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Open Thread for Show 798: Don Baker & Russell Glasser: “Nothing New Under the Son”

Today Don talked about themes in Christianity and how they echo earlier religions and philosophies. We also had a fun time with caller Hamad, who offered this:

1. The universe is finite.

2. If the universe is finite, it cannot be infinite.

3. Finite things exist, therefore an infinite god is necessary.

 

Of course, the hosts offered up their own version, noting that using this same reasoning we could offer that the existence of “existent” things is evidence that nonexistent things exist.

 

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Comments

  1. says

    The caller from Canada was a waste of time – and I don’t mean that as a slight against the show. As soon as he said that it’s a “proof of God”, the discussion was over. It’s not possible to have a proof of God, because that’s not how epistemology works. At best, we can use logic as a guide, build hypotheses, and then test those hypotheses empirically against reality. Through many iterations, we can build a model of understanding about how reality works.

    It’s ironic, because it’s usually callers like this who are telling us atheists that our logic/reasoning cannot touch/understand God. One would think they’d understand, likewise, why their application of observations in this reality do not necessarily apply outside the scope for which those observations were originally made. For instance, it’s always laughable to listen to an apologist try to apply the concept of causality to the Big Bang, since the concept of time itself breaks down at that point. They don’t appear to understand what the problem is, when doing that.

    Listening to this caller was like listening to an in-game Mario from Super Mario Bros trying to explain to Luigi why the outside universe is two-dimensional, has a timer, and everyone there has to jump onto the flagpole before that timer runs out, else they’ll die (but with infinite continues)… because that’s how the rules work within their world. Mario doesn’t seem to get that the in-game rules may not match the outside-of-games rules.

    It’s arrogant to think that we can know, merely by forming a logical syllogism, what’s beyond our knowledge, without empirical evidence, especially if we’re trying to make inferences outside the scope of universe we’ve deduced laws for, with those laws no less.

    We had long inferred the existence of black holes, but we didn’t consider them real, or the proposition true, until sufficient empirical evidence was gathered to support the case. That’s how rational people do things.

    My position is that, until sufficient evidence is gathered to suss out areas of knowledge we don’t have yet, I don’t know what’s “necessary” or true. It seems like a pointless exercise to try to apply laws/mechanisms outside of the scope they’ve been modeled under.

    • Lord Narf says

      I don’t know if I’d call it a waste of time, though. This is how religious people think. It helps to occasionally hold up an example and rip it apart, for other religious sorts to see. This is how some religious sorts eventually break free. We have many examples of those who have written in saying that that’s exactly how they did it, after watching the show for several years. After repeated demonstration, some people finally make the connection to their own unsupported beliefs.

        • Lord Narf says

          So, they should have broken the argument down further, you mean? I’ll check it out as soon as they get the MP3 file posted. That usually only takes them a couple hours.

  2. Lord Narf says

    Whoooooooooooaaaaah. What the fuck, man? You’re gonna have to show your work, how you get from the first half of #3 to the second half.

    I haven’t actually watched the show yet, so I don’t know the details he might have added to that. Did he make any attempt to justify that wild-ass jump in #3, or did he basically just pull it out of his ass, as it seems, looking at there on paper/the screen?

    • says

      From what I saw, he just kept repeating those three things over and over. The universe is finite, therefore we must have something that is infinite. He said this “satisfies my mind.” Every time he insisted we must accept the third claim, Russell simply replied “no.” There were variations on this merry-go-round of crazy, but that is pretty well it, in a nutshell.

      • Drew says

        Also did not have a chance to watch the show, but did either of you point out that it’s not clear that #1 is actually correct?

        • says

          Yes, the mentioned that we can’t really discuss much about the time before BB, and also that there are other theories such as multiverse. I think finally they had to just let it go to move on and see what his point was going to be. There were a lot of objections raised throughout, but it was always met with reiteration of 1, 2 and then 3.

          • Lord Narf says

            Say, Tracie, silly question:
            I’ve heard several members of the show refer to their pet physicist sitting in the audience, who doesn’t think that the Big Bang Theory is the best explanation for the origin of the universe. I’ve never heard them mention which model he (she?) prefers, though. Multiverse? Multiple Big Bang? Static?

            I have a great deal of interest in astrophysics and cosmology. Do you have anything that I could look up on that?

          • says

            It’s not an idea that has been around long. And since I’m not (we’re not) physicists, it’s not quite clear to us what it is. He has brought in the research before, but frankly, it’s over my head. And I don’t recall what it was currently labeled.

          • says

            @Lord Narf

            I saw a video I think last year and it was related to the AE group. The guy (pretty sure it was the famous guy in studio) gave a seminar on the begining of this universe. I just remember that he said that this universe began to exist because of the colision of two universes and he contested, I vaguely remember, the shape of the universe today. That is all I can say. Check on the AE archive, I think I saw it there, but it wasn’t in a AE show.

          • says

            in fact I think it was in feb or march 2012 I saw it, and 100% sure it was on the AE website. I just checked but can’t find it, but it was (is) there somewhere. Ask heicart, martin or kazim, they should know which video I am talking about.

      • Drew says

        bah now that I look at the post title again I see that you weren’t on today…change that to “did Russell or Don point out…”

      • Lord Narf says

        Wow, that’s pretty cracked. That argument is neither valid nor sound. I would have brought up my rejection of the initial premise, if Drew hadn’t already.

        I have no position, one way or the other, on the finite or infinite nature of the universe. But if you want to present a logical syllogism that relies on either a finite or infinite universe, you damned well better provide solid evidence for your choice of premises. Good luck with that.

        What’s sad is that even if you grant his initial premise, for the sake of argument, he’s still not getting to his conclusion in those 2 additional steps. He probably couldn’t get there in 6.

      • Gergis1211 says

        C’mon now! You are being dishonest. You just straw manned what he was actually saying. He never got to the god part.because Don and Russell were too preoccupied trying to fight axioms! #3 are just the words that Russell dishonestly put into the caller’s mouth. The caller never actually got to the god part at all! What he was actually saying was:

        1) The universe is finite.
        2) If the universe is finite, then it can not be infinite. (this is the law of non-contradiction)
        3) If this state of the universe is then finite, then whatever preceded this present state would be infinite. (arguing against this would then therefore be arguing FOR creation ex nihlo; creation out of nothing or to be more percise, Big Bang out of nothing)
        4) this is as far as the caller actually got.

        • Lord Narf says

          #3 still doesn’t work, in the form you presented, without a hell of a lot of justification. The current state of the universe being finite does not get you to an infinite previous state. The previous state could also have been finite. All of existence might be finite … or infinite. But if you want to base anything upon it being one or the other, you need to demonstrate that it’s that way.

          And no, that isn’t necessarily creation ex nihilo. As they’ve said on the show, many, many times, if time itself started with the big bang, if we’re going with that model, then the normal laws of causality wouldn’t necessarily apply, prior to a certain point.

          Anyway, premise #1 is a nonstarter.

        • jacobfromlost says

          “3) If this state of the universe is then finite, then whatever preceded this present state would be infinite.”

          Why? Why does that follow? It doesn’t follow.

          There could be a finite state from which all other finite states spring, couldn’t there? Yes, there could. Thus, claiming that since this state of the universe is finite, all other possible states from which this state could spring must be infinite is erroneous, just as a two dimensional being on the surface of the earth would be in error in thinking there must be an infinite SuperNorth north of the north pole from which the finite surface of the earth springs. It’s an error in scope that occurs when you just don’t know and try to apply things in known scopes to things outside that scope (we have actual examples of this NOT WORKING; why would it be a good argument to apply it to things we don’t yet know? it wouldn’t).

          • Gergis1211 says

            Sure, how many finite things are possible. If you say infinite, I sweat to his god I’m going to laugh at you.

          • jacobfromlost says

            ???

            I said claiming finite things must come from infinite things is nonsense, as there is no logical reason for finite things to be (logically or otherwise) required to come from infinite things.

            How many finite things are possible? I don’t know. Why would I say “infinite”? Huh?

            The mere fact that it is possible for finite things to come from other finite things negates the argument that finite things must come from infinite things. Continually arguing that the things “outside” of specific finite things must be infinite ignores the very real possibility that you can have finite things…and even more finite things. If you want to invoke the entire set of all finite things, and THEN say what is outside of that is infinite…your are still wrong. It is still possible, probably likely, that the things outside of the finite are nonexistent. (And that is ignoring how different states of existence may appear to be infinite from a lower dimensions while being perfectly finite in the higher dimensions.)

            Also, I’m laughing at you.

          • Lord Narf says

            Alas, I don’t think Gergis can play anymore. Flame the crap out of a moderator, then refuse to address the people who correct you repeatedly. Brilliant message board/comment thread behavior.

            What a tool.

  3. says

    Hamad had this idea that just because you can conceive of a thing, it necessarily exists. That was just dead in the water.

    Human beings are mortal.
    If human beings are mortal, they cannot be immortal.
    Mortal beings exist, therefore immortal beings are necessary.

    • Gergis1211 says

      Nope. Hamad had this idea that science alone at this present time may not be capable of detecting all that can possibly be in the universe. Do you think science is at such a pinnacle that it is presently capable of detecting all that can possibly be in this universe? If you say yes, then you would be arrogant. His argument was actually turning out to be a lot more sophisticated (so to speak) than you guys are making it out to be. It’s almost dishonest. And let me tell you one thing, what REALLY pisses me (an atheist) off the most about this whole thing is that all you people are making me defend a THEIST!!!!

      • Lord Narf says

        Science (the method) is capable of addressing everything that we discover in the universe, yes. We just don’t have the tools to detect everything in the universe, at the moment.

        I think this might be a huge terminology clusterfuck. Part of the problem is the way that theists tend to use terminology. They deliberately use all sorts of fuzzy terms and equivocation fallacies. The way they use the word science is often not the way that scientists use the word science.

        Part of the problem is that we often know what comes next, after they make a statement like “Science doesn’t know everything there is to know, in the universe.” The statement riding hard on its heels is usually something like “But god does.” The hosts may have been a little quick in counter-punching, as people often are, when they deal with this shit repeatedly.

      • jdog says

        Hamad had this idea that science alone at this present time may not be capable of detecting all that can possibly be in the universe.

        Which he was trying to follow up with some form of: “therefore, you should believe in God”. It wasn’t sophisticated at all, just an argument from ignorance.

        He couldn’t demonstrate premise 1, so the rest of the argument is moot.

      • says

        Hamad had this idea that science alone at this present time may not be capable of detecting all that can possibly be in the universe.

        Which is a total Captain Obvious statement. What he was also saying, however, was that an infinite being necessarily exists, which is not supported by the above statement, nor any statement Hamad was making.

        Do you think science is at such a pinnacle that it is presently capable of detecting all that can possibly be in this universe? If you say yes, then you would be arrogant.

        But of course, I’m not saying that, nor is anyone else here. So that little bellyache is just you pissing into the wind. There is simply no necessary path (and remember, Hamad was very fond of the word “necessarily” in drawing his baseless conclusions from weak premises) from “science doesn’t know everything” to “God aka necessary infinite being exists.”

        His argument was actually turning out to be a lot more sophisticated (so to speak) than you guys are making it out to be. It’s almost dishonest.

        Kind of hard to evaluate the truth of that statement when you don’t even summarize this sophisticated argument you think he was making, nor offer a cogent defense of it (apart from just whining that the rest of us didn’t get it).

        And let me tell you one thing, what REALLY pisses me (an atheist) off the most about this whole thing is that all you people are making me defend a THEIST!!!!

        Try being smarter than he was, then.

  4. Muriel says

    I don’t think 3. is quite what Hamad intended.
    Of course, what he actually might have been trying to say is kind of anyone’s guess, but I for one got the impression that he simply thought it obvious that something infinite must exist, because [insert your favorite type of "something cannot come from nothing"], and since it can’t be infinite, because it is finite, it must be something outside the universe, so God.
    [Also, I am unable to comment under my wordpress-ID. When I just enter the usual Mail und Website details manually, I get the "possible impostor"-message, and when I try to login via WordPress, I get a message saying that I must provide a mail-adress, but there's no space for a mail-address, so I can't. Does anyone know what to do about that?]

  5. Gergis1211 says

    Well, I saw the show and what actually happened is that Don and Russell came off like a couple of mental midgets. They somehow managed to make the creationist look like the smart and reasonable one all the while giving that stupid George Bush “nailed it” after-speech grin. Don in particular after his stupid question: “If we don’t know, is that a proof that God exists?” The caller frustratingly replied, “Of course not.” C’mon now! That’s the stuff creationists do! They looked stupid! The caller was clearly trying to get to a variation of the kalam argument and these morons spent 15 min. just arguing against the law of non-contradiction. If something is finite, then it can not be infinite. And these two idiots are like, “No!” What the hell do you mean no? That was absolutely ridiculous! These two idiots need to stick to just reading stuff other people wrote and leave the thinking to those that can. Don and Russell caricatured what creationist say about atheists. Thanks for nothing, dimwits!

    • jacobfromlost says

      To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, “Yeah. Sure. THAT’s what happened.” (eye roll)

      Hamad was not making any kind of sophisticated argument. If you think he was, go ahead and present it here. I see you haven’t–because he wasn’t. (A “variation of kalam” is not sophisticated, by the way.)

      I seem to remember the show differently. I remember the caller saying that if the universe is finite, then it has to have come from something infinite…and THEN Russell and Don said, “No!” I don’t remember them saying “no” to “if something is finite, it cannot be infinite”, but I myself might even say “no” to that.

      A circle is both infinite and finite. No matter how long you travel around that race track, you never get to the end. In the 1 dimension of its line, it’s infinite. Yet beyond 1 dimension it is finite.

      It is interesting that in fewer dimensions it’s easy to misconstrue things as infinite, while moving up a dimension the “infinity problem” disappears. If we were two dimensional beings trapped on the surface of the earth, some might say there must be an infinity north of the north pole from which all 2 dimensional coordinatess on the surface come. But once we realize there are three dimensions, we see that the north pole is just a consequence of the two dimensional surface being part and parcel of a larger system that we didn’t yet understand.

      Claiming that finite things have to come from infinite things really just makes no sense at all, logically, any more than a 1 dimensional being saying the circle he is trapped in must have come from something infinite…or the 2 dimensional being claiming SuperNorth is infinite and that explains why there are finite coordinates.

      • Kazim says

        I seem to remember the show differently. I remember the caller saying that if the universe is finite, then it has to have come from something infinite…and THEN Russell and Don said, “No!” I don’t remember them saying “no” to “if something is finite, it cannot be infinite”, but I myself might even say “no” to that.

        In fact I specifically said “Yes” to that premise about five times. If you saw otherwise, please send a time stamp and I’ll look. Otherwise, it’s pretty idiotic to call me a mental midget by accusing me of saying the exact opposite of what I said.

        • jacobfromlost says

          I didn’t call you a mental midget. Also, I was defending you. lol

          Gergis1211 was the one attacking you.

        • Gergis1211 says

          I dont know who you are nor does it even matter. Both of you looked like mental midgets because you pretty much both addmitted it at 34:00. Both of you were unreasonble meaning you two were refusing to reason from the very begining. Russell was even like “let me finish your argument for you.” WTF is that? You just tried to continuously straw man his argument with your presummptions at 29:13, 29:30, 29:40, 34:27, 35:19, 36:05, and 41:36. You looked like you weren’t atheists because you were thinkers but rather because it was YOUR dogma. Haad didn’t hang up the phone thinking he was defeated, he hung up thinking these two idiots are atheists because they’re too stupid to get it. You became the atheist version of a young earth creationist. There is so much more wrong with that exchange but this was just one quick pass at the video since I really do have better things to do with my time. Take a good look for yourself. If you really are thinkers, there is no way you can see your ridiculous performance in that and not be embarrassed.

          • Kazim says

            I am Russell, and I’m sorry, you don’t appear to have answered the question. You said:

            If something is finite, then it can not be infinite. And these two idiots are like, “No!” What the hell do you mean no?

            And I asked you at what point either of us said “No” to that specific assertion. Frankly you appear to be incapable of following the conversation that actually happened, since — as it appears — you have to resort to flagrantly misquoting me.

          • Lord Narf says

            I dunno, man. I listened to the episode again, with … painful attention to detail. Every one of the many times Hammad said that something that is finite cannot be infinite, you agreed with him. The only thing I can figure out is that Gergis was listening to the voices in his head, instead of Don and you.

      • says

        I’m dying to hear an explanation as to what this full sophisticated argument was supposed to be.

        If anything, the caller kept going back to the same premises over and over. He had plenty of chances to make the argument.

    • Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

      The universe, according to the big bang model, has a boundary. Whether anything can be said to be outside that is another matter completely, because by definition everything that we can demonstrate to “exist” does so within said boundary. An infinite realm “outside” makes no sense in that respect.

      WRT the call, I think that clarity from the caller was the main issue. Some of the yes/no answers weren’t helpful but the problem was more fundamental then that!

    • Lord Narf says

      I’ve listened to the episode now, by the way. I think the bit listed at the top is a pretty fair outline of Hammad’s argument. I think about the only thing he had left was “Well, there has to be something infinite,” or something similar. I don’t think he was going anywhere near a version of Kalam.

      Don and Russel got a bit silly after that, which wasn’t to my taste, but they weren’t preventing Hammad from expressing anything that would have added to his argument.

      Hammad didn’t say anything vaguely coherent until 5 minutes into the call. The first nope was in reference to Hammad’s claim that we must accept that an infinite thing must exist. The second nope was in reference to a rephrasing of the same, that the infinite must exist for us to exist.

      Then, Hammad said “Something cannot be both finite and infinite at the same time,” and repeated himself multiple times.
      Each time, Don and Russel both said something to the effect of “Yeah, I got that part, now get on to the god part.” You’re remembering the conversation incorrectly. I just listened to it again, as I’m typing this.

      The next no was after Hammad said #3. There was no rejection of #2. You’re wrong.

      Then, it became very silly, and Hammad turned into a word-salad shooter. By about 38:00, I think they were getting very tired of him wandering around, making random crap up. Once Hammad started talking about climbing ladders a step at a time, and that you can’t do that, I was about ready to hang up on him, myself.

      At 40:00, he just started repeating the same crap about needing to accept an infinite thing, if you accept a finite thing. The guy has nothing but flat assertions.

  6. Das Boese says

    Hamad said “something that is finite can’t be infinite”. Maybe should have paid attention during math classes instead of reading the Koran, because math is full of functions that are unbounded (i.e. stretching into infinity on one or more axes), yet have a finite area.

    Of course he conveniently dismissed math and science as irrelevant from the get go, so he’d probably weasel out of it quickly.

    • sonorus says

      He fails to understand that infinity is just an abstract concept, like a straight line or a perfect circle, that doesn’t actually exist in nature. Of course there’s a lot more he doesn’t understand as well. I think this points to the need for better math and science education in the US.

      • Alec Lowry says

        I have to questioin if math, as I learned it in college, exists in nature. Math is based on Peano’s axioms, which start with the statement “1 is a number”. But can we really demonstrate that to be true in nature? What is “1″? The best answer I can give is that it is a demarkation, a boundary or a quantity. Regardless of which of those you choose to view “1″ as, I would like to see someone give an example of such a thing in nature. I’m talking on the sub-atomic level as well as astronomic level. A demarkation or a boundary is always moving relative to some part of the universe. Any quantity of matter is always changing at a sub-atomic level due to the emission of neutrinos and such things.

        This leads to the conclusion that math does not work in nature. This conclusion is obviously seriously flawed because the use of mathematics in physics is so essential. One is left to think that there must be some way to rewrite mathematics in a way similar to what happened when non-Euclidean geometry was introduced. There will be some theorems which will no longer be true, like the sum of the angles of a triangle is always 180 degrees. Most of mathematics will continue to work.

        So that is a problem with mathematics I have been wrestling with for several years. It may affect whether or not infinity exists. My point is that we cannot assume that infinity exists because mathematics tells us so.

        • Indiana Jones says

          Your problem is that you want to apply a physical existence to a description. I will never see a “1″ just as I will never see a “beautiful”. I will (potentially) see 1 beautiful painting or whatever.

          1 implies one of something. I will see 1 painting. And it turns out that assigning properties to a descriptor can get you to all sorts of interesting things that also apply to make other descriptions easier. For instance, I can say that “A” and “B” are numbers and that A+B = B+A. So, if you have A paintings, and I have B paintings, then this A+B = B+A becomes useful if we put all our paintings together. W can add the numbers
          B and A together and know we have the correct amount of paintings without having to go the bother of recounting..

          A+B = B+A works really nicely for counting things, without there needing to be a physical A or B. But there are cases where A+B does NOT = B+A. Look at one face of a 6 sided die and take note of what number is facing you as well as its orientation. Say that A is rotating it 90 degrees so that the left face comes into view, and B is rotating it 90 degrees so that the top face comes into view. then do A + B and take note of what number you see. Reset the die and do B + A. It will be a different number.

          et hung up on “1 is a demarkation or boundary”ematical rules, concepts, definitions, what have you, in general, are only as good as what it can describe. But that is pretty good most of the time, and does not need a physical manifestation to retain its usefulness. And it does not mean that “math does not work in nature”. It clearly does. To pick on your example of 180 degree triangles; that works, always, on a flat plane. It does not work on a sphere, say.. And yes, non euclidean geometry does describe some things well that euclidean does not. So what? It just means we need other mathematical tools that are more appropriate for whatever job is at hand.

          No one assumes infinity exists because mathematics tells us so. Because it doesn’t in the sense of the word that you seem to mean. Depending on what situation you have (ie what you are trying io mathematically describe), it may predict one. But if that turns out t be wrong or inappropriate or whatever, mathematics isn’t going to summon an infinity into existence in a fit of sheer stubborn bull headedness. In fact, it just mans that the mathematical rules you are trying to use don’t apply in that particular situation. Or, you have made an error somewhere.

          So don’t get all hung up on “1 is a demarakation” or whatever just because it doesn’t make sense to think like that in certain sub atomic situations. When that mathematical rule works, use it! If it doesn’t use something else.

        • John Kruger says

          The thing is, unto itself, math is purely conceptual. All of math rest upon axioms that are established entirely by convention. This is not to say that math is not useful, it is precise and expansive at the same time, a rigorous methodology that allows coherent thoughts about things as small and expansive as imagination permits. Pure math, however, does not have anything to say about what actually exists.

          The framework that math provides is excellent for formulating precise theories about how the world actually works, that is what the discipline of physics is. Physics relies on experimental verification. Even though there are often opportunities to create valid theories on the back of other established theories through mathematics, all theories must bend to experimental results.

          So sure, mathematics allows us to consider things like infinite lines and planes with no thickness, but that it no way makes such things a reality. In the way that Leprechauns can be imagined and written about with no actual basis in reality, so it is with infinite objects in mathematics.

          • Alec Lowry says

            Well, you at least got my point, unlike someone else who replied to me.

            A second point I wasn’t trying to make, but you adddressed, is that there are a lot of problems with physics. I believe these might be solved if we can manage to solve the problems with mathematics. Specifically, the dual nature of light. I think it might be possible that light appears to be a particle only because we are doing the math incorrectly. The double-slit experiment contradicts this, but the various results of that experiment are so strange, I don’t think that we can say we really know what is going on there.

          • codemonkey says

            <# John Kruger. I adopt this same position, which in denies mathematical realism or platonic realism / platonic idealism. I deny those as not well defined. The more I spend with theists, the more I think that a lot of their conceptual and reasoning problems stem from this rigid adherence to this ill-defined platonic idealism.

      • Lord Narf says

        Ah, damn. Now I have to start going to mass again. I hate mass.

        And obviously, it’s Catholicism that has to be right, because Pascal was a Catholic.

  7. says

    One of the callers asked “Why are minorities so religious?” It is true religion tends to be taught by one generation to another and that plays a huge role in the continuation of Christianity among minorities.

    In the early years of christian missionary activity, the missionaries would kill people that refused to covert to Christianity. Latin America is predominantly Catholic, because the missionaries killed anyone refusing to convert.

    African-American slaves were taught Christianity by their masters and were not in a position to refuse to covert to Christianity.

    Christianity was forced on these groups by missionaries who wanted to covert them and teach them about the “love of Christ.”

  8. L.Long says

    1. The universe is finite.

    2. If the universe is finite, it cannot be infinite.

    3. Finite things exist, therefore an infinite god is necessary.

    What a load of logical BS!!!
    Das Boese beat me to it but #1 & #2 is dead wrong.
    The coast of New Hampshire is finite (about 30mi) but its length is infinite
    This is a true statement. How if it is 30mi???
    Because it depends on how you think of it. If you use magnification for increased accuracy and fractals the coast becomes so detailed that measuring it is impossible because it is infinite in detail as your mag goes up and up.
    So something that is finite can be infinite but then no one really cares either.
    And #3 is so widely out in left field it aint even in the same ball park.

    • says

      The universe is finite.

      The thing I don’t get about the argument is, what does it mean for the universe to be “infinite”? Just that it has any attribute at all that’s infinite, or is there an unspoken attribute he’s talking about specifically, like size or duration of existence?

      I find the first premise to be unintelligible.

      • John Kruger says

        Yes. Infinite in what way? Infinite mass? Infinite space? Mass/Energy combination?

        Either way, we have observed no functional limit to the dimensions of space, so there is no reason to think one way or another on that claim of the universe being finite or not.

        And of course, the first 2 really have very little to do with #3. He might as well have asserted “I exist, therefore a god is necessary.” He would not have to work nearly as hard to establish the initial condition, and it makes about as much sense.

        The hosts responded about the only way they could. “Nope, don’t accept that.” The first 2 premises are somewhat questionable, but why bother if the argument does not follow anyway? The last one is definitely the weakest link.

      • codemonkey says

        The thing I don’t get about the argument is, what does it mean for the universe to be “infinite”? Just that it has any attribute at all that’s infinite, or is there an unspoken attribute he’s talking about specifically, like size or duration of existence?

        They are Platonic Idealists or Realists or something. They think that abstract concepts exist more than just memes in our culture. They really do subscribe to some ill-defined variants of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave as a “literal” description of reality.

    • Lord Narf says

      The coast of New Hampshire is finite (about 30mi) but its length is infinite
      This is a true statement. How if it is 30mi???
      Because it depends on how you think of it. If you use magnification for increased accuracy and fractals the coast becomes so detailed that measuring it is impossible because it is infinite in detail as your mag goes up and up.
      So something that is finite can be infinite but then no one really cares either.

      Well, no. #2 isn’t wrong, depending upon your definitions. It’s a pretty straightforward if-then statement. If your only definition of infinite is “not finite”, then it’s a tautology. If the universe is finite, then it cannot be not finite.

      Your statement about coastal fractals is only addressing #1, saying that the coastline is infinite. I don’t buy your argument, either. When you get down below a molecular level, the concept of subdivisions of distance becomes sort of meaningless.
      Anyway, the coastline doesn’t become that much longer, because of fractals. It only becomes vastly more difficult to measure with ultimate accuracy. It’s not impossible, just more difficult than our instruments can handle and more difficult than we feel like bothering with.

  9. says

    Hamad’s argument basically boils down to the Generic Sciency Sounding Argument For God, which in it’s simplest form goes like this:

    1. Suppose there is a God.

    …I could add some premises before that conclusion, but that’s not really necessary since they all hinge on making the other person accept the premises on their face value, then using them as proof for the conclusion. Therefore:

    Suppose there is a God -> God exists.

    • Lord Narf says

      Heh, it’s not even that good. Even if we swallow his premises, they don’t lead to his conclusion.

      At the very least, he needs something else, which he didn’t state. “There must be something infinite, because only infinite things are capable of creating anything,” or some similar nonsense. He needs to make up some way to get from the first half of #3 to the second half.

  10. Illusio says

    I think the hosts misunderstood Hamad. His argument didn’t work, but it was more involved than the stuff in the opening post. He was confusing the terms “eternal”(Which can be coherently defined as simply “existing at every instant of time” without saying anything about the nature of time), and “infinite”, which implies a regress.(Or perhaps he just wasn’t aware that those are separate concepts)

    I think what he was getting at was that something can’t come from nothing, which is true.(If someone feels an urge to tell me about Krauss’ lecture, please don’t, he is not talking about nothing in the sense of having no properties). And if that is the case, given that something exists now, any finite sequence of events seems to lead you to a contradiction where you just end up with nothing, unless something is eternal(Which Hamad calls “infinite”)

    Unfortunately for Hamad, nature itself can have this property. For example through a finite set of points in time that just keep repeating, or through scenarios like Krauss’ talks about where time doesn’t repeat, but where you have an eternal probabilistic substrate of reality that spawns off spacetimes.

    • Lord Narf says

      Rather than Krauss’s explanation of the universe from nothing, which isn’t … what about virtual particles? The way I’ve always heard then described is being uncaused and coming from nothing.

      • Gergis1211 says

        LOL! Nice job walking right into that one. Just as I predicted, now YOU are the one stuck trying to say that virtual particles can come from nothing to which I would then respond, “What the heck is a NOTHING?”

        • Lord Narf says

          It’s nothing. It’s uncaused. It’s not a state of nothing existing, though. There is nothing that causes them, according to the theory.

          The problem that theists run into when they use nothing is that they turn it into a thing. That’s not what I did.

          • Gergis1211 says

            Sure, uncaused. What is “from nothing”? What is NOTHING? (Remember, I’m an atheist. I don’t even agree with Hamad so I can’t actualy finish his argument for him)

          • Lord Narf says

            It’s not from something. Nothing is nothing. Where theists go wrong when they use the term, like I said in my last message, is that they try to make it … something. I’m not even sure what they’re trying to do with their state of nothingness. It’s pretty nonsensical.

          • Gergis1211 says

            Yes, no one said you said it’s something. You said, “from nothing.” You said, “It is nothing. What IS nothing? You replied, “Nothing is nothing.” Ok. That’s as circular as you can get. If nothing is nothing, then neither IS your nothing. LOL! The question still remains: What IS nothing?

          • Lord Narf says

            It’s not a thing. In other words, to iron out the language, virtual particles apparently don’t come from a thing. They’re uncaused, in other words.

            I don’t have a degree in quantum mechanics, so I can’t help you with the details.

          • Gergis1211 says

            Yes, uncaused. OK again. You said “it.” What is “it” if “it” IS nothing and “nothing IS nothing?” What IS nothing? You said, “I don’t have a degree in quantum mechanics, so I can’t help you with the details.” LOL! Exactly.

          • says

            if you both are interested in “nothing” they are good stuff written by the existentialist philosophers.
            In Being and Time (Sein und Zeit), Heidegger explains that Nothing is Something. :)

            Oh and an idealist philosopher like Hegel would say

            Thesis: The Absolute is Pure Being
            Antithesis: The Absolute is Nothing
            Synthesis: The Absolute is Becoming

          • Lord Narf says

            You’re having a major failure to grasp a basic logical statement. Nothing is not a thing. Watch the episode about Tracie’s transcendental dice. They covered it in that episode.

          • Lord Narf says

            if you both are interested in “nothing” they are good stuff written by the existentialist philosophers.

            Nah. Thanks man, but I’m good.

          • Gergis1211 says

            LOL! Seen it. You are the one that needs to watch the show again because you were the one trying to say that “IT IS NOTHING.” Not me.

          • Lord Narf says

            The word “it” is not a declaration of a concrete thing. A state of nothingness is unintelligible, because it’s not a thing and cannot be examined. You still need to use a pronoun to talk about it, though.

          • Gergis1211 says

            Well, I actually am an open mined free thinking atheist so I thank you for your recommendations, ericvon germania. I’ll look into those.

          • Gergis1211 says

            You keep saying what “it” is not. That’s not the question. Those are just attributes. You still continue to talk about “it.” You said, “You still need to use a pronoun to talk about IT.” You need the pronoun “it’ to talk about what? What IS it that you need a pronoun for, nothing? If nothing is nothing, then what’s with the pronoun? Oh their fucking god! LOL! This is too much! LOL! Anyways, my prediction came true. See the video clip below. You are the one trying to argue that “something can come from nothing” and I’m the one in Tracie’s place asking you, “what IS nothing?”

          • says

            @Gergis1211
            No prob.
            For the topic of Nothing being Something, Maybe better to go with “What is Metaphysic?” from Heidegger then “Being in Time” for in “What is Metaphysic?” he is more explicit about what is “Nothing”

          • Lord Narf says

            *sigh*

            Alright, I’m done wasting time on you. Now go address your lies about what Russel said, which he didn’t say.

          • Kazim says

            Are you going to support what you said, or is it time for me to play the moderator card? As far as I’ve seen you’ve offered nothing but childish insults and totally inaccurate portrayals of the show since your first comment. Please choose your words carefully in the next one.

          • Lord Narf says

            Whatever, man. Like I said, go talk to Russel, since you’re lying about what he said. Try watching the episode again, since you clearly didn’t get it the first time around.

          • Lord Narf says

            Oh, for fuck sake. I gave you a detailed, point-by-point account of the conversation, explaining where you were wrong, and your response is the ultimate childish bullshit that he’s acting like a theist? Fake atheists? Really?

          • Lord Narf says

            Edit: I choose the moderator card. -Gergis1211

            Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh. Nice.

            It’s almost a pity to lose his “You’re acting like a theist!” crap, though. That’s a nice demonstration of his qualities.

          • says

            I always find it humorous when atheists start accusing each other of behaving like theists.

            It’s like listening to two klingons trying to insult each other by one accusing the other of behaving like a ferengi.

          • Lord Narf says

            Yeah, reminds me of the one episode of Deep Space Nine, when Quark killed that one drunken Klingon.

            Quark: [analyzing Grilka's finances] It’s no accident your family’s getting weaker and D’Ghor’s family is getting stronger; he’s been systematically attacking your family’s assets for over five years now.
            Grilka: You mean D’Ghor has been scheming and plotting like a F…?
            Quark: Like a Ferengi! If the shoe fits …

    • jdog says

      I think what he was getting at was that something can’t come from nothing, which is true.

      Actually, it’s a nonsensical statement. “Can not lead to something” is an attribute. Things that do not exist (which is the definition of ‘nothing’ being used) do not have attributes.

      Watch episode #750, in which someone attempted to prove the existence of God by starting out with “something cannot come from nothing (and I don’t mean Krauss)” as the first premise. He gets no further. Matt does most of the on-base hitting, while Tracie occasionally steps in to knock it out of the park.

          • Muriel says

            And is there any special reason why “can not lead to something” could not just as well be understood as such?

          • jdog says

            Because the person claiming “something cannot come from nothing” is positing “nothing” as a real thing (or real nonthing) instead of a concept.

          • Muriel says

            Not necessarily. The phrase “something cannot come from nothing” is a statement about “something”, things that exist, claiming that they cannot come into existence without some other thing to cause them, which is probably wrong, as far as we know, but I don’t see anything inherently inconsistent about it.

  11. Cambo says

    I often wonder about assertions that the universe is finite. At a fairly young age I realized by grasping the concept of a fire not necessarily destroying the material burned, but actually changing its composition, that nothing is ever really destroyed at, perhaps, the molecular level. (This was long before I ever heard of Newton’s laws.) The universe, as it can be observed, may be finite in its nature, yet the things that make up the universe are infinite. As I understand it, the explosion of stars forming the elements we know of today still had something to work with, some raw material, if you will. It grates on my nerves a bit when people talk about time in terms of “beginning” or “finite”. Time is not a thing. It is a concept. Time did not “start” at the inception of the Big Bang. There is simply nothing we can say about the universe before that, much the same as we can say nothing about ourselves before we existed in this state, as individual human beings. Before the sperm and egg that joined to create what has become “us”, the material that makes us up still existed, just not in the form they are now, and will still exist when we are long gone. We are simply the current makeup of those materials. Before they formed us they still existed in other forms. I apologize if this was not the forum in which I should post these thoughts (I’m a bit new to this) but it seemed relevant to the discussion. Any thoughts?

    • John Kruger says

      The whole “time began at the Big Bang” thing is not nearly so mysterious as a lot of people would like to think. It is just that without mass and motion, there is no way to observe the passage of time, so the concept becomes meaningless. It is not a magical moment where a god can be inserted.

  12. Robin Brown says

    Arguers such as this never make clear what it might mean to say that Object X or Being Y are infinite.

    Only a measurement of some quality of a thing or being can be said (even conceptually) to be infinite. Not the thing itself.

    So what quality of this supposed God is infinite?

  13. says

    This is sorta tangential, but it’s something that occurred to me while listening to last week’s show that I wanted to expand on. Theists often ask, “What *would* convince you of a (our) god?” Let me tell you straight off theists, as Matt and others on the show have said, it certainly wouldn’t be something like TAG or a hazy misunderstanding of the mathematical concept of infinity.

    What would convince me of any god’s existence? If we were all genre-savvy theists living in a theistic world. I’d believe in Zeus, Athena, Poseidon et. al. if pouring wine into the sea before sailing meant a statistically more placid journey. If a number of gods’ sons were walking around, with testable DNA that contained the same markers. If slaughtering a black lamb and anointing yourself with its blood with a pean to Athena meant you always (or nearly always) did better on a test than if you hadn’t killed that lamb in that way. I imagine in that universe, black lamb traders would be a highly sought-after profession, and the annual Zeus’ Sons vs. Poseidon’s Sons football game was a national TV viewing event.

    I’d believe in Christian theology if priests and holy people displayed a nimbus of light when invoking their god. If laying on of hands involved a quick flash of light and the subsequent absence of any detectable virus or bacteria or cancer in the body or blood of the formerly sick person. If severed spinal cords re-knit themselves in seconds after being prayed upon (not random weeks, months or years later.) If un-baptised babies died more often than baptised ones. If praying for the dead always (or almost always) lead to peaceful dreams about their souls being at rest. If St. Christopher medals meant the wearer always had a safer journey than those who went without. If anointing a schizophrenic with holy oils meant that person’s schizophrenia disappeared (or was cast into the mind of the family cat or something).

    Unfortunately, none of the touted “real-world” benefits of religious observance have ever been shown to be more or less successful than random chance. I mean, how stupid would the rest of the world be if carrying the relics of dead Catholics around really did make your life better, and we didn’t do it? If it is testable and it works on more than some amorphous “I *felt* better” level, than people would all do it, Catholic or not. Too bad none of it works.

    • Lord Narf says

      If anointing a schizophrenic with holy oils meant that person’s schizophrenia disappeared (or was cast into the mind of the family cat or something).

      Umm, how would you tell a difference in the cat’s behavior? They already act like that.

    • says

      If we were all genre-savvy theists living in a theistic world

      That’s been mentioned before, but it’s such a good point, it’s worth going over again. The comparison I like is with role-playing games, wherein gods are undeniably real beings. Even if a character doesn’t actually worship a certain god, nobody denies their existence,because it’s frankly obvious. Clerics can heal fatal wounds, even resurrect the dead, solely by the power of their prayers. The evidence abounds, so nobody doubts.

      If the supernatural was demonstrably real, we’d have laws against praying for your favorite team to win. Books on the occult would require a security clearance. Presidents would have their personal sorcerers on staff to protect them against magical assassination.

      The simple fact is that the world doesn’t look anything lie what you’d expect if there was an actual god who was running the show and interfering with events. At best, you can defend a scenario where the god in question doesn’t interfere (deism) or does so in a manner indistinguishable from no interference (which falls for Ockham’s razor, not to mention a whole host of problems relating to god’s honesty).

      If the supernatural was real, the world, quite simply, wouldn’t look anything like it does and all the desperate attempts to explain why we don’t see this or that evidence are patently transparent. Of course they claim that god doesn’t want to provide evidence; there is none. Of course the aliens erased your video tape, otherwise you’d have to show it. Of course cursing people doesn’t work; if it did, wars would be won by the country with more medicine men, rather than the one with more soldiers.

  14. nude0007 says

    I would have nailed him right at the first when he said god doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be anything measurable. Where does he get that conclusion from? It’s basically “science demands proof god exists, so we are going to throw out science” Hey, anything real exists and is measurable. If god isn’t, then he doesn’t exist.

    Anytime someone says “you HAVE to agree with this proposition” is already trying to load the dice. IF he says it, it must be true. I notice he turned that into “well, a lot of people believe like me, so therefore it must be true”

    I wish you guys had got him to post here. I’d love to tear his simple, ridiculous arguments to shreds.

    Hey, even if we bought that something infinite MUST be true, why does it have to be god?

    So many holes (in his argument) so little time to expose them all.

  15. says

    Regarding the caller who asked why more minorities aren’t atheists, I’ve seen this question come up a couple of times and the AE hosts always fumble over the answer (mostly because they don’t want to appear rude or insensitive). Simply say this:

    Atheism is almost entirely a result of the forces of education and wealth. If you are highly educated and/or moderately well off, there is a natural tendency to pull away from institutions you don’t need (ie: the church). Minorities, for the most part, are still comparatively lower income and under-educated. These are conditions where religion thrives.

    It’s not racist or bigoted to point this out. Rather, it highlights the gross discrepancy between ethnicities in the United States and that, even in the age of Civil Rights, true racial equality still has a long way to go.

    • says

      I don’t doubt it plays a factor, but I think a big part of why they fumble is because they don’t actually know. It could be a mix of things.

      I don’t think that blithely declaring an answer helps much. It isn’t for the hosts to answer, really. It’s the people in those minorities who need to speak up and tell us what their situation is.

  16. Chimbley_Sweep says

    Finite is not infinite, and God is infinite, therefore God is necessary. Wait, you don’t accept that? Read that first sentence again. You still don’t get it? Man, you hosts are dense. Read that first sentence again. How are you not getting this? OK, read that first sentence again. Now is it clear? What is wrong with you?! It’s so obvious. Read that first sentence again. Do you understand now? If you don’t get this, you just aren’t trying. Read that first sentence again.

  17. anaximanchild says

    My reply to Hamad:

    1. The Chewbacca Defense (or insert your favorite random argument here) does not refute your claim.
    2. If the Chewbacca Defense does not refute your claim, then it cannot be that the Chewbacca Defense does refute your claim.
    3. Arguments that do not refute your claim exist, therefore an argument that does refute your claim is necessary.

    Next caller please.

  18. TroopDawg says

    so hilarious when he says he’s not starting with the position god exists and looks to justify this. thats what he is doing. what a retard.

    • Billy from Cali says

      For the longest time I never understood that people did that. I just couldn’t wrap my head around how they could start with the end result. I finally get it and it makes me sad.

  19. Aaroninaustralia says

    People seem to have a massive problem defining their God, and so focus on a range of (mostly irrelevant) characteristics instead. For example, “infinite” is not a component of a definition, it’s a characteristic. People may think it’s picky, but it’s an important point.
    A ‘definition’ is the way something is defined. It makes the thing clearly identified and delineated from anything else. A ‘characteristic’ are features or quality of the thing that has been defined. I cannot for example define X as “White, wheeled, with seats, glass, doors, and used to travel”. This could be a car, a railway carriage, a plane, a bus, or a caravan. In the same way, “infinite” is a characteristic because the subsets of numbers between 1 and 2 are quite possibly ‘infinite’, yet a theist does not mean that “God” means “The subset of numbers between 1 and 2″.
    If you cannot define what a deity is, then saying they may exist is an irrelevant statement. Quibbling over a range of characteristics doesn’t help either, because you might be able to show that these characteristics exist, but you cannot get from a range of characteristics to “Therefore my deity exists”. For example, you cannot get from the existence of characteristics such as tails, scales, wings, fire, and flight, to conclude that fire-breathing dragons exist.
    This goes for the argument that you “cannot” examine a deity. Why not? This again is a supposed characteristic, not a definition (and a very handy characteristic too, if you have nothing to justify your claim). In fact, if your deity is not examinable, then the discussion is over: anything that is unexaminable is by its nature not able to be examined, including whether this thing could be identified as or sorted out from a deity, a dragon, a rock, or a piece of old toast. In other words, you haven’t examined it and are therefore incapable of making any statement beyond “this possible thing is beyond our ability to discuss at this time”. This also means that you cannot make claims about how it’s providing you with freebies for ritual worship or how it has told you to tell me what flavor chewing gum I’m supposed to buy (or whatever your unexaminable deity told you to tell me).
    But deities are indeed able to be defined according to the assumptions made by believers, even if the lack of critical thinking has meant they cannot vocalize their usually emotional ideals. So I offer my general working definition of a deity as “a being with agency that is ‘supernatural’ in that it can bypass the law of cause and effect by using their will as a cause, which results in an effect; and that the individual has deemed the being worthy of being worshipped including being given the title of God/Allah/Zeus/Mithras/Grand Cosmic Zog”. In fact, such a being would be examinable, because we would be able to test for an ability to make something happen without required physical manipulation. And before assuming that a deity would not ‘submit’ itself to such an examination, I shall remind that this would be a characteristic resulting in my questioning how someone could sort it from old toast, rather than it being a definition.
    As for this “smoke and mirrors” argument about “necessary god”, it’s an attempt at a logical argument that the caller doesn’t understand. Namely, that if XX is a subset of X, then X is necessary for the subset XX to exist. For example, for the subset “small car” to exist, there must be a set “car”. The problem with this argument is that using the rules of within our universe (namely the law of cause and effect) to try to conclude things that are not part of our universe is nonsensical. It would be like saying that “All flight power on jet aeroplanes are the result of jet engines which create thrust. Birds fly. Therefore birds have jet engines.” You cannot use information on jets, but no information on birds, to make conclusions about birds. Arguments which use information from our universe to generalize about “before” or “outside” are by their nature overgeneralizations, because we have literally zero information from anywhere that is not within our universe.
    Ultimately however, the whole argument about how a deity used the laws of cause and effect ‘before’ and ‘outside’ our universe to create unmeasurable and unexaminable effects ‘within’ our universe are irrelevant until such time as the theist defines their deity using a definition, rather than characteristics.

  20. sonorus says

    I’d like to pose a hypothesis as to how these memes show up in Christianity. Even though it’s possible that they were added on purpose to make the religion more attractive to a particular culture (and that seems likely to have happened), it seems to me that it’s more likely that as an oral tradition (which it was for at least 40 years and probably more) that these different bits just got added in as the story was retold. Bits of one story got merged with part of another story. Think how often this happens with current events. (There was a book about Columbine that chronicles how much of the public idea of what happened there is just plain wrong but now part of the narrative and continues to be repeated.) It’s not possible to know, but I think it’s far more likely that things just got mixed into the stories rather than some conspiracy theory type scenario where it was done on purpose. The problem with conspiracy theories is that they assume a greater level of organization and competence than is generally found in our species. For the most part things get mixed up because we aren’t usually that good at repeated information exactly as we heard it.

    • Lord Narf says

      A little of each. There’s some natural doctrinal drift, and some intentional incorporation of things like the Pagan beliefs of northern Europe, to make the religion appeal more to those converts. The whole thing is such a mess.

      All of the things that the conspiracy theorists (such as the Zeitgeist loons) say happened probably did happen, in some small part of the theology. Where they go wrong is in saying that the whole thing was an orchestrated conspiracy, rather than thousands of individuals doing little changes here and there throughout the centuries.

  21. George says

    That satanist caller on this episode (he was in the after show) wasn’t very clear about why he calls himself a satanist instead of an atheist, which Russel didn’t understand; I want to clarify for him and anyone else who wants to know.

    I can’t put words in Muts’(sp?) mouth but a good reason (my reason) for calling yourself a satanist rather than an atheist would be because when you use these words, you are trying to convey information. “Satanist” conveys more information than “atheist”, but also identifying as atheist sometimes leads people to think humanist and I definitely don’t want to convey that. No satanist would unless they wanted to misguide.

    So when addressing an atheist who knows about satanism, message recieved. When addressing an atheist who doesn’t know about it, they’ll inquire about it if it matters. When addressing a theist on the other hand, you’d definitely be alluding to all that negative baggage that Don was refering to but if you cared about what theists think, you wouldn’t call yourself an atheist. It’s the same baggage.

    I hope this is the right medium for this. I’m always too busy to call on sundays (non-religious reasons).

  22. Billy from Cali says

    As a mixed black and white 26 year old male, I think Russel did a very good job tiptoeing around the race issue! I was laughing so hard at how PC he had to be but he pulled that shit off without a hitch! Well done!

    • Lord Narf says

      Heh, yeah. The issue has come up before, on Non Prophets Radio, in e-mail responses. As a bunch of white guys who can’t do anything but screw up the question, why would you ask us? Ask someone like the … Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta is the sane Atlanta group, right?

  23. codemonkey says

    Weird how the hosts didn’t get his argument after all that time. As far as I could tell, he had an unspoken implicit argument. If I can identify a thing with limits, then there must exist something outside those limits. He then takes that poorly specified claim, and tries to extrapolate that there is a thing which is unbounded.

    He was really stuck in a number line sort of way of thinking. He imagines the real world as the space on the number line between -1 and 1. He sees boundaries, and thus he says there must exist something outside those boundaries. Thus there exists stuff without boundaries (at least on one side).

    Of course, the argument is so laughably flawed in so many ways.

    If we go back to the model of the real number line, then his argument is still flawed. I can define a covering set over the real number line where every element of that covering set is “finite”. Ex:
    { [x, x+1) : x is an integer }
    That partitions the real number line. The intervals are disjoint, and they cover the whole real number line. And all of the intervals are finite.

    Of course, the biggest problem is that he’s arguing by metaphor and ill-defined vocabulary. He’s conflating temporal boundaries with spatial boundaries with whatever else he can weasel into the argument. The first step would be to formalize his argument and clear up the ambiguous terms, but of course he would refuse to do that because that might make it too “concrete” and “physical”.

    Frankly, this is another one of those times where I wouldn’t even bother, and say “Ok, let us know when you get something like: prayer works, there is an afterlife, and sucking up to the celestial tyrant gets you into the (good) afterlife, because until then, we atheists don’t care. See: Pascal’s Wager and its many refutations.”

    • Lord Narf says

      You get that sort of crap from Catholics, too. They’re so in love with the mystery of God. The word is used at least a dozen times every Sunday. The fact that we can’t coherently discuss it is one of the attributes of their god. Anyone who resists turning their argument into a coherent syllogism or who insists that you’re not understanding the argument because their incoherent hand-waving fills in the gaps (which it doesn’t even come close to doing) isn’t worth having a serious discussion with.

      • Edgardo says

        But there’s still a question. Is something as great as a god existed, do you think it would be within the boundaries of our understanding?

        • codemonkey says

          If it’s not within the bounds of our understanding, then the catholics should shut it about gays, abortions, prayer, etc. They want to understand it when it suites them. They want their cake and to eat it too.

        • Lord Narf says

          Huge chunks of it would be within the realm of our understanding. Anyway, if we have an omniscient, omnipotent being out there making everything, including us, he could damned well make us understand. Plus, what knowledge we’ve gained in the past couple thousand years points to the revealed truth of the Bible as false in many particulars.
          A worldview based upon infallible authority is demonstrated to be worthless when that authority is found to be flawed in any way.

          Occam’s Razor, man. If a text looks like it was written by a bunch of ignorant, Bronze Age shepherds, then it was probably written by a bunch of ignorant, Bronze Age shepherds.

          • Edgardo says

            Well, if God exists that does not mean the Bible has anything to do with him. The Bible is not a holy book of any sort

          • Lord Narf says

            Without some sort of demonstration of a god’s existence, though, it’s silly to believe in it. You’ve got to tie back to either an appearance by the god or a record of an appearance by the god.

            If we had never had any society claim the existence of a god, and had never had prophets claim to speak to him, we wouldn’t have the stupid philosophical arguments for the existence of a generic god. All apologetics are dishonest. There isn’t a single argument that was conceived in an honest, scientific manner, coming to a conclusion and then proposing a god as the answer. They always start at their desired answer and then try to construct a scaffold that will reach it, failing every time.

            The Bible is as holy as most “holy books” about other gods. Most gods act like spoiled children.

    • codemonkey says

      Damn, that guy didn’t even notice or respond to my post. I wonder if I got his argument right.

      Validation is always good! :)

    • sonorus says

      Why does there have to be something outside the limits? And if there is something “outside” those limits, then is that finite and if so what is outside that? it’s a pointless exercise as it involves speculating not only about what we don’t know, but about what we can’t know. You can fill that void with a deity or you can just admit that we don’t know. I don’t know what’s so hard about that phrase. I don’t know.

    • gshelley says

      I had the same feeling. I think it is because his argument was so flawed, that the hosts probably didn’t think it was what he was really saying, and were trying to look for something deeper.

  24. Unther says

    The first part, where Don talks about the many things in which christianity isn’t unique, briefly touched the “life-after-death”-part.

    Whenever this stuff comes up, I feel like death is creeping up on me and I feel defenseless. You often say that many christians stay “in line” because their fear of hell. As “hell” is just a concept which was clearly borrowed from other religions, I don’t really fear it. What I fear is this nothingness, the not-being. Maybe it’s because I’m still young and it will change with age. Still, it’s paralyzing.

    • says

      If nothingness is something that preoccupies you and you are curious about it, I will recommend you to read (as I wrote already on the blog higher) existentialist philosophers. “What is metaphysic?” by Heidegger is something interesting. Also you could check some books by Kierkegaard, who is a christian existentialist philosopher, if christianity is your cup of tee

    • sonorus says

      What were you before you existed? that’s what you’ll be after. Was it scary before you were? Why would it be scarier to not be again?

      • Edgardo says

        I get your point, but I think it is pretty obvious why ceasing to exist is not appealing for most people . The idea of existing forever in a form incapable of suffering is much much much more attractive.

        • wholething says

          To attempt to quote Asimov from memory:

          Life is pleasant. Death is serene. It’s the transition that is troublesome.

      • Unther says

        The scary thing is not “not-being”. Once you cease to exist, you cease to exist.

        The scary, absolutely horrible and paralyzing thing is standing near the abyss and staring at it. Knowing that you “are” now, but won’t be in the future. There’s something screaming in my head, saying “I WANT TO CONTINUE TO EXIST” when I think about that. Not seeing how my children will live, how the world goes one…losing everything I am right now…

        I can’t say that I believe in an afterlife, but I’m hoping for one. What if it’s a terrible one? Then maybe not-being is better than being. But what if it’s an acceptable one?

        I don’t know if I can really tell you what it is that causes this fear…but I can tell you that when I think about it, it’s one of the most horrible feelings…

        • says

          Totally this. For one, if I’m dead, how will I know what happens next? It’s bad enough that most of the past is obscured to me, but I’m not even going to get a peek at the future either?
          Will we ever get those space colonies up and running? Will humanity chose to engineer itself beyond recognition or will we prefer to stay in these bodies? Will the Flying Polyps rise and wipe out all life on Earth? I want to know, dammit! I want to be there and see it. Despite all the crap, this is a great ride and the thought that it will be over and never come again is sad.

          Some people say it’s the fleeting nature of life that gives it value. I say, fuck those people!
          It’s not the fleeting nature of a meal that makes it delicious, it’s how it tastes. I’ve never, ever heard someone go; “Say, that was a great meal. It’s the best I’ve ever had, so I’m never going to eat that again. If I could eat it again, it would totally ruin my appreciation of it.” It sounds completely idiotic, doesn’t it?

          Life doesn’t have value because it ends. It has value because it’s fun. It has value because when you’re alive, you get to do stuff. The longer you live, the more stuff you can do. I suppose it’s possible that a long life would eventually get boring, but I’ll deal with that hurdle when I get to it. Personally, I have enough ideas lined up to keep me busy for at least a couple thousand years.

          • Julia Lynne says

            LykeX:
            You touch on the reason that heaven is no better than hell.
            You may be busily happy for the first couple thousand years, but that is exactly nothing compared to eternity.
            I find the prospect of not-being much less frightening than any eternal afterlife. Eventually even the most patient individual will be driven insane by nothing new under the sun. Imagine counting every grain of sand on every beach, then every permutation of every grain. You still have eternity left. Chilling.

          • says

            Indeed. An indefinite lifespan doesn’t bother me because whatever else, suicide is always an option. However, the idea of being forever caught with no escape, that’s horrifying.

        • John says

          I agree with Unther, death sucks, or should I say the obliteration of consciousnesses sucks. it also sucks because your given no real choice, you will face it regardless if you like it or not. some atheists, I’m not naming names candy coat this idea of eradication of one-self, they say the famous quote, I was basically dead before I was born for billions of years and it was not inconvenient for me then, so why would it be after death as well. this stance does not help if you ask me, watch one of the skepticon 4 videos about it, all of them said it sucked, one said it was evil, but evil implies that a agent is behind the idea, but never the less it sucks. you can still hope your wrong, but you best live life acting like you get one chance.

          If someone can prove to me a soul exists, no, to the world it really exists, then they will be respected by me with such respect that I cannot begin to fathom how to express it, but this is extreme wishful thinking.

          For now, this world needs more love and compassion, peace, less division among the people, and needs to get better, whether you believe in god, gods, the spirits, so on, the world needs more love and kindness…..I think most can agree with that.

          Peace.

        • wholething says

          You are asking the same questions Hamlet asks in the “To be or not to be” soliloquy.

          Nobody wants to die and nobody wants to get old but everybody prefers to do both.

          If you live long enough, you get to see your life long friends die one by one. Your body is no longer as efficient as you remember. Your tongue and nose aren’t as sensitive so food loses its appeal. This and that hurts and will only get worse. You’ll be able to watch your children develop the same problems.

          The best thing is to worry more about living life than worrying about death. Enjoy the life you have so that when the end approaches, you’ll have no regrets. If you live happy, you can die happy.

          If it so happens that life is shortened by disease or injury, be happy for your life to that point and learn to enjoy what you can in the remaining time. If we live long enough to comprehend these things, we’ve already outlived most life forms so we’ve had more than our fair share.

    • jacobfromlost says

      Unther: What I fear is this nothingness, the not-being. Maybe it’s because I’m still young and it will change with age. Still, it’s paralyzing.

      Me: I had this fear when I was around 12, but it faded away. My perspective on death has changed, and it may take a while for your emotional/psychological perspective to fall more in line with your intellectual one. It’s hard to see how someone could not fear becoming nothing, or fertilizer…but I think it can actually be celebrated from a certain point of view. And why shouldn’t we celebrate?

      Walt Whitman:
      I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,

      And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.

      What do you think has become of the young and old men?

      And what do you think has become of the women and children?

      They are alive and well somewhere;

      The smallest sprout shows there is really no death;

      And if ever there was, it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,

      And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

      All goes onward and outward—nothing collapses;

      And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

  25. says

    I don’t think any of the above actually understands his argument, codemonkey possibly, he hit fairly closely, but it sounded to me like the very simple, very wrong, idea that there is infinite space, if the universe is finite, then there exists the infinity outside the universe, and somehow this is god. He seems to imply there has to be an infinity of ‘space’?, since the universe is finite, there has to be something beyond that. Or at other times, he seems to be restricting himself to time, so there has to be an eternity, so if the universe is finite, in time, then there has to be an infinite eternity outside this. His assumptions are too confused and ill-defined/ill-justified.

    I can”t remember where I read this, but a reputable source said the big bang could have produced an infinite universe, the maths allow this, don’t make a bit of sense to me.

    And Lord Narf, maybe you are still reading, the physicist in question is interested in the ideas of Irving Segal, a very well respected mathematical physicist/cosmologist dead since 98 or 99. Search for this, much else findable by google:
    Is redshift-dependent evolution of galaxies a theoretical artifact?

    • jacobfromlost says

      I think you are right. The “first cause” arguments almost always fall back on Aristotelian ideas of space and time, which isn’t surprising as Aristotle first made the Prime Mover/first cause argument.

      The other thing that makes this an attractive, yet specious, argument is that most people assume they know what space and time is from everyday experience, and their idea of them both is Aristotlelian. They think space is just emptiness that is uniform and goes on forever (and is absolute), and time is just a continuous and constant “duration” that is the same everywhere (and absolute).

      It only takes a few moments of research to discover the mountains of confirmable, reproducible, verifiable, falsifiable evidence that disconfirm all of those assumptions–not to mention the fact that most modern technology wouldn’t even work if any of that were true.

  26. moralnihilist says

    I think what the caller was trying to get at was the “problem” of infinite regress, but just wasn’t articulating it well enough.

    • gshelley says

      Yeah, it seemed to me that he was arguing for a variant of “first Cause”. His problem, I think was that he was so immersed in his own belief that god exists, that he couldn’t understand other people not agreeing, so when he said (paraphrasing) “Things are either infinite or not infinite, and if the universe is not infinite, it has to come from something that is infinite”, and the hosts disagreed, rather than being able to examine his own arguments and see that they were baseless, he had to assume the hosts didn’t understand him.

  27. johnwolforth says

    Don;
    Excellent overview of the myths related to Jesus. You might enjoy Richard Carrier’s “Not the Impossible Faith” to add some detail to that. Great show as always.

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