantum fluctuation), no space and time (quantum gravity), no laws of physics (multiverse).

    In other words:

    Empty spacetime + The laws of physics (quantum fluctuation) => Matter
    The laws of physics (quantum gravity) => Empty spacetime
    The multiverse => The laws of physics

    That’s what Krauss is saying.

  119. cwfongon 01 Mar 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Every time you get caught out as wrong, you pretend the argument was about something else entirely.
    Nobody but you knows if you own the book, so you can declare yourself the winner of that straw-man contest if you like.
    As to leaving it to others to decide if you made your case, which case was that, the one that you started with or that you ended with?
    Why not just admit you learned something. It won’t hurt as much as you seem to fear it will.

  120. cwfongon 01 Mar 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Oops, that intervening post shows you learned nothing after all. Sorry, my mistake for thinking otherwise.

  121. sonicon 02 Mar 2012 at 12:31 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    God is no thing (non corporeal) and no thing can create the universe.
    (But anything or something- like you or me can’t).
    This is apparently hinted at by the mathematical underpinnings of some theoretical physics. I think by most religious texts as well.
    And what some call ‘spontaneous creation’ sounds uncomfortably close to ‘let there be light’ for me.
    Uncomfortably close.

  122. nybgruson 02 Mar 2012 at 1:06 pm

    nodoby is perfect
    i am nobody
    i am perfect
    QED

  123. cwfongon 02 Mar 2012 at 1:20 pm

    If something comes from nothing, then nothing comes from something.

  124. BillyJoe7on 02 Mar 2012 at 3:22 pm

    sonic,

    All you’ve done is give “nothing” another name. You’ve called it “god”. I prefer to stay with “nothing”. What’s the point of renaming it “god” anyway” What have you gained. Certainly you can give it any other characteristics other than what is already implied by the name “nothing”.

    And, when you say “spontaneous creation” sounds close to “let there be light”, what you have missed is that “let there be light” contains an unnecessary hypothesis. Ockham’s Razor and all that. When existing physical theory gives plausibility to “spontaneous generation”, as you call it, there is no need for an inexplicable, mysterious “god”. What does it add to knowledge?

    And all you have is a deistic god about which you can say nothing more. No ethics or morals. And no afterlife. So what is your motivation?

  125. cwfongon 02 Mar 2012 at 3:27 pm

    I suspect he wanted to watch you miss the point again.

  126. BillyJoe7on 02 Mar 2012 at 3:32 pm

    cwfong,

    “If something comes from nothing, then nothing comes from something.”

    As Christopher Hitchens said, but I can’t remember his exact words: If you don’t believe in “nothing”, hang around awhile.

    But, according to physical theory, “nothing” is unstable and physical theory plausibly requires that “something” will come form this “nothing”, and the cycle repeats, and the infinite universe cycles on. In theory anyway. But that’s all we have to go on.

  127. cwfongon 02 Mar 2012 at 4:02 pm

    So much for that mysterious energy, folks. Nothing there to worry about. That bunch of dummies who spent a billion dollars looking for an invisible boson? Fuggedaboutit.

  128. BillyJoe7on 03 Mar 2012 at 7:43 am

    …except that not finding the boson under conditions in which the theory predicts it should be found is as significant as finding it. But let’s wait and see shall we.

  129. ccbowerson 03 Mar 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Mufi-
    I must have missed your comment from a few days ago, but I think you may have missed the point I was trying to make Re:

    “And (need I add?) just because symmetry is elegant and might seem “fair & balanced” on the surface, doesn’t mean it’s true.”

    Or perhaps you did understand, but are commenting on a different question. I don’t think this is simply an argument of assymetry versus symmetry, because that doesn’t say that much to me. The important question to me is regarding the mechanism of the assymetry. Mooney appears to argue on occasion that there is a fundamental difference between groups with regards to handling discomfirming and confirming information. I’m not sure this has been demonstrated as the mechanism, because the assymetry can be explained by differing ideological committments alone. Perhaps one group happens to have more ideological conflict with science, for example, and even a small difference is magnified when these topics become “hot button” topics with widespread implications. Really when you think about it, climate change and evolution are the big topics that people think about when this topic comes up. Outside of these the assymetry does not seem that impressive (and these are really only 2 topics in the general public’s mind).

    Another thought is that that Democrats/Liberals in the US appears to be a more diverse group than the Republican/Conservative group, and this makes comparisons difficult with regards to this question. With much diversity within a group, its harder to pick a single topic that the group is collectively ideologically committed to, in order to demonstrate the resistance that one sees with climate change or evolution.

  130. cwfongon 03 Mar 2012 at 1:07 pm

    No, it’s nowhere near as significant, not withstanding your ignorant hopes and dreams. You obviously don’t have a clue what it’s about, or what’s already happened.

  131. cwfongon 03 Mar 2012 at 1:13 pm

    Oops, that last was for BillyJoe7 – although Mooney has no category for him politically either. He believes in science only because he could never understand religion.

  132. BillyJoe7on 04 Mar 2012 at 2:28 am

    Cwfong,

    You are always so grumpy.
    For gods sakes lighten up.

    CWF: “That bunch of dummies who spent a billion dollars looking for an invisible boson? ”
    BJ: “…except that not finding the boson under conditions in which the theory predicts it should be found is as significant as finding it.”
    CWF: “No, it’s nowhere near as significant”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16116230

    “The Higgs particle would, of course, be a great discovery, but it would be an even greater discovery if it didn’t exist where theory predicts it to be.”

    BJ: “But let’s wait and see shall we.”
    CWF: “You obviously don’t have a clue what it’s about, or what’s already happened.”

    “Within one year we will probably know whether the Higgs particle exists, but it is likely not going to be a Christmas present.”

    I didn’t claim to have any special knowledge about the search for the Higgs boson and I don’t. I’m merely following it with some interest as the saga evolves. As for the cost, people will always disagree. But, if it’s Defence or Science, I say give it to Science….except manned spaceflight.

  133. sonicon 04 Mar 2012 at 9:04 am

    cwfong-
    Actually I hope that BillyJoe7and nybrus and mufi and whoever else gets the point.

    I’m pretty sure that if you told a theist that science has found the universe had a beginning he would consider this in complete agreement with the theist hypothesis and therefore somewhat confirming.
    How could he do otherwise? First cause does imply beginning– right?
    I don’t know the theist is right or not, but I can at least see that.

    Anyway, it seems this subject is too upsetting to get a reasonable discussion.

  134. nybgruson 04 Mar 2012 at 11:08 am

    I’m pretty sure that if you told a theist that science has found the universe had a beginning he would consider this in complete agreement with the theist hypothesis and therefore somewhat confirming.

    The fact that the theist finds it confirming means nothing. They find just about anything, no matter how wrong or dissonant, to be confirming.

    Moreso, it is the definition of “god” that is put forth. The universe has a beginning? Must be “god.” Fine. I agree with you – as long as god is a completely uninvolved, non-personal, non-interventional, god devoid of character. But I would just call that “the laws of physics.” Theists like to think that these laws are listening to them, responding to them, and acting in ways that science has demonstrated impossible.

    That is why science has, for all intents and purposes, demonstrated that there is no god. Not because one can’t exist within these confines – but merely because in order to actually fit everything we know it would have to be an absolutely disinterested god (in which case Occam’s razor does away with it nicely) or it is a completely impotent and non-sentient god and we may as well call it the laws of physics. But we were most certainly not “made in God’s image.”

  135. cwfongon 04 Mar 2012 at 12:28 pm

    sonic, you’ll agree, of course, there doesn’t have to be a first cause, if by looking for one, you expect to find a first something.
    There cannot, by any valid scientific or philosophical logic (not even the mathematical), have been a first and absolute nothing that any something came from. Scientists like Krauss like to play with words to make their points, and obviously the theistic scientists believe in a form of godlike nothing, but it’s just not, as I’ll repeat, a concept that we can logically present as an explanation for how we came to exist.
    Mysterious energy is a tentative and realistic answer, but a mysterious substance with godlike powers is a fantasy.
    So where does the mysterious energy come from? Why did it have to come from anything that at the same time we must presume was nothing?

  136. BillyJoe7on 04 Mar 2012 at 12:35 pm

    sonic,

    “Actually I hope that BillyJoe7and nybrus and mufi and whoever else gets the point.”

    Actually, I was hoping you would get the point.
    But you don’t.
    I tried on 02 Mar 2012 at 3:22 pm
    Now nybgrus has given it another go.

    As nybgrus says, the only god that science fails so far to refute is a sort of god that almost no one actually believes in. For a theist, only an extremely selective and superficial reading of science gives them the comfort and reassurance they crave.

    “it seems this subject is too upsetting to get a reasonable discussion”

    I see you are projecting as well.
    How on Earth could this discussion be upsetting for me and nybgrus and mufi? Its religious people who derive comfort from religion and who are upset with the implications of inconvenient scientific facts – if they can bring thenselves to admit those implications of course.

  137. BillyJoe7on 04 Mar 2012 at 12:43 pm

    cwfong,

    “Scientists like Krauss like to play with words to make their points”

    Are you now admitting that I was right about Krauss’ views?
    He was saying what I said he was saying, right? You just think he’s playing with words when he does so, right?
    In any case, substitute theologists in the above and you have finally said something in this thread that makes sense – and it is another point Krauss makes in the book!

  138. cwfongon 04 Mar 2012 at 1:12 pm

    BillyJoe7 now confirms that Krauss was playing with words when he described nothing, and that he knew all along that nothing was really something. Which means now that he’s agreeing with me, and thus I’ve been wrong all the time for not agreeing with him. So that by his winning on that point I’ve lost the argument. Works for me.

    But wait, what was that about substituting theologists?

  139. BillyJoe7on 04 Mar 2012 at 3:31 pm

    cwfong: “BillyJoe7 now confirms that Krauss was playing with words”

    Your comprehension has comprehensively failed once again.
    Somehow you cannot get your mind around this simple sentence:

    BillyJoe: “You (cwfong) just think he’s playing with words when he does so”

    Do I have to highlight key words before you can understand anything?
    Maybe Krauss should bring out a special edition for you that highlights his essential points so that you don’t miss them.

    cwfong: “But wait, what was that about substituting theologists?”

    Yes, that’s right.
    Maybe you should actually read that book.

  140. ccbowerson 04 Mar 2012 at 3:34 pm

    “but merely because in order to actually fit everything we know it would have to be an absolutely disinterested god (in which case Occam’s razor does away with it nicely)”

    Occam’s razor does not really enlighten the discussion for a person who wants to believe in god(s), because it does not “do away” with anything. It is just states that simpler explanations are more likely to be true. It doesn’t mean that simpler explanations are necessarily true. Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree… it could be that there is a “god” who set this all up, but I (like many others here) see no reason to introduce a supernatural entity since it adds nothing.

    Asking for affirmative evidence for such a god is more informative to me (rather than referencing Occam’s razor), since the “evidence” people cite better show the wishful thinking involved.

  141. BillyJoe7on 04 Mar 2012 at 3:36 pm

    ….and I see you have conveniently ignored my response to your Higgs boson jibe.

  142. BillyJoe7on 04 Mar 2012 at 3:45 pm

    ccbowers,

    “Occam’s razor does not really enlighten the discussion for a person who wants to believe in gods”

    The vast majority of believers in gods, believe in theist/interventionist gods.
    Ockham’s Razor is not required here.

    For the vanishing small number of deists around the place, Ockham’s Razor should be an effective argument, because what sort of motivation could there be for someone to believe in a deist god (who provides no morals, no justice, no heaven and hell), that they would WANT to believe in him?

  143. cwfongon 04 Mar 2012 at 4:58 pm

    BillyJoe7, you’ve made up so may contradictory pretenses that you’ve boxed yourself inside a pretense maze with no true exit. Either something comes from something or from nothing. If your nothing is not just the weest bit of something, then what is it?

  144. nybgruson 04 Mar 2012 at 8:35 pm

    @ccbowers:

    I can see where you are coming from. I’m just saying that adding in a supernatural god that does absolutely nothing is far from parsimonious and, while entirely still possible, does not fit in with the generally parsimonious nature of the universe as we know it so far. I did not mean to imply the Occam can disprove the notion of such a god, but merely that a principle as simple and so oftenly true as his can allow me to comfortably dismiss it.

  145. ccbowerson 04 Mar 2012 at 8:41 pm

    “For the vanishing small number of deists around the place, Ockham’s Razor should be an effective argument”

    Occam’s razor is not an argument (it’s an approach to selecting from possible explanations), but otherwise I agree with what your are saying. Your suggestion that there is a “vanishing small number of deists” is why the Occam’s razor is of limited utility in these types of discussions… unless someone agrees with all of the facts, and is just trying to wedge a god into the explanation. That situation is the least of our problems

  146. ccbowerson 04 Mar 2012 at 8:56 pm

    “I did not mean to imply the Occam can disprove the notion of such a god, but merely that a principle as simple and so oftenly true as his can allow me to comfortably dismiss it.”

    Of course I agree with you, if adding a god does not add explanatory power, why add it? Occam’s razor works when applied repeatedly as new data comes in, and allows us to choose the most likely of all explanations. It doesn’t tell us what the answer is, but leads to the best explanation by avoiding “wild goose chases.”

  147. BillyJoe7on 04 Mar 2012 at 10:06 pm

    “Occam’s razor is not an argument (it’s an approach to selecting from possible explanations)”

    Yep, just using shorthand here.

  148. Mlemaon 05 Mar 2012 at 1:30 am

    BillyJoe7,
    You can only use Occam’s razor in a theory about the existence of God if you believe God supplies empirical evidence of God. I think it’s been many centuries since theologians have attempted to argue for the existence of God with empirical evidence.

    Personally, I think using Occam’s razor in this way shows a misunderstanding of what Occam’s razor is. It might behoove you to review it’s meaning and applications:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam%27s_razor

    Mostly, using the razor to compare “God said let there be light” to “something came from nothing” is an inappropriate application of the tool. (In fact, in that comparison, I think God becomes the simpler hypothesis – but that just shows how wrong the conclusion would be, right?)

  149. sonicon 05 Mar 2012 at 1:56 am

    nybrus-
    Yes, the ‘first cause’ is generally defined as ‘god’- and vice versa.
    As to the character of this god– That is a question I am not prepared to give definitive answers about.
    As to the character of theists, you apparently have very different experience and information than I do.

    cwfong-
    I’m going to agree- there need not be a first anything.
    While I might agree with your statements about what is logical- I would not agree that this is the same as saying ‘not possible’.
    I may not be an expert in physics, but I know enough to know that.

    As to what caused the beginning– where did the first whatever come from?
    I don’t have a clue. Perhaps I’ll know tomorrow.
    Don’t hold your breath… :-)

    ccbowers-
    thank-you for pointing out the error of using occum’s razor in this case.
    It applies when two hypothesis that have differing elements postulate the same result.
    But theism and atheism don’t always postulate the same result.
    No razors here.

  150. cwfongon 05 Mar 2012 at 3:32 am

    sonic, if something is not logical it may still be possible, but if it’s not possible by logic, then it’s logically impossible. There are few things that fit in that category, but this in my view is one of them. In any case that was Wheeler’s position, and he was an expert physicist. And note for example that even Hawking says that anything that’s possible will happen, not that anything that we might want to happen is possible.

  151. nybgruson 05 Mar 2012 at 9:25 am

    @mlema:

    You can only use Occam’s razor in a theory about the existence of God if you believe God supplies empirical evidence of God

    I disagree. In fact the main reason why I do and can use Occam here is because my premise is that an all-knowing, all-powerful god of character should provide empirical evidence of its existence.

    In other words, what is more parsimonious?

    An god which provides absolutely no evidence for its existence

    or

    No god?

    Mostly, using the razor to compare “God said let there be light” to “something came from nothing” is an inappropriate application of the tool.

    I wasn’t actually doing that, but Occam can indeed apply here as well.

    “god said let there be light”

    or

    “light came from nothing”

    On the surface sounds like:

    In fact, in that comparison, I think God becomes the simpler hypothesis – but that just shows how wrong the conclusion would be, right?

    You’d be right. After all, what is a simpler explanation – something came from nothing or something made it happen. In our common experience everything that happens or exists came from something else, therefore it is logically parsimonious to assume that light and the universe itself did (the first cause argument).

    However, that line of reasoning will take you there and no further, otherwise there is infinite regress. William Lane Craig argues that positing God stops the regress.

    However, by applying Occam’s principle (of parsimony) we find that invoking something vastly more complex to explain something fundamentally simple violates the principle, and thus God is most certainly not the simpler hypothesis.

    If you argue that something must have been there before, since everything we know and experience has a “before” then I would agree that is a reasonable argument and a compelling question to answer. I would simply argue that the explanation must be simpler, and that invoking any form of god as currently described by theists (aka the Christian God) is by definition not simpler. So then, all we are left with is the deistic god of physical laws, which you may call god, but I wouldn’t. And most certainly is not your God.

    All done with a very reasonable application of Occam.

    I think it’s been many centuries since theologians have attempted to argue for the existence of God with empirical evidence.

    If only.

  152. ccbowerson 05 Mar 2012 at 9:40 am

    “But theism and atheism don’t always postulate the same result”

    Its true that Occam’s razor applies “all else being equal,” but in the case that they don’t predict the same result (as you stated) then we can compare/constrast how the results of each explanation compare with actual observations. I don’t see how this helps support the existence of a god since I don’t see any observations that require a god explanation, and any additional explanations that religions have added either turn out to be consistent with a nonreligious explanation or turn out to be wrong

  153. jt512on 05 Mar 2012 at 2:55 pm

    nybgruson 27 Feb 2012 at 10:06 am:

    I wrote:

    If you are saying that there is no way to rationally assign a probability to an event that is PAP, then I disagree.

    There is no way to assign the probability.

    What is the probability that this is the only universe? We have no idea because we have a sample size of 1.
    What is the probability that life can arise on earth like planets? We have no idea because we have a sample size of 1.

    What is the probability that the universe is an elementary particle in some far greater universe?

    Well, based on what we know, we equivocate and say it is “pretty low, probably close to zero.” That is not assigning a probability. It is not an actionable stance. We have no idea what the denominator is. Hell, we have no idea what the numerator is. We are saying it is a “low probability” on philosophical principle. Life may indeed be unimagineably common. We don’t know.

    Assigning a probability means putting a number to it.

    We can put a Bayesian probability to any belief we have, because a Bayesian probability is simply a quantification of our degree of belief. There are religious people who will tell you that they are certain that there is a god. Their Bayesian probability is 1. My Bayesian probability of the same proposition is on the order of 10^-12. Even if you assume that the truth of this proposition is unknowable, the Christian and I still have an opinion about it, and we each have a degree of certainty in our belief. There are probably agnostics who give the God proposition a probability of .5.

    Richard Carrier has applied Bayesian probabilistic reasoning extensively to questions such as God’s existence and the historicity of Jesus. The video linked on that page might be worth your while to watch.

    Now, what’s the Bayesian probability that the HTML formatting in this post is correct? I’d say 0.7.

  154. BillyJoe7on 05 Mar 2012 at 3:31 pm

    Seems there is disagreement about the meaning and use of Ockham’s Razor.
    Well, let’s just put it aside then. The point is that gods are unnecessary assumptions because physicists have a plausible account of how something can come from nothing without resorting to assumptions that gods exist. Add to this the fact that gods would have to be the most complex hypotheses ever invented.
    Sounds like Ockham’s Razor to me, but each to his own.

  155. cwfongon 05 Mar 2012 at 3:45 pm

    BillyJoe7,
    Either something comes from something or from nothing. If your nothing is not just the weest bit of something, then what is it?
    Until you can answer that question, you have no clue as to why gods are unnecessary assumptions. Or to the proper times to use or not use Occam’s razor. The lame excuse of using shorthand won’t fly here.

  156. nybgruson 05 Mar 2012 at 3:47 pm

    @jt512:

    I agree. I am merely saying that the level of knowledge we have on those specific topics makes the Bayesian a useless number.

    When questioning the existence of God, we have a pretty decent handle on the Bayesian and can confidently say it is very low.

    When questioning something like whether the universe is an elementary particle in a larger universe, we say the Bayesian is low on philosophical grounds as outlined by Dr. Novella. However, unlike the god Bayesian, we must admit that the potential for the universe Bayesian to swing from near zero to near 1 is very high and would require much less evidence.

  157. nybgruson 05 Mar 2012 at 5:51 pm

    I know I am going to regret this but…..

    the concept is, as I understand it via Krauss, that true “nothing” is inherently unstable. Much like a uranium atom is inherently unstable and will become something else of its own accord and via the laws of quantum uncertaintly, so will “nothing” become “something” simply because “something” is the more stable state.

    As such, there exists (as far as we know) no examples of true “nothing” in our universe since our universe spawned from a “nothing” under the right conditions to expand into what we see today.

    That isn’t to say that “nothing” doesn’t ever exist – by quantum fluctuation a section of space will, statistically, be completely devoid of everything at least some of the time. But we can never pinpoint exactly when or where since that would violate Heisenberg uncertainty, thus the average energy density of “empty” space is greater than zero.

    So the question that remains is “What conditions will lead “nothing” to decay into “something” where that “something” is a universe?” We already know that “virtual” particles pop in and out of existence at the “quantum foam” level (thus the non-zero average energy density of empty space), but why do they not spring into whole universes? Clearly, there is something we are missing and that is the next step….

    But the notion that there needn’t be an input of energy to generate a universe seems to be well supported. Since we have demonstrated that in those times where space is truly “nothing” is unstable and that the entire universe has an energy of zero, we can say that not only did the universe come from nothing (i.e. no energy input necessary) but that the universe also is nothing (i.e. has a total energy of…. zero). Mind = blown, right?

    And that, to me, is what Krauss means when he says that a universe comes from nothing – one does not need to postulate some way of injecting energy into the system, since the system will break down into localized areas of high energy density on its own due to the unstable nature of “nothing.”

  158. cwfongon 05 Mar 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Explain what Krauss would mean by an unstable nothing. Otherwise you haven’t advised us of anything except that something at the time was unstable. Krauss made reference to mysterious energy that gave birth to the energized particles that in theory exploded into the beginnings of our universe. The energy function alone has zero mass and weight, just as we have determined to exist in the present universe.
    So when you end up with putting “nothing” in quotes, you are of course recognizing that unmeasurable yet functional energy is an effectively mysterious something.

    And BillyJoe7 still can’t answer my question, can he.

  159. cwfongon 05 Mar 2012 at 7:11 pm

    By the way, was there a space available where that unstable nothing was residing? Or a vast area of nonexistence with no boundaries and none needed, and then voila, there was instability arising from nothing?
    Even the god lovers can do better than that.

  160. tmac57on 05 Mar 2012 at 7:38 pm

    I think that any configuration of existence outside of our experience is naturally going to be frustrating to our brains.We will always try to fit it into a context that we can relate to.Any theoretical or mathematical description of reality that is explained using a metaphorical analog,can easily be shot down,because it will necessarily be incomplete.

  161. cwfongon 05 Mar 2012 at 7:39 pm

    nybgrus wrote: “That isn’t to say that “nothing” doesn’t ever exist – by quantum fluctuation a section of space will, statistically, be completely devoid of everything at least some of the time.”

    What does this tell us about the possibility that there was at one time in the past, a true nothing?
    Or in your view is temporary emptiness the same as an absolute nothing that something can spontaneously arise from? Did that emptiness of space then fill in itself, or is it still out there in all its nothing glory? So many questions that you seem to have the ability to answer about true nothing that no-one (except perhaps sonic) has had to date.

  162. cwfongon 05 Mar 2012 at 8:11 pm

    tmac57, of course we have as yet no satisfactory way to resolve the paradox where a postulate that something had to come from something is in direct opposition to the proposition that everything must have somehow had a beginning. But the ‘first cause’ proposition is intuitively logical while the ‘something from something’ side is the only one that’s rationally logical. And yet we trust our intuition more somehow than our learned logic.

  163. cwfongon 05 Mar 2012 at 8:38 pm

    By the way, as to that aforementioned vacuum, Frank Wilczek, MIT physicist and Nobel laureate, said we know now that ‘nothing,’ the vacuum – a small quantum suction called the Casimir effect – is made of boiling virtual particles. They’ve built a microscope to look at them, the Large Hadron Collider, now getting ready to take good pictures of nothing.

  164. Mlemaon 05 Mar 2012 at 11:27 pm

    nybrus, my comment was directed to BillyJoe7. That’s why you thought I said you said something you didn’t say. :)

    But I will say this:
    I agree with you both when you say that God is an unnecessary hypothesis.

  165. sonicon 06 Mar 2012 at 3:39 am

    nybrus-
    I do think that you are basically correct about what Krauss is saying. But remember- he is discussing a mathematical result so the best he can do is analogy.
    I believe he is discussing a possible result from an analysis of a universal wave function from a theory that includes quantum gravity.
    As I understand it, these theories are based on the notion that space-time is granular and there are innumerable unseeable universes.
    I’m pretty sure we aren’t at the point where quantum cosmology is an observational type science yet.

    cwfong-
    If the universe came from ‘nothing’, then that nothing had the potential to become the universe. That potential is not nothing. And one can ask– where did that potential come from?
    Perhaps Plato could help? Perhaps not.

    ccbowers-
    I would agree that having removed the notion of the razor from the equation we are left to observation as best evidence.
    I imagine how much of the observed seemed to be evidence for a god would depend more on how you looked than what you saw.

  166. BillyJoe7on 06 Mar 2012 at 5:19 am

    sonic,

    “If the universe came from ‘nothing’, then that nothing had the potential to become the universe. That potential is not nothing. And one can ask– where did that potential come from?”

    You are sort of in a no win situation here.

    If there is no potential, then not even a god could produce something from nothing.
    If there is potential, then a god could be the answer, but then what produced this god.

    And, of course, if a god is your answer, then you need to realise that what you have done is to describe the universe in simpler and simpler terms as you go backwards in time…..untill you get to this god and then you have complexity back again and you’ve undone all your good work and you’re going to have to start all over again.

    Perhaps the answer lies in rejecting the need for a potential.
    This is essentially what Krauss is saying:
    “Why is there something rather than nothing? This question must be understood in the context of a cosmos where the meaning of these words is not what it once was, and the very distinction between something and nothing has begun to disappear, where transitions between the two in different contexts are not only common but required”

  167. tmac57on 06 Mar 2012 at 9:53 am

    I saw this today,and it made me think of this discussion:

    http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/2012/03/06

    Hope it makes you smile a bit.

  168. nybgruson 06 Mar 2012 at 11:56 am

    and that is the entire point. The analogies we come up with are and always will be inherently unsatisfying. What do you mean by “nothing?” What does Krauss mean by “nothing?” What does “nothing” mean? When placed in the context of our human understanding – rather large, rather slow moving creatures that we are – it simply breaks down.

    There was a time when it was thought that an empty beer bottle contained “nothing” and then we learned about the molecules that comprise air. Then we thought that a perfect vaccum contained “nothing” and then we learned about quantum uncertainty and virtual particles (the Cassimir effect). So now what does nothing mean? It has simply left the realm of any sort of normal experience or descriptor we can imagine – just as “infinity” is also beyond any experience or descriptor we can imagine. If someone tells you that they can conceptually grasp the meaning of “infinity” they are lying. The same as the meaning of “nothing” in this cosmological context.

    So what does it mean to have potential? Objects have potential energy – we have defined it, can calculate it, and can demonstrate extremely accurately that it exists. Yet, it is nothing but a placeholder. When I walk under a bridge and the capstone is directly above my head it has enough potential energy to kill me… but only if it actually falls and converts that potential into kinetic energy. So what is potential energy? What gave it that potential? Is that potential “something?” Well, on the one hand, of course it is – I have just demonstrated how it has the potential to kill me. Anything that can kill me is “something.” But it cannot do so directly and it cannot do so unless the right circumstances arise. So I can stare at that capstone for the rest of my life, knowing it has potential to kill me, and it will never happen. In theory, all my descedants ad nauseum could stare up at it with the same results. From that perspective the potential energy is precisely “nothing.”

    In the same way the energy state of the universe and any portion of space is simultaneously “something” and “nothing” and thus the lines, by our very narrow and limited contextual capability, are quite blurred when we get to such extreme and strange points in the cosmological discussion.

    So when you ask:

    Explain what Krauss would mean by an unstable nothing

    there cannot be a satisfactory answer. To me, the Casimir effect is the answer. The average energy density of the universe is the answer. The fact that space will, of its own accord, fluctuate between zero energy and positive energy via quantum randomness is the answer. So when you go on to claim:

    Otherwise you haven’t advised us of anything except that something at the time was unstable.

    it is merely semantics. You are trying to box in the concept of “nothing” into what you (and I) in our collective human experience like to think of as nothing. So when:

    Krauss made reference to mysterious energy that gave birth to the energized particles that in theory exploded into the beginnings of our universe.

    it is the same as the potential energy of that capstone I am staring at. It is there… I can write an equation to define it. But it isn’t there, because until the right conditions arise, nothing can experience its existence. What is that mysterious energy? Merely the interaction of all the mass in the universe via the basic laws physics. We neglect the contributions of the Andromeda galaxy in our PE=mgh equation because it is absolutely negligible relative to the g of earth at 9.8m/s/s – but it is there and it exists. And there also exists the possibility that a shift in the energies of the universe could cause that capstone to fall on me… or in a wholly unpredictable way. But we have a reasonably good handle on the likelihood and extent of the forces on that capstone and can thus be pretty confident to within extreme human precision what will likely happen. On a cosmological scale, I would say we have a really poor understanding of what will happen to that capstone.

    But we do not have such an understanding for the extremes of cosmology and what forces or conditions need be present in what way to take a small section of quantum foam and have it expand via C-P assymetry and perhaps inflaton mediated forces into an entire universe. Maybe it is happening constantly and there are literally billions of universes. Maybe it is very rare and we are the spawn of just one previous universe. Maybe we are the first. We simply do not know yet.

    But the point is that we have demonstrated that there does not need to be an outside source of energy to get the process started (i.e. “god”) the same way that there does not need to be someone to lift a stone to give it potential energy. The stone always has potential energy even if it is laying on the lowest surface it can on our planet. It just means that the conditions necessary to release said potential energy may be extreme and unlikely (i.e. a sinkhole opening up underneath it or a chunk of the planet falling away so that the stone may fall into the moon or the sun). We just haven’t yet been able to define exactly what those conditions are that would lead to said mysterious potential of “nothing” to become “something” other than quantum foam.

    Everything else you and BJ have been discussing, at least form my point of view, has been semantics and spite about them with errors on both sides.

  169. cwfongon 06 Mar 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Potential energy? As the term is used in science, it exists as energy stored in a physical mass and has nothing to do with Krauss’ explanation of the beginning of the present universe. The fact is that energy, wherever it lies waiting, is a something, not a nothing, except in your collective imaginations.

    Why is there something rather than nothing? That was Wheeler’s question, and then mine. Krauss did not answer it, and neither have you, by some rather silly exposition about a rock waiting to be lifted. The big bang was not about a rock waiting to be lifted. It was about a rock that seemed to come from nothing. And you (nybgrus and sonic) are now claiming prior knowledge that it didn’t.
    Works for me.

    Yet BillyJoe7 has yet to answer this question:
    Either something comes from something or from nothing. If your nothing is not just the weest bit of something, then what is it?

  170. cwfongon 06 Mar 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Incidentally:
    World’s best measurement of W boson mass points to Higgs mass and tests Standard Model
    http://www.fnal.gov/pub/presspass/press_releases/2012/W-Mass-20120302.html

  171. nybgruson 06 Mar 2012 at 2:05 pm

    I’ll point out, yet again, the point:

    it is merely semantics. You are trying to box in the concept of “nothing” into what you (and I) in our collective human experience like to think of as nothing

    As is clearly evidenced by your statement here:

    As the term is used in science, it exists as energy stored in a physical mass and has nothing to do with Krauss’ explanation of the beginning of the present universe

    It has everything to do with it and is the best analogy I could come up with. Potential energy always exists in everything… yet it is never manifest until the correct conditions arise.

    The universe and empty space always has potential energy… yet it is never manifest until the correct conditions arise.

    If you want to call that “something” then fine. I would also call it “something.” Yet in every meaningful way it is also nothing at the same time.

    The big bang was not about a rock waiting to be lifted. It was about a rock that seemed to come from nothing.

    The point was the rock needn’t be lifted. Just by virtue of its existence, no matter where it is in the universe, it has gravitational potential energy.

    The universe also needn’t be “lifted” – just by virtue of its existence, no matter where or when you look, it has potential energy.

    Both cases require some set of circumstances in order to convert that potential into “something.” In the case of the rock, kinetic energy. In the case of space, a universe.

    So if you want to call that potential “something” then go right ahead. I don’t disagree. But you have not been discussing interesting topics relevant to anything, merely having a semantic squabble about what “something” and “nothing” mean to you.

    Why is there something rather than nothing?

    For the same reason elemental sodium doesn’t exist in nature. It is too unstable and will react to form something of a lower energy state. “Nothingness” is too unstable and it will react to form something of a lower energy state – what we like to call “something.”

    Asking why it happens is exactly like asking why the sodium atom likes to give up its lone valence electron.

  172. BillyJoe7on 06 Mar 2012 at 3:29 pm

    nybgrus,

    “Everything else you and BJ have been discussing, at least form my point of view, has been semantics and spite about them with errors on both sides.”

    That’s the first sentence of yours in this thread that I disagree with.
    Seriously. What you have said in this thread is exactly what Krauss has said in his book and exactly what I have been trying to get cwfong to agree that he said. He has gone from denying this is what Krauss said to refuting it as a legitimate point of view without acknowledging that he was wrong about what Krauss said. If you think I have made errors in my interpretation of the book, then maybe I have not explained it clearly, even though I have really only used Krauss’ words in doing so.

    Also, it is not spite but annoyance, and I think the only solution is to stop commenting on his “contributions”.

  173. cwfongon 06 Mar 2012 at 3:43 pm

    nybgrus, that last bit of yours was a poor excuse for the blather in the previous one. it is simply wrong to argue that there was absolutely nothing in existence before the big bang, and to claim (as BillyJoe7 has done) that Krauss had proved or even claimed to prove that is wrong. You know that and I know that. And you should know that what Krauss was saying had nothing to do with the concept of potential energy. Otherwise he would have made an entirely different argument.
    Mysterious energy and potential energy are not conceptually analogous. It’s again rather silly to try to make analogies between what happens in an energetic universe to what would have been the spontaneous emergence of matter in a non-existent universe.

    “Asking why it happens is exactly like asking why the sodium atom likes to give up its lone valence electron.” Were there any atoms in the universe prior to the big bang then? Otherwise, your analogy completely defeats the purpose of your previous argument that there weren’t.

  174. cwfongon 06 Mar 2012 at 3:45 pm

    BillyJoe7, why can’t you answer the question then?
    Either something comes from something or from nothing. If your nothing is not just the weest bit of something, then what is it?

  175. nybgruson 06 Mar 2012 at 4:44 pm

    That’s the first sentence of yours in this thread that I disagree with.

    I was attempting to be munificent. I was about to add: “…though clearly I agree much more with BJ’s interpretation of the matter” but I thought that would be rather obvious. I was not trying to get embroiled in the middle of the discussion, but alas, I knew I would.

    cfwong is clearly stuck on the semantics. I am done trying to educate him or her further on the topic.

    You did, however, make a few comments that struck me as off – primarily because of your annoyance (understandable as it is).

    I don’t care to go through and nitpick it all as I only skimmed across the posts the first time through since I (and you) have seen this discussion a few times before.

    As I said, I was merely trying to be equitable and state truthfully that some spite and error was made on both sides, without actually assigning a degree to it. Leaving it open seems to have made you think that I attributed more to you than you deserved, and indeed more than I certainly think should be, if you catch my meaning.

  176. nybgruson 06 Mar 2012 at 4:45 pm

    ok, couldn’t resist one last stab:

    it is simply wrong to argue that there was absolutely nothing in existence before the big bang…

    You are right. No such thing as nothing exists, ever existed, or will exist.

    That has not fundamentally changed the nature of the discussion nor Krauss’s thoughts on the matter.

    What now?

  177. cwfongon 06 Mar 2012 at 5:21 pm

    Then your dismissal of the problem as one of semantics, which studies the logical aspects of meaning, was premature? Certainly Krauss did not intend his book to be a semantic exercise, or did he?
    Which is why you didn’t stick with that argument, I guess.
    Although you might have been better off to do so, since Krauss failed to make it clear to some of you that if it seemed to be about semantics, it wasn’t.
    And not even BillyJoe7 thinks it’s a problem of semantics. He just has it backwards.

  178. cwfongon 06 Mar 2012 at 5:32 pm

    BillyJoe7, can you answer this question semantically?
    Either something comes from something or from nothing. If your nothing is not just the weest bit of something, then what is it?

  179. cwfongon 06 Mar 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Wait, nybgrus, you forgot to answer this as well:
    Were there any atoms in the universe prior to the big bang then?

  180. BillyJoe7on 06 Mar 2012 at 10:04 pm

    nybgrus,

    Fair enough.

    “You did, however, make a few comments that struck me as off – primarily because of your annoyance (understandable as it is). ”

    Yep, I think I will try to avoid the annoyance factor from now on.
    (I mean look at the question he expects me to take seriously at this point of the discussion)

  181. cwfongon 06 Mar 2012 at 10:23 pm

    BJ7, I expect that you can’t answer it precisely because you do take it seriously. It’s a threat to keeping up your pretense that you understand what Krauss was saying, which even your fellow Australian isn’t sure of.
    Annoyance is no excuse for ignorance, although I suppose from your point of view it helps.

  182. cwfongon 06 Mar 2012 at 10:36 pm

    By the way, if you weren’t annoyed, would you have agreed with nygbrus that Krauss’ nothing is a wee bit of something? Nahhh.

  183. nybgruson 07 Mar 2012 at 1:35 am

    Were there any atoms in the universe prior to the big bang then?

    And that question right there demonstrates quite nicely why you are unable to have this conversation.

    How do you explain the Cambrian explosion then?

  184. cwfongon 07 Mar 2012 at 2:41 am

    I’d look up symbiogenesis on Wikipedia. (I’d have asked Lynn Margulis, except she’s dead.)

    And in any case, it’s like this for you and BJ7. You were trying to help get him off the hook, so that he’d agree that nothing as referred to by Krauss was a bit of something, and he was just being annoyed or annoying to claim otherwise. But instead, he disagreed with you on that point, and now he’s stuck between your energetic rock and nothing’s hard place.

    Maybe you can help him with another of those magical analogies. Nahhh. Too late.

  185. nybgruson 07 Mar 2012 at 9:07 am

    Krauss isn’t arguing semantics. You are.

    And no, there were no atoms prior to the inflation of the universe.

    The universe arose from nothing. That is what Krauss is saying. You are arguing that you don’t like that definition of nothing. Whatever you like to call it, doesn’t change what Krauss is trying to say, nor what I and BJ have been trying to say.

    But the really annoying part, and why I am quite done with this conversation, is that you clearly have no desire to actually try and discuss the concepts to come to an understanding.

    As I said when I started this – I knew I’d regret it. Oh well. At least I thought about a topic that interests me and have that potential energy analogy in my back pocket for the future.

    Ta ta for now!

  186. cwfongon 07 Mar 2012 at 10:17 am

    Arguing semantics now to prove you aren’t arguing semantics? Took you too long to lie and way too late. That new something that was nothing bluff won’t fly. Neither of you as it turns out have a clue.
    Blather on.

  187. cwfongon 07 Mar 2012 at 10:26 am

    And BJ7 still can’t answer the question.

  188. cwfongon 07 Mar 2012 at 11:49 am

    “At least I thought about a topic that interests me and have that potential energy analogy in my back pocket for the future.”
    So now we’re to assume, apropos of nothing, that rocks have no energy, just a potential that somehow holds them solidly together. And all their atoms are not moving their electrons.

    I’d always understood that potential energy and kinetic energy cannot negate each other, and that the potential energy of any mass in the prior universe would also have included kinetic.
    Unless there were no atoms then and there, as nybgrus now asserts. In which case the rock analogy would be not only wrong but irrelevant.

  189. nybgruson 07 Mar 2012 at 12:29 pm

    I’m sorry BJ – you were right.

    So now we’re to assume, apropos of nothing, that rocks have no energy, just a potential that somehow holds them solidly together. And all their atoms are not moving their electrons.

    This guy really is a doofus.

  190. cwfongon 07 Mar 2012 at 1:09 pm

    As usual, when they lose, they resort to insults.

  191. cwfongon 07 Mar 2012 at 1:28 pm

    The formula for potential energy: PE = mgh (potential energy = mass x gravity x height).
    No mass, no gravity, no potential energy.

  192. nybgruson 07 Mar 2012 at 4:41 pm

    you’re right. I’ve “lost.” Now go enjoy your victory.

  193. cwfongon 07 Mar 2012 at 7:09 pm

    “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”

  194. tmac57on 07 Mar 2012 at 7:49 pm

    cwfong-

    But the ‘first cause’ proposition is intuitively logical while the ‘something from something’ side is the only one that’s rationally logical. And yet we trust our intuition more somehow than our learned logic.

    Frankly,neither of those two options make intuitive or rational sense to me.That’s why I suspect that the answer cannot be described within the boundaries of current knowledge,or possibly it is beyond our ability to know,but it is surely an interesting puzzle.

  195. cwfongon 07 Mar 2012 at 9:42 pm

    We’re creatures that have survived by educated guesswork, so what else can we do.

  196. BillyJoe7on 07 Mar 2012 at 10:35 pm

    nybgrus,

    You should hear him on evolution. He starts off speaking in riddles like he’s almost embarassed to directly express his views (deep down he must know they sound whacky) but, when you start probing, he eventually can’t help himself and comes out with inanities like the above. I initially reponded to him to contradict the idea that he was trying to put over that his views are progressive mainstream rather than the fringe views that they really are.

  197. cwfongon 08 Mar 2012 at 12:45 am

    BJ7, As to evolution, you know less about that subject than you even do of physics, so anything since early Darwinism of 1895 is fringe to you. All modern tested and accepted theories are sniped at from the anti-intellectual bushes where you hide in fear of what to you is the unknowable..

    So of course you still can’t summon up the mental courage to answer this very simple question, can you:

    Either something comes from something or from nothing. If your nothing is not just the weest bit of something, then what is it?

    Can’t do it, can you.

  198. BillyJoe7on 08 Mar 2012 at 4:49 am

    This thread has dropped off the front page.

  199. SteveAon 08 Mar 2012 at 7:34 am

    cwfong: “Either something comes from something or from nothing. If your nothing is not just the weest bit of something, then what is it?”

    It’s nothing. No thing.

    Go back and re-read the thread.

  200. nybgruson 08 Mar 2012 at 11:08 am

    Either something comes from something or from nothing. If your nothing is not just the weest bit of something, then what is it?

    Either women give birth or men do. So if your “man” is not just the weest bit of a woman*, then what is it?

    *I should note that my particular definition of “man” is based on hair length and clothing and, as such, can include individuals with a uterus and vagina.

  201. nybgruson 08 Mar 2012 at 11:10 am

    @BJ:

    Yeah, I am gathering. Like I said – I knew I would regret entering the thread. Thankfully, I have already passed all of my exams for my rotation and am officially on a bit of “vacation” so I had the time to figure out (again, since except for the most egregious of trolls I actually don’t keep track) that cwfong is just completely lost on the topic. I’ll try and bear it in mind for the future.

    I hope you didn’t take much offense (I’m back in the States, otherwise I’d write offence) at my comment. I really hadn’t been following the conversation in much detail until I couldn’t resist getting involved.

    Anyways, don’t sweat the small stuff mate.

  202. cwfongon 08 Mar 2012 at 12:29 pm

    nybgrus, tell is about the potential energy of rocks as related to nothing again. Apparently you can’t help BJ7 with that simple question either, since you’ve sung the rock of ages. And as bad as that analogy was, your woman-man thing is even worse. Good luck with that applied science thing, you’ll need it.
    BJ7, get some courage. Answer the question. If the thread is off the front page, why do you keep coming back? Is it that you need the last word? Then answer the question and perhaps you’ll have it.
    But as usual, when the answer isn’t on your cheat sheet of kindergarten science lore, you’re lost.

  203. cwfongon 08 Mar 2012 at 1:06 pm

    For the scientifically astute:
    http://www.news.wisc.edu/20416

  204. nybgruson 08 Mar 2012 at 2:01 pm

    I can see your frustration BJ. First a completely wrong statement followed by a total non-sequiter. What was I thinking?

  205. cwfongon 08 Mar 2012 at 2:53 pm

    That two ignoramuses are better than one, potentially?

  206. Steven Novellaon 08 Mar 2012 at 3:51 pm

    Krauss has been very clear about exactly what he means by “nothing”

    He means – zero net energy, and the absence of normal matter. But this “nothing” is a quantum “something” – it is bubbling with virtual particles and quantum fluctuations.

    As long as the universe has a net energy of zero, then the universe could have come from this type of “nothing”

    see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

  207. cwfongon 08 Mar 2012 at 4:36 pm

    But this “nothing” is a quantum “something.” Works for me.

  208. BillyJoe7on 08 Mar 2012 at 10:36 pm

    Steven Novella,

    Sorry, Steve, you are not correct.

    We are discussing his book “The Universe from Nothing” (2012), not the video (2009).

    I haven’t seen the video – I’ll watch it when I get time – so I can’t confirm what he says, but please read the book where he goes about two or three steps beyond the “bubbling … virtual particles and quantum fluctuations”.

    Step 1: virtual particles in empty space from quantum theory.
    Step 2: spacetime (space and time) from quantum gravity.
    Step 3: laws of physics from multiverse.
    Step 4: this is encapsulated in the following quote from the book:

    “Why is there something rather than nothing? This question must be understood in the context of a cosmos where the meaning of these words is not what it once was, and the very distinction between something and nothing has begun to disappear, where transitions between the two in different contexts are not only common but required”

  209. cwfongon 09 Mar 2012 at 12:06 am

    http://www.waveevents.com/MyFilez/wavs/cartoon/thatsall.wav

  210. Steven Novellaon 09 Mar 2012 at 7:29 am

    BJ7 – how is that incompatible with what Krauss says in the video? In science you have to carefully define terms. Krauss is essentially saying that what we previously described as “nothing” – empty space – is actually not really nothing, because of our understanding of quantum mechanics. Empty space is full of quantum stuff. That is what he means by the distinction between a classical “nothing” and a quantum “something” breaking down.

    FYI – I have actually spoken with Krauss about this.

    And – I am not sure what your position is, if not the above. Can you clarify?

  211. BillyJoe7on 09 Mar 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Steve,

    I haven’t had time to watch the video – I should get time later today – and it sounds like you haven’t read the book so we are talking about different things.

    As I said, this discussion has been about what Krauss says in his book. In the book he talks about the laws of physics (quantum gravity) allowing the the spontaneous generation of that empty space in which those virtual particles flit in and out of existence. In a later chapter, he shows how a multiverse can generate the laws of physics that allow the spontaneous generation of that empty space and, finally the statement with which I ended my last post indicating how the distinction between something and nothing has lost its meaning.

    You may have spoken to Krauss but he may have been restricting himself in that discussion to what has actually been shown to be true (ie virtual particles in empty space have been “observed”), rather than expanding on this, as he does on the book, to include what is plausible under physical theory but which, obviously, has not actually been observed.

  212. cwfongon 09 Mar 2012 at 3:49 pm

    From SEP:
    “Quantum Gravity, broadly construed, is a physical theory (still ‘under construction’) incorporating both the principles of general relativity and quantum theory. Such a theory is expected to be able to provide a satisfactory description of the microstructure of spacetime at the so-called Planck scale, at which all fundamental constants of the ingredient theories, c (the velocity of light in vacuo), ℏ (Planck’s constant), and G (Newton’s constant), come together to form units of mass, length, and time.”

    So units of mass length and time are something, no?
    And BJ7 will now point out that this has always been his argument.

  213. BillyJoe7on 10 Mar 2012 at 12:48 am

    Steven Novella,

    I just watched the video. Actually, from the first diagram, I realised I had seen it before, though I can’t remember when. What I can tell you is that the book resembles the video in name only. He gets to only step 1 in the video, with only a brief mention of the multiverse.

    It’s going to take longer than an hour to read the book, but I think it would be worthwhile.
    On the other hand, if you have access to the author, perhaps you could just ask him.
    Maybe he could even leave a comment here!

  214. cwfongon 10 Mar 2012 at 2:11 am

    BJ7,
    “FYI – I have actually spoken with Krauss about this.” Dr. Novella wrote that. Did he get this personal assurance wrong then? In spite of the video?
    And will Krauss have written something in the book that was different from the video when he says in the book that he wrote it to make what was said in the video clearer? Is it your sincere belief that the book will reveal his new opinion that there was after all no “quantum stuff’ in what was previously believed by non-scientists to be an empty universe?
    If you can’t admit you could be wrong about some aspect of science, how can you learn anything that’s significantly new about that science?

  215. BillyJoe7on 10 Mar 2012 at 6:42 am

    “What I can tell you is that the book resembles the video in name only”

    After perusing the book again this afternoon, I think I’ve probably overstated this. In fact, the first two thirds of the book follows the video (but with a lot more detail). The last third is not covered in the video, and it is largely this information which my posts have been addressing.

  216. cwfongon 10 Mar 2012 at 12:29 pm

    Probably overstated. But probably not wrong?

  217. nybgruson 10 Mar 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Once again, I believe the difference is a purely semantic one. As Dr. Novella has just pointed out, the reality is that our notion of “nothing” and “something” simply do not apply here. The distinction breaks down.

    From my understanding (and I have not read Krauss’ book, but I have read others and seen the video) it is the concept that what we generally conceive of as “nothing” (i.e. a “space” completely and utterly devoid of absolutely everything, incuding energy – a “true zero” if you will) simply cannot and does not exist. Why this is the case is interesting. Once again, my understanding is that this is simply a property of space – “true zero” is unstable and thus will constantly be spontaneously generating “virtual” particles.

    However, by the statistical nature of quantum uncertainty, there does exist a point in space-time that is completely devoid of everything. In other words, “true zero” does exist. However, we cannot predict when or where or for how long. We do know that it is for a very short time. But that “true zero” does indeed spontaneously generate these virtual particles without the need for outside energy to be added.

    To me, that is the concept of “something” from “nothing.”

    Now, what will take a section of that statistical “true zero” and allow it to expand into an entire universe? I believe that question is unanswered. But the fact of the matter is that, even if for the briefest of times and completely unpredictable, there existed a “true zero” which spontaneously decayed into “something” which was under the right conditions to then undergo inflationary universe creation. Obviously this scenario (the last part) is rare enough that we don’t see it happening in our solar system, or even our galaxy (so far). But how rare is it actually? Once again, we don’t know. Even if it only happens to be the right circumstances in 1 of 1,000 galaxies, that is still extremely common. And it may turn out that it doesn’t actually happen – but from what I know on the topic, the evidence seems to be pointing us to that as a reasonable conclusion waiting to be empirically verified.

    Does that seem like a reasonable understanding based on your interactions with Krauss, Dr. Novella?

  218. cwfongon 10 Mar 2012 at 2:38 pm

    nybgrus,
    Equivocate much?
    A true zero decays?

    decay |diˈkā|
    verb [ intrans. ]
    (of organic matter) rot or decompose through the action of bacteria and fungi : [as adj. ] ( decayed) a decayed cabbage leaf | [as adj. ] ( decaying) the odor of decaying fish.
    • [ trans. ] cause to rot or decompose : the fungus will decay soft timber.
    • (of a building or area) fall into disrepair; deteriorate : urban neighborhoods decay when elevated freeways replace surface roads.
    • decline in quality, power, or vigor : the moral authority of the party was decaying.
    • Physics (of a radioactive substance, particle, etc.) undergo change to a different form by emitting radiation : the trapped radiocarbon begins to decay at a known rate.
    • technical (of a physical quantity) undergo a gradual decrease : the time taken for the current to decay to zero.

  219. cwfongon 10 Mar 2012 at 2:54 pm

    nybgrus: So now your argument is that for a very short time there was a bit of nothing within a lot of something. So that the big bang could have come from that bit of nothing, and the rest of the universe of something was non-causative, and for all intents and purposes disappeared.
    A universal function analogous with the potential energy of rocks, then?
    Krauss in a nutshell.

  220. nybgruson 12 Mar 2012 at 2:44 am

    Cfwong:

    No. you have not understood what I am saying. Not even close. Keep thinking on it. maybe you will get it

  221. cwfongon 12 Mar 2012 at 4:16 am

    nubgrys, I’m thinking that I understand what you’re not saying.

  222. nybgruson 12 Mar 2012 at 10:32 am

    then keep thinking. You are clearly lost.

  223. BillyJoe7on 13 Mar 2012 at 6:08 am

    Steven Novella,

    I remain surprised that you saw fit to criticise my account of the contents of Lawrence Krauss’ book without actually having read the book yourself.

    The video you watched is of a lecture on the topic that he gave two and a half years ago. It covers only the first two thirds of the book – which was published this year. The video does not contain the information that I provided here that is contained in the last third of the book. Therefore you could have no idea whether the information I provided is correct or not.

    I also believe that the comment made to you by Lawrence Krauss was, in all probability, context specific and that he could not have been addressing the additional points he made in the last third of his book.

    In all fairness, you should retract your opinion about what I have said here and read the book before commenting further.

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